Before I published the Meteor Mags Omnibus, I workshopped the new Introduction, book description, and About the Author. I got helpful feedback on things that needed clarified, and one interesting question: “Why aren’t you rich yet?”
I was flattered, but a monumental list of reasons ran through my mind. Was it perhaps because the villainous characters have advocated, at various points in the narrative: smashing the state, burning churches, stealing weapons, showing teenagers how to fire semi-automatic rifles, smuggling drugs and tobacco to fund violent social overthrow, and murdering your way through the solar system for two hundred years until you get what you want?
Could it be, as one advance reader said, that Mags is not a relatable female character at all, but more like a Robert Crumb illustration come to life? Or that the series reads like a MAD Magazine satire of science fiction swerving back and forth between profanity and some kind of punk rock ideology?
Could it be that I would pay hard-earned cash for someone to point out all these things in an Amazon review? Because to me, these are the fun parts!
Oddly enough, the most positive responses I get on the stories come from women who like how Mags kicks major ass. Men might tell me Mags is a terribly insensitive portrayal of a female character. But—and I will say this in the most sexist way I know how—chicks dig her.
You know why? Because Mags doesn’t take any shit. Not from you, not from the authorities, and not anyone. Mags doesn’t care if people like her, and she doesn’t care what behavior is appropriate. And though some men may not realize it, women in our culture have been told all their lives how they should be and who they should be.
In other words, everyone has an idea of what it means to be a woman, what a woman’s role is, and what femininity is. These expectations are forced on women from an early age, and some even internalize and believe them.
I realize men have a similar experience about what it means to be a man—believe me. (You know I paint my nails sometimes and wear ridiculous socks, right?) So when I write Mags, I relate to her as a person who knows exactly who she is, but doesn’t have any interest in conforming to what’s expected of her. She doesn’t see a need to fit any cliché about femininity or gender or sexuality; hell, she isn’t even entirely human, so why should she?
Part of the fun is seeing how other characters perceive her. Like my advance readers, every character has an opinion about Mags. She is both worshipped and reviled with equal vigor. Characters have called her everything from a “feline goddess of creation and destruction” to “a filthy slag” and a “fat whore”. (She killed two of those three people. You can guess which two.)
Why would I have characters say such mean things about my leading lady? For one, to show what dicks they are! Two, because that’s what it’s like being a woman. You will be constantly judged on your behavior and your body. Worse, it will be as if you are some kind of sub-human, because everything you do will be prefaced by “woman” or “female”. Women leaders. Women soldiers. Female athletes. Female pirates.
It’s almost like no matter what you do, you will never be judged as a person, but always as a woman, as if that’s some other category.
Mags couldn’t give a rat’s ass about all that. She has her own agenda whether people love her or hate her. If I had to guess, I’d say that’s the secret of the appeal she’s shown to female readers. Then I would stop and question why I put female readers in their own little category.
What about feminism? Is Mags a feminist? Am I?
I am not much interested in “isms”, but I have read more feminist literature than the average guy. Why? Because it features what I am really interested in: women of history who kicked major ass.
Call me a sexist pig if you like, but women who kick major ass are incredibly hot. I mean hot in the way that can inspire a man to write love poems, discover the true greatness in his own potential, and make foolish decisions about sending photographs of himself naked in the shower at 3:30 in the morning.
In history as taught in public schools, women who kicked major ass are discussed much less than men. To get to the truly amazing and inspiring stories, you need to dig into feminism, socialism, anarchism, labor, piracy, and all sorts of interesting things.
The character of Mags and the colorful lives of her ancestors grew from research. When you delve into the lives of women who changed their nations or the world, you discover most of them defied convention, and that women’s struggles are part of other revolutionary concerns involving labor, capital, and power structures.
Mags is often concerned with what readers might consider women’s issues, and she gives a monologue in Blind Alley Blues about how her mostly female dance club fits in with her ethical code. Readers of the complete series know Mags’ code has its roots in her mama’s pro-labor concerns and her gramma’s matriarchal utopia in twentieth-century Europe.
But how can Mags be a stripper and still champion women’s liberation and empowerment? Because she doesn’t see any contradiction. As Mags explains to Kaufman in Blind Alley Blues, maintaining control over your own body and decisions is liberty in its purest form; and if she feels like dancing naked, then she’ll bloody well dance naked. Or, maybe she will solve an unsolved math problem and revolutionize history. Mags doesn’t recognize any limits on who she is.
Maybe that’s why she gets a good response from some female readers. Mags does whatever the hell she feels like, regardless of how you think a woman should act, and she kicks more ass than Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie Predator while doing it.
She has her own standards and her own code. That’s become cliché for male “lone wolf” and “rebel outcast” characters, so I find it odd when it’s men who tell me they don’t like seeing a woman portrayed with that same “I don’t give a fuck because I have my own code” attitude.
But what do I know? I’m just the author. If you really want the straight scoop, ask Mags.
She’ll tell you.