LonCon3 #9: The Exceptional Girl Warrior

Panellists: Sarah J Maas, Sarah Rees Brennan, Leigh Bardugo, Elisabeth Waters, John Dodd

Some female warriors represent the norm in their fantasy or science fictional societies and are expected to train and fight alongside their men. Others are “exceptions”, who need to battle the prejudice of their colleagues just as much as their enemies. Panelists will discuss female fighters of every kind, taking examples both from real life and fiction. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the characters under discussion? How has representation of female warriors changed over time? How does the author’s treatment of these characters vary by genre if at all?

These girls become warriors as a reaction to traumatic events in their pasts usually involving close family and friends. It forces them to examine the world around them and to decide whether to passively accept the status quo or to proactively change it, hopefully for the better.

And although we need chosen ones – characters who will make a stand – the whiney Mary Sue is overused. Conflict and tension is good, worrying about it is expected, but painfully drawing it out is irritating.

Girl warriors also need to have limitations to realise they can’t be everything to everyone. Buffy’s dying mother is a great example, Maas says. Buffy is great with monsters, throw one at her and she’ll slay it. Cancer on the other hand, well, she’s powerless against it. It’s a battle she cannot win and she’s forced to watch her mother die.

Maas asserts her protagonist, Celaena Sardothien, is arrogant. Over-confident in her ability to eliminate her foes – except her ultimate one whom she avoids until yet another traumatic event in the sequel changes her perspective. (Factoid: She started writing Throne of Glass at 16.)

Underestimation of girl warriors benefits the girls greatly. Yes, sexism is bad, but if a male enemy believes women can’t be skilled warriors then it’s easier to take them by surprise, to infiltrate and destroy. Prejudice that prevents girls from pursuing a career as a warrior in the first place forces them to dress as boys if they want to turn their dream into a reality.

Best panellists: Sarah Rees Brennan, Sarah J. Maas and Leigh Bardugo

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