A wise lady once said, “It’s okay to want stuff.” You wouldn’t think that’s a controversial statement, but if you’re talking to women, it seems it is.
Fantasy and Spectulative Fiction in general have a long-held reputation for being ahead of the curve on social justice issues. Unfortunately, they also display some of our worst ingrained, internalized prejudices.
I’ve been reading through The Witcher series. It freaked me out to realize how much I relate to Yennefer of Vengerberg. Yennefer is definitely an anti-hero and she could easily be a villain in any other setting.
I relate to Yennefer because of her ambition.
Yennefer’s motives are often shady and her actions are morally grey at best. Her repretoire includes lying, thievery, serial cheating (and on Geralt, like what the hell?), and arguable murder. Obviously nothing I aspire to.
But like Yennefer, I’ve got some big dreams. HUGE. I was raised by someone who convinced me I could succeed at whatever I chose. After all, why not dream big?
I haven’t shared my dreams with many people, but I’ve still met with a notably high amount of rejection. That’s true for anyone who shares big dreams with small minds, but I soon realized it wasn’t even just that.
Big dreams get girls in trouble.
Daenerys Targaryen, the only example of “good” ambitious female Fantasy character I can think of, doesn’t even stay hero. Her character is ultimately villified, driven mad by her ambition and commits mass murder than ultimately leads to her death.
Many “strong female characters” *gag* ultimately achieve power/empowerment and are touted as feminist icons. But they are rarely allowed to be ambitious from the get-go and still be considered “good.” Morally grey is the best I’ve been able to find if they weren’t an outright anti-hero or villain.Even Aelin in Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass series (very feminist in other ways) starts out running from her destiny and has to be persuaded into it.
Irene Attolia in the Queen’s Thief series starts out a villain. She has a redemption arc (thank God), but again, isn’t permitted ambition for ambition’s sake.
Maybe there are positive portrayals of female ambition in Fantasy (or any genre) out there somewhere. Statistically, there has to be, but they are still in the minority by far.
Women have often been taught it’s not okay to have lofty goals.
I grew up in a very oppressive religious culture. Girls didn’t preach, didn’t wear sleeveless clothes, never wore jeans without skirts, never worked outside the home past marriage, and God forbid they went to college. (The penalty for doing any of these things was Hell, obviously.)
I’m guilty of enforcing this stereotype in my writing, too. I realize I haven’t written any women who are blatantly ambitious without being villainized in some way. Vesha (Daindreth’s Assassin) and Zhamarza (Argetallam Saga) are my best examples of ambitious women in my own work. One is a morally grey villain and one is an outright villain.
It’s therefore not a surprise I’ve also felt plenty of guilt over my own ambition. As I mentioned, this girl’s got goals.
I didn’t fully let go of that guilt until recently when I heard a mentor (who is male, if that makes a difference) say, “It’s okay to be ambitious. God made you ambitious.”
And it’s true. I was born this way. I’m presuming to assume lots of other girls were born this way, too. And that’s the way we were meant to be.
So to all the girls with empires in their eyes, don’t let anyone keep you down. To my fellow Fantasy authors: we gotta up our game, y’all.