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Fierce Females in Fiction

May 12, 2011

I was  a tomboy. For a while, my favorite outfit was overalls, no shirt. I liked running around without a shirt as a kid– that was the easiest way to be a boy. When I played with my friends, I was a knight, noble and stoic; a pirate, adept

Robin Hood, Disney-style

with the rapier; or a rouge, dexterous and dangerous with throwing daggers. I was fierce, strong, talented. I loved rescuing my friends in roles that fell more neatly along the gender line (but their princesses and warrior’s daughters were also fierce and brave). I always had a tragic past or dark secret (I was a blind minstrel spy once who could fool everyone into thinking he was sighted). But I was always a guy. Maybe it was a long-lived reaction to a preschool playmate informing me that no, I could not be Robin Hood because he was a boy and I was a girl. But I think it was because all the movies and books I encountered had more interesting guy characters. Even as a teenager, I had concluded that being a guy was better. No female examples of the dashing trickster character that I loved– like Gambit or Silk from David Eddings’s Belgariad. Maybe I just didn’t read the right books, but I did read voraciously, so I think it more likely that men outnumber women in fiction.

Neil Gaiman *dreamysigh*

Many other people have made this observation. So I’m glad to see that recently, we’ve seen more strong and interesting female characters. I’m going to go with the word ‘fierce’ here. For some reason that has been the word I keep thinking to summarize qualities I admire. I like the violence of it, really. The wildness. How to say it you touch your teeth to your lip on the ‘f’ and bare them on ‘ce’. I want more fierce women.


1. Having or displaying an intense or ferocious aggressiveness.

2. (of a feeling, emotion, or action) Showing a heartfelt and powerful intensity.

Lyra in His Dark Materials is a scrappy rascal as a kid, and grew into a strong determined young woman. AND she had sex as the ultimate act of rebellion.

Death in Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman is pretty damn awesome. She is witty, engaging, confident, and compassionate. Love her outfits, hair and sense of mischief  (though sometimes I still like brooding, mysterious Dream more).

Amy Pond from the latest seasons of Doctor Who

Amy Pond from  Doctor Who is great. I love her feisty-ness, tendency to say exactly what she thinks, and sexiness (accent, legs, redhead!).  But, you know I actually like Donna Noble as well, who was even MORE feisty and red-headed, especially because she DIDN’T fall in love with the Doctor (something I would find hard to do meself).

Princess Leia never really did it for me– not when there was handsome, knavish Han Solo around– so much better. She started out cool– a lone diplomat on a mission to save the universe, and regressed to bikini-wearing eye candy.

Harriet the Spy

Harriet the Spy ( only female I ever pretended to be)  a writer, a spy, a nerd. I guess I felt a kinship, ahem NOT that I am a spy… Look over there, something shiny!

The Mute in the  Bitterbynde trilogy (but I liked her best when we didn’t know she was a she… and then Aragorn comes on the scene and I loved him — Opps sorry, Thorn. Not Aragorn, but same diff. Then she got more awesome in the third book– like when she spirit walked to send Thorn a message that she was alive).

Juno is great. Well, except I don’t really want to be a pregnant teen, but I do want to be a clever, geeky, sarcastic Juno.

Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird is also great–also a spunky, speaks her mind kid. Though I did think she was a boy the first time I read the book when I was eight or so.

Ed in Cowboy Be-Bop because she is androgynous, somewhat of a genius, and totally off the wall quirky.

Quorra is pretty cool in Tron: Legacy,  but still only a supporting character. Why couldn’t Kevin Flynn’s child have been a girl?? Too many times the girl is cool, kickass, but only a side kick.And when we do have a great female– she is androgynous, or young– Ed, Harriet and YT from Snowcrash are all lacking in the mature woman category. The message I got from that was that maybe girls could be cool if we acted like boys, but if you weren’t sexy by the time you became a woman, no more coolness for you.  We need some more feminine, awesome characters.

Even evil villanesses are few and far between, but it is notable that the first mad scientist was a woman— Mad Mathésis in Christopher Smart’s “The Temple of Dulness” (1745).

And forget it if you are a queer girl:  even fewer role models. I can think of no good examples in mainstream media.

I am not saying that girls don’t have any role models. There are plenty of real-life women who are strong, assertive, and smart. Any girl’s  best role models are often mothers, teachers, aunts, and grandmothers. But media is a powerful influence, and I don’t think it gives us enough female awesomeness, and certainly not enough queer female awesomeness. You want a better discussion of the issue? Check out this link: Queer Women Speak About Their First Experiences of Queer Representations in Film and Television.

Happily we have the internet. Comics, discussion boards, fan fiction.  I dug lovingly into Harry Potter fan fiction=- Luna/Ginny/Hermione combinations all welcome. Lupin/Sirius makes me swoon. Fan fiction shows you that even when mainstream media portrays only the hetero- and cis- of the gender and sexuality spectra , the fan base is happy to subvert.

SO– who were your favorite female characters growing up? Who did you want to be?

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