Middle Aged Women Characters?

Mirannan

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Two I can think of as mature female POV characters: Honor Harrington (at least in the later books) and a really glaring example is Polgara - 6000 years old or so, I think.

Of course neither of these two look old, but they would certainly have a mature outlook!
 

Juliana

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Robert Jackson Bennett's City of Blades (sequel to City of Stairs) is fabulous and the main character is a woman in her sixties. Not only is she an older woman, she's also disabled (lost a hand). She's a really great character, I absolutely adored her. And not once do you stop and say, 'Hmm, nice of him to write an older female' because she's so well-written that you don't really stop to think about it being something different, or examine it. You just get on with reading.

(Don't know if that last part made sense – I meant it doesn't feel careful, planned, or contrived, because she's so good. You just get on with enjoying the character without a thought for gender, age, etc.)
 

JimC

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"and "The Cat who Walked through Walls'.(Gwen Novak)"

Gwen Novak was Hazel Stone.
 

Swank

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Maybe I'm misunderstanding the OP. If the idea is that SFF doesn't feature contemporary women right around 50, I have no idea.

But if the premise is about not-young women, SF seems replete with them. Alastair Reynolds, Vernor Vinge, Heinlein, Herbert, Kim Stanley Robinson, Robert Reed, William Gibson, David Marusek have many mature female characters - often in positions of power - that could not be mistaken "young heroines", and range in age from 40 something to hundreds or thousands of years old.

Then you have all the immortal ladies of fantasy. Elfin magic!


I think you'd have to be reading only particular fiction to have missed these women.
 

ColGray

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Maybe I'm misunderstanding the OP. If the idea is that SFF doesn't feature contemporary women right around 50, I have no idea.

But if the premise is about not-young women, SF seems replete with them. Alastair Reynolds, Vernor Vinge, Heinlein, Herbert, Kim Stanley Robinson, Robert Reed, William Gibson, David Marusek have many mature female characters - often in positions of power - that could not be mistaken "young heroines", and range in age from 40 something to hundreds or thousands of years old.

Then you have all the immortal ladies of fantasy. Elfin magic!


I think you'd have to be reading only particular fiction to have missed these women.
I do think it's a fair question to ask if the character feels like a middle aged woman--rather than simply presenting as one.

As much as I enjoy Reynolds Revelation series... He has a number of female characters who are female insofar as their name. Skade --maybe intentionally-- doesn't immediately feel female; she feels old. Valyova is nearly asexual--not in a, She's a ace, sort of way, but in, you could tell me the character is a man or a woman and i couldn't really disagree. Ana feels female.

Contrasted to, so, NK Jemison and Essun in the Angry Earth trilogy -- her defining, core trait is middle aged motherhood. The character and story work because that's who she is.

There's a lot a female and middle aged characters-- and your list is solid--early and middle Heinlein in particular did a great job of writing female characters, especially for his era-- but i think it's worth a little quibble to say, Are they honest characters?
 

Swank

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I do think it's a fair question to ask if the character feels like a middle aged woman--rather than simply presenting as one.

As much as I enjoy Reynolds Revelation series... He has a number of female characters who are female insofar as their name. Skade --maybe intentionally-- doesn't immediately feel female; she feels old. Valyova is nearly asexual--not in a, She's a ace, sort of way, but in, you could tell me the character is a man or a woman and i couldn't really disagree. Ana feels female.

Contrasted to, so, NK Jemison and Essun in the Angry Earth trilogy -- her defining, core trait is middle aged motherhood. The character and story work because that's who she is.

There's a lot a female and middle aged characters-- and your list is solid--early and middle Heinlein in particular did a great job of writing female characters, especially for his era-- but i think it's worth a little quibble to say, Are they honest characters?
Yes, they are honest characters because SFF isn't the work of John Updike, but highly exotic tales featuring people that are not suburban soccer moms, but scientists, soldiers, wizards, elves, prime ministers and explorers.

So I bristle at the idea that female characters need to "feel" correct to you to be female characters. I'm sure many female leaders, soldiers and athletes also get told that they aren't "female" enough if their lives don't look like a certain kind of average woman.

Why aren't there more middle aged mothers in SFF? Why aren't there more overweight, uneducated, unskilled workers with no hobbies or military background in SFF? Why no bowling league members? Why doesn't more SFF take place in suburban tract housing? Sure brilliant people in spaceships and castles are cool, but are they honest?
 

ColGray

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Honest characters are honest characters--doesn't matter if its in Updike, Didion, Heinlein or Martin. Honesty is a component of writing, not literature. Do they have real motivations? Flaws? Personality? Does the parent not caring about their child feel earned, or is it merely convenient? Someone in a spaceship can be cool and honest, just like someone in tract housing; it's not either/or.

Asimov is a giant in the field of SF, but I struggle to think of a single female character he wrote that felt like anything more than a flourish to fill out a male character's persona. I'm not sure there's even a female character in Foundation until Foundation and Empire! And when he does introduce a female character, she's a Jane to the Mule's Tarzan. Is she a full character? Is she a person or is she an accent piece to a real character?

Why aren't there more middle aged mothers in SFF? Why aren't there more overweight, uneducated, unskilled workers with no hobbies or military background in SFF?
Well, I'd say those are really, really different categories of people! One is a blank slate with children and a female perspective and a whole world of unexplored motivations and interiority. The other is an insulting strawman comparison to a middle-aged person-- middle aged mothers are not equivalent to the string of limiters you listed.

Flipping the scenario, a middle aged woman writing a younger male character, might help clarify what I mean by "honest". Harry Potter. Teenage boy going through puberty. Did Harry ever shave? Mention stubble? Acne? Any of the voluminous and confusing body changes occurring during the arc of the series? Did he ever talk to his friends about girls? They're great, fun books, but strip out the wizarding and Harry's teenage experience still differs from an honest recounting of teenage years.

Scifi's origins were grand adventures among the stars, but many recent and incredible works of scifi are small and personal, exploring the unexceptional performing the remarkable. YA dystopian excelled at this--The Walking Dead, Hunger Games, all had "normal" people with no extraordinary training acting in extraordinary circumstances. Arkady Martine's Memory series MC is a broadly unremarkable person-- her defining trait is "curious outsider". Emily St. John Mandel features mothers and farmers and salt-of-the-earths people regularly.

And yeah, Valyova is a classic example of a male character with breasts (which is a well documented trope)
 

Swank

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Honest characters are honest characters--doesn't matter if its in Updike, Didion, Heinlein or Martin. Honesty is a component of writing, not literature. Do they have real motivations? Flaws? Personality? Does the parent not caring about their child feel earned, or is it merely convenient? Someone in a spaceship can be cool and honest, just like someone in tract housing; it's not either/or.

Asimov is a giant in the field of SF, but I struggle to think of a single female character he wrote that felt like anything more than a flourish to fill out a male character's persona. I'm not sure there's even a female character in Foundation until Foundation and Empire! And when he does introduce a female character, she's a Jane to the Mule's Tarzan. Is she a full character? Is she a person or is she an accent piece to a real character?


Well, I'd say those are really, really different categories of people! One is a blank slate with children and a female perspective and a whole world of unexplored motivations and interiority. The other is an insulting strawman comparison to a middle-aged person-- middle aged mothers are not equivalent to the string of limiters you listed.

Flipping the scenario, a middle aged woman writing a younger male character, might help clarify what I mean by "honest". Harry Potter. Teenage boy going through puberty. Did Harry ever shave? Mention stubble? Acne? Any of the voluminous and confusing body changes occurring during the arc of the series? Did he ever talk to his friends about girls? They're great, fun books, but strip out the wizarding and Harry's teenage experience still differs from an honest recounting of teenage years.

Scifi's origins were grand adventures among the stars, but many recent and incredible works of scifi are small and personal, exploring the unexceptional performing the remarkable. YA dystopian excelled at this--The Walking Dead, Hunger Games, all had "normal" people with no extraordinary training acting in extraordinary circumstances. Arkady Martine's Memory series MC is a broadly unremarkable person-- her defining trait is "curious outsider". Emily St. John Mandel features mothers and farmers and salt-of-the-earths people regularly.

And yeah, Valyova is a classic example of a male character with breasts (which is a well documented trope)
Saying that Valyova acts like a male suggests you might not be very familiar with men. We aren't single minded monks uninterested in human relationships. Almost no one is. Valyova isn't male, she's weird


Honesty isn't depicting someone's hygiene habits, despite whatever some subgenres choose Honesty is depicting whatever the character might be in a consistent manner that matches the events of the plot. That often means leaving out things like shaving or emotions that are unrelated to the action.

Some people read fictíon for the inner life of the characters and to see them grow or change. That is one kind of character development, but certainly not the only worthwhile one
 

Swank

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Well, I'd say those are really, really different categories of people! One is a blank slate with children and a female perspective and a whole world of unexplored motivations and interiority. The other is an insulting strawman comparison to a middle-aged person-- middle aged mothers are not equivalent to the string of limiters you listed.
They aren't different categories of people, they are just a list of mundanely common biographical traits that often have little to do with genre story telling. I don't know how being middle aged, female and having given birth makes a character more important than where they live, what they do or how they spend their time, unless those details are relevant to the plot.
 

Fiberglass Cyborg

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Breq from "Ancillary Justice".... sort of. At least, her current body is probably around 40 and her mind is middle-aged by Radchai shipmind standards!

(I have not one but two story ideas featuring middle-aged women as the main characters. Shame they're my ideas as I never finish anything.)
 

ColGray

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I don't know how being middle aged, female and having given birth makes a character more important than where they live, what they do or how they spend their time, unless those details are relevant to the plot.

If you don't know how age, gender or parental status inform a character's perspective, personality, motivations, and traditionally even access to certain hobbies, professions or locations, I don't know what to tell you.
 

Swank

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If you don't know how age, g my the ender or parental status inform a character's perspective, personality, motivations, and traditionally even access to certain hobbies, professions or locations, I don't know what to tell you.
If you think those things only inform a character in one way, I don't know what to tell you.

Try this on: Valyova is a mother. And her actions and personality reflect that.
 

Toby Frost

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Oh, nothing. I can't be bothered. Mods, please delete this comment.
 

The Big Peat

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Flipping the scenario, a middle aged woman writing a younger male character, might help clarify what I mean by "honest". Harry Potter. Teenage boy going through puberty. Did Harry ever shave? Mention stubble? Acne? Any of the voluminous and confusing body changes occurring during the arc of the series? Did he ever talk to his friends about girls? They're great, fun books, but strip out the wizarding and Harry's teenage experience still differs from an honest recounting of teenage years.

Yes and no. Hardly any characters talk about how they feel when brushing their teeth, washing their face, defecating, and so on but we don't talk about how these characters aren't honest depictions of people. We, in my experience of us as a human collective, accept that we don't need a warts and all depiction for it to be honest. It only needs to capture the essence. I think Harry Potter's success is due in no small part to it feeling very realistic/honest/relatable/whatever we call it to a huge number of people going through the same years of their life. It captured the essence for them.

Yet it is true that the more detail we include, the more it feels tied to a particular experience.

And that many fictional works' focus on one particular thing the characters are doing and resulting handwaving of the rest of their life experience makes it easy to see their characterisation as ... well, lacking honesty to use your parlance.

I can't say I'd call it that. I would reserve that for characters whose consideration of themselves is mainly driven by what somebody else thinks they should be concerned about, or who react grossly unrealistically. See every female character who is hugely focused on their own breasts to pick the obvious one.

I think it is right to point at the fact that some characters are further along the spectrum of authentic detail than others, but I really can't agree with saying those less along lack honesty. I think it conflates detail and honesty to an unnecessary and inflammatory degree.

Yes, they are honest characters because SFF isn't the work of John Updike, but highly exotic tales featuring people that are not suburban soccer moms, but scientists, soldiers, wizards, elves, prime ministers and explorers.

So I bristle at the idea that female characters need to "feel" correct to you to be female characters. I'm sure many female leaders, soldiers and athletes also get told that they aren't "female" enough if their lives don't look like a certain kind of average woman.

Why aren't there more middle aged mothers in SFF? Why aren't there more overweight, uneducated, unskilled workers with no hobbies or military background in SFF? Why no bowling league members? Why doesn't more SFF take place in suburban tract housing? Sure brilliant people in spaceships and castles are cool, but are they honest?

While it is true that a focus on authentic detail can lead to an over-focus on everyone fitting stereotypes, done right it doesn't but rather explores how people react to knowing they don't fit the stereotype. Which I rather suspect is the sort of level of detail ColGrey is looking for.

And that sort of authentic, realistic detail doesn't need to take place in a wholly realistic locale with wholly mundane happenings. This isn't a one or the other situation.
 

ColGray

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Totally fair @The Big Peat

I wasn't trying to over-index on the minutiae of cleaning, but rather the experience of puberty and how it's functionally ignored in HP. My goal, which I think I missed on, was to use that as an example of a critical life experience that the author ignored, and by ignoring it, removed some of the believability of that character's experience.

My point was that there are critical experiences predicated on age, gender, demographics and choice that intrinsically inform a character's interiority--whether the event itself shows up on the page or not.

But this has also super drifted away from OP's intent!
 

HareBrain

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the experience of puberty and how it's functionally ignored in HP. My goal, which I think I missed on, was to use that as an example of a critical life experience that the author ignored, and by ignoring it, removed some of the believability of that character's experience.

That's an interesting example, for a few reasons. One is that the entire tone of HP goes back to stories (especially boarding school stories) from previous decades in which physical bodies are almost absent (apart from grazed knees etc), and to include them would probably be very jarring. The other is that for a lot of younger readers of HP, even of the later books, puberty is an experience they won't have gone through yet, and any focus on it would probably seem weird and a bit ick.

Personally, I think it would have been great fun if the kids in HP had been very realistically portrayed and mostly working class; I think it would have provided a hilarious contrast with the setting and assumed tone.
 

The Big Peat

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But this has also super drifted away from OP's intent!

That is when the fun starts!

I think there's been a huge shift over the last century in terms of how much attention we pay to characters as individuals. See HareBrain's point about how the Potter stories reflect an older model. I don't think authors of old were ignorant of how much personality is shaped by experience - I think they often just took it as read that this was how it was and left it unsaid because they knew the readers would understand.

I have to say I greatly prefer the modern way - probably simply a matter of what I'm used to - and often feel a little frustrated by the change when back-diving. I like a lot about back-diving, but there's less great character work. I prefer reading about Lackey's Kerowyn or Williams' Vintage to Moore's Jirel of Joiry.

But I also think it can go too far. I don't need details like whether Harry uses a disposable razor or not to get the emotional reality of growing and changing, and it doesn't contribute to my sense of wonder, and as such, I am at best take it or leave it and at worst actively against it. That is of course a personal thing, but I would strenuously argue that these missing details do not remove the believability for all.



I would also argue that given fiction is never entirely about believability - at least, certainly not in the fantastika genres - there are considerable advantages to promoting empathy, both for the reader concerning the character and in general, in not aiming for the utmost level of detail is very helpful. Part of what made Harry Potter what it was is that it was very easy for non-blokes to relate to Harry's experiences of puberty and trauma. I think a lot of people would have lost something for pushing Potter into more definitively male, even if some people would have gained something.

And while it would be hugely deleterious for all fiction to fall into one model, I generally prefer fiction that makes it easier for people to relate broadly than drill deep into specific experiences. Both is better... but very difficult.
 

ColGray

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Just musing on it, but I think there are a good number of older works with those personal, interior details that inform the reader regarding the character, but early speculative fiction was so action and world/Look-at-this-cool-thing oriented, it may have lost it?

Shakespeare's best characters have details about them that elevate the characters. This is especially true for his great villains -- Richard III and his consuming jealousy of his brother's power and family and physical shape; Brutus and the weight of his legacy and name coupled with his own suppressed desires. War and Peace has great interiority with Pierre and being an outsider, even while his money makes his a social target and the book is heavily focused on the realism of the Napoleonic wars. Laura Ingers Wilder's characters similarly felt lived in and real.

They feel like real people with real history and real motivations.

When we get to Asimov, though... He's so much more about the idea and the events than he is about a single person. Even Harry (in Foundation) is an idea and not a person. I haven't read much Niven or Clarke in the last 10+ years, so I'm unsure there but Cordwainer's go-captains and wiremen feel really similar to Asimov: it's about the idea, not the individual.

But also, 1950's America, these people are writing in a society that asks men what their dreams are and tells women what their should be--If there's an early SF/F Austen, Wilder, Bronte or Dickenson, i don't know them--but it feels really "of their time" that early SF/F is Men Doing Great Things.

I feel like I'm prepping an abstract for an article at this point...

It's good food for thought.

I would also argue that given fiction is never entirely about believability - at least, certainly not in the fantastika genres
Totally agree--even "reality tv" doesn't show every facet of someone's day to day life. It's only on-camera if it's relevant. If, as HareBrained suggested, HP was poor or working class and he used a disposable razor while others had, i dunno, magical elf beardsmiths or something, and it was a way to discuss class or social issues, that would be cool. Otherwise, yes. every little detail sounds deeply boring.
 

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