Let’s give a warm welcome to Cassandra! We’ve traded guest posts today, so she’s posting here and I’m posting about my writerly schedule on her blog, Cassandra Jade in the Realm. She’s on a blog tour for the whole month, so be sure to check out her other fantastic posts!!!
Females in Fantasy
Thanks Laura for hosting me today. This is the fifth stop on my blog tour and things are about to get very busy. Today I want to consider the role of females in fantasy fiction and how their role has changed (or not changed) over time. No, this is not going to turn into an angry feminist rant claiming that men are evil and that women are constantly being put down. Mostly because in fantasy fiction, that wouldn’t be true at all.
Looking back to Tolkien, women didn’t get a lot of air time. You have an entire fellowship of questers and not one female amongst them. Arwen gets to stay at home and before becoming ill. Eowyn moons over a guy who has already given his heart to another. Meanwhile, Galadriel, is incredibly wise, but sits strictly in the background, giving Frodo cryptic advice, a brief glimpse of the future and a few pretty trinkets. All of these explanations are overly simplistic but the essential statement is true. These characters didn’t get anywhere near the time and attention the male characters received, and their roles were passive and supporting.
There isn’t anything necessarily wrong with any of these characters. The problem for a long time in fantasy however, was that these were the only roles for women. They were the wife waiting at home, the supportive lover, the healer, the priestess giving advice, the witch consulted for an oracle, etc. While there are definitely exceptions, there was an overwhelming number of females who sat passively to the side of the action in fantasy books.
Then again, a lot of people viewed fantasy as something for male readers. There were epic battle sequences, and strong heroes up against seemingly invincible villains. Even today, despite the large amount of fantasy written nearly exclusively for women, many people see fantasy ‘freaks’ (fans to the rest of us) as the teenage boy in the basement playing dungeons and dragons.
If we skip ahead to the days of post Xena and Buffy, what we see is that females still sit passively to the side of the action in some fantasy books, but now have so many more roles open to them. Yes, some of them are simply the direct opposite. The woman in armour, fighting her way through the hordes, and other than one or two emotional break downs, she may as well have been a male character because her gender is entirely superfluous to the story. But most aren’t. We see women as the leader of the quest, as the comedic support, as the villain, as anything and everything.
Personally, I love fantasy with strong female characters (although a diverse range of characters is kind of helpful). By that, I don’t mean women who hit everything with a sword to solve their problems. By strength I look for characters who determine their own path, who don’t hide behind or rely on others, and while they may have a bit of a break down they can pull themselves back together to overcome all the odds. Jill from Katherine Kerr’s Deverry Series is an excellent example of a strong character (though she actually does fight with a sword). Tori Alexander from Traci Harding’s Ancient Future Trilogy was my favourite when I was in school. Transported back in time, Tori doesn’t let anything stand in her way.
Women have come a long way in fantasy and with a large number of female fantasy readers out there, hopefully this opportunity will continue.
Cassandra Jade is a fantasy writer from Australia. You can visit her blog, Cassandra Jade in the Realm or follow her on Twitter. Her debut fantasy novel, Death’s Daughter, is available from Lyrical Press.
I’m all for characters like Xena. I think science fiction adapted even faster than fantasy.
That said, don’t hate me but – there’s no women in my book. Sorry!
Better no women than the token woman who is there for no apparent purpose. You use the characters you need.
I actually found that really irritating in Predators. We knew the token woman wasn’t going to be in any serious danger until the end, it was just a matter of whether they sacrificed her or saved her in the final act. Annoying.
Over the years when most hear women and fantasy, they automatically thought romance. As women’s place in the real world has changed over the years, I’m glad to see their place in fantasy changing too.
Thoughts in Progress
The strange thing is that there are so many woman now who can’t stand romance. It is great that stories are starting to reflect that shift.
I have added your book to my never-ending TBR pile.
This post is right on. Female characters that determine their own path is exactly what’s missing from most fantasy. It’s all about the guys. Is it because most guys don’t want to read books with strong female protags?
I guess women in fantasy have come a long way, but they also have a ways to go. 🙂
I will check out these books you have mentioned. I have linked to your very enlightening post. Thanks to both you ladies.
I think part of the problem is that a lot of fantasy is set in worlds that are dated and have outdated values. It is natural for women in those sorts of societies to have a back seat. At the same time, fantasy allows you to play with most parts of the world, so why not the gender roles?
Hmm. All of my characters could switch genders, and the story wouldn’t change much. I guess that says something about my world view.
I personally think I need to work on my male characters. They don’t have anywhere near enough depth just yet. I hope that doesn’t say anything about my world view and just that I focused a lot on creating the females in my story.
Great post. I would think that contemporary fantasy would allow for more high-profile roles for female characters than the traditional format, although like you did, it’s easy enough to just change the rules in any fantasy setting.
At the moment, I’m trying to make sure that my female character in my WIP doesn’t come to rely too much on her male mentor figure, although it is a give-and-take relationship.
Wonderful discussion! Thanks to everyone who chimed in! Great post, Cassandra! 😀
Most of the women in my comedic tales are of the stronger kind, and often take the lead in dangerous situations. They’re equally as rude too. I’m well into equality in every aspect of life – whether real or imaginary. In my two non-comedic books women feature strongly too. And particularly in my Silent Apocalypse the story is told in the first person by a sixteen year old girl. Why, as a male writer, I chose to do this I have no idea. It just seemed right at the time. Five years down the line it still does.
Cassandra, a great post. I always enjoying reading about character building in other genres–and I think so often so much of it is universal. I write in women’s fiction but I would agree that so many female readers (in particular)–as seems to be the case in fantasy–are tired of the cliched roles of women (and men!) and the token sense of the must-have romantic subplot. I think it’s a challenge for any writer to build characters who are inventive and unique, but always a rewarding challenge.