These days an online presence is an important part of self-marketing, so I’ve dutifully joined a plethora of social media sites. My favorite right now is Pinterest. I have boards for Marketing for Writers, Inspiration for Writers, Fantasy Setting and Strange Creature boards, and so on. I love looking at cool pictures, quotes from my TV shows, and reading the excellent advice writers share with each other.
My favorite and also most-followed Pinterest board is called Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy. Unlike DIY Pinterest craft boards (or, in my case, DIY marketing) the links are not usually as important as the pictures I pin there. That board now has over four hundred pictures pinned to it, but when I first started it, I wondered if I should just delete the whole thing.
The problem was that I couldn’t find any pictures of women in SFF that weren’t the stereotypical over-sexed battle maidens of video games. The board sat for a long time with only a few pictures in it. Even though I liked the idea, I couldn’t make myself pin these pale representations of women. Where was Alanna? Or Cimorene or Leia or Daenerys or Buffy?
This problem is the same throughout Pinterest art. You can find art of men and boys in all forms, stylized and realistic, skateboarders and superheroes. You can also find oversexed men. But you have to hunt for them. When you type “women art” into Pinterest, you will be flooded with images of big-eyed girls, their shirts slipping off their shoulders. They bite their lips, they look over their shoulders as they enter the bedroom. Sometimes they don’t engage with the viewer at all but with a male partner. The male partner is often clothed, partially concealed, or facing the other way (or sometimes not even human) but the woman will always be drawn half-naked and presented toward the viewer.
Part of this comes from women’s bodies being “ornamental,” as Gloria Steinem put it. Women are drawn as beautiful (in a slim, normative, sexual understanding of the word) no matter what they (we) happen to be doing, and people seem to like it because that’s what they keep pinning! We believe women should be a certain kind of beautiful and it manifests in our art. And that’s art in general, not just SFF.
The longer I used Pinterest though, and the more I pinned the types of women I wanted to see, the more these women appeared on my feed. Now I have female space engineers and thieves and queens and magicians and captains and dragon-riders and lots of warrior women in all forms.
Are some of these images sexualized? Yes, of course. Most are beautiful in the conventional sense and the majority are white. But overall, the board has made big strides. As long as you’re willing to wade through the boring stuff, you will be able to find women represented in a thousand different ways. Keep looking!
**Note since writing this: The Women in SFF board has been shared with HerStoryArc’s Pinterest page so you can also find it here!