May 31 2012 11:00am

Break the YA Monopoly — Give Us Female Heroes for Adults

The Hunger Games has come and gone, and the world has called for more heroes like Katniss Everdeen, the proof that Hollywood had been waiting for: a female protagonist who carried a blockbuster movie and made bank at the box office. Katniss is now heralded as the hot new thing in fiction and film, the one-of-a-kind that the world needs more of. In response, The Atlantic wrote up its list of female YA heroes (not all who were accurate to the title) of bygone years to point out that Katniss herself was not an anomaly. Right here on, Mari Ness discussed the girl heroes that were missed, and the many stories that are often taken for granted in this arena.

But here’s a weird thought... what about female heroes for grown ups?

A little background from the perspective of my own readings habits just to make a point. As a child, I read books that would probably be labeled as “YA” from the ages of seven to nine with a few exceptions when I got older. A pretty small bracket for a genre that is currently the darling of the publishing world, but it was a bit different before Rowling, I’d say. I jumped to Star Wars books, and then abruptly into adult fiction of all sorts. I read Douglas Adams, and Ray Bradbury, and Frank Herbert, and loved every minute of it.

And on the playground, when my friends and I pretended to be other people, I pretended to be boys.

But this is not about being a geeky little girl, or even being a tomboy (I think the term was applied to me once or twice, but I don’t think it was particularly apt in my case). This is about the confusing place that many girls find themselves in when they realize that all those fun lady heroes they grew up with just plain vanish once they reach adult and pop fiction narratives.

But what about Ripley? I know, there are examples here and there of female characters who take up that ring or big damn gun or quest and run with it into their own proverbial sunset (or don’t). But they’re still far from the norm in fiction. And, more importantly, there are certain types of characters who are practically never written as women. Captain Jack Sparrow. Ford Prefect. Loki. Jonathan Strange. Gandalf. In fact, that’s a whole other dilemma, but one that still demands investigation.

Lisbeth Salander of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a hero of pop fiction, some might say. But how many women only become heroic figures due to terrible trauma in their lives (that are usually rape and/or physical violence)? Salander is the poster child for this sort of female character-building, the kind that films like Sucker Punch have capitalized on to their own overblown, outrageous conclusions.

It’s not that we should do away with narratives where women overcome abuse at the hands of men; those are important stories in their own right. But that’s not the sort of hero that every woman is looking for. Maybe she’d like a woman who is trying to overcome fear, or indolence, maybe she would like to see someone who is coming to terms with a Great Destiny™. Maybe everyone would like to see that.

Now, there are usually token female figures in fictional universes dominated by men, so at least women have someone to latch onto — they aren’t excluded entirely the way minorities often are. Star Wars has Princess Leia and Mara Jade, Harry Potter has Hermione and Ginny, Lord of the Rings has Eowyn, and there are countless others. But what is that telling the world exactly? It’s entirely possible that many fans who complain that the Harry Potter books should bear Hermione’s name instead are reacting to this very trend, the insistence that women are never the central figures no matter how much know-how, bravery, and fortitude they contribute to a story.

Moreover, the lack of these figures in popular adult fiction sends a hard and fast message to female readers and viewers: that once you grow up, you graduate to adult books and adult characters — and they are men.

Lady heroes? That’s kiddie play.

I didn’t always pretend to be male characters. When I was very small, I would sit in my room and imagine that I was Tinkerbell, Dorothy, Harriet the Spy and Annie Oakley. And then I got a little bit older and all of that ended. I wanted to be the bigtime hero, not a sidekick, princess, girlfriend, or best pal. I wanted to be the plucky, comic pain in the butt. Even better, I wanted to be the villain! (And preferably one who was not evil just because her step-daughter turned out to be prettier than she was.) But there were so few examples for me to draw on that I spend a solid year trying to be Luke Skywalker instead. That doesn’t mean I’m the beacon of normalcy that people should set their compasses by, but I highly doubt I was the only little girl who took a similar route. It’s almost sure to be one of the reasons that genderswapped cosplaying has become so popular over the years.

We’re perfectly happy to let women rule YA fiction, and authors in the genre are frequently praised for creating such interesting characters for girls to emulate and learn from. These stories are so engaging that they have a crossover appeal; there are plenty of adults who read YA fiction and they are perfectly happy doing so. I thoroughly enjoyed the Hunger Games trilogy myself. But here’s a question no one is asking… is it possible that the reason for YA’s popularity amongst an older crowd is in part due to the fact that there are so many female protagonists to chose from? Are we running toward the genre with our arms wide open because we see something that we want and don’t find elsewhere?

I think the question is too pressing to ignore.

And what if it was a question that we were willing to tackle with a bit more proactivity? I understand the attraction in writing coming of age stories, but wouldn’t it be spectacular if the next major adult epic fantasy series had a female hero at its heart? If the newest superhero to take off was Batwoman or Ms Marvel? What if the biggest television show since LOST was cancelled had a killer lady antagonist?

Katniss Everdeen is an excellent female hero. But she and Ripley and Buffy need to be eclipsed by more characters who live up to their calibre.

Emily Asher-Perrin really wants a lady superhero movie to make all the money. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

1. dwndrgn
I'd say Bekka Cooper from Tamora Pierce fits the bill.
2. JennS
Well, 'urban fantasy' is pretty full of strong adult female characters. But somewhat strangely very little of that has made it into movies. TV a little bit, maybe, tho I haven't watched enough of the available shows to see how they came out. And some of the 'video game movies' do have female protagonists.

I have a vague impression many fantasy/sci fi movies are based on older books, and I wonder if perhaps that makes some difference?
jon meltzer
4. jmeltzer
(please delete previous comment mangled by comment software)

A new Cordelia book from Lois Bujold is needed and overdue. Now that the Ivan book is in production and ( BIG SPOILER FOR CRYOBURN ) has happened, dare we expect one?
5. Catterpillarboy
Where are the female heroes for adults? (by the way you do mean except for Xena and the immortal Lucy Lawless)

For a while we could look to the east for them for heroes played by the great Michelle Yeoh, Anita Mui, Bridgett Lin (the Bride with the White Hair rules!), Maggie Cheung and even Cynthia Rothrock. While people mourn that action heroes like Jackie Chan and Jet Li are aging and have no contemporary replacements, while all of the aforementioned actresses are aging as well*, I believe all of them still have the chops to be great heroes for everyone, no matter the gender…

*Save for Anita Mui (RIP)
6. Al Man
The Rook by Daniel O'Malley would be a really good book to adapt. Great protagonist.
7. ZCam
Mendoza from Kage Baker's Company series: most of the books were from a male viewpoint, but Mendoza had a couple of her own.

Emma Peel from the original Avengers: originally designed as someone with "M-appeal," she stole the show, and made it more than it was either before or after her existence.

Digger by Ursula Vernon. And Murai, the hyenas, and even the Hag, though she's kind of young. This story can be enjoyed by YA, but the main characters are all adult, and the younger folks will probably miss some of the humor.
8. Lainey
This is exactly the reason I read so much YA fiction. There are so many titles that have well-written female characters in these books, either as the MC or a secondary character. Of course not all YA heroines are equal and there are some authors that I would never read again but like I said, there are a lot to choose from.

Aside from YA, I've noticed that historical fiction and current fantasy titles (mostly those written by women) have great female characters too. I tend to go over to these genres when I feel like reading something that features older women (well older than teenagers, I mean).

I'm sure there are a lot of well-written female characters in contemporary adult fiction but I just have a hard time finding what these titles are.
9. Herb111
There is a female Gandalf--Moiraine from The Wheel of Time.
10. Andrew G Gray
There are some TV shows that have had strong female characters not written for teens. BSG, Sarah Connor Chronicles, Firefly.

Books too -- Iain Banks has had some good female main characters.

Or for a good female anti-hero, Monza Murcatto in Joe Abercombie's "Best Served Cold". Definitely not YA.
11. Clay Weeks
Cayce Pollard from Pattern Recognition set the bar as far as I'm concerned.
12. jmd
You have Paksennarion from the series written by Elizabeth Moon, absolutely Cordelia from the Vor series, the whole Chicks in Chainmail short story anthologies, the entire Sword and Sorceress anthologies... good starting places.
S Cooper
13. SPC
I was just going to bring up Sword and Sorceress but jmd beat me to it. Reading MZB's forewords to the series was always fascinating as she talked about the trends in plots that came across her desk - the first volume was very heavy on the "rape and revenge" plots, but as the market matured those got less prominent. Overall they're a fantastic series of books.

Wasn't there a Bond movie that had a villainess? I don't think I saw it, so I don't know what her motivations were.
Sean Arthur
14. wsean
"wouldn’t it be spectacular if the next major adult epic fantasy series had a female hero at its heart?" Read Mistborn!

"What if the biggest television show since LOST was cancelled had a killer lady antagonist?" Cersei? :P Actually, that kind of speaks to your point, given her motivations and the way she exerts power.

All right, now I want to come up with a fun and interesting female lead for my next story...
15. XenaCatolica
Emily, you've described my childhood to a T. In my case, I thought the "Little House on the Prairie" books were great--right up until watching Star Trek & reading "Treasure Island". thanks!

How many adventure heroes, real or imagined, are parents? Not too many fathers, and hardly any mothers. I think the trouble is that most adult women sooner or later become mothers and there's virtually no literary precedent for mothers having adventures, directing their lives toward dangerous goals, etc. For example, I thought it was a lousy idea that ST:TNG had families aboard, but then they completely failed to do anything with it. Dr. Crusher sure spent a lot less time on away teams than Dr. McCoy, you know? (*sigh*) I liked the Pirates of the Carribean movies--right up until the pirate queen becomes a stay-at-home-mom (and I am a SAHM). And although speculative fiction and fantasy try to be cutting edge, literary precedents do matter.
16. tolladay
What an excellent post. Thank you. Rather than point out the few stories I know with actual female protagonists, I will instead agree with you that no matter how many there are, there are still not enough.

I will consider this a challange. I have two novels on the back burner, the one with a female protagonist is (no surprise) also YA. I guess that means I need to find a story idea that incorporates a woman protagonist. And I LOVE XenaCatolica's idea of a mom as a protagonist. I can imagine a todo list like:
Change diapers
Go to PTA meeting
Start diner in the CrockPot
Save the World
Lisa Grabenstetter
17. magneticcrow

Very good point. I can think of an exception in Cherie Priest's 'Boneshaker', but even at the time I remember thinking "WHAT! A mom with a teenage kid and it is SHE who is the protagonist? This never happens! Hollywood would totally mangle this!"

I'd add that part of the problem is that women being heroic are often written as "acting like a boy". Often she'll even be dressing as/masquerading a boy in order to get the opportunity to act heroically. Then comes the big reveal, and she "grows up" and acts "like a woman", having proven herself and now found a man to have babies with.

Legitimately genderqueer and trans characters obviously get totally ignored in all this, too.
Aeria Lynn
18. aeria_lynn

That series exists! It's called Carpe Demon : Adventures of a demon hunting Soccer Mom by Julie Kenner.

It's a good series where yes, the Mom has to balance PTA meetings, the start of her husband's political career, changing diapers, and demon hunting. Very good stuff.
19. a1ay
And I LOVE XenaCatolica's idea of a mom as a protagonist.

Not really SF, but you should check Chris Brookmyre's "All Fun and Games until Somebody Loses an Eye" - summarised on wiki as "Jane Fleming, a 46-year-old housewife and grandmother, lives a quiet life in suburban East Kilbride. All that changes when her son, Ross, who works in the arms industry, is forced into hiding when his latest research attracts unwanted attention. Aided by the mysterious Bett, Jane must confront drug dealers, assassins and ruthless arms dealers in order to save her son."
alastair chadwin
20. a-j
Slightly genrebusting, but UK author Phil Rickman has written a series of mystery stories with paranormal hints which feature a female, approaching middle age, anglican vicar and exorcist with a teenage daughter. Worth checking out.
21. Lesley A
When I was a kid I wanted to be Emma Peel (or possibly Sharon McCready from The Champions). And it's about time there was a team of characters with two women and one man for a change (or more than two - that would be even better).
It was the 1980s when Tenko was shown on the BBC, about women in a Japanese prisoner of war camp during the Second World War. Most of the characters were women (apart from a few Japanese guards) and it broke the mould, showing that a prime time audience would watch a series with a bunch of women characters - but there hasn't been all that much follow up since, and it's about time it was as normal for a show to have a group of women characters as it is for a show to have a group of male characters.
Joanna Truman
22. joannawrote
This is a great article, thank you. Thoughtful and making a great point without hitting this subject over the head.

And to the person who mentioned Firefly - it does have strong female characters. but Mal is the hero of Firefly. The whole point of the article is, what if Mal was a woman?

I always get the feeling that there are books out there with strong female heroines, especially just picking up random titles at the library and reading the jackets, but they're buried so far in the landscape that they don't rise to the top and become hard to find.
23. Mouette
Spoilers for third Pirates, including the end credit scene :P

@15: I don't think we can necessarily say that Elizabeth Turner became a stay at home mom. A mom, yes, but a mom in Ye Olde Times who was a single mother, with her husband gone for periods of 10 years at a time. What did she do during those ten years? We don't know, the films don't give us anything, apart from raising her son. She was waiting on a bluff at their appointed meeting place... nothing says she wasn't still riding the waves as a pirate queen, or ruling over whatever island they were on, during the ten year interval. I doubt she would have gone back to being just 'the governer's daughter', even if she could have - unlikely given her father's fate and her status as a single mother with no father in sight.

But I suppose that's part of the problem - we *don't* know what happened to her, what she did in those ten years apart from raising their son.

Wheel of Time does have a great many female characters, and as criticized as those characters are, they are... human, being flawed, sometimes stupid, sometimes proud, sometimes the villain, sometimes the heroine, sometimes the dumbfuck messing things up for everyone else. And though gender issues are one of the themes of the series, it's worth noting that the Destined Hero is still a young man.

The urban fantasy genre does seem to do a better job of breaking out of this rut than most. Karrin Murphy, in the Dresden files, fills the Suspicious/Supportive Buddy Cop role that might have traditionally gone to a male. The Fever series has Mac, who goes through hell and high water and almost always *does something* about it on her own, as well as having a Destiny/Something Special About Her.

But urban fantasy, as others have pointed out, is not really a 'respectable mainstream genre' - despite all the good stories told within it. I'd love a Black Widow movie...
Emily Asher-Perrin
24. EmilyAP
@XenaCatolica - YES on Pirates of the Caribbean! I had the exact same reaction; by the end of the film, I was so excited that Elizabeth had become the Pirate King and finally realized what she was meant to do. And then the post-credits sequence happened and ruined the whole film for me. So upsetting. And also yes to the comparison between Dr. Crusher and Dr. McCoy - more than anything, I would love to see a female Starfleet doctor with McCoy's attitude. She would be hilarious. :)

@Lesley A - Emma Peel is awesome for sure. I did always find it amusing that even The Avengers couldn't resist having a couple "damsel in distress" episodes with her, though. And I completely agree that there needs to be a 2 lady-1 guy team. That's an imbalance that I've been dying to see for years!
Emily Asher-Perrin
25. EmilyAP
@joannawrote - Yes, THANK YOU! The point is, indeed, "what if Mal Reynolds were a woman?" Because that would be awesome.
26. jmd
If Mal were a woman? He'd be Zoe, dammit - kick ass woman who got married and didn't let that stop her from having adventures.

And don't forget in Star Trek - the original Number One was a woman too!
27. Patricia S Bowne
I remember reading quite a few books with women as protagonists, but it seemed that as soon as they became accepted champions in their fields, they moved into middle management and we got chapters and chapters of their trying to run the fields' organizations.

Now I'm old enough to have seen some real women near the top, and find that this was just a faithful representation of real life -- however, I don't really go to fantasy for a faithful representation of that aspect of real life.
28. SF
There's Tara Chace in Greg Rucka's Queen & Country novels. Also comics. It's epsionage rather than sci-fi/fantasy though.
Kate Elliott
29. KateElliott
I very much agree that there is a ton of space available for more major women characters of the kind of you describe. That's something I will always read for!

I do think there are a fair number of women writers writing fantasy and even epic fantasy with major female and/or central female characters. But they remain strangely invisible in discussions and/or they're just not being read that much compared to the always-mentioned male writers. That's one reason I love the excitement over YA-- so much visibility both for women writers and female characters.
30. Vernon Vincent
The central character of David Weber's Honor Harrington series is a female, and one of the strongest I've seen presented on the written page. The first two books, On Basilisk Station and For the Honor of the Queen are available for free from Baen Books website (not Tor, unfortunately, but there you go). The link I've provided takes you to the free books by David Weber from Baen.
31. melanie ivanoff
Avice from Embassytown by China Mieville is a great protagonist. Arya and Daenerys also sort of fit, though Arya does pose as a boy and Daenerys has the sexual issue. hrmph, i hadn't thought about this recently; everyone i keep thinking of is in YA!
Ursula L
32. Ursula
If we're talking Bujold, lets not forget Fawn and Ista. (Lovely, lovely Ista) Or the potential for Something New.

While I haven't seen Ivan's book, it very much feels to me like wrapping up the last loose end in the Vorkosigan universe.

Miles is settled, Mark is settled, Eli is settled off with the Dendarii somewhere, Elena has found her peace with her past, Illyan and Alys have each other, and Cordilia is going to be quite happy travelling between Beta to visit her mother and Barrayar to spoil her grandchildren.

Ivan is the only one who hasn't found his happily ever after, and if he finds it now, I think I can see Bujold letting the Vorkosigan world rest for a bit, and giving us something new.

Or at least something else in one of her other universes. The Father and the Mother still haven't had their own books in Challion. And I'd love to see Fawn and Dag realizing that what they need to solve the problem Dag discovered is public education and a tax code.
34. Jan the Alan Fan
Mercedes Lackey has had some good heroines in her books, such as Kerowyn in 'By The Sword', who would rather be a mercenary than a housekeeper for her brother's family.

L.E. Modesitt, Jnr's 'The Soprano Sorceress' book series is about a middle-aged mother and singer transported to another world.

Julian May's 'Saga of the Exiles' quartet is about a group of people going through a time portal, some of whom are middle-aged and older women.

Both those last two series make it clear that destiny, and all the struggles that can go with it, can happen to women aged over 25.
35. nae77blis77

The problem I have with most 'urban fantasy' especially those with female protaganists is this: They turn out to be little more than romance novels with supernatural wallpaper.

Further they tend to have the same formula. Female lead early 20's slightly more (or less) than human. First novel involves Vampires, and vampire sex. Second novel involves werewolves and werewolf sex. Third novel vampires re-enter the picture She is torn between were-sex and vamp-sex. Sometimes they'll throw a little love in. Occasionally saving the city or state (sometimes, but rarely the world). This hardly seems the same as positive female leads as seen in YA.

It seems that compared to regular fantasy, the scope is smaller. I understand there is a market (obviously) for fantasy-romance crossover, but I'd prefer that be a seperate thing from urban fantasy which I think, can hold its own.
Lauren W
36. laurene135
I agree. Read Mistborn.

I also agree with #17 though,

@ 17 magneticcrow

"I'd add that part of the problem is that women being heroic are often written as "acting like a boy". Often she'll even be dressing as/masquerading a boy in order to get the opportunity to act heroically. Then comes the big reveal, and she "grows up" and acts "like a woman", having proven herself and now found a man to have babies with."

What I would like to see is a strong feminine character--who is //feminine//. Tomboyish is cool. But still a girl and a little girly. Even tomboys will be girly in some areas.

I also would like a strong female character who does not shun... hmm I'm not sure how to phrase it, but marriage and babies. Sometimes when I see female characters who are not the "okay I'm done being a hero time to fade to the background because I'm going to have babies" they're the opposite. Spiteful to men and think that the household wife role is beneath them.

Why not a strong female protagonist who is not so proud to shun the help of men, but not so weak she HAS to rely on them. How about a woman who can take care of a house hold, be a supportive wife, AND kick but??

Now that I think of it, I think Lyra (Think Lanre/Chandrian) from the Kingkiller Chronicles would be an AWESOME female protag. She seems like a strong female character who isn't afraid of being female. Someone who is powerful in her own right and also willing to work along side others (Lanre) without the "I dont need a man!" attitude.
37. Neenie
When I was in high school, I discovered the work of Marion Zimmer Bradley, and absolutely fell in love with her complex, flawed female protagonists. I recently re-read The Firebrand and The Mists of Avalon and they both still hold up.
38. Patricia Mathews
This is one reason I read a lot of murder mysteries - many good female protagonists in all walks of life, from cops to spies to little old ladies in English villages (Miss Marple, if alive today, would be 122 years old! My, how time flies!) to witches ...

Ditto that on Bujold's characters, and also Bradley's, though some of the issues Bradley raises might feel strange and dated to younger women.

For s/f -- add Vonda McIntyre's DREAMSNAKE to the list.
Maiane Bakroeva
39. Isilel
Ursula @32:
While I haven't seen Ivan's book, it very much feels to me like wrapping up the last loose end in the Vorkosigan universe.
IMHO, the universe has a lot to offer still, if only Bujold were prepared to throw in a real test for the whole Barrayaran society. Something massive, that Miles can't solve by himself, but that the whole ensemble would have to strive to overcome and some of them would have to sacrifice their lives ditto. Gimme an equivalent of WW2 for them, or something. And yes, politics of the situation can also be done in an engrossing manner, it doesn't have to be all about derring-do on the front-lines or behind enemy lines.

The formula of Miles solving every crisis more or less by himself, with minimal collateral damage, has grown very stale. Ditto everybody finding HEAs or whatever. Much as I love Bujold, she is wasting an incredibly rich setting through complacency, IMHO.

Speaking of urban fantasy, it uses a lot of unfortunate tropes with it's heroines, which make them less than satisfying.

First of all, as TNH has insightfully noted in another thread:
Which, by emphasizing how exceptional she is, deprecates all other women, because they're defined as the class to which she's the sole and glorious exception.
In fact, many go even further, making becoming supernatural creature X rare/impossible for women, and of course making the heroine an improbable/only exception, so that she can bask in the attention of all the male X without any fear of competition (sic!).
Then, of course, there is romance, which not only seems to often get into the way of more interesting and pressing plots, but also necessitates an equally or more bad-ass love interest(s), so that the heroine wouldn't be seen as "settling for less", etc.

Basically, an urban fantasy female protagonist tends to be much less of a hero of her own story than a male protagonist ditto. Which is deeply grating.

Not to mention the frequent sexual abuse background and general brokenness as a drive for her bad-assitude.

Even though I fervently wish for more female protagonists, I often find myself enjoying reading male protagonists more, just because they usually don't suffer from the issues above.
40. AGrey
Wheel of Time

Aside from Moiraine (as others have mentioned here, the world itself is built with a strong female presence.

Of the four most powerful people on the planet, three of them are women (Empress of the Seanchan, Amrylin Seat, Queen of Andor).

Cadsuane, Moiraine, Suian...

the list goes on, but even though the main character is male, Wheel of Time is a great series for strong women, and women in positions of power.
41. illustar
I knew I related better to YA fiction heroes than to adult fiction, but it never occurred to me that it might be because adult fiction doesn't give me that relatable female figure that I crave. Now that I think of it, it's very obvious.

I've been thinking lately about the wise mentor figure in SFF - the Gandalf, the Belgarath, the Obi-Wan. How often is our naive hero a girl, and the wise mentor an older woman? That's a dynamic I would love to read. Maybe I should write it myself.
42. illustar
Here's something else: A lot of the movies we've seen lately are based on franchises that my generation grew up watching/reading. Or should I say, *half* of my generation. What about the girls? Where are the Mercedes Lackey-based films? Why don't we have a movie version of Robin McKinley's The Blue Sword?

Why don't we have a movie based on girl toys? Granted, I don't want to see a live-action rendition of Cabbage Patch Kids or Polly Pocket any more than the "Battleship" crowd does. But what about Rainbow Brite or Candyland or something with mermaids? (Remember how cool those mermaids were in PotC4?) I can envision some cool derivatives of lots of those, and girl-geared entertainment does not have to mean Disney.
43. Saavik
Yes, to Snake in Vonda McIntyre's Dreamsnake. And Saavik in Carolyn Clowes' Pandora Principle. And Charlotte Gale in Tanya Huff's Wild Ways is a terrific urban fantasy heroine who doesn't fall into any of the traps outlined above. The only thing that annoys me is that she's called Charlie. I dislike the trope of giving a strong female character a male-sounding name. (But note--Charlotte's family, where the women have immense supernatural power, has the last name of Gale, like Dorothy of Oz!)

For the wise woman mentor/wizard/witch, see Julian and Euny from Monica Furlong's Wise Child and Julian (though those are children's or YA lit, I thought I would mention them for the person who was looking for such characters).

I think we can find a whole bunch of strong female characters in books written for adults, in scifi, fantasy, and certainly in detective fiction, as well as in mainstream novels. It's a different question to ask why these characters don't often get portrayed in movies or TV series. They did make a movie of Sara Paretsky's wonderful P.I., V. I. Warshawsky--but sadly, it was a pretty terrible movie. The movie industry is incredibly conservative and risk-averse, because the investment in a single movie is usually so huge. They know girls/women will watch movies starring heroic men (because we have learned since childhood to identify with male characters), but the theory is that boys/men will not go to movies starring heroic women. On television, the picture is more complex. Still far from a feminist's dream, but at least there are signs of hope, such as animated series aimed at girls *and* boys starring a kickass girl. Maybe those boys will grow up to be comfortable with adult female heroes as main characters.

On women in television: in the 1990's, I was teaching graduate students and asked them to name a female character in a television series who was a boss with authority over both women and men, who was portrayed positively in her authority (looked up to by those who worked under her, and a healthy person overall--not one of those women characters who excels at work but pays for it by having a complete mess of a private life). The *only* one they could come up with was Captain Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager!
Shelly wb
44. shellywb
There are a lot of female leads in sf novels, the lists above mentioning many. I'll mention two more: NK Jemisin's novels, and Sandra MacDonald's Diana Comet which, while sort of YA, contains adult LGBT characters in leads in various short stories.

And since it just came to mind, so many of Anne McCaffrey's novels have strong females leads. Others keep springing to mind but I'll just stop.

I never had trouble finding them over the last 40 years or so, though we could certainly use more. But as Saavik above mentions, it's not in novels where there is a shortage, but in film and TV. We have so few heroines there.
45. Saavik
Oops, correction on the woman as wise magical mentor: it's "Juniper" and Euny, from Monica Furlong's Wise Child and Juniper. And illustar, the mentees are also female: Juniper is Wise Child's mentor, Euny is Juniper's mentor.
Evie Manieri
46. eviemanieri
It's great to see so many people stand up for some of the authors who deserve more attention, and since @KateElliott was too modest to include herself I'll say that I just read Cold Magic a few weeks ago and loved it.

I'm on much the same tack as @Isilel here. I crave worlds peopled with intriguing female characters who are not defined by their gender. I'm not really interested in a female protagonist whose central place in the story is justified by making her different from all of the other women around her, or watching her struggle against the oppression and expectations of a male-dominated society. That's not to say that these stories are irrelevant or can't be done well, it's just that I feel like I've been reading/seeing/hearing versions of that story for most of my life, and I'm longing for something more.

Joss's work has been referenced a few times above, and I'll just add to that by saying that if Buffy was just about Buffy, it would have bored me, too. Buffy works for me because of Willow, Tara, Cordelia, Jenny, Dru, Darla, Glory, Anya... a world full of flawed, crazy, complicated and very different women.
47. wingracer
That reminds me, it's been a while since I read any of Kate Elliot's work. I think I'll have to make a run to the book store today.

I'm a guy, so you might expect me to not care about female characters as anything more than objects of romance or sex but I'm quite the opposite. I LOVE a really strong female character. Probably because in my real life, I don't know too many damsels in distress. My mother is one of the strongest and brightest women on the planet and nearly all of my female friends, aquaintences, roomates, lovers, etc. are the type that won't take shit from anyone.

Looking back, I'd have to say the first really interesting female character I can recall would have to be Ripley. I imagine she will always be remember as the first really popular female ass-kicker.

After that, pretty much anything from Joss Whedon and Miyazaki. Both seem to have a love for a good, strong woman and it makes their work so much better for it.

Most recently, perhaps my favorite of them all: Vin from Mistborn. Not just one of my favorite female characters but a favorite character of all time, PERIOD.

Finally, let's not forget Hit Girl, haha.

Still, there definitely needs to be more such characters, especially in film. Perhaps the success of Ripley and Katniss will bring them to the light.
Amanda Hayes
48. Kisanthe
I grew up in the '80s and '90s and my bookshelves have been full of adult fantasy and some SF (the small amount says more about my tastes than anything) with vivid female leads since I first fell in love with the genre. A lot of it is still in print and plenty of it is or was popular.

Anne McCaffrey created Lessa, Moreta, Helva, and the Rowan; Melanie Rawn created Sioned, Sarra, Cailet, and Glenin; Mercedes Lackey created Kerowyn, Talia, Tarma, Kethry, Elspeth, Rose Hawkins, Hypatia Cade, and others; Julian May created Elizabeth and Dorothea; Robin McKinley created Sunshine and Aerin; Maggie Furey created Aurian; C. J. Cherryh created Morgaine and Ariane Emory; Diane Duane created Segnbora; Terry Pratchett created Granny Weatherwax; Holly Lisle created Faia; Kristen Britain created Karigan G'ladheon; Tad Williams created Renie Sulaweyo; Elizabeth Moon created Paksenarrion; Kate Elliott created Liath; Lois McMaster Bujold created Cordelia and Ista; Jeffrey Archer created Jael; Jennifer Roberson created Del, Alix, and Keely; Marion Zimmer Bradley's canon is full of female leads; Jacqueline Carey created Phedre; Pamela Dean created Janet Carter; Robert Jordan created Moiraine, Nynaeve, and others--gah, that sounds like some Biblical list of begats, doesn't it? I could go on awhile and that's mostly just the stuff I have in my house.

(I'm leaving most urban fantasy out of this, because a lot of the UF with female mains does seem to become sex-centric if it doesn't start out that way. I wish it didn't. I've given up on several series now.)

Strong women exist outside of YA and have for awhile. There are lots of them. Oddly, I'm not sure there are as many new ones as there used to be--only Sanderson's Vin , Kage Baker's Elissa, and Carol Berg's Anne de Vernase are coming to mind as heroines introduced in the past five years who weren't YA or UF. I think--I hope--I might just be out of the loop.

I wonder whether there are any female SF/F writers getting the same amount of buzz right now as Martin, Abercrombie, Rothfuss, Bakker, or Sanderson, whose names seem to dominate the 'favorite writers' lists of the very people I've seen elsewhere wondering whether strong heroines exist. I think sometimes the problem isn't so much that there aren't heroines, it's that heroines get overlooked unless they're written by the Big Names of the Day. Maybe I'm guilty of it too and it's why I can't name more modern female leads. I prefer that idea to the alternative!
Constance Sublette
49. Zorra
Female protagonists who aren't imitation men wielding weapons or whatever as their claim to heroism! -- yes, I would like to see them in fantasy very much.

It's so weird that strong woman in entertainment now = woman who commits violence just like a man commits violence in entertainment. It's so limiting, for both male and female protagonists and writers' creativity.
50. WillAdams
To Kisanthe's mention of two C.J. Cherryh heroines I'll add a third, MSgt. Elisabeth (Bet) Yeager of the Alliance-Union novel _Rimrunners_.
51. eilidhdawn
David Weber has some very strong SF female protaginasts among them my fav Honor Harrington
Samantha Holloway
52. pirategirljack
I wanted to be Luke Skywalker, too! Well, really, I wanted to be han Solo, but my brother was bigger and meaner than me and always called Han first. My sister was always stuck as an Ewok or a Droid; no one wanted to be Leia; I don't remember why, now, and it never even occured to us to focus on that part where she's being a bounty hunter to find Han.

Re: Xena--she was a good female protagonist, but that show was ages ago; where are her successors? There was a big gap between her and, say, BSG...

The problem I have with a lot of the female protags I do come across is that all their motivations are because of someone else. I mean, she's sucked into something because of a lover, or she's saving a kid who was dumb enough to get kidnapped, or she's pressured into it by family. A lot of men in the same roles in similar books can just do something because they want to do something, or can face their Big Destinies on their own, without having to be blackmailed or arm-twisted into it. Can't girls just have straight-up Big Destinies of their own, unconnected to their kids or lovers or fathers?

NK Jemisin is giving us good female leads who do big things with a minimum of interference from the boys in motivation, and Robin McKinley has been doing so for ages--and usually gets put in YA, even though she just writes what she's writing, and doesn't aim for YA, from what I gather.

Re: women action film leads. Movies like Elektra proved what they already thought, for whatever reasons. What we need is, say, Black Widow to prove that it's just as easy to make a blockbuster with a girl in it, and that she can kick just as much ass. I mean, that interrogation scene at the beginning of Avengers? As bad-ass as any Bond movie. And even though she's one of the world's deadliest assassins, she's still a girl and still acts like a girl. Even better, though, I'd love to see Maria Hill's action-adventure comicbook movie--she's not depending on her sex appeal at all, and she is second in command of all of SHIELD. That's bad-ass.

Re: Firefly--Joss had made a point of proving that girls can be awesome specifically because so many of them aren't, so I think his fabulous women actually just prove the point that there aren't that many of them. So many of the ones we have are his!

Re: Urban fantasy--the guys have way more stories that don't revolve around the bedroom, and that's why I like Dresden better than, say, Anita Blake. Why can't a girl just be snarky and powerful and carry the weight of the world? Without falling into bed every ten pages?

McCaffrey's Pern (and other) series was packed with good female leads, especially after all the set-up books, when her take on gender solidified. Hugely popular, and yet all attempts to make it a show or a movie have failed to get funding. Which annoys me, personally, because I'd love to see it.

53. erosloff
Have to echo Neenie @37: I read Marion Zimmer Bradley's 'Mists of Avalon' in 9th grade. Her female characters are incredible! (Also read the Dragonriders of Pern series that year, and agree that there are some strong females to be had there, too). True story, my mother nearly named me 'Morgaine' after MoA's protagonist, but because the family pet was a cat named 'Morgan', she named me 'Emma' instead -- after Emma Peel of the Avengers (and Emma Goldman, the anarchist).

I was also raised on adult fiction as a child and teen -- primarily sci-fi and fantasy. Harry Potter was my introduction to YA, but it honestly wasn't until the Hunger Games came around that I started to explore the genre further, which is only in the last couple years... it's funny, because I'm no longer a teenager, and when I was one, I was reading adult fiction, like the author of the blog. But I'm working on a YA trilogy right now (with a strong female protagonist, surprise surprise), which is why I've gotten heavily into the genre.

This article really spoke to me, because I fully intend to write adult fiction with strong female protagonists, one of these days. Until then, though, I actually think the emergence of strong female protagonists in YA is a good thing... I think it's a sign of the times -- we're finally coming to a place where women are being treated more and more like equals (well... in the first world, at least). And literature, movies and games are starting to reflect that. It's almost fitting that YA is blazing the trail... like a teenager, getting on their feet, coming to grips with their own identity, we too are evolving in how we write about women.

One could extrapolate that say... 10 years from now, those authors writing YA (like myself) will move on to adult fiction, and maybe those who are already writing adult fiction will be inspired by all the young, powerful woman they read about, and might wonder... what would they be like, all grown up? While I'm wholeheartedly in the 'women should have been on equal footing all along' camp, we've lived in a patriarchal paradigm where women were inferior for so long... it's going to take some people more time to shake that than others. Even those who want to may not fully understand just how much the things they believe have been influenced by the ideology saturating our culture; a holdover from several bygone eras. But I think that Katniss and her ilk are proof that we're ready to move on. And that we will.

Also, I have to mention Kara Thrace (Starbuck) and Laura Roslin (The President) in Battlestar Galactica as strong female characters... along with the majority of the female characters on that show, which doesn't necessarily center around a male character. As for books... there's a lesser known sci-fi/fantasy series out there -- 'The Gaea Trilogy' by John Varley, that is absolutely adult fiction (although I read it in middle school). It centers around a female protagonist -- Cirocco Jones (think Ripley meets Xena) and her female sidekick, whose literally named Gabby (and very much echoes the character from Xena; her and Cirocco even have a similar dynamic). The primary antagonist is also a strong female character, Gaea herself... and this trilogy was written by a man. It's really incredible... you should check it out (the books are called: Titan, Wizard and Demon).
54. SuzyQBC
Years ago... as a teenager I became a fan of McCaffrey's Pern & other books for their female characters. I would imagine riding a queen dragon. Also Anne's The Tower & Hive series; Crystal Singer series. I've recently discovered great women in Sharon Shinn's "Twelve House" series and Jacqueline Carey's series - Phedre & Moirin are strong womenthat can kick some. While there's been talk over the years of a Pern movie, I haven't been holding my breath about seeing any of these women on the big screen.
Emma Rosloff
55. emmarosloff
Ok, so I know I'm divering a little, here (I'm poster #53, keep forgetting to log in)... but I also have to mention the 'Mass Effect' trilogy by Bioware. Yes, it's a series of video games, and you can play through as either a man or a woman -- but Jennifer Hale's performance as Female Commander Shephard really brings the character to life (trumping Mark Meer's performance as Male Shephard, in my opinion), enough that the majority of my male gamer friends chose to play it through as a woman instead of a man!

It's definitely a game for adults -- and although there are subtle differences in dialogue depending on the gender you choose, there's never a sense that when you play through as a woman, the people around you think you're somehow less equipped. Instead, you get to choose from three backstories that let you start off as a strong character, someone already well known in military circles, and from there you only garner more and more respect the more that you accomplish. You're a strong, natural leader, standing alone in the face of incredible opposition, carrying the weight of the universe on your shoulders. It's far enough in the future that the fact that you happen to be a woman or a man is inconsequential (in fact, there are races in the game where gender is much more ambigious). As far as aesthetic goes... the things you wear are about function instead of form (but it doesn't necessarily mean you end up looking super 'manly'). While some of the side characters are more stereotypically 'feminine' in the way they look and what they wear (let's face it... the game still caters to a predominantly male audience), they're still competent allies with strengths and weaknessess that make them memorable female characters.

Mass Effect is also an incredible story, with very thorough world-building on a galactic scale. It's popularity gives me hope for the future of video games, and the roles women play in them.
J Bizzle
56. wolfkin
Maybe she’d like a woman who is trying to overcome fear, or indolence, maybe she would like to see someone who is coming to terms with a Great Destiny™. Maybe everyone would like to see that.
I would. While I respect the females who overcome male oppression my favorites are ones who .. just are. Nancy Drew was a delightful and criminally overlooked film. Harriet the Spy managed to bring the awesomeness but to the authors points those are all children's properties.

I generally don't consider the gender of my stories protagonist but I'm a dude. If I ever get tired of reading a girl centered book I have plenty of boy books I can fall back to. It must be the opposite for a girl and I sympathize.

This isn't a complex post and that's because it's not a complex idea. I'm not the most enlightened guy out there but I fully understand the desire for more female characters. It's how I feel about the rebooting of Spider-Man. After three successful movies (financially at least) I kinda hoped that opening the Superhero tap wouldn't relegate us white dude heroes. I would like a black hero movie with a bit more complexity than the neutered Steel. I've said it before and I'll say it again I would see a Static Shock movie in theatres 3 times. Heck if it'd help I'd watch it in 3D.

So to an extent I can see what it must be like for the girls out there. They feel like I do. It's not that I hate what we have out there. I'm a HUGE fan of Green Lantern and I've always loved the Spider-Man mythos. He's like top 10 up there with Supes, Bat, GL and Static. But I feel like those guys have all had their time to try and shine over and over again and managed it a few times no less and maybe we could squeeze in another decent one from my demographic. (Both Spawn and Steel were 1997)
57. Diane_D
Re. mom-heroes:
Did anyone mention Margaret Ball's hilarious Revakonneva (SP?), who debuted in /Chicks in Chainmail/?
What about Patricia Briggs' RAVEN duology? Except for the first section of the first book, the protagonists are a *family*, with the mother (the titular Raven) as the bearer of the greatest amount of magical skill.

Elizabeth Moon & Lois McMaster Bujold both always provide strong female characters of various ages, in both fantasy and sci-fi.
Has anyone mentioned Moon's /Remnant Population/, with its Red- Hat-type senior citizen lead?
There was one bit of dialogue in Bujold's Vor series, where (as I recall)Mark's girlfriend complained to her disapproving Barrayaran mother and Betan-born go-between Cordelia how all the females in stories just vanished when they got married, almost as bad as if they'd died, and she wanted something more for herself.

What's interesting to me is when males write convincing female leads, proving it is possible, and therefore s/b done more, considering how many females write male-lead stories. One example I didn't spot in any previous post is James Alan Gardner (/Expendable/, /Radiant/, et al).

I do agree that the biggest lack is on the big screen, where unfortunately the trend has long been "big guys with big guns".
58. Diane_D
Re. the ghetto-ization of urban fantasy: I kind of wish Laurell K. Hamilton had never decided to become a writer, because so many "urban fantasy" writers seem to be trying to copy her success by copying her soft-core-porn formula, whether or not they have her skill with language.

There is still a continuum from sex-focused "plots", through adventure with positive romantic elements, to depressingly bleak dystopias w/o a healthy relationship or psyche in sight, but too many people (who've often not even read a single one) assume *all* of this expanding genre is like LKH.

The problem for fans like me is trying to find books to one's particular taste on the shelves, judging from lurid cover art &/or purple-prose blurbs, and given that even the booksellers don't know how to categorize them. Plus, some series definitely do devolve/mutate away from the tone which originally appealed. I've found most of my new UF authors via Amazon lists & "If you like..."-type links.
59. DoSa
I really appreciate this article and all the comments here with author suggestions. I've been laboriously googling "strong female protagonist" and other variations, and getting nothing but Katniss and similar characters. I just finished reading The Crystal Singer Trilogy and really need another book with a strong female protagonist like Killashandra. I've always loved a good female lead, but there's something about Killashandra that leaves me wanting more! Not sure if the trilogy is considered YA or not, I'm in my 30s and loved it, though from what I read online most read this series when they were 15 or so.
60. Edward Conway
October Daye. Mercy Thompson. Kate Daniels. The early Anita Blake books. Each of them is strong, kicks a bunch of bad guy rear, and carries their series.

Each exists as fairly complicated characters, well written, with flaws and personality. Urban fantasy is a great place of heroines right now.

Depending on how you look at it, the Darkover and Pern worlds also have a lot of female leads.
61. Edward Conway
I would add that the first three, plus McGuire's Incryptid books, have plenty of good character development, dialogue, action, and interesting settings, without drowning the story in sex like the later Anita Blake books. What adult scenes they have are few and far between, and rise from the plot rather than an attempt to sell more books.
62. Kelly Stiles
May I suggest like ALL of Robin McKinnley's books? They never get the attention they deserve and some are YA, but a lot of them (especially Sunshine and Deerskin) are NOT YA.
Shiloh Walker
63. shiloh_walker2013
Suspense, mystery, UF, fantasy and romance genres are full of strong adult female leads.

To name a few,
Chess Putnam~Stacia Kane, Downside series
Eve Dallas~JD Robb, In Death
Kate Daniels, Kate Daniels series, Ilona Andrews
Eve Duncan, Eve Duncan series by Iris Johansen
Cat from the Night Huntress series, Jeaniene Frost
Mercy Thompson, Patty Briggs
Tarma and Kethry ~Mercedes Lackey

And that's just a few off the top of my head. If I went through my shelves, I could be here all day. There's plenty of strong females for adults.
64. Nick Tab
I could rattle off a number of female authors who are writing female adult heroes in their books. Elizabeth Moon, Jacqueline Carey, Martha Wells, Sheri Tepper, Paula Volsky, and Lois McMaster Bujold jump right off the top of my head. These are all pretty mainstream authors who you don't have to look very hard to fing their books.
65. ALS
Read Martha Wells' Fall of Ile Rien series, and her novel Wheel of the Infinite. In addition, her recent Cloud Roads series has a male protagonist in a matriarchal society with female characters who are incredible forces and personalities in and of themselves, and who are critical to everything that happens in the stories. Martha Wells is an amazing writer who gets far less recognition than she deserves - her worldbuilding is some of the best out of all the SF/F I've read, ever; and her characters, secondary as well as primary, are engaging and memorable.

Also, I've just started Seanan McGuire's Verity Price books; they're urban fantasy but fantasy nonetheless, and the first one is really good.
66. Has
I actually disagree with your post about YA and the need of a strong female heroines for adult. There has always been strong heroines in Fantasy and Science Fiction in tv/movies and books which a lot of the previous posters have posted.

But I don't think you've read a lot of UF or Fantasy or even paranormal romance which has had a following before YA really broke out the past decade. They are too numerous to list because there is that many but they predate The Hunger Games, Harry Potter and others.

For me the first real strong female heroine was Tamora Pierce's Alanna and she emerged in the early 80s. Pierce felt at the time there wasn't enough female leads in traditional fantasy and she wrote a fantastic heroine who was not passive or wangsting over love triangles which I found a lot of YA heroines are.

And the irony for me is that while Katniss is seen to be strong, but I found her to be very passive and reactionary towards the events in the books. She's a survivor and tough but if she had a choice she wouldn't have involved herself in the games and be satisfied in the background.

But I think there are many layers and different types of being strong and they don't necessarily have to be 'kick ass' types. But I did find your post generalizing on a genre that has already established there are strong heroines out there
67. Crystal Hill
This is very strange. Has the author of this piece never read a single book of urban fantasy (where heroines are quite common)? Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake and Meridith Gentry, Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson (and every other female she writes of), Jennifer Estep's Gin Blanco, Gail Carriger's Alexia Tarraboti (steampunk), Tanya Huff's every female character (Claire Hansen of the Keeper's Chronicles and Staff Sergeant Torin Kerr of the sf Valor series stand out), and the list goes on. Heck sometimes even secondary characters shine. Karrin Murphy and Molly Carpenter from Jim Butcher's Dresden Files leap to mind. If you find a lack of female heroes for adults, it's simply because your haven't been looking.
Emily Asher-Perrin
68. EmilyAP
@Has and Crystal Hill -

The piece is intended rather specifically to point out the fact that mainstream pop culture at large, where these characters would be more visible (such as major film franchises and the like) have been lacking these characters. There is an imbalance due to their visibility and the unwillingness of pop culture to count them as viable, which is why I began the piece speaking about the Hunger Games film, rather than the novel.

If we're talking personal bias here (and there is a lot of personal detail in the article for the purpose of letting readers know exactly where my perspective is situated), I have in fact read quite a few of the authors suggested. Some of them I enjoyed, others I did not. As genres, urban fantasy and paranormal romance are usually not my cuppa (sometimes in television, I suppose), and I'm always a bit bothered when that's the immediate redirection.

Or to put it more directly, I think you have misunderstood what I was hoping to get across in the piece, which is not that female heroes do not exist for adults, but that they require "looking for," just as you both said. They are not as easily accessible as male heroes, and that in and of itself is aggravating.
69. Has
@EmilyAP My bad but then in your article you were stating books and not the movies. But if you are talking about looking for examples about shows then there are strong examples that date back decades from Doctor Who to Game of Thrones. Also Scifi and Fantasy shows are niche and when they do break out like Buffy they do stand out and become part of popular culture.
I think Science Fiction and Fantasy shows can explore and focus on issues and themes and they do tend to have stronger female characters unlike mainstream ones - they also in my opinion have more intersting ones. For instance Farscape has some fantastic heroines and I love how they explore sexuality and stranger in the strange land themes.

Whedon is another - And isn't Buffy an Urban Fantasy? Which has strong female representations and the themes that it covers is widely used and explored in other UF/PNR? Oh and those shows tend to have strong romantic elements as well.
Emily Asher-Perrin
70. EmilyAP
@Has - A lot of the examples in the piece are like Hunger Games, in that they are both books and films or shows, so I can see totally how that might be misconstrued. I like a lot of your examples (huge Farscape fan, here), but I am mainly concerned with "the" hero in this argument, situations like Ripley and Buffy where the woman is the central character of the narrative. For Farscape, that's John Crichton, for Who it's the Doctor, and Game of Thrones is a huge ensemble piece.

And I suppose Buffy sort of speaks more to the point: I like Buffy lots, but I do prefer Firefly over it (it's mostly because I prefer spaceships over vampires), which has a strong ensemble focus, but a male central hero. It's not that I have anything specific against urban fantasy as a genre, but it is typically where I'm told to look as a female reader, which definitely bothers me - I'd prefer not to be defaulted to a special subgenre because I'm told that it's supposedly catering to me. Women should be able to find the sort of characters that interest them throughout literature and everywhere in pop culture. But that isn't the case in so many places.
Anthony Pero
71. anthonypero

You should most certainly be able to find it in SciFi, there's no real reason not to other than bias of authors (I'm using bias in its morally neutral sense). Could it be that many male authors are afraid to make the hero female, for fear of not crafting a believable character with an authentic voice? Maybe they don't trust themselves enough to truly provide a female hero with authentic internal motives. You know, the old saw where men don't understand women? Yeah, most of us actually believe that. My wife thinks its an excuse we make to, but no, a lot of us really are clueless. I have to admit, if I was an author, I'd be terrified that my female characters wouldn't stand up to close scrutiny.

I don't know why female writers aren't writing more female heros. Of what I've read, Jacqueline Carey comes to mind, prominently. Bujold's Shards of Honor features Cordelia Naismith as a starship captain, but that's almost 40 years old now.

The Wheel of Time is about Rand, at its heart, but Egwene's role is almost as large, and doesn't revolve around a man at all. She has almost as much screen time as Rand, as well. The Wheel of Time also has Moiraine cast in the Gandalf role.

Brandon Sanderson's Warbreaker has a female lead. Two of them really, a pair of sisters, are the ones driving all the action. Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy is also driven by a female action hero coupled with a bookish, studious man. At least the second two books. There's no question that these are the outliers, though, and not the norm.

With TV, I think its a much less scary proposition for Joss Whedon and JJ Abrams and others, who are consistently creating strong, awesome female leads. They get to hire an actress to embody the character, bring it to life, and convince the audience that, yes, I am female. There's also the fact that most shows are written by teams of writers that include people of both genders, who are constantly helping eachother. Nearly all my favorite shows has an awesome, strong female hero. Castle, Fringe, Lost Girl, Buffy, Alias, etc...
72. Cervenka
I'm not sure I see your point. If the argument is that there's not enough book/visual media crossover involving strong women characters, I'd argue that Bones (Temperence Brennan), True Blood (Sookie Stackhouse), and Rizzoli and Isles disprove your point.

As for other "mainstream pop culture," what about Sarah from The Killing (both the original and American versions)? or Olivia from Scandal? or Alicia from The Good Wife? If you add in strong women in ensemble shows, you've got Olivia Benson from SVU, Kate Beckett from Castle, and Abby and Ziva from NCIS.

Do you know how many little girls want to be forensic scientists because of Brennan (Bones) and Abby (NCIS)? Or who want to grow up to help victims of sexual assault because of Benson (SVU)? The actresses who play these characters talk about the fan mail they receive from young women who view them as role models, and, yes, heroes. I don't guess I'm understanding the point you're trying to make.
Anthony Pero
73. anthonypero
What I got out of Emily's post is that she wants to see more women in space ships kicking ass as the hero of the story.
74. Cervenka
My point is that if someone says something like "What if the biggest television show since LOST was cancelled had a killer lady antagonist?" without acknowledging that the #1 drama in the 10 p.m. time slot--a show that just about everyone's talking about (check out Twitter on a Thursday night if you want an example)--DOES have a kick-ass woman (a woman of color, even!) as its star, that kind of undermines the query.
Anthony Pero
75. anthonypero
Unless the query is specific to genre entertainment--which it is. I think her point was that the genre seems to think you can only have a male hero, at least in books that aren't YA. I disagree regarding TV.
76. ariaiyc
The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede is for children but it has everything you'd look for in a strong female lead. She's fine with dresses and cooking but you'd better not get in the way of her sword. She regularly melts wizards and is an advisor to the King of Dragons (who is a grandmother, another female in a traditionally male role). Even when the lead gets married she still runs around on quests when pregnant while her husband holds down the fort at home (for magical reasons).

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