Agency

A friend of mine had a thread going on her FB last night wherein a handful of people (including me) were discussing what sort of heroine Mako Mori was in Pacific Rim. One person wished that she’d done some more ‘active’ things to change the plot line, perhaps arguing with Pentecost (and winning) or helping the duo of scientists.

My observation was that Mako wasn’t an American heroine, she’s a Japanese one. To my admittedly not-expert eyes, she behaved in a manner appropriate to her culture’s expectations. She was quiet and competent, she did her job, and yet when they were near death, she drew out a giant sword, screamed ‘For my Family!’, and sliced up the kaiju. (Raleigh didn’t even know that sword existed, so she really saved their bacon.)

Anyhow, I was thinking of this in terms of readers’ (and viewers’) expectations of agency in American culture. In American culture, agency is often seen as resisting authority, something Mako doesn’t do. (It’s not about obedience, she says at one point. It’s about respect.) She plays by her rules and does get her way, whether by Raleigh’s interference of not.

I’ve written a short story where the POV character is a woman in a culture where women have no control over their lives. She learns things about her husband, and each time the most she has to do is to decide whether to take him back. But in the end, she doesn’t have what she wants so she gathers up her two daughters and runs away from home. For a woman from that sort of society, leaving home is terrifying and shocking.

But I’ve never sold that story because people don’t think she’s ‘active’ enough in what happens to her. I actually refused to change this particular story to make her more active, (which is unusual for me, because I’ll almost always edit) but I like it how it is. Her actions, while they might seem slight for an American audience, were huge for her.

Let me give you another example: A woman in Oklahoma gets in her car and drives to work. Then at the end of her workday, she drives home.

Not much of a story, right?

Yet last week this story was all over the news. Women got in their cars and drove.

Why was it newsworthy? Because the women involved in this radical action were from a culture that doesn’t permit women to drive cars. They might ‘hurt their ovaries’, one cleric said on the news. These women risked fines and possibly even imprisonment in hopes of getting what they wanted…the simple right to drive cars.

American culture seems to believe that agency is mostly about doing big things, but I’d like to believe that the small, quiet actions are still just as important, even if not flashy…

#SFWAPro

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