It's an ongoing discussion that strikes at my core--as a
woman, as a writer, and as a reader. Just where are the real women in fantasy
fiction? Even as the list of books with female protagonists grows, especially
those written by female authors, the characterization of women remains
Too often strong female characters fall into one of three generalizations:
a) the bad-ass bitch vying for dominance in a misogynistic world; b) the wronged
woman seeking vindication by visiting vengeance upon her enemies; or c) the subjugated
nymph claiming her independence through her powers of seduction and
These character types can have some superficial appeal, but
few women really admire or aspire to be like them. What, then, is a real woman?
The key to writing an admirable female lead is to focus on
qualities and behaviors that illustrate heroism in womanly ways. A real woman
can and will accomplish the same feats as her male counterparts, but she will
not cast aside her femininity in the process. Making her stronger does not mean
making her more male.
A heroic woman might possess some form of physical power, but
throwing down will not necessarily be her go-to response when she is threatened
or overwhelmed. A woman’s natural advantage over superior muscle mass is endurance, both physical and psychological.
She will be brave, but she is able to show courage through internal fortitude by
withstanding fear, pain, or adversity--rather than through overt acts of valor.
She can also embrace and utilize her natural intuition and the emotions it
evokes, instead of resisting or attempting to control them.
Finally, she will never sacrifice her pride or her values,
except to save someone else's. Like any iconic hero, she would throw herself on
her sword to protect the greater good. That is a real woman, no matter what
world you’re in.