In a time of ancient Gods, Warlords, and Kings, a land in turmoil cried out for a hero. She was Xena, a mighty princess forged in the heat of battle.
"If I made Buffy the Lesbian Separatist [as] a series of lectures on PBS on why there should be feminism, no-one would be coming to the party, and it would be boring. The idea of changing culture is important to me, and it can only be done in a popular medium."
We all know that Most Writers Are Male
. Something like eighty percent of media aimed at children have male main characters, whereas half the population is female.
Chances are, any summer blockbuster you can name revolves around a male or men in general. Men save the world, women are their Love Interests
. Men are heroes, women are damsels
. At best, women will often be minor characters or will not be present at all. Stories about women are for women, stories about men are for general consumption.
As you can imagine, this can get a bit annoying for those women who like fantasy and science fiction, but can't stand Chick Flicks
. Or maybe they don't actually mind Chick Flicks, but they would like to see more "general" media with stronger female representation. That's why we have Feminist Fantasy
. Somewhere along the line, someone decided that women were getting the short end of the stick in fiction, and decided to create something with explicit feminist themes.
They're often fantasy and science fiction, genres that have revolved around men for a really, really long time. Why? Because sometimes we like seeing a woman save the world from aliens, heaven forbid. Or maybe we like to have the ever-present but oft-ignored gender inequalities in a Standard Fantasy Setting
pointed out. Or just maybe we want to read a story that isn't about a Five-Man Band
in the absolute strictest sense.
Science fiction and fantasy are suited to examining gender and male-female relations by depicting alternative societies (may be a Lady Land
or the result of a Gender Cide
) or species with unfamiliar sexual biology
, or by subjecting characters to Gender Bending
Another type of Feminist Fantasy
is a feminist retelling of an old story
, like a fairy tale or folktale. These are very popular nowadays, and seem to be the way this generation of Disney princesses is turning out—see Enchanted
and Princess And The Frog
. The former is completely self-aware and sends up the traditional Disney Princess
archetype, and the latter is about a hardworking girl who wants to be a businesswoman and ends up with a guy and a tiara along the way. Though it could be argued that both reflect different viewpoints in a feminist debate. Enchanted celebrates Giselle's idealism and the qualities that make her a "traditional" Disney princess while The Princess and the Frog is much harsher to Tiana's friend Charlotte.
If a story takes place prior to the twentieth century and features themes like this, it will very likely qualify as Politically Correct History
. Or Brutally Accurate History, where the heroine has to climb through a world dominated by men where women are treated in... 'unpleasant ways' let's say (expect this variation to be far more bloody and gritty, with maybe a revolution or two thrown in for good measure).
Note that this is not (necessarily) a Lifetime Movie of the Week
, which cuts down men in order to appear "feminist". Nor does it have to be Anvilicious
about gender issues to qualify. It doesn't even have to stop men from liking it too.
Contrast Reactionary Fantasy
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Anime and Manga
- Kidou Tenshi Angelic Layer
- Revolutionary Girl Utena
- Anything directed by Hayao Miyazaki, he identifies as a feminist himself
- Fullmetal Alchemist has numerous strong female characters and it deals with women's issues sometimes
- Nahoko Uehashi is very good at this, both Seirei No Moribito and Kemono No Souja Erin can count as feminist fantasy
- Princess Knight: Actually one of the first manga to tackle gender issues.
- Magical Girl shows with the added kick of portraying femininity as an object of power rather than weakness. That is to say rather than simply having action girls who are essentially just gender inverted action men magical girls instead tend to have girly powers and weapons that are just as effective.
- Sailor Moon, the manga moreso than the anime.
- Cardcaptor Sakura
- Pretty Cure
- Princess Tutu: It's often described as Utena-lite
- Sugar Sugar Rune
- Lyrical Nanoha, a modern epitome of Magical Girl Warrior subgenre, takes a very subtle approach to its portrayal of women: it never, ever directly addresses the gender roles (or sexuality, for that matter), but looking at it from that perspective readily reveals that the main (all-female) cast masters both traditional feminine (home-keeping, family-building, children-raising) and masculine (money-earning, loved ones-protecting, and world-saving) tasks with equal proficiency.
- Rose of Versailles is probably the most feminist anime in existence.
- Saiunkoku Monogatari is a story about the aspiration of the female protagonist to be a government official in a male-dominated Fantasy Counterpart Culture of Imperial China and how she is working hard through skill and determination to achieve those dreams.
- The Twelve Kingdoms, it's up there as one of the most feminist anime
- Claymore, arguably.
- Studio Bee Train and its founder Koichi Mashimo in particular are well-known in Japan for their very feminist stance. It is particularly evident in their Girls with Guns trilogy (Noir, Madlax, and El Cazador de la Bruja), which is all about strong women who make tough choices and kick ass in a dangerous world (though Noir is very light on the speculative aspect, mainly found in the implausible fighting abilities of the main characters).
- Magic: The Gathering has an odd example: White represents healing, protection, chivalry, and law and order. Many of the powerful white creatures (all the powerful angels, Lin Sivvi) are depicted as female. Indeed, the first pure white-mana plane, Serra's Realm, is a matriarchy.
- As explained by Mark Rosewater himself, one reason for the Female Angel, Male Demon standard is to specifically avoid the evil succubus trope.
- Magic: The Gathering in general is very equal opportunity-minded. The style guide given to the artists explicitly states: "Make an effort to illustrate a variety of races, genders, ages, and body types. Feel free to paint beautiful women, as long as they're shown kicking ass. No damsels in distress. No ridiculously exaggerated breasts. No nudity."
- Furthermore, recent editions make a point to avoid printing non-Legendary cards with exclusively male or female names, so cards like Hasran Ogress and Brothers of Fire are unlikely to see reprints any time soon.
- Several superheroines headline their own comic books, including Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Supergirl, Power Girl, Birds Of Prey (a rare all-girl team book), Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk, Black Widow, and Spider-Woman. Some have more feminist themes than others (Wonder Woman and Power Girl especially), but most have at least a few in order to distinguish them from their Spear Counterparts. Wonder Woman was created with this in mind.
- Ms. Marvel was intended to be explicitly feminist. Precisely the same is true of more modern interpretations of Wonder Woman.
- The Daughters of the Dragon mini series staring Misty Knight and Colleen Wing.
- Y The Last Man explores the fate of the last surviving human male after a disease kills the rest of the gender. Hence the world is exclusively populated by women, allowing for the exploration of a range of gender-based ideas and assumptions, and women form almost all the characters.
- Although With Strings Attached is about The Beatles and hence has four male main characters, the world they're sent to has complete equality of the sexes. In fact, all of the leaders they meet on the worlds they visit are female: Grynun, Kerrun, Aurion, Brox (sort of), Amelia, and the queen of the Warrior Women. And the female Shag is the leader of the Fans and the instigator of the entire adventure.
- Notably, the world that Jeft put together himself is male-centric.
- The 1993 remake of Attack of the 50-Foot Woman.
- Disney animated films have been more proactive with their female characters starting with The Little Mermaid, but the most extensive example of this trope is undoubtedly The Princess and the Frog. The princess movies seem to be getting more and more feminist, as well as self-aware, with every passing year.
- Ever After is pretty much just a feminist retelling of "Cinderella". With shaky nods to French history.
- How to Train Your Dragon counts in the sense that in the Island of Berk, set centuries ago, the participation of women in combat as equals beyond rank is simply taken as a given.
- Before either feminism or fantasy, The Faerie Queene (Books 1, 3, and 4) featured some pretty tough female knights. What else would you expect from an epic dedicated to The Virgin Queen? Though Book 1 was very focused on a stereotypical pure, good damsel, and had many not so flattering portrayals of women.
- The Jirel of Joiry stories by C.L. Moore (C.L. stands for Catherine Lucille), published between the years 1934 and 1939. The title character was the first ever heroine in the Heroic Fantasy genre.
- The Dragonriders of Pern books were written to challenge the portrayals of women in Sci Fi in the 60s and 70s. However, they are now subject to Values Dissonance.
- Joanna Russ's Adventures of Alyx, a pioneering heroic fantasy with a woman hero.
- Ursula K. Le Guin wrote The Left Hand of Darkness to challenge gender assumptions in science fiction but later decided she hadn't gone far enough, especially since she used the default pronoun "he" for her genderless characters.note In the 1990s, she began a feminist deconstruction of her own earlier Earthsea fantasy series. Many of her other works are relevant to this trope too.
- Just about anything Marion Zimmer Bradley wrote, but the most famous is her feminist retelling of Arthurian legend, The Mists of Avalon.
- The Sword and Sorceress anthology series, started by Marion Zimmer Bradley and continued by other editors after her death.
- A more light-hearted counterpart to Sword and Soceress was the Chicks in Chainmail anthology series (edited by Esther Friesner, who also includes Action Girls in her own writings).
- Mercedes Lackey's books feature these themes, some more than others.
- Another 1970s heroic-fantasy and science fiction author whose works featured strong women was Elizabeth A. Lynn.
- Angela Carter wrote fairy tale revisions, collected in The Bloody Chamber, and freewheeling fantastic stories with women who like men but donít really need them, such as Nights at the Circus.
- The Duel of Sorcery Trilogy, to at least some degree.
- The 1986 fairy tale anthology Don't Bet on the Prince.
- Dreamsnake (a post-apocalyptic story in which the protagonist's talent is healing, not fighting, but she's definitely active center of the story), and other books by Vonda N. McIntyre.
- Sheri S. Tepperís True Game trilogy; in this setting, where magic combines with technology, there are many strong women characters, and the second and third parts are told from womenís point of view. Tepper writes more science fiction than fantasy, but always focusing on women.
- Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett is about a young woman, Eskarina Smith, who was inadvertently imbued with wizard ability, despite the commonly held belief that wizards are exclusively men, and witches are exclusively female, and the ensuing attempts to teach her witchcraft instead, or get her accepted into wizarding school.
- Many years later, the Tiffany Aching books and Monstrous Regiment are also heavy on the feminism.
- The Dragonsword Trilogy (a 1980s American woman is taken to another world and becomes a warrior) and other books by Gael Baudino.
- The works of Robin McKinley, including such fairy tale retellings as Deerskin and Beauty, and secondary world fantasy The Blue Sword and its sequels.
- Lost Girls (a revisionist take on Peter Pan), The Books of Great Alta (a society with women warriors), and many other works by Jane Yolen.
- Anything by Tamora Pierce, who, with one exception so far, has written exclusively about female main characters. In the Circle of Magic, the genders seem to be mostly equal in the main setting, Emelan - when protagonists visit places where they aren't, they comment in the narration - whereas in the Tortall Universe, several of the stories exist to point out gender (and class) inequalities.
- Various series by Elizabeth Moon, such as The Deed of Paksenarrion (heroic fantasy, starring the female paladin Paksenarrion), and Familias Regnant and Vatta's War (space opera with Action Girl heroines).
- The Practical Princess and Other Liberating Fairy Tales by Jay Williams.
- The Wheel of Time is not feminist per se, but at least half the main characters are female, and women in general have some sort of dominance in the world, most cultures being either outright matriarchal (Ebou Dar, the Sea Folk and Far Madding come to mind) or giving equal rights to both men and women (most village have both a male Village Council and a female Women's Circle, the Aiel being ruled by both the clan chiefs and the Wise Ones).
- Melanie Rawn tackles this head on in her Exiles series, set in a matriarchal society where women are the dominant gender ó the rulers, leaders, the soldiers. Men are to be cosseted and cared for, submissive to their wives and so forth.
- The first of Melisa Michaels's Skyrider novels, Skirmish, was republished by a house that specializes in FemLit. Whether merely starring a two-fisted Action Girl space pilot really qualifies is a matter for debate.
- Emma Bull's books usually have strong female protagonists (e.g. rock musician Eddi McCandry in War for the Oaks).
- The Obernewtyn Chronicles, a Science Fantasy series whose protagonist, Elspeth, is an Action Girl, and there are plenty of others in the series.
- C.J. Cherryh created many strong female characters: Morgaine, a female swordswoman (Morgaine Cycle), Signy Mallory (Downbelow Station), Ariane Emory I/II (Cyteen), Raen (Serpent's Reach), Elai and Elizabeth (40000 in Gehenna) etc.
- Nadya: The Wolf Chronicles by Pat Murphy: a fiercely independent female werewolf roams the Old West. Almost anything Pat Murphy wrote would qualify for this trope.
- The Sevenwaters Trilogy (dealings between human women and fairies in ancient Ireland) by Juliet Marillier.
- Kissing the Witch, a series of retold fairy tales by Emma Donoghue.
- Gwyneth Jones has written fantasy and science fiction in which women play prominent roles; for example, in her Bold as Love cycle, Fiorinda (a modern analogue of Queen Guinevere) has just as decisive a role in the action as the other two protagonists.
- Ash: A Secret History, the White Crow books, and others by Mary Gentle.
- L. E. Modesitt's Spellsong Cycle (modern music professor becomes regent of a magic kingdom).
- The Women of the Otherworld series, contemporary fantasy that is particularly strong in feminism, by Kelley Armstrong.
- The Wood Wife by Terri Windling, who, as an editor, is one of the strongest proponents of retold fairy tales; the book centers on a woman who becomes involved with spirits in the southwestern desert.
- Even the Stones by Marie Jakober; the protagonist is a queen who must hold on to her throne in spite of assaults from all sides.
- Ella Enchanted by Gail Carlson Levine is a retelling of Cinderella where Ella takes charge of her own destiny. In the context of the 'blessing' of absolute obedience, no less.
- Levine's other book, The Two Princesses of Bamarre, is also very much this. The protagonists are the sisters Princess Addie and Princess Meryl. Meryl dreams of going out adventuring and ends up turning into a fairy, which means she will spend an eternity fighting and protecting her land from monsters. Addie fights her fears and travels the land to save her sister from an illness, along the way facing numerous monsters and outwitting a dragon. The king, the girls' father, is shown to be an indecisive and ineffectual ruler, and the book ends with the implication that Addie will become a far better ruler (or at least will be able to rid the land of the monsters in it). The main male character and Addie's Love Interest, Rhys, helps out when he can, but it's clear that Addie is the heroine of the tale.
- The novels and stories of Nalo Hopkinson; for instance, Midnight Robber, about the growth of a girl in a setting that blends science fiction and folklore.
- The Elemental Logic series (starring earth witch Karis G'deon, fire witch Zanja na'Tarwein, and many other important female characters) and Children of Triad series by Laurie J. Marks.
- The Etched City by K. J. Bishop.
- The Orphan's Tales by Catherynne M. Valente; many, many characters, probably more of them female than male, definitely individual and active.
- Jim C. Hines's The Princess Series stars Snow White, the Sleeping Beauty (but don't call her that), and Cinderella as far-from-passive heroes.
- The Sight by David-Clement Davies. Might be pushing it a bit since the novel is about wolves, but the main character, the main antagonist, and the secondary antagonist are all females. There are also many female supporting characters.
- The Beyonders is an unusual variation. The primary viewpoint character/protagonist, Jason, is male. However, the secondary protagonist, Rachael, is female, and she's very Genre Savvy about the gender inequalities inherent in a Standard Fantasy Setting (or any adventure story, really) and is not only highly displeased with them, she's intent on defying them. After "taking a cliff"—I.E., a huge risk—for her friends, she earns their respect massively.
- A similar theme exists in the author's previous series, Fablehaven. The one of the main heroes is a girl named Kendra, and one of her allies is an elderly gentleman, Coulter Dixon, who will not willingly put a woman in danger or ask for one's help on a dangerous mission. This frustrates Kendra to no end, but as the series wears on, Coulter lightens up after seeing what Kendra (and her Badass Grandma Ruth) can do.
- Books in which women are dominant and men have fewer rights have a complex relationship with this trope; many of them are Straw Feminist Fantasy with underlying messages about how awful it would be if women were in charge of everything, or Fetish Fuel Fantasy about being, well, dominated by women. Or both.
- Wen Spencer wrote A Brother's Price, which features a more thoughtful take: set during an Industrial Revolution, pretty much every instance of inequality has justifications in-world and is chosen to parallel similar restrictions on women from our world, from value and virginity being closely linked, to being blamed for infertility, to a custom similar to bride prices called brother's prices, and on and on. And yet not only is Double Standard: AbuseóFemale on Male subverted - either can be horrible to either and they are just as bad - but rape is taken seriously, with blame being put not on the victim but on the one with the power, male or female. Consent is clearly seen as important, and human respect too.
- Black Company vary from book to book. Dreams of Steel and Water Sleeps have both a female protagonist, from whose perspective we see most of the events, who shows strength of character, lot of competence, military skill and capability to hold their own in deeply sexist society and they aren't only competent female characters in those books. Croaker books seem to flip-flop at this - first four books have his relationship with female Evil Overlord as important element, but The Black Company and The White Rose have her potrayal be much more rouded than Shadows Linger and Shadow Games (in which she is either not present most of time or still haven't pulled herself back together after beign depowered). Murgen books (Bleak Seasons and She is the Darkness), The Silver Spike and Soldiers Live seems to be least feminist friendly, through they have fair chunk of competent women on various positions, they're just given much less focus than in other books of the serie.
Live Action TV
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and really, a fair number of Joss Whedon works. (The original 1992 film aspired to this too, but didn't quite get there.)
- Charmed is a feminist fantasy that featured three women banding together and saving the world. This is especially true of earlier seasons when the story seemed very focused on vulnerable women preyed on by aggressive male characters. The fantasy was that they were witches and could thus defend themselves from all of these threats. Also, Charmed was very focused on celebrating women in general with the Halliwell's descended from a long line of strong women.
- Xena: Warrior Princess.
- Star Trek: Voyager: The first (and only) Star Trek series to feature a female captain. The main cast also featured 3 other female characters (Torres, Kes, Seven) and the final Big Bad was the Borg Queen.
- In a series where tech is king and women had been relegated to non technical roles in earlier series (aside from Dax) the top two most technically competent characters were women (three of the top four with Paris and Janeway filling out the third and fourth spots.) The most useless characters were Neelix and Kim with Chakotay not far behind. But the show is one of the rare cases of this trope being employed with none of the "men versus women" themes being discussed.)
- Voyager's superhuman crew were the only superhuman crewpersons in any Star Trek series to be women (Deanna technically had psychic powers but typically used them to accomplish things that could be accomplished through more mundane observational skills.)
- Warehouse 13 Is shown to have just as many strong female characters as male characters, if not more. (Myka, Claudia, H.G., Mrs. Fredrickson vs. Artie, Pete, and Steve)
- When Haim Saban brought over Super Sentai and adapted it into Power Rangers, his wife Cheryl had the idea of creating a better gender balance by turning the male Yellow Ranger into a female. It also had its female rangers fighting right alongside their male allies (with very little of that "get everyone to safety while the men fight" stuff) and actually had the female rangers take out monsters all by themselves.
- In Firefly, we get Zoe (the former military officer who often leads the group into the heists), Kaylee (the cheerful mechanic who is wicked good at her job), Inara (the only one on the ship running a reputable business which is, granted, being a Companion, but still treated in a serious manner) and River (a psychic girl who fights her insanity to protect her friends and her brother).
- Wonder Woman was intended to be explicitly feminist like its comic book counterpart, but the network ordered the show's producers to tone down the messages.
- Once Upon a Time: Emma Swan, a pretty, blonde woman works as bounty hunter before she is dragged into the plot of the series where she takes up the position of Sheriff and as the so-called "Savior". Also populated by notable strong female characters Snow White, Red Riding Hood, and Mulan. The primary antagonists of both seasons so far as also women.
- Made all the more important to feminists because of just how sexist most of the original fairy tales tended to be.
- Bayonetta is a capable, smart, sexy and insanely powerful protagonist who kicks copious amounts of ass in a game where most men are (with the exception of Rodin and a certain other important character) at best merely human and at worst comic relief.
- Lollipop Chainsaw is quite similar to Bayonetta.
- Science Girls is about Exactly What It Says on the Tin - the science club of an all-female school which has to team up and use super-powers to fight off an alien invasion.
- Final Fantasy X has aspects of this. While most of the focus is on Decoy Protagonist Tidus and his relationship with his new friend Wakka and enigmatic mentor Auron, they are actually mostly just some dumb muscle, who do a rather poor job of being Yuna's bodyguard. But as the story progresses, it becomes more apparent that Yuna and her guardian Lulu are actually on a quest to save the world and are pretty much pulling all of the weight, while the men are too preoccupied with their own problems to really grasp what's all going on right next to them. Auron seems to be aware, but consciously chooses to let the women run the show while interferes as little as possible. While Yuna falling in love with a man is what eventually makes all the difference, it's not that she leaves the role of being the hero who saves the world to him, but rather that she decides to get what she wants for a change, and not simply doing what is taught and expected by tradition. Which happens to be represented by a council of old men.
- Final Fantasy XIII has an overall equal ratio of capable men to women, but the women in particular have a more active role to the story in taking mentorship (Lightning) and protectorate (Lightning again, and Fang even more so) roles, not to mention that the plot was instigated by Serah and Cocoon was eventually saved through Fang and Vanille's sacrifice.
- Fem!Shep from the Mass Effect series is often held up as a feminist icon, because she is a badass galaxy-saving hero and her story is mostly interchangeable with her male countepart. While her gender is sometimes an issue (she gets mistaken for a stripper in one case and more than one creep hits on her, but they're always portrayed as slimy and she is very much able to put them in their place) there is one heartwarming instance of her bonding with a female alien over their mutual roles as important leaders for their species. One of the common complaints female players had with Mass Effect 3 is the gap got wider, with Fem!Shep getting the shorter end of the stick and being more sexualized. The romance with Kaidan Alenko is a notable example, with many female players thinking he comes across as much more of a "Nice Guy" with Fem!Shep than with Man!Shep.
- Beyond Good And Evil has Jade, an Intrepid Reporter who goes up against the Government Conspiracy and handles herself extremely well in the situation. She is also commonly cited among the best examples of realistically proportioned and sensibly dressed female protagonists in video games.
- The Longest Journey and Dreamfall: The Longest Journey heroines April Ryan and Zoe Castillo are often considered by the fans to exemplify Feminist Fantasy, but their creator, while admitting a penchant for diligent and persevering women, denies that it was his main intention for creating them. Nevertheless, the fact is that both go out on an adventure, brave danger, proactively solve their own and others' problems and issues and ultimately save their world.
- Resident Evil features a very balanced approach to its protagonists, with multiple strong and capable women. The first two installments gave the player the choice of a male or female character, and subsequent titles have always had at least one strong female as either the primary or secondary lead. The majority are professionals working in law enforcement or the military, and any rescuing is divided equally between the genders. Those that aren't Action Girls are accomplished professionals, such as scientists or businesswomen. Ashley Graham is the lone exception, which is somewhat justified since she's The President's Daughter.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic shows that feminist works can find a wide audience. While the franchise has pretty much always been aimed at girls, and creator Lauren Faust created the cast as a way to remove generic "niceness" from the characterization of girls and avoid the problems inherent in The Chick (she described one of the major themes as being how many different ways there are to be a girl) , the show is written to be enjoyed equally by parents and kids alike, and succeeds beautifully. It may be the only Western girls' cartoon that has inspired raiding threads on 4chan.org.
- Several arcs and episodes of Avatar The Last Airbender have feminist themes. The Kyoshi Warriors, Katara challenging Pakku for the right to learn combat waterbending, and Toph's entire existence all prove that it's okay to be a girl and be kickass at the same time. Even more "traditional" women in the show such as Yue, Ursa, and Kya have a quiet strength about them and heavily impact the plot in ways that don't involve fighting. And with six recurring female characters in Katara, Toph, Suki, Azula, Mai, and Ty Lee, the show has plenty of examples of different kinds of kickass girls instead of just one archetype.
- Sequel Series, The Legend of Korra, exploits its predecessor's Cash Cow Franchise credientials, to be more "girl power"-oriented by dint of taking the risk of basing a children's action show around a female protagonist. It worked out. And the boys viewers didn't care, they just knew she was awesome.
- Kim Possible broke the norms before either of the shows above in portraying kickass females on the front lines, and in a Disney Channel action series, no less.
- The Powerpuff Girls