Sunday, November 12, 2017

Controversy in Fiction: Feminism and Female Characters

Welcome back to my mini-series, Controversy in Fiction. Each post can be read separately and in no particular order, as each one explores a different topic. This time last year, I posted on Feminism and Female Authors, and today, I’m here to continue the discussion, addressing issues that I didn’t review before.

Part 1 Summary:* Is feminism necessary within fiction? Some female authors still use pseudonyms today to help their books sell better (or to preserve their identities). Most classical writers are males, but most YA fiction today is written by women. Both genders fall into stereotypes. The world of fiction has come a long way over the centuries, progressing in equal representation between men and women.

But what is feminism today? And how does it apply to fiction, particularly to female characters?

* I would like to add to part 1: Female writers may be more numerous than they were in history, but they tend to receive more criticism than male authors. I follow lots of authors on Twitter, and one co-wrote a book with another author—one author was male, one female. They conducted an experiment where he took on her e-mails for a week and can confirm that all the negativity for the book was solely directed at the female writer. This bias needs to stop.

Disclaimer: This post may contain controversial opinions that are not necessarily the same as those of readers. While I have done my best to avoid stereotypes, some of my points are generalizations and may not apply to every situation and person. I have done my best to write objectively and mean no offense.

What is feminism?

Feminism (noun): 1) the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men. 2) an organized movement for the attainment of such rights for women. (

Going by the dictionary definition alone doesn’t sound like something so controversial. But words are often more than their mere definitions, so I’ll give a brief overview of the waves of feminism in the United States:

1st Wave Feminism (Late 1800s, Early 1900s)

Emphasis on empowering women in politics, particularly allowing women the right to vote (suffrage).

2nd Wave Feminism (1960s-1990s)

Emphasis on anti-sexualization of women and anti-“oppressive” female objects (e.g. bras).

3rd Wave Feminism (Mid-1990s-Present)

Emphasis on typical “feminine” beauty and intelligence. Draws from Postmodernism.

4th Wave Feminism (Present)

Mostly undefined but current transition from 3rd Wave. Emphasis on gender equality and inclusion of women and men.

Please take into consideration that the above summaries are greatly simplified. Any mistakes are my own. For further reading on the waves of feminism, check out Martha Rampton’s “Four Waves of Feminism”.

How does feminism apply to fiction?

There are many ways. In historical fiction, you might have female characters who dream of taking on jobs that are not considered feminine or who advocates for women’s rights. In science fiction, you might have a revolutionary or a warrior who fights alongside her brothers in arms.

Feminism in fiction can relate the progression of women’s rights in history and it can empower female readers today.

Of course, constantly reading stories with male-dominant societies can be annoying, even for feminists. Readers don’t just want stories about the way the world is, they also want stories about the way the world can be. That isn’t to say that all stories have to be utopias, but they don’t all have to reflect a patriarchal society. On the other hand, writers should consider that a matriarchal society is not simply replacing the male characters with female ones. 

What’s the big deal with the Strong Female Character trope?

If any of this sounds familiar, it is. I briefly touched on Strong Female Characters in my last post on feminism in fiction, but here I’m going to go more in depth.

One misconception about strong female characters is that they all have to be not just equal to men but better than them, in brains and physical strength. And in this sense, nothing about gender stereotypes has changed. Not really. Instead of the women being classified as weak, now men are classified as stupid.

This misconception is really annoying.

Not only is it hard to relate to a Strong Female Character with all the emotional range of a teaspoon, but it’s also hard to admire a girl who can only lead a revolution. Drat, you mean I have to be able to lead a revolution in order to be admirable? Forget that. I’m going back to my garden to read a book! Never mind that it’s freezing outside…

Females can be physically strong, yes, but not all Strong Female Characters have to be. Many types of strength exist—physical, mental, spiritual, you name it.

Some great examples of Strong Female Characters include but are not limited to Valka from Among the Red Stars, Maerad from The Books of Pellinor, basically any of the women in Code Name Verity, Lila Bard from A Darker Shade of Magic, Mimi from Full Cicada Moon, Amani from Rebel of the Sands, Dri from The Remnants trilogy, and Puck from The Scorpio Races.

Let’s chat! Where do you stand on feminism and fiction? Who’s your favorite strong female character? Do you think gender discrimination is a problem that still needs to be addressed in the publishing industry and the world of fiction?


Literary references: Gwen C. Katz’s Among the Red Stars, Alison Croggon’s The Books of Pellinor, Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity, V. E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic, Marilyn Hilton’s Full Cicada Moon, Alwyn Hamilton’s Rebel of the Sands, Lisa T. Bergren’s The Remnants trilogy, and Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races


  1. I'm a very passionate feminist in ALL things, and I particularly shout for it in literature too. If I go to read a book to escape into imagination, then I want to read about girls being awesome and complex and real, right?! I actually loathe the Strong Female Heroine stereotype because it not only kills all her emotions, it actually is just turning a girl into a guy. Like it's giving her stereotyped "male" qualities and then saying "ok now you can admire her because she's strong!" Um....look, masculine girls are fine and great and I love them too. But we can't dismiss girls who are very feminine! And girls who don't like to fight! So there's a lot books need to do to address that but hopefully they're getting there!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Cait! (A soon-to-be-author commented on my post! SQUEE!!!) And, yeah, I'm not a big fan of the stereotypical Strong Female Characters who are emotionless either. Having emotions does not equal weakness. It's how the characters deal with them that's the key.

  2. Favourite strong female characters? Miyazaki's heroines, most of the women from 'Discworld' and most of the female characters from 'Steven Universe'.

    1. Thanks for the comment! I can't say I've read any of those (though Mort is on my TBR list), but I'll be sure to check them out. Glad to read that there's so much more to discover! :)

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