Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Of Fangirls and Heroines

By Caryssa Locke

Princess Leia was the first heroine I ever aspired to. I was four years old the first time I saw Star Wars, and I loved her. She carried a blaster pistol, stood up for herself and her galaxy, and didn’t back down, not even against Darth Vader.

But when we played Star Wars as a kid, I wanted to be Luke Skywalker. I wanted to be the Jedi with the cool lightsaber. Little did I know at the time, that someday Princess Leia would have her own lightsaber and be trained (we assume) as a Jedi. That didn’t come to light until many years later, with Return of the Jedi.

In the 1970’s, it would have been inconceivable for the kick butt main character to be a woman. Too often, women were relegated to the damsel in distress, or at worst, the reward for the hero. Particularly in genres like Fantasy and Science Fiction. Princess Leia broke that mold. She led the rebellion! Even though she didn’t wield a lightsaber, she still fought for the galaxy, and she was the one who rescued Han Solo, not the other way around. Now, with heroines like Buffy, Ripley, Sarah Connor, Katniss, and the rise of urban fantasy as a genre, we see kick butt women as main characters all of the time. It has become something normal and accepted.

I think SFR is a reflection of that. Science fiction has more female fans than ever before. Women don’t watch shows like Battlestar Galactica or Game of Thrones because their husbands or boyfriends like it. We watch them because we are fangirls. Because we love Kara Thrace, and Daenerys Targaryen.

I think most of us who read and write SFR started out as fans. While I loved books like Dune and Ender’s Game growing up (and still do), these were not books written with the female fan in mind. As a reader, I started exploring SFR to find books that blended two of my favorite things: science fiction, and romance, with a strong female heroine. As a writer, it was natural for me to move in that direction as well. I think SFR exists as a genre, and has grown in recent years to meet a need that exists. Female fans want more. We want more kick butt heroines. We want more science fiction that is written with us in mind.

According to RWA and Nielsen, in 2014, 82% of romance book buyers were women. It’s difficult to find similar statistics for SF/F fans. However, it is clear that more women read than men. In 2012, 56% of women in the United States read at least one fiction book, with only 37% of men reading at least one fiction book. More and more women are appearing at events that cater to SF/F fans, for example, San Diego Comic-Con has seen a huge rise in the number of female attendees.

What do all of these numbers mean? Well, I think it shows a pattern. More women like fantasy and science fiction than ever before. Women also like romance, and more women read than men. Our “niche” genre is here to stay, and the heroine is going to have a huge part in growing it larger.

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