girls as warriors, YA strong female characters

Dames and Daggers

“So, Mr. Misogynist Editor, you’re afraid of strong women, huh?”  I purr the words at him, the point of my dagger resting on his nose.  Sweat trickles down his fat forehead over the pitted surface of his cheeks and drips off his chin.  “What on Earth is there to be afraid of?”

Flash of metal while I slice through his papers and plant my blade in the unmarred surface of his mahogany desk.

Ahem.  Yes, well, this is only a sick fantasy involving the idiot star of my last post.  I’ve cut my fingers just pulling a knife out of a drawer.  There’s no way I’d use one for anything other than slicing bread. 

And that is my point.

Just to make things clear: I think YA authors are writing strong female characters  — a backlash after the reign of characters like Bella Swan who fall for protectors/control freaks.  We’re seeing a lot of warrior-type protagonists who literally kick ass and who are tougher than steaks cooked by yours truly.

Awesome.  I love it.  However…

The whole idea that having muscles and weapons makes you tough is based on the male archetype.  Wielding knives and knowing how to throw a punch may make you an übercool she-warrior, but it doesn’t (necessarily) make you a role model.  Or a feminist.  Or a strong main character.  Not if the rest doesn’t follow suit. 

Most of us in the real world don’t know how to gut an enemy (and wouldn’t anyway) or win a fight against a 300 pound soldier.  It’s fun to read about.  Fun to fantasize about.  But solid strong female characters are also ones whose skills translate into the real world:  these girls stand up for what they believe in, learn to trust themselves, love themselves and most of all respect themselves (and others).  They may start the novel as strong or come into their own over the course of the book.  Doesn’t matter.  What matters is that readers can identify with that character in a tangible way.  In a way they see and live day to day, even if the novel itself is fantasy. 

Those books where the protagonist cowers behind the fangs or wings or fur or over-developed pecs of her honey?  Good riddance.  I have nothing against romance and love a good pair of pecs. But now I want to see the male character as partner, not protector.  To be honest, it’s not always easy to write them into that role.  And to be sure, it can be even harder to get that kind of book published, thanks to people like Mr. Misogynist Editor there.  

But it’s happening.  With or without the weapons.  Girls are getting tough.

And they’re coming your way.

1 thought on “Dames and Daggers”

  1. Yes. No one questions whether it's normal for a young male character to be unpleasant and tough as he finds his way around – he can still be a likeable, surly hero – but god help the young female character who isn't beautiful and sweet when not being a badass.


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