I come from a town where the woman of the house didn’t take well to back chat, but gossip was expected – how else do you learn about what transpired the night before? A housewife was left to deal with the day to day while men were away at sea – after he had spent all his earnings in three days. She wasn’t afraid of standing up for herself while her husband worked solid for three or more months. But she had to get to that point in life, she had to fight for it, it didn’t just fall in her lap.
I am surrounded by and brought up in an environment that differs to what many call the norm for that time. If women didn’t step beyond the usual expectations of the time, the town would have come to a standstill.*
So my take on ‘strong female characters’ in fiction is somewhat warped. Especially within SFF.
While the fiction market wants to see more women with “strength” everyone’s idea of Strong Female Characters With Agency differs for this very reason. They want the fierce lioness because that’s where the action is. Action keeps the reader turning the pages after all. Page turning action sells books. Nobody likes a sob story, right?
Readers don’t want to be stuck in several dozen chapters of “how she learned to use a bow”. When we meet Katniss she already has a fire of self-awareness brought on by the poverty of her district. Sansa Stark is everything she is supposed to be when we are first introduced to her. The perfect little lady of the manor, seen and not heard.
Inner strength doesn’t usually come from being a yes person, insipid and cautious of rocking boats. Those characters have a purpose of their own. Sansa is surrounded by decision makers and those of sound moral judgement (or if you prefer ‘stereotypical heroes of fantasy’) within Winterfell. So she has an understanding of what is perceived as right and wrong, and witnesses many wrongs as the Game of Thrones plots unravel around her. Yet she doesn’t have the power, or isn’t willing to risk her own place/neck, to do anything about it, she is not the kick-arse Scrappy-Doo that her sister Arya is. Sansa is the most unpopular female character in Game of Thrones because she is the stereotypical historical female. Because she is pushed from thing to thing, avoiding confrontation, and doing what she has been led to believe is expected and right of a person in her position.
It takes some time for her to discover her strength through the vicious actions of others, and see others at Kings Landing wield a different and more manipulative type of power. Sansa Stark has the potential to become one of the more deceitful and manipulative women within Game of Thrones, using her projected simpering as a shield to work behind.
Sansa is well aware of what dangers lie in wait should she rock the boat, she has seen them all. She now knows how to cause waves that will capsize anything in her way, she doesn’t have to rock the boat she’s in.
You aren’t born with wisdom or strength. You have to have a reason to develop these attributes just as much as reason to learn a weapon skill. Arya’s spirit comes from her upbringing in a large family, being one of the younger Starks, playing with swords is more interesting than sewing to any child.
Not all ‘strength’ comes from a witty put-down, some well softened leather and a suitably placed hair swish!
Sure, they are fun. But I’ll take my Sioneds, Cats, and Trices just as much as the Sansas of the fictional worlds.** I’ll watch them grow, gain purpose, take no prisoners, and learn to bring all of their fiery independence to being.
*That is not to say a woman didn’t have her place, more the women in Hull knew how to fight their corner and work the system!
** Yes… I see the red head connection here… shh…! It’s a different ‘fiery women in fiction’ issue!