Today, I have a guest post from Rabia Gale, who is also one of my WANA buddies. She’s done a lot of posts on how women are depicted in fantasy novels on her blog and has a novella out called Rainbird. Here’s her bio:
Rabia Gale breaks fairy tales and fuses fantasy and science fiction. She loves to write about flawed heroes who never give up, transformation and redemption, and things from outer space. She grew up in Karachi, Pakistan and now lives in Northern Virginia. Check out her fantasy novella, Rainbird , or visit her online at
A few months ago, while watching an episode of Warehouse 13, something about the show began to bug me. It wasn’t until a scene with most of the characters on-screen that I realized what had set my story senses tingling.
There were too many women in the cast. Two female field agents, one female geek, one female psychic. Add the formidable Mrs. Frederic to the women’s side, and the two men were outnumbered.
Warehouse 12 did something right, for it exposed how I’m conditioned to expect far fewer women than men in my action-adventure. If the gender imbalance had gone the other way—as is often the case—I wouldn’t have been bothered at all.
I grew up in the 80s, so I’m no stranger to the Token Woman phenomenon in many of the cartoon shows I watched. From Cheetara in ThunderCats (no, I’m not counting the prepubescent Wily Kit) to the princess (what was her name again?) in Voltron (the planet version) to Arcee in Transformers: The Movie, these characters were mostly sidekicks and/or love interests. For young girls like me, desperate to find a character to identify with, they were often the only way to live vicariously in the worlds and adventures that captivated us.
As I grew older, female characters went from supporting characters to protagonists. However, the lone woman trope still persisted. It had morphed into the Special Snowflake Woman. She was the one female who dared to do a man’s job, usually by becoming a warrior or ruling the kingdom in her own name. This Special Snowflake Woman was different from ordinary women—often because she hated embroidery, dancing, or the vapid chatter of her female companions—and inducted into the company of men. Males were her teachers, friends, and companions.
What this trope did was to set our heroines—and by extension the female reader—apart from other women. This trope—especially in fantasy—denigrates the majority of women, painting them as weak, stupid, and boring. It reinforces a male ideal of strength, and ignores the complexities of female relationships.
When we write so few women into our stories, we miss out on the opportunities for the tough, middle-aged female veterans to mentor young, starry-eyed swordswomen, for a queen and her daughter to argue over policy, for the tomboy to befriend and value the dainty girl who loves to embroider. We miss the opportunity to take a group of very different women and send them to pull off a heist, tramp through the wilderness, defend the village, or outwit the Dark Lady (*grin*).
You know, just like the men do.