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 The Left advances the ideas that gender is fluid and non-binary, and that traditional gender roles are outdated and discriminatory.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.