Wednesday, May 25, 2016

4 Strong Female Characters No Longer Need to Prove Themselves

We're thrilled to have a post with that title--don't you agree? And we're honored to have Sara Wilson Etienne, the author of HARBINGER and LOTUS AND THORN join us today to explain how the battle of female characters needing to prove themselves has already been won. 

“My girls no longer spend their energy proving that they are “as good as””

For a long, long, loooooooong time, in order to kick ass our heroines had to prove themselves first. They had to cut their hair and stuff themselves into suits of armor. Or defy society’s patriarchal rules and become THE FIRST. These characters had to be faster, stronger, braver, and smarter than the boys. For years, the mantra of girl-power books went something like sharp-shooter Annie Oakley’s song in the musical Annie Get Your Gun… “I can do anything you can do, better. I can do anything better than you!”

I love these girls. I grew up cheering them on. Chanting their names. Wanting to BE them. But there’s a new girl in town. And I have to say… as a reader, a movie watcher, a writer, as an ass-kicking woman myself… I’m pretty freakin’ psyched about her.

I’m talking about Katniss. I’m talking about Rey from Star Wars. I’m talking about Furiosa from Mad Max. Just to name a few. Not only do these girls and women not feel the need to prove themselves to the men around them, they seem genuinely confused when men show up trying to save them.

Seeing these characters living comfortably in their own skin, with their own power, has shifted the way that I write my own stories. My girls no longer spend their energy proving that they are “as good as.” They are too busy battling sandstorms and plagues and magic.

Please do not misunderstand me. That is not to say that I ignore gender in my writing. In fact, it is the exact opposite. Once we stop having to prove ourselves, we stop having to deny or erase our gender identities. Being female becomes a unique and nuanced force… different for each character, for each community, for each story. And this shifts the conversation and the story dramatically.

Because the truth is.... “I can do anything”

For girls and women, there are still many, many obstacles in our path—within the real world and fiction—but the conversation is no longer CAN a woman do a “man’s job.” Women have. We have done the jobs and we have excelled at them. Proving the point is no longer the issue. We have entered the next phase of the discussion.

Women do not need to be men in disguise. We are our own beings. Our own characters. As a writer, it’s exciting to create a strong girl character who is not defined by her relationships with the men in her life. She’s not scarred by the father who rejected her or wished she was a boy. She’s not trying to be a guy. She’s not trying impress one or make one fall in love with her. There may be love, but it will be on her own terms and merely one of the adventures along the path.

My girl is a powerful young woman, like the ones living in the world today. Already certain in the knowledge that she has the ability to do anything and be anything. Certain that, yes, there will be obstacles in her way. But just as certain that she will use her strength and smarts to haul it out of the way, build a bridge over it, or blow the hell out of it. Because the truth is.... “I can do anything.” End of song.


Lotus and Thorn
by Sara Wilson Etienne
G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Y
Released 6/7/2016

Ravaged by a plague known as Red Death, the planet Gabriel, a former colony of Earth, is a barren wasteland. Since being abandoned by Earth 500 years ago, resources are scarce and life is cheap. To stay alive, the survivors, the Citizens, scavenge the remains of a now dead city, trading for food with the resource-rich Curadores, the only other survivors on Gabriel. Every old computer, every piece of wire, every scrap of metal counts. To steal is the ultimate sin. So when tough-as-nails seventeen-year-old Leica is caught doing just that, she’s exiled and left to the mercy of Gabriel’s unforgiving desert for the rest of her life.

While in exile, Leica discovers a mysterious shuttle, which may not only lead her home, but even more impossible—reestablish contact with Earth. Then Red Death rears its head again, killing her entire work crew, leaving Leica all alone until a handsome Curador offers her refuge in the Dome—the only place on Gabriel untouched by Red Death, where a decadent and sultry life awaits. But there’s a catch: Leica can only enter the Dome as his concubine—his Kisaeng. When a rogue group of Citizens see their chance for revolution in Leica’s good fortune, she finds herself unraveling a deadly mystery with chilling answers to the true origin of Red Death and the reason Earth really abandoned them so long ago.

A richly imagined fantasy in the vein of Tamora Pierce, Lotus and Thorn, is a magnificent, epic adventure.

Purchase Lotus and Thorn at Amazon
Purchase Lotus and Thorn at IndieBound
View Lotus and Thorn on Goodreads


Sara Wilson Etienne went to school to become a marine biologist... but when her research transformed itself into a novel, she realized she loved fantasy more than fact. Now she enjoys combining both to create stories that ask "What if?"

Sara writes in Seattle alongside her artist husband and her two dogs. Her favorite days are spent disappearing into different universes, whether it's traveling with Dr. Who, popping into a parallel world with Diana Wynne Jones or Terry Pratchett, or writing her own stories. Or sometimes just taking a nap.

Sara is the author of HARBINGER and LOTUS AND THORN.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

-posted by Michelle Taylor-


  1. Great post. Oh, I so love the everyday girl on the cover!! We girls are kick-ass in our everyday selves! :)

  2. Hmm, good post. Don't know that I necessarily agree with it, but I can see where's she's coming from, and appreciate her thoughts.

  3. Love this post! These are the girls I love to read and write about as well.

  4. "Women do not need to be men in disguise." -- This has been my thinking about girl heroes in books since forever. Frankly, girl heroes who seem like they're trying to prove that they can be just as ____ as a guy irritate me. Let girls be girls and guys be guys, whoever the heroes may be.


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