Kameron Hurley 'We Have Always Fought': Challenging the 'Women, Cattle and Slaves' Narrative

In “‘We Have Always Fought’ Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrative,” author Kameron Hurley writes about the power of narrative to control the ideas and ideals of society. This essay was posted as a blog post, and won a Hugo Award for Best Related Work in 2014.

Hurley uses a llama metaphor to describe how when stories only use certain types of description, then we only believe stories that use that description. Basically, if the only kinds of llamas (women) we read about conform to a certain stereotype, then we tend to perpetuate that stereotype in our own writing or risk seeming unrealistic. A woman is a damsel in distress. A woman not being a damsel in distress is unrealistic and therefore cannot be used in story. It is as if the issue of verisimilitude is being used to shush anyone with a different viewpoint. On the one hand, using familiar tropes is a shortcut to communicating specific ideas. On the other hand, shortcuts are lazy and perpetuate the same ideas over and over again. “Oh, and it’s not true.

Until women could be educated in an open and widespread way, learning to write, they could not record what they were doing. Whether that was fighting in a rebellion or creating art, time and again, the popular narrative, the history written by those with the power of the pen, prevailed. Women’s works were erased from the story again and again and again. And so we think we have come up with something shocking and clever, to write about women fighting in wars or making a difference in history, only to discover that women have been there all along.
Half the world is full of women, but it’s rare to hear a narrative that doesn’t speak of women as the people who have things done to them instead of the people who do things. More often, women are talked about as a man’s daughter. A man’s wife. 
And when all we can see is that narrative, when that story is what we know, what we see doesn’t matter as much. Story is powerful. We use story to learn how others react, and to learn how we might react in a variety of situations that we haven’t experienced, hope not to experience. And when the stories we are exposed to focus solely on one type of woman, we ignore any evidence to the contrary that we might find in our everyday lives.
Stories tell us who we are. What we’re capable of. When we go out looking for stories we are, I think, in many ways going in search of ourselves, trying to find understanding of our lives, and the people around us. Stories, and language tell us what’s important. 
What does it really mean to have representation? Is it silly, to want to see yourself as a hero in a story, whatever your skin color, gender, orientation, class?  There is a series of videos that demonstrate what the world would be like if girls in certain nerd subcultures acted like the guys do (gamers, geeks). I find them both hilarious and sad. Even when women make inroads into areas where they may not have been visible before, they are then painted as that exceptional exception. There can be gamer girls or comic book girls, but they’re rare and have other stereotypes in which they narratively fall. Because not enough writers are ignoring the tropes in favor of the true.

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