Real Characters: She Can’t Be That!

Allison, the fell warrior-princess, drew her sword and advanced on the band of ragged louts confronting her. “You’ll soon feel the fiery claw that is ‘The Tigress’, you cowards.”

The men laughed and doubled-over. “You can’t hurt us!”

Her faced scrunched and a flush rose on her cheeks. “I can’t.”

The leader stepped forward with a grin. “You don’t know how to use that. You can’t be a warrior.”

“I can’t?”

“No you’re just here, well, for the women to identify with.”

Allison scratched the back of her head. “I am?”

“Sure, now run along and sew or something but try to be serious and well-respected.”

Joan of ArcThe other ruffians guffawed. “Yeah! And try to look beautiful while you’re at it.”

Allison walked away shaking her head. “I don’t understand, I trained an everything.”

You’ve read it. I’ve read it. It’s a common complaint on internet discussion threads; the female warrior is overdone and become farce. Such characters are written merely to gain and keep women readers but they aren’t realistic – not a reflection of reality in the real world so they can’t be in the fictional world. The complaints go on and often twirl into other complaints about overdone tropes of various sorts. Frequently, one wonders if these people are just tired of the grand trope of fantasy altogether (and my advice would be to read some other genres for a while – or better yet some non-fiction).

But I say, the woman-warrior is welcome in fantasy and should even be celebrated! Why? Well lets examine some of the reasons.

She’s been there all along

Now I’ve heard some people complain that female characters should be a warrior and domestic – it would be unique. Others retort that it’s not realistic and can’t be done. Well, it has been done and it is realistic.

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The best example is from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Eowyn is a princess of Rohan who has taken care of her king in his magical dotage. We meet just after she has cared for her brother as he died. When trouble comes, Eowyn is called upon to lead her people while the men go off to war. But, being wearied of her life and finding trouble in her back yard she chooses to take up the sword. And it’s a good thing she does so, because she does what no man can do – kill the Lord of the Nazgul. Tolkien has been accused for years for his sexism in not having more women in the story as well as implying that women shouldn’t fight. But he places Eowyn right in line of danger, giving her, arguably one of the best scenes in the whole trilogy – not to mention a great line. It translated to the big screen well.

But that’s not realistic

What’s that? Still arguing about this trope? It can’t happen? Do you think women can’t and won’t take up the sword when necessary, even coming from a domestic background? Think again because history provides us with a singularly excellent example: Joan of Arc. She was a farm-girl and you can imagine what that life was like – very farm and domestic-like. But after seeing a vision she heads off to volunteer to save France from the English. It’s the stuff of a great fantasy tale. Somehow, my character, Limbreth in The Bow of Destiny, even picked up a few similarities with Joan of Arc.

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What’s that? It’s only one example? Wrong again – what about the Amazons (check the part about Sarmatian burials). They’re just a myth? Well, think about that again. Secrets of the Dead had an episode where Amazons were examined as historically real. Apparently they lived in that area of the world and later migrated across the Russian steppes.

VikingStill not satisfied? According to a recent archaeological study, women may have make up almost half of Viking warrior burials. Yep, that’s right, almost half. All those Vikings storming the shores of Europe to raid villages and towns had plenty of women in the fray and pillaging. Surprised? I’m not. While woman often have domestic duties in most cultures throughout history, they too need to be momma-bears when necessary. Regardless, there are multiple cultures which recounted tales of the Shieldmaiden.

As for the princess idea, lets put that to rest as well. Ever heard of Boudica? She was a Celtic queen who led an uprising against the Romans. Before the “rebellion” was put down she and her people won several battles against the formidable Roman legions.

So take a deep breath and let’s not get worked up about the trope and whether aspects of how female warriors are portrayed are possible. They are indeed possible, however the character, like all, should be presented authentically as possible.


So there can be shown that women were part of many tales about heroic feats.While the female warrior is historically present in many accounts all the sexy depictions are not. Many of the tales recount that Amazons and Shieldmaidens were dressed as men. What does this mean? Those hot-looking breastplates are not accurate. In fact, breast bulges would not even be structurally sound defensive accoutrements.

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The importance to understand is that heroic female characters do belong but should not be cast as sex symbols because those easily become unrealistic. In this case, Martin’s female knight, Brienne, is both realistic and authentic. So I say, “Long live the trope!” But only as long as it fits and is presented well which is what all readers ask of any story.

What fantasy tropes bother you and why? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

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IMG_4154-EditAbout the Author

P. H. Solomon lives in the greater Birmingham, AL area where he strongly dislikes yard work and sanding the deck rail. However, he performs these duties to maintain a nice home for his loved ones as well as the family’s German Shepherds. In his spare time, P. H. rides herd as a Computer Whisperer on large computers called servers (harmonica not required). Additionally, he enjoys reading, running, most sports and fantasy football. Having a degree in Anthropology, he also has a wide array of more “serious” interests in addition to working regularly to hone his writing. The Bow of Destiny is his first novel-length title with more soon to come.

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16 thoughts on “Real Characters: She Can’t Be That!

  1. “Now run along and sew or something…” I’m imagining what my friend Grace, who used to do fantasy-medieval LARP, would have done to anyone who said that to her. Probably pick up a foam weapon (her favorite was a flanged mace) and trounce them across the field and back. For some reason, sexist bullies are especially embarrassed to have their butts kicked by a garber, ’cause, y’know, “women who sew can’t fight.” She always proved them wrong.

    1. Indeed and there are those who read fantasy and think that female characters can’t have various skills. I’ve got a wide variety of skills myself – it’s not impossible. Now interest – that’s for the character to decide!

      1. Well, yes. There is no reason to have every female character in a story be a fighter just to show that she CAN. Some people — men and women alike — aren’t interested in that and have no need for it, so they do something else.

  2. Woah, some controversy. This may be the best post of the day on WordPress. I don’t have a problem with any of it myself. I just want it to fit the world and genre. In a story where magic exists, I’m also willing to allow that ninja Barbies can kick ass and wear chainmail bikinis. I also am willing to accept Brienne of Tarth if that’s what the author is going for.

    There are things I’ve grown weary of over time though. I’m kind of tired of the female warrior being some unapproachable bitch, because she’s tough like that. Mary Sue should be avoided at all costs. And I’m kind of over gigantic weapons used in some video games and modern art pieces. Maybe you know the type that would take a backhoe to lift.

    1. Totally agree with the sentiments. I subscribe to make the character realistic (weapons and armor, etc included) and fit the story. A bit of controversy around the character can help. Joan of Arc was controversial for bobbing her hair. Thanks for the vote on best post of the day! The research was very interesting that more women than we think have historically been involved in battle…

      1. The truth continues right up through modern times. They exist. However, in an historical setting, the majority of women were not warriors. Most of them were repressed at best. There were some, so I’m willing to buy it in a story. Doesn’t matter the genre, because they were real. Then again, I like ninja turtles, so I might be an easy sale.

      2. There were a few cultures that didn’t have this bias. Vikings are one. The Sarmatians were another where women gained renown. Lack of records prevents us from having specific stories handed down.

      3. I think there are tales from the Russian Front too. Mulan is based upon a real character. I’ll bet if we delved into deepest Africa there are tales there too. I need to cruise back and see what other comments you are getting.

      4. Not a lot of comments. Agreed there are likely all kinds of folk tales available if looking hard enough. The Japanese farmers created Karate simply because they were allowed no weapons and needed to defend themselves when they got into the middle of Samurai battles; I have to think that women had to use it sometimes too. But that’s another topic altogether.

      5. I get into these discussions all the time. Charles Yallowit’s and I go on for pages at a time. I’m surprised there isn’t more action on this one. That’s WordPress for you. He has an interesting post today too about writing a downward spiral. You two should get together on your posts.

      6. Probably so, I’ve hosted him on an author interview so I know him. It will get some traction at some point and then I’ll get some pithy comments, I’m sure…

  3. I agree with you, P.H. There have always been women warriors, but they are few in comparison to the men. I personally think it has historically been a choice by women that, even when given the opportunity, many prefer to raise their children in peace and let the men take the aggressive roles. It is the same in commerce which, I think, is why even in countries where women have had equality in the work place for years, many chose not to progress their careers aggressively once they have children.

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