I’m right in the middle of Kij Johnson’s novel The Fox Woman. Weaving together ancient Japanese culture and folklore, Johnson’s novel has three first person narrators. A nobleman: Kaya no Yoshifuji; his wife: Shikujo; and Kitsune: a fox who falls in love with Yoshifuji and uses magic to become a woman.
I want to write about Kitsune as a favorite female character. Kitsune: the fox woman who is bold without regret and dominate with her desires. From the first page, the honest reflection on gender, writing and her role within these spheres won me. “Diaries are kept by men” Johnson begins…
…Men and women write their various diaries: I shall see if a fox woman cannot also write one.
I saw him and I loved him, my master Kaya no Yoshifuji. I say this and it is short and sharp, without elegance, like a bark; but I have no idea how else to start. I am only a fox: I have no elegancies of language.
I want to write about Shikujo, glossy as the perfect wife, but playing the role of wife just as much as Kitsune plays at being human. Gender is a lonely performance.
But I can’t write about Shikujo or Kitsune. Yet. I have not finished the novel.
With TV shows, I have a terrible habit of starting a series, falling in love with a female character and then taking forever to finish the show (if I finish it at all). And while I — thankfully — do not have the same habit with books, it’s an alarming habit to notice.
As female writers, we must be twice as good as the men to earn half the recognition. We must work twice as hard. We must be perfect to not get beaten down. We must represent all women with our work. That’s a daunting narrative. But it’s one I’ve equally bought into, to the point where I feel there is no time for that 40 minute episode on Netflix. I have two more episodes of Jessica Jones, 3 and a half seasons of Star Trek Deep Space 9, literally all of Orange is the New Black, and literally all of Steven Universe. But while I am watching television, there’s another writer out there who is working. It’s as if writing is one huge competition and we just can’t see the competitors. This too is a daunting narrative.
But we’re writers, so we can tell a different story. Or unearth the truth behind the story and be kind to ourselves.
I turn to fiction for many of my female role models: I want to be as brave as Kira Nerys from Star Trek Deep Space 9, as unflinchingly honest as Jessica Jones. If there’s one thing all my favorite female characters have in common, it’s that each one is beautifully imperfect. If I can love fictional women with all their imperfections, surely I can permit myself to also have flaws.
Even if you too feel stuck in the middle treading water, be kind to yourself. Be imperfect and flawed and together we can work our way to the end.