Badass Womanly Women in SFF

A popular grievance of the Left is a lack of “inclusion” by either the Powers That Be or the population in general. As if we happy associates of the white, Christian Patriarchy have the time to step away from counting our piles of gold coins and smoking fine cigars long enough to actively knock the undesirables (or deplorables, if you will) down to the base of the ladder where they belong. This idea is usually born either by recently enlightened members of the aggrieved class or else sufficiently apologetic, self-appointed proxies. Self-righteous pensters have been decrying a lack of diversity in X for quite some time now.

Though it wasn’t the (original) central issue, there was plenty of talk focused on this topic during the whole Gamergate affair. Plenty of people pointed out that there are many prominent female video game characters – something easily ascertainable to those who have actually played video games or done some cursory research.

What about women in other media?

We’ve been told how great it is that we’re now finally getting some diversity in TV and film. With strong women like Rey in the Force Awakens and the Ghostbusters reboot, who needs traditional gender roles? Indeed, who needs men?

This dreck has been percolating for a while now. Is there a pushback coming?


For the greater American culture, I’m not so certain. The pendulum swings both ways for sure, but it’s not easy to predict the full range of the cultural fulcrum. In a more limited arena, at any rate, the battle rages on.

To counter the cries of discrimination, I’ve noted several bloggers and online literary critics highlighting female excellence within the scifi-fantasy arena – pertaining both to writers and characters. Leigh Brackett and Margaret St. Clair are familiar names to Appendix N scholars or those fans on the farther side of the SFF Generation Gap. CJ Cherryh, Ursula Le Guin, Madeleine L’engle, Anne Rice, Anne McCaffrey, and Katherine Kurtz are some other big names who have been around for decades. Hell, JK Rowling is one of the best selling authors of all time, with Agatha Christie (a different genre, but still) topping the chart in a tie with William friggin Shakespeare. There are many more to name.

In light of this topic coming to the fore, I’ve been thinking about “strong” female characters. And you know, the recent brand is boring. The Left advances the ideas that gender is fluid and non-binary, and that traditional gender roles are outdated and discriminatory. And we wind up with bland characters like Rey, who wear formless potato sacks and can do everything better than men. She is woman, hear her roar.

JC Wright has written extensively on the subject of the strong female character. Physically and psychically, men and women have different strengths and weaknesses. While social crusaders may not personally like or accept this fact, minding it goes a long way toward developing well-written characters.

I’d like to briefly highlight a number of female characters I’ve identified who serve to exemplify this point. Note that these characters range in time of origin and in source medium. We can even draw from back in the Dark Ages when the women’s voices were suppressed and they were forcibly excluded from literature.

The Blood of Heroes (1989), Kidda


In a post-apocalyptic world, a roving team of juggers hop from town to town playing the Sport (one part football, one part gladiatorial bout) as they make their way to the capital city, where they will fight to join the League. Along the way they pick up the scrappy Kidda – a small but quick woman who becomes their quik (the runner who tries to carry a dog skull to the opposite team’s end of the field without being savaged by the enemy defenders). Rather than brutishly pummeling the much larger men, Kidda had to rely on her natural agility, speed, and size to make it in the brutal game.


Star Trek Voyager (1995-2001), Captain Janeway


Star Trek Voyager gets a lot of flack, and many Trekkies seem to consider it the worst or one of the worst series. I’ll have to write a defense sometime, because it’s actually my favorite of the bunch. Janeway is Exhibit A for me. She exhibited the best qualities of Kirk and Picard. She was a skilled diplomat, leader, and scientist, and yet she was quick to kick ass and take names when shit hit the fan. I found Janeway’s femininity striking. Although she did have some romantic subplots that never went anywhere, Janeway was extremely maternalistic. When it came to protecting her crew, she was a mother bear. She was no physical powerhouse, but she repeatedly displayed great courage and emotional strength.


Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009)Six, Eight (Boomer and Athena), President Roslin


There were a number of great female characters in the reincarnation of Battlestar. Of course Grace Parker was engaging as both Boomer and Athena, and Six as Caprica and other roles. Roslin was written a little unevenly, but she usually made a fine leader, relying on her forceful personality, wiles, and resilience. I’d contrast these characters with Starbuck, who was crafted to be a brawling hottie but more often came across as obnoxious and destructive.


Alien (1979) and Aliens (1986), Ripley


Ripley was another maternal female character, at her best when she was protecting Newt. She wasn’t always the strongest, but she was intelligent, resourceful, and determined, as was perhaps best displayed in the iconic Aliens scene in which she takes on the mother alien with the work loader mech.


Flash Gordon (1934-) – Dale Arden, Princess Aura


Flash Gordon was published as a comic strip in 1934 and has been serialized in a number of different media throughout the years. Two major recurring characters are Dale Arden (his companion from Earth and main love interest) and Princess Aura (daughter of Ming the Merciless). Although on the surface they may look like typical princesses in need of rescue, they’re both strong and independent characters. I haven’t personally read the comic strip, but in the 1980s film Aura saves Flash’s life and Dale effects her own escape. They’re both capable, brave, and beautiful (I know, scandalous for me to say!) without having to usurp the role of the male heroes.


Willow (1988)  Sorsha, Queen Bavmorda, Fin Raziel


Ok, so Willow’s Sorsha wasn’t the most well-fleshed-out of characters. She went from basically being an ice cold bitch to eventually deciding to join the good guys against her mom. I guess the ladies just can’t resist the Madmartigen D.


Oh well. At any rate, she was a decently depicted female warrior type – this is what you get when you’re not dealing with abnormal behemoths like GRRM’s Brienne. She can fight; she can stab some old robed men plenty well. But when she’s dealing with a skilled, larger male like Mad M, she’s no match. I guess this is hinted at by her prominent quiver of arrows, though I don’t think she ever has a bow or makes use of any of them.

We’ve also got Fin Raziel, the great magical old dame Willow must seek out because she’s a powerful mage and he’s just a two-bit magician. If woman are going to have equal opportunity, we also need some prominent strong female villains, and so we’ve got Bavmorda, who is probably the strongest magic user in the film. She’s vicious, cruel, self-serving, and good at being bad.

Willow is particularly notable because it gave us the old woman magic battle years before we got the old man magic battle on screen. Revolutionary!


The Wizard of Oz (1900), Dorothy


The story that spurred perhaps one of our most classic, iconic films, and the protagonist is a little girl. She may not have been roundhousing flying monkies or pummeling the wicked witch, but Dorothy’s kindness and charisma aided her in recruiting many friends throughout her journey (especially if you include the other books in the series). Her quest to return home required a fair amount of courage, as well, which you may notice is a recurring virtue on this list.

Again, this is just a small sample of female characters from a variety of SFF. And they were arguably all well done and strong despite not competing with men where men excel and/or just being good at everything.






29 thoughts on “Badass Womanly Women in SFF

  1. Calls for diversity are often code for “diverse characters who all think like I do and advance my politics.” Hence the willingness to erase diverse characters who don’t conform to that vision.

    I staunchly disagree with you about Rey, by the way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha, well let’s get into it, HP! I would engage on Twitter but it seems to be down (here anyway).

      I just found her immensely boring and Mary Sue-ish. She was physically tough enough to take on Kylo Ren (he was wounded and worn down, so fine) and also 3 random guys who jumped her; she was an awesome pilot despite never having flown before; she was so mechanically skilled just from taking apart pieces of ships that she was more knowledgeable of the Millennium Falcon than Han-frickin-Solo; she was able to both resist and employ difficult force powers without any training or practice. She never needed help or rescuing (even Luke and Han did in the originals). And when the writers had the chance to show a bit of her feminine side, they shied away from a romance between a white chick and a black guy.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Like the movie as a whole, Rey had some stuff going for her, but was more bad than good.

        It would’ve been better if they explained her super-competence in everything, rather than her being good at everything just because. The scene where she busted out of captivity by mind-tricking a stormtrooper was the absolute bottom for me because she should not have that level of skill with the Force without training.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Before Force Awakens women were relegated to the backseat in scifi. Now they can take their rightful place alongside (or above) men. That is all you need know!


  2. Typically the way women heroes in Raygun Romance stories are handled is they are usually hyper competent at a number of things, so to create drama and tension, they have to be taken out of their element briefly to show a weakness that can be addressed and compensated for by teaming up with the male heroes. Of course, the male hero is susceptible to the same thing, and will often find himself in a bind that only the woman hero can get him out of. It’s through that interaction that the characters typically realize they complete one another. Hence the Romance part of the Raygun Romance.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In the 1920s SF story I’m reading now, the space princess was leading an army and pretty much slaughtering the hero’s rag-tag band of Venusian nomad barbarians, but traitors in her court who wanted to back a rival for her throne warned her she needed to be taken safely away from the battle lines. Before they could spring their trap and carry her off into captivity, a crocodragon shows up and starts eating them. Before the crocodragon can eat the princess too, the hero, who’d gotten separated from his own army during the general retreat, manages to slay it. The two enemies meet and are both all “Well, a fine mess we’re in now, because of you!”

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Indeed. And I think that’s a smart way to build a character, especially for that genre. I take issue with impossibly hyper confident women who best men at their own game. In most cases a woman shouldn’t be able to single-handedly trounce multiple male attackers in hand-to-hand combat. Especially when we’re talking about a woman who has no combat training that we know of.

      Talking about Rey gets me kind of tilted.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I mean, she wasn’t just obnoxious as a Mary Sue. She was obnoxious as a character. Heroes who are good at everything and have no discernible weakness and don’t even have any romantic interests…? Boring.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. PCBushi: Don’t rush, take your time. Although I would recommend reading Swords Against Death first, when you start reading Fafhrd & Grey Mouser; those aren’t the first stories chronologically, but they’re the best introduction you could have to Leiber’s work.

    Cirsova: Regarding sword fights vs multiple opponents: from what I’ve read, even famous duelists with a list of kills to their name wound up dead or crippled for life after a fight with multiple opponents. I believe Leiber had some experience with swords; he probably picked up fencing from his father while touring with his parent’s acting company as a teenager and young man, and there is at least one account of him fighting a duel with broadswords at a SCA tournament in the 60’s.

    Regarding Rey from the Force Awakens: um….the actress who plays her is an attractive woman, off-screen, I mean.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It was the only thing I could think of to say about her performance.

        Like my grandmother said, “If you can’t say anything nice…”

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m seconding starting with Swords Against Death. The first chronologically actually features some of the last written, sort of going back and filling in the various Noodle Incidents that are only alluded to in earlier stories.

      And yeah, from what I’ve gathered, most schools of sword fighting focus on one-on-one fighting; you aren’t really going to be parrying several blows at once – you’ll be parrying one blow while another catches you open. The few western fighting styles meant to put one against several were generally those for near suicidal combat rolls anyway, like the pike-breakers with zweihanders whose job it was to try to brush aside pikes long enough for shock troops to break through a line.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Man Alex, I don’t mean to gush but I have to hand it to you; I almost always come away from reading your posts or comments with some new insight or spark of curiosity. I don’t know where you learned about pike-breakers and zweihander tactics, but sounds awesome.


  4. There is also the assumption, tacitly accepted even by people annoyed by the gender warriors, that science fiction (or fantasy or any other genre or medium) is a kind of hivemind, that the “weaknesses” of a specific book (or video game) somehow say something about the other members of the genre. Hence why arguments like “Book X lacks women and what says about the medium” are accepted, even though that makes as much sense as saying “In this movie, The Godfather, there aren’t *enough* females, that means cinema is…” It’s almost as if people were unable to think in concrete terms and to criticize specific products and they had some compulsion to make overarching ideological claims about whole classes of things.

    The most that can be said about a book lacking women is that… well, it lacks women. And that could be caused by many reasons, most of them harmless. And even when the reason could be deep-seated misogyny, that means the writer is sexist (for whatever reasons,) but all the other writers don’t need to be chastised for that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well said.

      But the perpetually aggrieved and their white knights (sorry, I shouldn’t say “white;” rather their champions) have a narrative to sell. As for the tacit acceptance by the more neutral among us, I blame the loss of educational and entertainment institutions to the Left.


      1. I teach at a technical/vocational school, and I could not agree more. Too often the students we enroll are either ignorant of the basics or have been told a pack of lies. It isn’t by chance; the Left WANTS them this way.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. PCBushi:

    I’d like to thank you again for putting together your Grand List of inspirational fantasy; it has proven to be just the place to point friends who want something new to read. It’s got everything!

    You even have Leslie Barringer’s Neustrian Cycle, from Newcastle Forgotten Fantasy listed. Those are a great read!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. John, I’m happy to hear someone aside from myself is getting some use out of it! If you have suggestions for any other notable lists that might make good additions, please feel free to let me know.


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