Woman in Fantasy

Literary Influence

In modern day literature, there are many variations in writing and style. It’s an important factor that is one of the main selling point of the book, but there is another very important selling point and that is the characterization. Each book gives life to a variation of character’s doing a variation of things. It’s safe to say, in most old-school fantasy and romance books, female characters are portrayed as “The damsel in distress” but with modern authors showing up, that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. More modern writers like Mercedes Lackey, give their female characters’ strong wills and even stronger personalities.

In the book The Fire Rose, a fantasy novel written by Mercedes Lackey, the setting is Chicago during the early 1900’s, specifically 1905. In that time women were not seen as “important” figures in daily life. They were house wives and caregivers, but in Lackey’s tale the female character is not only the main character, but she was a very knowledgeable female scholar, something totally unheard of for the time. She was written as a strong willed and very independent woman. Although because of her gender, she had a very hard time in the work place as a result of the idea that women should be at home.

Her gender roll within the book was that of intellect and importance. She was an important asset to the male character’s research, but she wasn’t portrayed as an object. Instead she was an equal to this male character that had everything including the intelligence. Gender roll in literature is a very important concept because it speaks about the author and the society with which it was written in.

Gender as a World

In a journal recently published. There was a section about Spain’s position on gender roles. It summarized “Gender inequality is embedded in men’s greater labor force participation and women’s greater assumption of domestic roles.” (Gartzia, L. & Fetterolf, J.C 2016) This point doesn’t just settle for Spain, much of the world is still in this state of mind. In a great article, there is a statement about literature saying “men view culture and society as male.” (Savitt 2016).

With that type of outlook its said, women follow the example within their writing for an array of reasoning. Due to this thought process, women reflect the idea of a male oriented world into their work because they are in the “headspace” (a person's state of mind or mindset) of a male driven world. Thus stated later in the paragraph; “While male characters have been given free rein to be and become what they like, even to fail if they choose, women characters have been written to play and re-play the same themes, limited as they are” (Savitt 2016).

Thinking back on women in most fictitious literature, their roles typically are comprised of; damsel in destress, new student, ditz or just an air head. These were the more common roles women played, but as society began to evolve and the idea that women weren’t just trophies to be seen not heard (It Takes Two), so did the roles that women played in literature. In Fantasy woman have become the heroine (Merriam-Webster) and shield maidens (Styles 2013) among terms. They are the main characters that must go through the same trials and adventures that was, at one time, strictly reserved for the male heroes.

Viking Shield Maiden

As society developed over the years, so did the gender roles in literature. Women were given more important rolls and given more strong personalities. Taking into consideration The Hunger Games by Susan Collins, the main protagonist is a strong woman who took care of her family and when the safety of her younger sister was put into jeopardy she immediately sprang into action. Throughout the series she is the single most important person in that world. She is placed as the symbol of a rebellion and as a symbol of hope. Her personality is portrayed as standoffish at first but intelligent none the less. She was also good with a weapon, which is still to this day, considered un-womanly in some parts. Yet she still does it with finesse and is a very icon symbol now in modern day. This translates into the real world by the female leaders who take the world by storm and manage to do it in a mature, proper manner.

Gender Maturation

So, women started out as being viewed as property and single use objects. In certain areas though this started to change. Women became viewed as important members of society as well. This became clear in many of Mercedes Lackey’s books. The women are portrayed as equal to the men in many parts of its Kingdom. In the trilogy Queens Own the reigning monarch is a woman who refused to marry. She had gone the route of courtship as her people had wanted, and it almost destroyed the entire Kingdom. She because the soul ruler with only a female heir who did succeed her mother and make a wise ruler as well. In a good chunk of Lackey’s series her female characters are given very important roles as such. In the same trilogy, a female with given the position as right hand to the queen, i.e. the only advisory the queen takes advice truly to the heart, from. This is a great representation of the importance of women being depicted.

Another good example of the evolution of female characters’ roles could be Hermione Granger, from one of the most well-known series in the world Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling. In this series Hermione is teased because she is a female born of muggles (humans). Even through the torment she became top of her class and played one of the biggest roles in the series. She taught the lesson that no matter what your past is or your gender, you can do whatever you set your heart to. One of the most important lessons anyone can teach young girls. And this lesson was achieved through a fantasy series about magic and wizards and even some death.

Falling Behind

Even at the dawn of the 20th century, women were considered only useful with rising children and doing house work and other “less important” things. They weren’t allowed in positions of power or importance. This idea that women are always in a position of helplessness reflected into literature up to the modern era specifically in pieces like The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer. Her father was a cop so he was gone all the time. Then came the male character that was powerful, popular, and had all the attention and she flocked right to him. As the story progressed she was always portrayed as frail and weak. She never showed aggression (hardly showed emotion at all) and never fought anything. During the climaxes of all but the last book she was the one in trouble that needed help. But in the last book she because the powerful one, the one in control the one that demanded everyone’s attention.

Another example of female characters that come off bad would be Anastasia from the very controversial series by E. L. James, 50 Shades of Grey. Anastasia Steel is a very infuriating character both in book and on screen. She’s to indecisive and very wishy-washy and is easily taken over by her counterpart Christian Grey. She tries to come off as sassy and strong but instead she came off as weak willed and a pushover. Although there were times where she would put her foot down and show a strength we all wished for, that didn’t come in until half way through the second book. Due to the idea that she was based of the character Bella Swan, this isn’t much of a surprise. Both characters share the qualities of damsel in destress and weak but they grow up, metaphorically, as their tale’s progress which is still an important lesson in the end.

The concept of female importance in literature can be a double-edged sword though. In novel’s like Gone with the Wind by Margarete Mitchell, her character started off as insignificant to any role in society and not well liked in her family, but after a near death experience she stoops to the level of cotton picker. She then works her way up to plantation owner and then to a business owner. The problem was her personality was so foul that her role in the business or “man’s” world became irrelevant because of how repulsive her personality was. This portrayal shows a type of stereotyping with gender roles that the female must be pristine and quiet, any vocalization is wrong and as such she is still put back down to the level of “should be seen not heard”.

Future Impacts of Literature

Literature is a very important conductor of the world because it is our beginning influence. Children typically start reading around the age of 4 or 5 (healthy reading), and within those stories its usually simple tales about animals doing activities or other children doing activates. A lot of children will try to mimic the activates read to them, or that they read. Thus, when you asked a little girl of generation X for example, what she wanted to be when she grew up, a lot of them would reply with "princess". Although this does also dabble with the idea of parental influence the fact still remains, As young children, the occupation or princess was very pronounced because of the tales they were associated with.

What this all concludes to is that reading is possibly the most important skill we learn in our lives. With that comes a very important responsibility set on the shoulders of authors, to weave tales that teach young women of the new generations that they aren’t just trophies to be polished and owned. That they are just as important as their male counterpart. It’s the female authors like Mercedes Lackey and Susan Collins that help accomplish that daunting task. They weave worlds where women are treated as important living beings, that can get any tasks done, and still look great doing it. As much as we like to deny it, looks are important in the 21st century so if you can be a hero and look great doing it, then you have concurred the world.

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Table of Contents
Literature Used

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Work Cited

Gartzia, L. & Fetterolf, J.C. Sex Roles (2016) 74: 121. doi:10.1007/s11199-015-0532-7

Savitt, Jill, Dr. "Female Stereotypes in Literature (With a Focus on Latin American Writers)."

82.05.06: Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, 2016. Web. 01 May 2017.

It Takes Two. ""Girls and Women Should Be Seen and Not Heard"." Girls and Women. Global Citizen, 28 Oct. 2013. Web. 01 May 2017.

"Helping Your Child Learn to Read." HealthyChildren.org. N.p., 2015. Web. 01 May 2017.

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Picture Citation

Hyperlinked

Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute

Sex Roles

Viking Shield Miaden

Hermione Granger

Gone with the Wind

50 Shades of Grey joke

Queens Own

Hunger Games

Gone With The Wind

Gone with the Wind Art

50 Shades of Grey

Twilight

The Fire Rose

Harry Potter

Credits:

Created with images by jill111 - "stack of books vintage books book"

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