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Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Rant-On Princesses

Okay, before you read this, know that I am not sympathetic in any way with how most princesses in fantasy are written. There, you've been warned :)
So, there's all these princesses in fantasy who wear pants, can fight better than their brothers, don't care about being ladylike, and ride their horses astride. All the men in the story are against it, of course, but the princess (or noblewoman, or peasant girl) shows them. What this rant is all about is this: in a culture where the women are brought up to be ladylike, to wear dresses, and to ride sidesaddle, there is always, and I repeat, always a rebellious girl who goes against everything she's (apparently) been taught, for no reason at all. And this rebellious girl is the heroine of the story.
If she had truly been taught by her parents that acting ladylike is the right thing to do, then why in heaven's name does she go against all her upbringing and start wearing pants. I can tell you for a fact, as a girl who was raised wearing dresses and skirts, that I've always felt uncomfortable even thinking about wearing pants. It's something that I know I would feel terribly awkward and wrong in. And that's in a society where it's the norm for women to wear pants. Yet these princesses can run around in pants and ride like a man without feeling even the least bit uncomfortable, and her parents let her do it. Of course, they reprimand her, but they would never dare tell her to stop doing it! If they even think about telling her to wear a dress, you get a pouty faced, rebellious girl who stomps off, slams her door, and sulks.
Apparently, people (even Christians, like L. B. Graham) don't realize that they are imposing their idea of what is normal into a story whose society's norm is the exact opposite.
So, do I think that girls have no place in a fantasy story? Absolutely not! But I believe that their role is far different from a man's role. And the fantasy stories that have totally hot, tough, rebellious princesses really turn me off. Maybe it's just the way I was raised, but I see a great deal of beauty in a tale of a man going off to war and fighting courageously, while I see a woman going off to war and fighting courageously very differently: I find it ugly.
Obviously, our society today is accepting of women in the military, doing whatever a man does. Only problem is: they can't! Women are built differently, and their strength is less than a man's in certain ways. I'm not stronger than my brother, who is two years younger than me, and I know it.
Some ideas for women playing a role, yet not being little feminists:
1. Have a woman defend her children and home while her husband is at war (I did something similar to this once, in which a woman whose husband was dead and her son wounded took a frying pan and knocked a soldier over the head with it).
2. Have her be a spy. This is quite easily done. A woman (especially an unmarried one) can go places that a man could not in a time of war. She could ingratiate herself with soldiers (not in an improper way, of course) and learn valuable information.
3. Have her be, simply, a wife. The moral support she gives her husband, even when she herself is afraid, is something invaluable to him. It is a courage all of its own to bear fear and uncertainty alone, while encouraging a husband not to be afraid and to do what is right.
4. Of course, there's always the option (which probably wouldn't be received very well) of showing the rebellious, feministic girl to be just that. She could think she's totally awesome, and in the end, be shown the error of her ways (without exactly stating it, of course). I've thought of doing that before.
I've always loved stories where a brother protects his sister. I don't know; there's just something about that, in today's world where siblings seem to be at enmity with each other most of the time. A brother giving his life for his sister. It's just as sweet as a man giving his life for his true love, and maybe even better. In fact, that's my favorite relationship to write about. But that's off topic *turns post around and heads back to where she detoured*. There.
My parents have always taught my sisters and me to be ladylike, but my dad says, "I'm not raising you to be sissies." What he means by that is to have moral courage, the bravery to stand up against error. I love reading stories of women who were martyred for their faith in Christ. A woman can be just as brave (or even braver, at times) than a man when facing persecution.
A woman does not have to 'prove herself' by acting like a man. The courage she displays can be a much different kind: quieter, more internal. Perhaps only a few people know about it. As Aragorn said, "There may come a time for great deeds without renown."
Not only that, but when women start acting like men, then men stop treating them like women. Gentlemanly conduct is greatly reduced when men and women are barely distinguishable in their actions and dress. And that's a really lamentable thing, if you think about it.
Let's stop acting like embroidery and ladylike behavior and long, modest dresses are contemptible things. Not only is it wrong, but it's just tired and boring by now. We are Christian authors. Let's do what we're always saying we do and 'think outside the box', or, to use a better term: 'think inside the Bible'. We don't have to let society or culture dictate how we portray women.
Note: This is not aimed at anyone in particular, but just to fantasy writers as a whole who do this sort of thing :)
A/N: I had been going to write a post entitled 'The Eager Peasantry', but will save that for my next post. Until then, I'll leave ya'll to guess what it means :D


  1. Good post, Laura. This issue is one that gets under my skin too. The rebellious, 'free-spirited', 'untameable' girl ends up being the heroine and vanquishing the villain and winning the heart of the hero and all manner of nonsense like that, and it infuriates me. The feminism in our culture is greatly to blame for this, I believe. I do have plans for a future novel in which the tough, go-get-'em, I-can-take-care-of-myself girl actually ends up not getting the guy she wants because he doesn't want a comrade in arms, he wants a help meet. But I wish I wasn't the only author I know of who was doing it.
    Now, I do believe women need to know how to fight and defend themselves. My dad and brothers have taught me to fight and defend myself in case they aren't around when I need defended, and I believe fictional women should do the same thing. Our men can't be everywhere at once, off saving the world and home defending their families at the same time. But I am totally against the idea of women being in the military as anything other than nurses, spies, or diplomatic officials.
    I also wanted to note that I don't have a problem with the idea of women wearing pants as a concept, per se. The Bible does make it clear that a woman should not dress like a man, but a woman can wear pants and still be perfectly feminine (and for the record, in ancient eastern cultures where and when the Bible was written, women often wore pants whereas men wore robes). It's the attitude behind the wearing pants that bothers me. If a girl is wearing them against her parents' wishes, then it is wrong.
    And it is wrong for a girl to keep her family waiting at the dinner table for her for supper, so I'll stop my ranting and go eat. : ) Great post, Laura, once again.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to write that out, Mary :) I think that pants are wrong, partly because I don't think they're feminine, and partly because women started wearing pants to rebel against a culture where women wore dresses.
    As for nurses, spies, and diplomatic officials, I have much less a problem with that, but those jobs can all be done by men, and it does put a woman in more danger than is necessary. But as long as she isn't married, and her parents have nothing against it, I suppose it isn't all that bad. My favorite spy is the kind of woman who sits in parlors with evil overlords and their captains, and charms them into telling all their secrets. Then, they wonder how the good guys know everything :D
    I do agree that women should be able to defend themselves (a nice, heavy iron skillet should do the trick :D ). My dad once bought us a book showing how to do basic defense moves. It was a pretty good book. Unfortunately, I can't exactly remember most of what was in it :P

  3. Wonderful post, Laura! I do agree with Mary with regard to pants - you can have modest and unfeminine skirts just as you can have pants that are so. I wear skirts most of the time for comfort and because it's so hard to find modest pants and because I do feel more womanly and elegant. But I also wear pants from time-to-time.

    But whenever there's a movie with a woman fighting (we watched Thor recently, for example) I get so fidgety and want to go talk some sense to her! I'd be careful with having women spy, though, mostly because it's a dangerous position and not one that would often be appropriate... but it has its place.
    Thank you for handling this issue; you did it very well!

  4. Thank you, Kyleigh :) I think that pants can be modest, but rarely (if ever) feminine. If they weren't modest, then I would think it wrong for a man to wear them! I do agree that there are immodest skirts, but I don't think there are skirts/dresses that are actually unfeminine. After all, if they were, then wouldn't it be fine for a man to wear the 'unfeminine' kind? Men's and women's clothing should be very distinctive.
    I know what you mean about watching a movie with a woman fighting in it. That's what annoyed me about Lord of the Rings. Not only did Eowyn fight the Witch King, but she never became more feminine, as she did in the book ("No longer will I take delight in songs of war and slaying" or something like that).
    As for spying, I don't think women should be sneaking around enemy camps and putting themselves in danger of being shot or captured, but I do think it's fine if they host a party at their home or something and gather information :D