By Lyndsey Holder
Brozek, Jennifer, ed. Beauty Has Her Way. Dark Quest, LLC (2011). 243pp. ISBN: 978-0-9830993-1-4.
There aren’t a lot of stories that feature strong-willed female characters in any format these days. Most of the women in movies, books, and television shows are only around to help the male hero be more heroic, either by getting into trouble and requiring his assistance, or by being his reward for a job well-done. You can imagine my excitement, then, when I read in the introduction that Beauty Has Her Way was “an anthology about strong women who will use all of their assets – beauty, guile, reputation, or sex – to get what they want.”
Finally! A book with female characters who do things for their own reasons and who have their own motivations. A book where the women do not revolve around the plot set out for the male hero, but instead, go out and get things done on their own. Right?
Well, sort of. The stories are all very well-written. They are all beautifully crafted. Perhaps it is my fault for assuming so much from the introduction, but despite their depth and imagery and well-rounded characters, many of them don’t seem to fit the idea of the anthology.
Some of the stories are just about women doing things. “Tears of Blood”, while a decent story in its own right, only vaguely fits the idea – a female ruler is training another female to rule, and there are some parts about making hard choices and people dying because of action or inaction. However, none of the women really used all of their assets to get what they wanted – they were rather meek and weak-willed, for all of their power.
I also found it frustrating that many of the women in the stories were merely background characters, trying to survive in a world where men were dominant. In “Men do Nothing” and “Her Eyes On”, this worked because it helped humanize the characters – you could sympathize with them, even while they performed heinous acts.
Unfortunately, some of the other stories that featured women in a more-background role seemed to be about men’s fears of what women might do when given power. I suppose this isn’t surprising, considering that male authors outnumber female authors in this anthology by more than two-to-one, but I didn’t expect insecurities to saturate so many of the pieces so heavily.
In “Someone Else to Play With”, a woman uses magic to make a man stop hanging out at the bar with his friends, lose weight and dress differently. In “Daggers in Her Garters”, a spurned woman emasculates the man who cast off her affections and then accuses him of rape. “Dunkle Froline”, possibly the worst offender, is set in a fantasy world where male demons have human female slaves. The females can’t fight the demons and our feisty, enslaved protagonist, who at first was all about trying to kill her captor and prevent herself from being raped or brutalized, realizes that her only option is to have sex with the demon, bear his half-demon child, and send it to a renegade human male to train to fight against her captor. This story is amazing. It takes a strong-willed female character, completely disempowers her and then tries to pass off her acceptance of her helplessness as being a new and better kind of empowerment, and adds in the kind of lesbian sequences whose sole purpose is the titillation of men. If I had a bingo card that featured clichés that men use when writing about women, I’d have run out of spaces to stamp before I’d gotten to the end of the story.
Fortunately, most of the stories seemed to get it. “A Well-Embroidered Heart”, “Sacrifices to the Moon”, “Men Do Nothing”, and “The Moko-Jumbie Girl” were among the best of these, managing to be at once beautiful and disturbing, featuring women who are strong and sometimes cruel, yet not entirely without compassion.
All in all, the writing is solid and the majority of the tales are amazing. In the future, it would be wonderful to see a similar anthology with a higher percentage of female authors and fewer stories about things men are afraid women might do to them, but this is a good start.
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