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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. 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 Gendercide) 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 princess who wants to be a businesswoman and ends up with a guy along the way.
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, particularly ones that like a Hot Amazon.
Contrast Reactionary Fantasy.
Anime and Manga
- Revolutionary Girl Utena is probably the most feminist anime in existence.
- 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 if not more so.
- Pick any work by Hayao Miyazaki, any work.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- There exists a fanmade patch for Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones called Restoration Queen, which makes the game entirely Eirika's story and beefs up the role of certain female characters, including changing lines of dialogue to make them sound tougher and giving them romantic endings with each other in place of certain het ships. Some fans love it, while others feel it veers too far into Real Women Don't Wear Dresses territory.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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. 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 don’t 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. Tepper’s 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 women’s 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 (the Seanchan Empress and Andor Queen 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 — the rulers, leaders, the soldiers. Men are to be cosseted and cared for, submissive to their wives and so forth.
- Emma Bull's books usually have strong female protagonists (e.g. rock musician Eddi McCambry in War for the Oaks).
- 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 Series (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 (the novel by Gail Carlson Levine, not the movie) 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 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.
Live Action TV
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and really, a fair number of Joss Whedon works.
- Buffy is allowed to like shoes. She actually seems to cling to 'bimbo' character furniture as a sort of reprieve from her real life, which is actually a pretty complex design choice.
- Charmed is a feminist fantasy that featured three women banding together and saving the world.
- 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).
- 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.
- Diminished significantly by the fact that the devs made it a point to ridiculously sexualise her. One insider video has a whole segment on how they lovingly rendered her arse.
- 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 and 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 petty 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.
- 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.
- Lauren Faust's original toyline concept, Milky Way and The Galaxy Girls, also does this but with a wider, more diverse cast. She got put in charge on the My Little Pony Continuity Reboot when she pitched the idea, and you can notice similarities between the two. Either way, she is quite proud that she could deliver such a blow to the Girl Show Ghetto.
- 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 first short story set on Gethen, the planet of The Left Hand of Darkness, was also written using masculine pronouns, but when it was republished several years later, she changed to feminine pronouns, but left masculine titles such as "king". In the much later Gethen story "Coming of Age in Karhide", feminine pronouns are used, as well as "mother" and "grandmother" to refer to the protagonists' parent and grandparent.