So when I was taking a five minute break from my research over the weekend, I read this article on Feminist Books. Basically the point of the article is that its not the behavior of the characters in the book that make the story Feminist, it's the attitude of the reader. I didn't really think much about that at the time (due to my head being overloaded with control laws, algebraic riccati equations, and saturation blocks), but while I was driving into the office this morning, it sort of popped into my head.
I was thinking about how Amanda Tapping is going to be at Dragon*Con this year, and how I need to add her signature to my collection of science fiction engineer/scientists. And I started thinking about how recently in SF a lot of the engineers and scientists are mainly females. It started with everyone's favorite Klingon Engineer, B'Elanna Torres. Then came Samantha Carter of SG-1. Then Kailey of Firefly. It's a trend. And I get it. We're trying to tell girls--hey! you can be in the position! See! Here is a girl engineer. You can be one too.
And thinking about all of this is what made me realize what the article is saying. That is sort of anti-Feminist. Saying "Here is a girl doing it so you can do it to" is not the point of feminism (in my mind). The point of it is the same point as getting rid of racism. I don't want someone to look at me and pre-judge me based on my sex, race, or anything. A person shouldn't think "Look! A black man has become president of the United States! I can to!" A person should think "Hey! A person can become president! I can to!"
What the article is trying to say, what it means, is basically that a girl should be able to look at an character/role and know they can be that. And I think the best example of this is one that happened to me and is very near and dear to my heart.
I was not inspired to be an engineer by the female B'Elanna Torres or Samantha Carter. I was inspired to be an engineer by Geordi LaForge, as played by LeVar Burton. I watched Star Trek: The Next Generation as a kid, and I saw how cool and wonderful being the Chief Engineer of the Enterprise was. I wanted that job. I wanted to be Geordi. It never crossed my mind that Geordi was male or black or blind (though with the visor he actually had better vision than any other person on the Enterprise). It was a job a person was doing and therefore I knew I could do it. Geordi was a person (fictional, yes) and I am to, and that's the only correlation necessary. That is feminism.
It doesn't matter that the Lord of the Rings is mostly about guys. What matters is that I can relate to the characters and can see myself being one of them.
I've always liked boy books better than I like girl books and I think in a way this is part of the reason. Girl books make me hyper aware that I'm a girl, that I'm different somehow, somehow a different sort of human from a boy (or other girls apparently since I can't relate to them). Boy books just deal with life, without making it a big deal. It's not a big deal that Harry is a boy. He just is. And I can imagine myself in his place, taking down Voldemort.
Yes, I think it is important to have females portrayed as engineers to help girls overcome their own un-feminist minds, but in the end a girl (or boy) should be able to look at any job/role and say "I can do that" regardless of the gender of the person portraying it. It's all in the eye of the beholder.