My shelves are filled with ladies. I’m a fan of Leia and Rey; I adore Xena and Gabrielle; Buffy and Charmed are my sick day go-tos. I have feminist SFF coming out of my ears. But I spend a lot of time wondering if it’s really THEM that I like. Something about the Strong Female Protagonist is always going to grab me, but sometimes it seems like the Chinese takeout of the speculative fiction world: tasty and fun, but not always satisfying.
What I really want in my female characters has never been strength for strength’s sake. I want them to be rivers that run deep even when they look shallow. When I think about my favorite ladies, they tend to fit that mold. It’s not hard to see the complexity in Buffy’s character as the seasons go along.
I think what may be odder are the female characters I like who aren’t in the typical mold. I like many characters set up to be side characters and many of the main SFPs I can’t stand. It’s an interesting thing I’ve been thinking about lately.
Ginny Weasley is a classic read-into-them character for me. In my head, she’s way more complex than she ever was as an actual character. When I look at her, I see a girl who won’t trust the same way again, who longs for the kind of attention she’s only ever gotten from an abuser. I see an 11 year old who’ll have nightmares for months. She’s smart as a whip and funny, but keeps to the shadows. She grows into herself over time and with a lot of hard work.
The thing that bothers me about Ginny and characters like her isn’t just that they don’t get the spotlight or that they don’t save the day, it’s that they’re left alone; they spend their fictional lives as plot points, ignored except when useful. We’ll never really see her struggle. And, to be fair, she’s not the main character. But Ginny, and girls like her, are still important.
On the other hand, there are characters – let’s not name names – who often get the same treatment despite MC status. There are the SFPs who, for me, fall flat for the same reasons but without the justification. I’m just left thinking that despite the push for female heroines, particularly in stories for younger girls, there’s still a lot to be desired. Feelings of loss, anxiety, and hopelessness go ignored. Fear is a word that is always conquerable. It seems so hard to have characters who get to be human. Who hurt and rejoice with sincerity.
I want women who are evil because they think they’re doing The Right Thing.
I want women who cry at night after having saved the world.
I want women who take full joy in themselves.
I want women who love being alone and women who are terrified of it.
Those stories are valuable to me. The depth of their hearts are valuable to me.
So, there we have it. I’m a stodgy old lady in a twenty-something’s body. It’s cool. I’ve known it for a long time.
As a brighter note, I wanted to list some books with heroines who get the full treatment in a way I wish that others had.
But, please make my day brighter, too. Tell me where I can find more of these ladies.