What's with All the Violence for Girl-Heroes in Fantasy Stories?
by Stella Atrium
I was thinking about how female fantasy writers connect the girl-hero
with violence. I was seeking a quote to start this blog entry, but I
came up short.
Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent – Isaac Asimov
Violence is the last resort of the ignorant – L. Ron Hubbard
Both are a mis-reading of a post-war Roosevelt speech. I guess everybody borrows.
like that we have chosen to empower women by giving the girl-hero
choices and weapons and treasure and magic and the ability to talk to
horses. These are exciting additions to her personal power, and I wish
the stories had existed when I was young. (My comfort was A Wrinkle in Time where one of the travelers was a girl.)
recently read a couple trilogies in fantasy where the girl-hero wields
a sword, leads an army, and grown men twice her age follow her. In
history, there was a queen named Matilda (we need a
biopic here!!) who put Henry Plantagenet on the throne of England. But
Matilda was a grown woman who took advantage in a fractured system
where the heir apparent was weak, and the King of France had died
leaving Eleanor (Henry’s wife) with a larger kingdom. Matilda’s
victories on the battlefield were few.
Other queens featured in history ride at the head of armies as inspiration (a young Catherine the Great,
for example), but none of them were commoners. Rather, the queen had
resources a man usually claims such as treasure and blood rights to
squander on a bid for the throne. Mostly these examples from history
acted through diplomacy and deceit when the monarchy was weak.
So where is the precedent for all the violence for girl-heroes in fantasy stories?
girl kills without remorse? What 14-year-old kills a man who outweighs
her by 80 pounds? So sometimes the girl-hero has more magic than the
opponent’s magic. Sometimes she was trained in the use of poison to
level the contest.
But there’s still the kill stroke – the coup de gras.
are we turning girl-heroes, who are written to serve as liberating role
models for our younger generation, into killing machines? When did
this trend start?
So the three possibilities for female roles
in fantasy are still warrior, sweetheart/victim, or harlot – right? We
have no better/different roles for women? Really? I can think of a few,
but they depend on adding additional characters to the story; a
pantheon of aunts, school mates, teachers, cousins, young sisters and
BFFs. Listed are a few examples of character types:
Jealous sister like in the movie The Bodyguard
Buddies like in Thelma and Louise
Friend who turns on you like in Bridesmaids
Long suffering steadfast friend like in Bridesmaids (hence the popularity)
Narcissistic nemesis like in You Again
Overbearing boss like in Working Girl
Friends bonded to improve conditions like in Nine to Five
Friends bonded by community like in Steel Magnolias
Mentoring from an expert like in Bones on TV
– Why do we never see this structure in fantasy stories? The girl-hero
is always mentored by an older man who admits, much later, to sexual
interest. In real life, older women teach younger women. It seems that
when a woman reaches age 40, she suddenly goes mute and the girls she
mentored erase her name from history.
And another thing – I’m warmed up to it now!! A woman as the bad guy
gets the short shrift. The male characters who serve as bad guys in
fantasy stories are often deftly drawn with a back story for how they
started down a dark road. But the female bad guys are usually stuck in
the “Mirror, mirror, on the wall” musky old motif. What happened in
her background that twisted her sense of doing good?
A bad guy
who serves to drive the story thinks he is doing what’s best for the
future, and he offers every justification for why he is right. A
female bad guy never gets that speechifying moment to justify her choices before somebody throws a bucket of water on her.
Come on, ladies… We can do better than this.