Today’s post is by Andy Peloquin, covering sexism in fantasy.
In case you somehow missed the title.
Take it away, Andy!
One thing I and other male fantasy/sci-fi writers find is that writing female leads is pretty darn tough!
Think about all of the great fantasy books currently floating around in bookstores today. I can honestly say that 90% of them have male main characters, with female characters to support them.
Books with male MCs:
- Harry Potter
- The Wheel of Time
- The Stormlight Archives
- The Gentlemen Bastards
- A Song of Ice and Fire
All of these books have strong male leads, though there are strong females to support them or even share the spotlight with them. However, in all of them, it’s the main male characters that move the story forward.
For example, take the Harry Potter series. Hermione is a very important character in the book, but it’s not called the Adventures of Hermione Granger.
Look at the Stormlight Archives books. Book 1 The Way of Kings heavily featured Kaladin Stormblessed and Dalinar Kholin, with the space shared with Shallan Davar. Book 2 places a bit more emphasis on Shallan, but it’s still Kaladin and Dalinar’s story.
All of the greatest books have had male leads, and–this is going to be highly contested, but I have to say it–most of the books with female leads come off almost more Young Adult than hardcore fantasy.
Look at series like The Hunger Games and Divergent. Both the movies and the books tend to be pretty mild when you compare them to books with strong male leads. I did a Google Search for “top fantasy books for women”, and most of the results were books I’ve never heard of.
So why is it that fantasy tends to be such a male-dominated culture?
- A lot of the writers are male. I’d be willing to venture a guess that upwards of 60% of fantasy writers are men. Men don’t usually write women as well as they write other men.
- Male leads are easier to write. With a man, you pretty much know what you’re going to get. Female leads are harder to write, as there is a lot more complex emotions going on in most cases. (I’m not generalizing, just stating what I’ve found to be true.)
- It’s easier to make an adventure with men. A man wearing heavy plate mail, holding up a falling gate, or commanding a troop of infantry is much more plausible than a woman doing so. If you want intrigue, female leads are brilliant. For straight-forward epic adventure, women make excellent supporting characters to a man’s lead.
- Males dominated medieval cultures. If you read most fantasy books, they tend to be male-centric. There is always an exception to every rule, but most fantasy worlds tend to be fairly archaic, medieval, and “male-power”.
I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with the way fantasy is written, it’s just a trend that I’ve noticed as more and more women in the media harp on equal rights.
Does that mean you should start writing books with strong lead women? If you’re a writer who can’t make female leads interesting, you’ll end up watering down a potentially great story with a poor character.
However, when you come up with a new story idea, don’t automatically make it all about the men in the world you’re building. See if you can add strong, empowered female leads that help propel the story forward. Try to get creative with your MC and see if you can’t make that “he” into a “she”. Not only will you start thinking outside of the box, but some of these fantasy adventures could almost come out better with a woman at the reins.
And don’t forget the Bechdel test:
- It has to have at least two women in it,
- who talk to each other,
- about something besides a man. 
About the Author:
Andy Peloquin is a fantasy lover turned author, and he writes the stories he would love to read.
Growing up as a third-culture kid gave him a broader insight into the world around him, an insight he tries to weave into his books. When not writing he enjoys family, practicing martial arts, reading comics, reading, playing the guitar, and blogging on his website: http://www.andypeloquin.com.
He debuted his first novel — In the Days: A Tale of the Forgotten Continent — in 2014, and plans on writing many, many more.
He can also be found on his social media pages, such as: