Is the fantasy genre intended just for boys? What about girls? Why is there an implication that girls don't read fantasy or won't enjoy movies with fantasy elements? It's true science fiction and fantasy are not the most female-friendly of genres. The prototypical reader is often male. How did this stigma come about?
Girls are known to to be more emotional. They generally enjoy gossip, friendship, family type stories, etc., however, there are plenty of girls who read fantasy as well as watch films in this genre. I'm a girl who loves the fantasy genre because, if done well, it does encompass human emotional struggles, the fight for survival, and authentic relationships along with elements of magic.
There are many different types of fantasy such as fantasy romance, epic fantasy, historical fantasy, high fantasy. The themes are not gender-based and one must dig deeper in the story to see them. The characters in these books are strong in their own way and must obey the rules governing their society and world.
As a writer, I try to make female characters as strong as the male ones, sometimes stronger. However, the depiction of women in science fiction and fantasy is still the "waiting to be rescued or the damsel in distress" kind. Sadly, we’ve had consecutive years where DC Comics and Marvel comics have produced superhereo movies, but hardly any with female leads. (I'm still waiting for the movie version of Wonder Woman.) How do we promote quality in genre writing and in films that aren't gender biased? How can we achieve the right balance of male and female leadership?
I read all kinds of books and watch films in the fantasy genre. Many novels lately have changed our perception of fantasy being only for males. They reject the myth of the female as victim in these books. Here are a few that come to mind.
Cashore, Kristin. Graceling. New York: Harcourt, Inc., 2008.
A young adult epic fantasy. I loved this book. The language and characters were convincing and vivid. Reading about a teen girl warrior was the perfect read for me. A girl named Katsa is “graced” with the ability to kill, and she is forced to be her uncle’s personal assassin, however, she takes destiny into her own hands to do right. Cashore weaves together heartfelt emotions, romance, and adventure. I couldn't put this book down. It was an unforgettable read.
McKinley, Robin. The Hero and the Crown. New York: HarperCollins, 1985.
A middle-grade fantasy. A Newberry Award Winning Novel and prequel to The Blue Sword, which I’ve read. This is a classic young adult fantasy about a female teen warrior. The heroine, Aerin, a dragon-slayer, fights with strength, courage, and honor in order to help save the people of her kingdom. It's a coming-of-age story with magic, wizards, dragons, romance, and suspense. A great read packed with punch!
Moon, Elizabeth. The Deed of Paksenarrion. North Carolina. Baen Books, 1992.
A classic epic fantasy with plenty of girlpower. Paks, a female heroine, who leaves her old life in search of a new one. She learns to be a soldier and experiences the tragedies of war and learns to survive. Quite stubborn yet passionate, she does the best she can in her situation while managing to stay true to herself. After all, she's the daughter of a sheepfarmer.
Williams, Cinda Chima. The Gray Wolf Throne. New York: Hyperion Books, 2011.
A young adult high fantasy. Raisa, the main character, becomes a strong-willed, brave, and selfless seventeen-year-old. After multiple attempts on her life, she manages to survive. She's witty and aware of everything and everyone around her. With her political upbringing, she's able to stand her own ground, make thoughtful decisions in order to protect her people and kingdom.
The fantasy genre doesn’t have to mean "boys-only." But we shouldn’t be complacent. Science fiction and fantasy have always taken huge leaps against the status quo. Books like GRACELING, THE HERO AND THE CROWN, THE DEED OF PAKSENARRION, and THE GRAY WOLF THRONE, are influential indeed, paving the way for strong female voices to be heard along with bold storytelling.