When it comes to fantasy, horror and science fiction, the need for the creator to explore social issues or establish an authentic-feeling setting is normally something that comes in early in the creative process. However, with all writers being human, sometimes the intended result doesn't come across as well as it should, creating a work that is seen as being offensive because it comes across as racist or sexist.
Normally this comes about as the result of two things,
- Trying to adapt a culture from a specific time in history to create a setting.
- Or, trying to use the setting as a lens to examine social issues, such as gender, race etc.
|Rich folk at a party, Dishonored|
My problem is when people feel that any flaws in the delivery can be justified JUST because it's an adaption of real life culture or because it's a speculative fiction work. That because it's sexist or racist it's okay because it's a fantasy or science fictional work.
|ST: OS, Plato's Stepchildren|
In Roddenberry's era, for example, they stated that in Kirk's time despite living in a Utopian 23rd century future where everything is awesome... women aren't allowed to be star ship captains due to being too emotionally unstable ('Turnabout Intruder'). And then there are the at least two occasions where women are bullied into being subservient breeding stock by aggressive supermen ('Where No Man Has Gone Before' and 'Space Seed'). Even moving out into the later series there are still episodes that attempt to examine other cultures or gender equality but instead come across as offencive due to how the writing is botched or how they decide to handle the story.
|ST: V - Tattoo|
These cases themselves are more one off examples rather than the rule for how the cultures or genders are depicted in the show, depending largely on the individual writers' ability to compose a competent story, but with Star Trek there's always the underlying implication that they didn't necessarily have that much respect for their female characters to start off with. Partly it is a marketing thing, with someone thinking that they could attract a larger audience by sticking the women in miniskirts or skintight jumpsuits purely for the point of fanservice.
|Troi, ST:NG Season 3|
"I was thrilled when I got my regulation Starfleet uniform... it covered up my cleavage and I got all my brains back, because when you have cleavage you can't have brains in Hollywood... I was allowed to do things that I hadn't been allowed to do for five or six years. I went on away teams, I was in charge of staff, I had my pips back, I had phasers, I had all the equipment again, and it was fabulous. I was absolutely thrilled."And that's not even getting into the treatment of the two female leads in the most recent series Enterprise (smug white men acting superior to one, who is there specifically for fanservice purposes, while the other is brought in because she's a language expert, but is bossed about and given menial tasks an ensign to do regards of the fact she left a prestigious teaching job to go on the star ship...).
What point am I trying to make with this? My point is that if the Star Trek franchise was any other genre, then they would have been called out for their treatment of women and minorities far more often than they would otherwise, due to people just accepting that it's okay because it just comes with the setting. When dealing with a constructed universe, you have to consciously decide how things work or how things are, so just telling people to accept it as being part of the genre tends to come off as lazy at best and offensive at worst.
The loss of a first person narrator is one of the changes that happened when adapting the books to television, mostly because having numerous characters giving voice overs to the action would become distracting. The downside of this is that occasionally it appears that women accept their station in life, just because that's the way things are, with only a few exceptions.
|Dothraki who can't afford horses apparently.|
The skewed ideas behind race and gender in the superhero sub-genre... will take an entire article of its own to cover, so we'll just steer clear of that one for the moment.
Due to its setting and the choice by Pratchett to use his universe as a lens to examine the modern world, it isn't as bolted in position as the likes of Game of Thrones when it comes to dealing with other cultures and how people treat women. In fact social change is one of the themes adopted fairly early on within the series, with the main setting of the city of Ankh-Morpork evolving gradually from a standard medieval setting to something approximating the modern world. As such themes like gender relations, immigration, integration, prejudice, classism and the like are incorporated into the plot, examined and, if not dealt with, then at least steps are taken to resolve them in the future. Just because, say, characters come from an Middle Eastern influenced society for example, doesn't mean that they act like stereotypes, for example, (Jingo) which is a satire of the (First) Gulf War, jingoism and the associated rise in Islamophobia at the time.
|Sgt. Angua, Night Watch|
This is also something that's evolved as the series has progressed, there were female characters that were parodies of cliched female fantasy characters (Red Sonja-ish barbarian heroines, for example) but they later moved on to other such roles, such as the policewoman Sergeant Angua in the Watch books. Female characters within the Discworld tend to be varying degrees of savvy, competent in whatever happens to be their area of expertise, and used to explore the perspective they would inhabit within the story. The characters in the Witch centric books, for example, are used to explore the original concept of what witchcraft is considered to be, in the herbal medicine, midwifery, and Village Wise Woman sense. This also happens to include explorations of the flip side of the beneficial side of "witchcraft", in how often just regular old women were seen to be the cause of whatever problems the community needed a scapegoat for.
|Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax, Witches Extraordinares|
Whether this use of female characters as both actual characters and as means to explore how their positions are different to their male counterparts is translated in the live-action television sequel to the Watch novels remains to be seen though. Maybe they'll continue the series tradition of good female characters, or maybe they'll fall prey to the Game of Thrones trap, though considering the non-time locked status of the Discworld universe that should hopefullly be less of an issue. Chances are even that the Discworld show will manage to have a more balanced portrayal than most fantasy adaptions, but we'll have to wait and see.