content by

Sarah Gailey

Storytelling Through Costume: The Woman in White

You do not see the woman in white head-on.

Not at first. She is not looking at you. She is looking at something else, someone more important. She has a purpose. She has a vision. You are not worthy.

When she does look at you, she does not smile. You feel even less worthy, unworthy even to touch the hem of her robe. Or is it a cloak? Or a gown? It doesn’t matter. It’s too good for you.

She is too good for you.

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Storytelling Through Costume: The Badass Black Tank Top Walks the Line

She can accurately fire a pistol over her shoulder while riding a motorcycle between two semi-trucks full of spy robots.

No problem.

She can fling a knife across a room and knock the earring off the Big Boss of the major corporation that has been secretly ordering the assassinations of international political figures.

Piece of cake.

She can wield a flamethrower the size of a Prius while biting out the word “fuck” and lighting a cigar, her boot firmly planted on the jugular of the man she just finished beating up for calling her a girl.


[But what to wear?]

A Well-Worn Story: Examining Iconic SFF Costumes

What is the significance of the red dress?

You know the dress I’m talking about. The dress. The red one. The woman wore it, the woman who you weren’t sure if you should trust or not, the woman who had everyone’s eyes on her. The red dress that was cut—well, you remember how it was cut.

[Every piece of a character’s costume is a word in a conversation between the creator and the audience…]

Women of Harry Potter: Luna Lovegood’s Relentless Optimism

Cynicism is tempting. It hovers constantly at the edge of every hopeful moment, whispering “it will never happen.” It looks intelligent. It looks wry and elegant and worldly.

And it has never managed to ensnare Luna Lovegood.

Luna has spent years being told to give up. She has spent years being told that if she doesn’t give up, she’ll be left alone, barefoot and reviled. She has spent years among the Ravenclaws, being treated as stupid because she will not bend to cynicism.

She is precisely what the rebellion needs.

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Women of Harry Potter: Evil in Authority

Who is the villain?

Is the villain the leader who starts the movement? The demagogue who decides to rally the tiny cruelties that live within the hearts of people who think of themselves as good? Is it the person who blows on the embers of hatred until they finally catch and erupt into an all-consuming flame?

Or is it the person who finds themself in a position of power, and chooses not to put the fire out? Is the villain the person who chooses to sit before that fire, warming their hands?

[Dolores Umbridge has surely never thought of herself as evil…]

Women of Harry Potter: Ginny Weasley Is Not Impressed

Six brothers. That’s how many brothers it takes to make a Ginny Weasley. That’s how much familial finally-a-daughter pressure is required to make a Ginny Weasley. That’s the weight of hand-me-down boy’s-jeans and you-can’t-do-it-you’re-a-girl that’s necessary to make a Ginny Weasley.

Ginny let herself be impressed once. She let herself be impressed by Harry Potter—the Boy Who Lived, big brother’s best friend, Quidditch star. She let herself be impressed, and she let herself be infatuated, and she let herself blush and hide. She let herself be soft.

And into that moment of softness—of weakness—she wound up vulnerable. And look at how that turned out.

[Ginny Weasley is angry.]

Mentally Ill Women Belong In Your Stories, Too

Literary fiction has a well-established tradition of writing women with mental illness. From Laurie Halse Anderson’s young adult fiction—which explores anxiety, trauma, PTSD, and eating disorders—to classics like Plath’s The Bell Jar, literary fiction seems to have a long and storied love affair with mentally ill women. Whether these portrayals are positive, negative, or even accurate can and has been held up for long and fervent debate. For better or for worse, mentally-ill women have a place in literary fiction. Our stories are told over and over again, and will continue to be explored as long as people are fascinated by the idea of a woman coming undone.

Literary fiction loves us.

So, why doesn’t genre fiction love us too?

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Why We Write About Witches


Fictional witches come in many forms—good and bad, of the East and of the West, Baba Yaga and Sabrina. They live in towers, or in boarding schools, or in castles, or in the woods. They eat children or they brew tea. But they all have one thing in common: powers.

The power to ride across the sea in a teacup. The power to disguise their withered husks as young and beautiful. The power to make monkeys fly.

When we write witches into our stories, that is what we’re writing about: power. When we write witches, we are writing about our expectations of women, and what we hope—and fear—they would do if they had access to power. Fictional witches act as ciphers that help us understand something that seems at once mysterious and brilliant and sinister: a woman’s ultimate, unlimited potential… realized.

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Hermione Granger: More Than a Sidekick

Harry is the hero.


He’s the guy the story is all about, after all. He’s the Boy Who Lived. He has the scar and the prophecy. He has the sidekicks and the invisibility cloak. He has the mentor. He has the tragic backstory. He faces down the villain.

Harry is the hero. It’s his face on the covers of the books. They’re called Harry Potter and the… for a reason.


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Do Better: Sexual Violence in SFF

Content warning: Sexual Violence

Female Protagonist busts the door down at the secret laboratory. She strides down the main corridor, a gun in one hand and a knife in the other. She’s ready to fight—but she forgets to check her corners, and two uniformed guards quickly sneak up and apprehend her. Ignoring her attempts to warn them about Villain’s secret plan to replace all human brains with robots, the guards quickly handcuff her and start patting her down, removing all of her weapons. Guard One leers at her as he takes his time searching the inside of her top—

[You’ve seen this all before. Many times. It’s time to do better.]

In Defense of Villainesses

She’s fabulous.

Her hair is done. Her makeup is flawless; her coat, luxurious. She’s single. She’s thin or she’s fat or she’s muscular or she’s old or she’s young but she’s never ever cute or soft or scared of you.

She’s hungry. She wants money, and she wants more luxurious coats, and she wants power. She wants to sit in the chair that is currently occupied by whoever’s in charge, and she doesn’t want to wait for the world to give her that throne. She doesn’t have time for that. She’s not going to wait. She’s going to take it.

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