A couple of months ago, I had a thought. I was brainstorming an idea for an urban fantasy novel, one that would feature a strong androgynous superhero whose jurisdiction was over things like stopping rapists, confronting misogynists, and making vulnerable populations feel safe. But as I was brainstorming this hero, who not only saves your life but has a penchant for cuddling and physical affection, I realized that one of the traits I was using was still “could kill you with hir little finger.”
That got me thinking about competency kinks and how they align with violence.
“Competency kink” basically just means that someone being really good at whatever zie does is a turn-on. Movies certainly capitalize on this. Sometimes it’s intellectual competence, or psychic ability, or something else unrelated to violence, but very often the protagonist is competent at killing, injuring, and/or self defense. Whether it’s competence with weaponry, martial arts, magic, or some other violence-related skill, filmmakers are very good at combining destructive prowess with sexiness. Think Christian Bale in Equilibrium. Think Keanu Reeves in the Matrix. Think of all the bad-ass chicks in films that are unexpectedly very skilled at physical combat. Kill Bill, anyone?
The thing is, there are other ways to fulfill a competency kink. We use violent characters and we respond to violent characters because we live in a society that praises dominance. “Male” values of power, physical strength, ability to subjugate, etc., are privileged in a society that was built on patriarchy, imperialism, and conquest.
I was reading the first chapter of A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn, the one about Columbus, and I was struck by the description of the Arawak tribe in the Bahamas. According to Columbus’s account, they didn’t recognize weapons and were immediately willing to share, offer what they had, and trade with the white explorers. Whether this is accurate or not, I was struck by Columbus’s reaction, which was basically “they’re too weak to fight us, so we will conquer them.” This plan of action was natural to him as breathing.
Of course, this is a matter of values that have been engrained over thousands of years. War, imperialism, conquering territory, conquering peoples, rape and pillage, may the strongest man win, etc. etc. ad infinitum. But what if we privileged other values? What if we privileged sharing ideas and goods? What if violence and subjugation was shameful, not a point of pride? What if those who used their fists and weapons were ostracized from the community, rather than invited to lead it? What if we focused most heavily on community and communication? What if our first thought in developing a character to meet an audience’s competency kink was to write a hero like the Buddha or Lao Tse, a master of words and diplomacy? What if competency was demonstrated by avoiding conflict rather than creating or perpetuating it?
The thing about a society built around conquest is that it does not last.
The thing about such a society is that the only possible endpoint is destruction.
The society can fall when it outstrips its resources, or it can simply destroy the whole world until there is nothing left to conquer.
What if, instead, we built a society around peace? That seems, to me, to be the only value that could create a true global community.