As a girl, I totally understand the need for more ass-kicking female protagonists and horrifyingly evil female antagonists. I get that there’s a huge demand for less trope-ified ladies in literature, and in most mainstream media, to be honest. I’m always happy whenever I am turned on to a new Buffy-like heroine, or just a strong, well-written female character in general (good guy, bad guy, side character with more to offer than just a bag full of sand or whatever.)
I don’t consider myself to be a particularly active feminist. In fact, “feminist” is a word that I am actually loathe to apply to myself. However, my current project (as well as all the news about misogyny in mainstream media) has brought me to a grinding halt as I reconsider what’s actually happening.
I’m writing the sequel to my book A GOD AMONG MEN, which deals with Norse gods who have been stripped of their powers and are now hiding out among that humans with no powers, no memories and it’s up to Odin, once he reawakens as the All-Father, to find his missing family and reunite them to overthrow Loki and the army he has been amassing. Odin is my main hero, however book 2 which is called BLOOD AND THUNDER (in case you were wondering) focuses a lot more on Thor’s story.
Now, in Norse myth, there’s really only like four or five goddesses. Frigga, Hel, Sif, Freyja and Brunhilde. I’m gonna dumb this down a LOT, so bear with me, for the sake of argument. Brunhilde isn’t an Aesir, she’s a Valkyrie. Freyja is basically a sex goddess. Sif is Thor’s wife and that’s pretty much all that she’s known for. Frigga is Odin’s wife, and is the mother goddess. And Hel is the ruler of the underworld and is Loki’s daughter.
My main antagonists are Hel and Loki.
Frigga is locked away from the entire conflict with Balder and the light elves. Freyja doesn’t give a shit, and since she doesn’t care, Brunhilde doesn’t care because Freyja is in charge of the Valkyries, Brunhilde is just the head Valkyrie.
Based on Norse mythology and the actual context of my work, this leaves me with Sif.
In ancient Norway, women were revered as warriors and they were more equal with men than pretty much anywhere else throughout ancient history. So naturally, even as humans, Sif and Thor are cavorting around the countryside killing things because they can. Sif’s character is a powerful warrior woman who is respected for both her opinion and for her fighting skills. Thor even listens to her when she speaks.
When Thor is about to reawaken to his true self, Sif is standing there, basically saying that something is wrong and that they need to run. Thor doesn’t listen and Sif ends up getting killed before she can reawaken to her divine nature.
My ass-kicking warrior woman gets killed by a man.
Later, she gets SAVED from death by a man. By Odin, actually.
I’m genuinely conflicted about this. On the one hand, I have a wonderfully deep warrior woman who can hold her own in a fight, who isn’t a typical 120 pound model, and is a great source of fun for me as a writer. On the other, her death is what really triggers a lot of the other choices the male protagonists make and what spurs them forward in the fight against Loki.
I’m not changing her fate because it wouldn’t work the same if I killed, say, Thor. I mean, sure, that would emotionally torment Odin, but that isn’t what the book is about, (although, it could easily be changed to become a book like that…) What I find troublesome is that I’ve developed a funny clever, strong woman, and she dies, only to be saved later by her, for lack of a better term, father-in-law.
As a writer, I feel like I should do what I can to avoid these tropes, to avoid these sort of traps and to break away from the male-dominated stories. As a writer, though, pushing any kind of agenda isn’t on my to-do list unless it involves a publishing schedule or other promotional stuff. And believe me when I say that with this book I am not pushing any sort of political agenda. I’m writing a fun adventure fantasy series about Aesir destroying their world, and ours.
So really, am I just as bad as the rest of society for not writing an ass-kicking heroine who gets to save the day?
What do you think? Am I shooting myself int he foot for even talking openly about this personal dilemma that I’m having? And does this make me less of a role-model or whatever? Should I be shunned for identifying with Odin and Thor more than I do with Sif?
I’m gonna go write and ponder. Leave me your thoughts.