I used to love Marion Zimmer Bradley's books, most of all "The Mists of Avalon". I read the entire Avalon series and some of her other novels as a teenager and young adult, some of them several times, and I completely adored them.
Last night, I started reading "Firebrand" again which I had planned to do for a very long time. But sadly, after only a few pages, I tossed it aside and groaned out in frustration at how crappy I felt it was.
It may be true that before patriarchic concepts took over in many parts of the world, women ruled kingdoms. And it may also be true that history, written and told by men, has been changed in favor of 'the stronger gender' to deny women their important part in history. Yes. That is an important point to convey if you write from a modern, enlightened perspective, and most of all if you primarily write for women. However, after reading the rantings of an angry old woman (Kassandra of Troy in the prologue of "Firebrand") I remembered that that attitude was always a little extreme in MZB's books. And more so, I remembered that she hardly ever had any likeable male characters. Most of them were either complete douches and losers, or cool guys at first that later exploited women anyway because, deep down, they were opportunistic misogynist a-holes like all the others. Yeah right.
The thing is, I am a woman. But I like men and male characters. I don't believe all men are douches that mistreat women, and all women are either nubile bimbos that let those men treat them badly or free-spirited rebels that end up failing in an oh so cruel world ruled by men. Wouldn't it be much cooler and more satisfying if there was at least ONE guy that admired a woman for her independence and strength and remained loyal to her and her ideals throughout the entire story? In fact, from a feminist POV, I think that would even be more suitable for the purpose BECAUSE then the heroines didn't always need to end up miserable. They'd defy all obstacles, stick to their course AND end up happy in the end. Now there's a daring idea!
There's another aspect that makes me cringe today while I found it cool as a teenager: the weight of the spiritual undrtones in those books. MZB wrote historical fantasy, so yes, there naturally would be a stronger focus on the divine, on things we cannot explain. But she very often portrayed them as ultimately true, as deeply rooted in reality (such as women really being possessed by the Goddess when they followed their fertility rites) that it leaves no room for interpretation.
There are other authors, like Jules Watson (who, btw, is a huge MZB fan; I had the pleasure of corresponding with her once, lovely woman!), who managed to do all this much more subtly and less full of pathos. And who managed to include thoroughly likeable male characters that SUPPORT their strong women.
Then there's Barbara Wood, who writes contemporary mystery. Her heroines are strong-willed, independend women that don't need a man to guide and save them either, but they're not man-hating, angry feminists either.
So, the bottom line for me: I like men. I even LOVE men. Men can be a-holes somtimes, true, but so can women. And when I read a book for entertainment purposes I want both likeable female AND male characters. And maybe even a female villain once in a while, because, let's face it, making women always good and victims of purely male oppression is as misogynist as making them accept their subordinate roles without a fight.