Women in Historical Fiction
May 25, 2007
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Lance Mannion, to whom I’ve referred before, has been pretty vocal lately on the topic of feminism. With the release of Pirates of the Caribbean 3, he thinks it’s a shame that Keira Knightley has, for all intents and purposes, been turned into a boy. His point, shorter: in an attempt to prove that women are the equals of men, writers are losing sight of the feminine aspects of their characters.
This is something that’s bothered me about a lot of period pieces lately. It seems necessary to show that women in the olden days were Just As Tough as men, even though in those actual times, they were discouraged from showing it. Lance’s point, an excellent one, is that women can be men’s equals–and have been, throughout history–without being equal at physical skills (specifically, fighting).
From a writer’s standpoint, I think these are important things to remember. In your novel, especially if it’s historical/high fantasy, feminine characters (in general) survive by their wits; masculine characters survive by their muscles. Note that feminine characters are not always women; masculine characters are not always men. However, the exceptions should be notable. And you should have some balance.
In Common and Precious, there is a definite (and intentional) contrast between the two main characters, the one masculine, the one feminine (and they happen to be a man and woman, respectively, or at least a male and female tiger). Thinking back on it, I don’t think it ever even occurred to Melinda (more appropriately, to me writing her) to fight her way out of her predicament. It just wouldn’t be in her character. Does that make her any less strong or powerful? Well, I hope not.
Any other good examples of strong female characters who aren’t just “boys with breasts” (Lance’s words)?