1) I'm a gay woman, a fan of shoujo manga, a fan of the yaoification of shounen manga, and a childcare worker. Those are four areas where you find very few men, and by and large I don't much care for the men I've met in the first three. (The last is quite different, because men cuddling babies is hot hot hot.) Women are my reality. They're the air I breathe without even noticing it. My RL friends, my online friends, my coworkers are all (90%) women. I simply don't have much exposure to any version of male reality. Even the shounen I read is produced by women. Saiyuuki, Papuwa, FMA. There's a reason I couldn't keep on with Bleach.
The mysterious, the unknowable, the different, the- dare I say it?- romantic? That's guys. Not real guys, I hasten to add, certainly not slash's 'real' guys. Yaoi guys, fantasy guys, gender-fuck or gender-need-not-apply guys. Guys like the guys I work with, in fact, because actuality can sometimes trump fantasy five ways from Sunday, in a 'if you put that in a story *no one* would believe it' way. That's the guys I like to write. They have that difference to them.
2) I'm not an innovator. The reason I can write yaoi is because in my early fandom days I read a ton of yaoi. The reason I can (in theory, at any rate) subvert a manga character into being, well, anything I damn well please, is because I saw the Japanese doing just that: imposing erotic fantasies on characters in spite of canon, characterisation, probability and you name it. 'Oh, cool. This is a game where all the rules are off.' And off I went.
However, that means I have to see it done to be able to do it myself. I can't create my own female character who defies the societal givens and the archetypal defaults to be sui generis and hot on her own terms. From the evidence, neither can anyone else. There are damned few female characters who defy default expectations. They're wonderful when I do find them- Servalan, Haruka and Michiru, maybe the shounen ai characters in female bodies from Onii-sama - but there's nothing nearly like enough of them. The rest- all these 'kickass' women that people go on about- to my eyes are shadowed always by the defaults they're defying. 'Look she's brave and independent! and not a whiny clinging traditional female. 'Look, she can fight as well as any guy!' because she acts exactly like the guys around her.
This is old territory. Presumably I don't need to say again that simply swapping stereotyped gender behaviours on a 1:1 basis does not undermine those behaviours at all, it merely reinforces them. What I want is a quantum leap- a character who simply doesn't invoke the defaults at all. And, well, nobody much provides those, including the people who're paid to do so. The best one can hope for is a kind of tweaking: working with the default to produce something new and unexpected. That doesn't get done much either.
3. I suppose this is the next point. Really, there aren't that many well-rounded female characters to write in most series I know. No, I won't argue the fact. There *aren't.* Most men write women to male notions of the givens (Ikuhara is always the exception.) Most series here are written by men, and when written by women still have no overt intention of shaking the androcentric givens of society. (see below) It's not my job as a fan writer to make up for any creator's lack of imagination. I go with what I'm given; I don't do major rewrites. And that indeed is why I write yaoi for series where m/m attachment is canonically implicit. While I may admire the Japanese fen's ability to be utterly arbitrary about guys shagging guys, I can't do it myself.
So where can one look for models of the kind of difference I want, since I need them to create my own characters? It's a hit-and-miss thing. Yuri is useless for my purposes, unless it's that kind proposed by a Japanese fan ages back, as a f/f version of tanbi/ shounen ai. That I could get behind: tanbi has style. Alas, most yuri I see caters to either a male idea of what's hot, or a dyke one, and neither of those viewpoints has the kind of style that does much for me. In fact, IME it segues too damned often into hentai- boobs and wet, wet and boobs- with a healthy side helping of flushed faces and dewy eyes. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it's not my thing.
What's heartbreaking to me is that shoujo manga, a genre created for and by women (well, females, because half the shoujo market is prepubescent) has its own genre defaults, and interesting women doing interesting things in interesting ways is not one of them. Teenage girls behaving like, well, teenaged Japanese girls is. One can't complain. The genre is created with a certain audience in mind and middle-aged western people aren't it.
Some shoujo however manages to be inspiring. After a steady diet of Kawasou Masumi I think I could probably write a decent het sex scene with someone who isn't a virgin (first times are always easier.) Kawasou's characters, as I said somewhere, like sex and remain themselves- and likably themselves- while having it, which is actually a neat trick given what the defaults for sexual writing are like in English. (Bref: porn hostile or romance novel overdone.) Helps that her characters are grown women, not teenaged girls. Helps that some of them are pearl spirits and Great Western Mothers.
In fact, I have to wonder if the creatures of fantasy and folklore aren't possibly more useful for my purposes than any representation of human beings. What I usually find missing from female characters is a sense of authority, the kind of authority that male characters have innately just by virtue of being men in the usual earth kind of society: autonomous effective moral agents, with some measure of temporal power as a plus. Fox-spirits and shamanesses have that innate authority, going by what one sees in Ima Ichiko.
One can also give women authority by making them ranking members of an association. Alas that most fictional associations I know of have all been conceived of by American men, or follow the pattern of assocations conceived of by American men, because a generalship in the American army, or Star Fleet even, isn't what I had in mind. Not a hotbed of individual autonomy, those. In fact, the worst kind of dystopian squash-you-all-flat organization IMHO. But there was this Chinese opera clip paleaswater showed me once, where the hero's mother comes in to (IIRC) berate the hero for some military failing. Hero's mother is a general. It's, you know, a family of generals: the father is a general, the mother is a general, the son is a general, etc etc. ('Once there was a poor family. The mother was poor, the father was poor, the children was poor, the butler was poor, the maids were poor...') I may be misremembering the specifics, of course, but I found the idea of Mama General quite inspiring. A female general in the Chinese army, and not one disguised as a guy, is much more to my tastes than female captain of the Enterprise, any Enterpise: the agenda may be quite as male but the uniform is cooler.
If I think long enough about Mama General I may even get an idea how life works for my female Rulers of the continents. Because otherwise I'm a bit stumped. The stumping part is that female dragons are bigger than males. Bigger and stronger and matrilocal, so how do my male dragon kings in their exceptional male-only palaces feel about them? You see the obvious trap: I have to fight to not think of my male dragons as RL females and my female dragons as RL males (different, foreign, uncongenial...) One to one substitutions, as I say, are no use at all. But female dragons don't even have breasts. I mean, what's a writer to do?