I’m reading The Golden Compass and I absolutely love it. The main character is Lyra. She is fierce, smart, and brave. The villain is also female: Mrs. Coulter. She’s brilliant, beautiful, and wicked.
There are several indirect references to sexism in the book. When Lyra first meets Mrs. Coulter she is shocked that the woman is a scholar because female scholars are few and dowdy. Lyra notes many times that the male scholars get access to special rooms. Just like in the real world, right? We all know real life Oxford is sexist as hell. So what’s wrong with referencing that sexism in the story?
There are further parts of the story that make note of sexism. Only the male gyptians are allowed on the boat to recover the children. The female gyptians argue they should be included, not to battle, but because someone will need to be there to look after the children once they are rescued.
Of course Lyra, just a child, goes and battles and is the heroine of the story. But I’m wondering as I read, are there imaginary worlds where there is no sexism? I would love girls and boys to be exposed to this fantasy much more than they currently are. Before we can realize it, we’ve got to be able to imagine it. We get to that surprisingly little if at all.
Obviously, the challenge is that writers exist in real life sexist worlds so as Luce Irigaray wrote, even creating a “female imaginary” can be practically impossible to fantasize about. Though, honestly, it doesn’t seem like it should be that hard. Remember, battles are symbolic and metaphorical as are magical powers.
Just put a female front and center. Have some other females helping her out, they don’t have to be human, just female. That’s a start. Maybe the Oz series would fit? It had Glinda but a lot of makes around Dorothy. Alice in Wonderland? Same thing, but I think that would fit, at least the movie version with the White Queen. Is she in the book? There is the Red Queen, though she’s evil. I like evil female characters but I like good ones as well. The only thing that bums me out about Tim Burton’s Alice, which I loved, was that the story was bookended with a wedding scene. Like so many modern day feminist heroines, Alice’s independent act is that she refuses to marry who she is supposed to. But why mention marriage at all?
Update: Commenters and I agree on these: Oz, Wonderland, and Miyazaki’s imagination