Last year when I read Powers by Ursula K Le Guin, the third novel in the sequence Annals of the Western Shore, I could not help but reflect that if that story had been written by a man this would had been branded a piece of true misogyny. Throughout the story, aimed at young adult readers, women are systematically treated as objects and frequently as objects without worth beyond the physical. Only at the very end do we get to see that this is not how it must be, and even then it is ambiguous.
This is not the first time that happens in her writings. I think her method is to show the world as it is, in all it’s cruelty, and then offer alternatives or strategies. It’s not a very direct method but she manages, mainly because I as a reader know her for a feminist. But this begs the question what would happen with how we interpreted her stories if there wasn’t a name attached to them.
Compare with the female characters, and the worlds, described by Guy G Kay. Some women thinks he writes good female characters but most seem to think him a chauvinist, always describing worlds and circumstances were women are secondary beings left to their own often subversive strategies if they are to survive or hold power, and often with their bodies as part of the game.
Given that Kay often writes historical fiction rather than the fantasy his books are tagged with, is this so strange?
Should an author be charged with writing only worlds or tales she or he would want for themselves, or do an author have the possibility to make up worlds and situations as stages for discussion and elaboration, extrapolation, debate?
Granted Kay has no feminist agenda, but in some ways his writings works just as well as Le Guin’s to show what is wrong with a society, from a gender perspective. But he is a man, is he not, and not gay (what I know, anyway, I generally don’t care but feminists often seems to do), so he just HAS to be chauvinist. Stands to reason, no?
I don’t say that they should be equalled. It is allowed to be appalled or charmed by both, either or none of them. But I do have to wonder where and by what criteria we place our borders.