Gender Roles in Fantasy Books

I’ve been reading fantasy books for well over two decades now. As evident by this blog, it is my favorite genre to read and likely always will be. Like any genre of books, fantasy has it’s own tropes. Generally, the setting is similar to the middle ages in Europe. Horses and wagons are the main form of transportation, swords, daggers and bows and the main type of weaponry, and gender roles are clearly defined.

This is what I want to talk about today.

It seems to me that gender and gender roles are very much the topic of discussion on social media recently or maybe that I personally am just seeing more of it but it made me realize how often women are treated and portrayed as inferior in fantasy books. Granted, the books I’m currently reading are ones that have been sitting on my shelf for quite some time so they were published years ago. I’m not up to date on the newer releases because I’m catching up on so many older reads.

Still, it very common for the women in fantasy novels to be portrayed in a certain way. They obsess over finding a husband so they can get married and have children. They are expected to be beautiful and desirable and also fertile, because, of course, their main function is to produce babies. They are expected to have domestic skills like sewing, cleaning, cooking and child rearing. Any woman who lacks these skills will “never find a good marriage” or something along those lines.

When books do try to portray strong women they often have a bad temper that gets them into trouble, are stubborn and arrogant and end up needing to be saved by a man.

All too often, women are raped and assaulted casually. In some cases, the woman is to blame for this as she is now “damaged goods” and won’t be able to find a good husband since she is no longer a virgin. The women aren’t allowed to learn to fight so they have no idea how to protect themselves when inevitably they come across a man or men looking to assault them.

These men who assault women never even face any consequences for their actions either. True, some may die after the assault occurs but it is rarely as a punishment for the assault or a direct result of it.

The Wheel of Time is actually a good example where these types of gender roles are not as prevalent. Women have the ability to use the One Power and they basically oversee all governments and countries. But even they have been waiting thousands of years for a man to be born who will save the world. There is a culture that has warrior women, but if those women decide to get married they have to give up the warrior life and settle into a domestic one. Some people might say that the Wheel of Time has amazingly strong and powerful female characters, but honestly, I found them all to be haughty, arrogant, and think way too highly of themselves. They were more annoying than strong.

I couldn’t find an actual statistic to see how many women vs men read fantasy, but from what I have seen on social media like Bookstagram, more readers are women than men and a lot more books seemed to be marketed towards women. So why are women portrayed as so inferior in fantasy? As I said before, I’m reading books that were published a decade or so ago so maybe this trend has changed. Have women in fantasy begun to evolve as women’s roles in society have evolved?

This is something I’d be really interested in discussing so if you read this please do leave a comment. Perhaps some recommendations of fantasy books with actually strong and prominent female characters?

Thank you so much for reading and I hope to have a meaningful conversation about this!

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