Last week, I wrote about different roles and styles chosen by women in YA dystopian fiction, so I thought I’d continue the trend by talking about gender roles and style (well, dress vs. armor style, at least) in fantasy!
A lot of women in fantasy (particularly Medieval Europe-inspired fantasy, which a lot of it is – see our discussions about other inspirations here) wear gowns, and their men wear armor. There’s nothing wrong with this, as it’s pretty accurate to historical European settings; plus, you can have diverse and interesting characters who still conform to gender norms. But what about when they don’t? When a woman character is more comfortable in chainmail than velvet? Or when it’s just safer for a girl to crop her hair and use a boy’s name? When a girl has to disguise herself as a boy to achieve a goal? That’s when the gender-bending fun of cross dressing comes in.
No, I’m not talking about RuPaul’s Drag Race – I’m talking about characters like Alanna of Trebond in Song of the Lioness, and Arya Stark and Brienne of Tarth in A Song of Ice and Fire. These ladies find some reason to dress in trousers when their peers are in skirts, are sometimes able to convince those around them they are actually boys, and sometimes suffer mockery when they are revealed.
In Brienne’s case, she never claims to be a male, but still steadfastly refuses to wear women’s clothing. Characters like this break gender barriers in their worlds and make readers question things in our own – sure, a woman can wear pants in America in 2016 without being mocked, but what if a woman wants to be a welder or a man wants to be a florist? Characters who blur gender lines are valuable because they show readers that not all people of one gender share the same interests, clothing choices, and career goals.
-This post includes spoilers for the above series.-