WASHINGTON — From “Frozen” to “Maleficent,” strong female voices are
paving the way for a future generation of tough women who don’t need a prince
to save the day.
Throughout various media, female powerhouses are providing a very different
kind of role model as more and more women are finding ways to tell their
New television shows such as “State of Affairs” and “Madame Secretary”
show there is a thirst for feisty heroines. Even the traditional purveyors of testosterone-fueled superheroes have
transformed the hunky Thor into a Norse
goddess of thunder.
Of course, most of the box office hits and network newbies are written by male
screenwriters eager to cash in on the developing trend.
Enter the female storyteller. She has spun tales under pseudonyms and under
threat of persecution for centuries, yet she is often overlooked or downgraded
simply because of her gender.
“There is a tendency for great female writers to simply be marginalized while
great male writers get lauded,” says author Neil Gaiman. He recently presented science fiction writer and
“giant of literature” Ursula K. Le Guin with the National Book Foundation’s Medal for
Distinguished Contribution to American Letters:
“The truth is … as long as there have been stories, there have been women
telling fantastic stories,” Gaiman says.
The tide seems to be shifting as female writers and characters find
mainstream success across platforms.
Consider “Mockingjay Part I,” the third installment of the “Hunger Games”
series written by Suzanne Collins, which topped the box office on its opening
weekend. The movie brought in $123 million, making it the most profitable
opening weekend of any movie in 2014.
“You don’t need princes to save you,” Gaiman tells The Telegraph in reference to his upcoming
fairy tale “The Sleeper and the Spindle.” It features a beautiful queen who
calls off her own wedding to save a nearby kingdom from a sleep curse.
“I don’t have a lot of patience for stories in which women are rescued by
men,” he adds.
Gaiman’s wife and fellow cultural warrior Amanda Palmer tells WTOP she relishes
the female non-fiction writers whose books have been populating bookshelves
in recent years.
As a freshman author herself — Palmer’s book “The Art of Asking: How I
Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help” debuted earlier this month —
she turned to other women for inspiration and found a plethora of material.
“There is just so much good stuff, and it doesn’t stop coming out,” she says. “Every time I read another book by a woman telling her own story in her own
voice, it just raises the bar.”
Palmer was especially touched by comedienne Margaret Cho’s memoir “I’m the One
That I Want,” which follows her rise to fame and subsequent fall. Cho’s
candid storytelling touches on addiction, disappointment and betrayal, and
ultimately showed Palmer the power behind honesty, she says.
But as with any cultural shift, a backlash is inevitable. Last summer’s
Gamergate controversy is a stark reminder that many people are not ready for
this brave new world.
Named for its Twitter hashtag, Gamergate erupted when video
game designer Zoe Quinn received violent threats after
her ex-boyfriend publicly accused her of having affairs with several men in
the video game industry, including tech journalists who favorably reviewed her
bestselling game “Depression Quest.”
Women who voiced their support for Quinn were also attacked online. Blogger
Anita Sarkeesian was forced to cancel a talk at the Utah State University
after receiving an email threatening “the
deadliest school shooting in American history” if she kept her speaking
While Quinn detractors argued that the real problem was her video game — an
interactive story in which players assume the identity of someone living with
depression — Palmer says something much more sinister was at work.
“All these men were going, ‘You’re not allowed to be talking about this!
You’re not supposed to be saying this! And this is not the place to be doing
this!'” Palmer says. “But the walls are crumbling, and it’s really beautiful watching all these women
with all these voices telling their stories in so many different ways.”
As a writer who has incorporated women’s voices into his own stories, Gaiman
says the female perspective is often regarded as “peculiar.” In his “Sandman”
graphic novel series, Gaiman features several female characters who there
“neither to sleep with the heroes” nor to be exemplars of girl power.
Instead, they were just normal characters who happened to be women.
“I had people who owned comic book stores coming up to me at conventions
and pumping my hand and saying ‘I gotta thank you, man, for bringing women
into my store for the first time,'” he says.
“Now we’re in a world where more women buy comics, read comics and are willing
to share their stories.”