Katniss and Arya Stark: The age of gender-equal storytelling

Hurrah! Quality storytelling is taking over our screens/book-shelves and bashing threadbare clichés of male-driven action and female helpless emoting.

We’ve come a long way,

Just watch Game of Thrones’ latest great battle, the Battle of Winterfell, and see how far we’ve come since the Lord of the Rings’ Battle of Helm’s Deep (2002). In the Peter Jackson’s Tolkien adaptation, there was not a single female fighter, and women and children cowered in caves while male characters became heroes.

Maisie Williams as Arya Stark in Season 8 of Game of Thrones (HBO)

I won’t go into details to avoid spoilers, but the Battle of Winterfell boasts of several key female heroes, drenched in blood and giving their all and more. In fact, it is female characters (some very young, some very old) who carry the most satisfying story beats.

Similarly, in the Marvel Universe franchise, things have moved on since the first Avengers movie where poor Black Widow brought a ridiculously tiny gun to a fight against an invading alien armada.

Thankfully, these days are gone, and dystopian and epic fantasy stories are now rich in strong female leads, from Katniss Everdeen to Divergent’s Tris, and Arya Stark. These are the ultimate underdogs: female, young, pretty and broken inside.

Susan Collins brought gender-equal stories to the fore with her Hunger Games book series.

And it makes the stories better!

The longer the road to becoming a hero, the better the story. Gender equal storytelling allows for subtler and more authentic character arcs. Characters meet their toughest challenge based on their inner qualities and experiences, not on their gender. Some women are good at fighting, others at strategising, and some men do better hiding at a safe distance.

This generates a wider range of emotions and increases the sense of suspense. The more varied the characters, the more unpredictable their next moves.

I am currently reading ‘The Power’ by Naomi Alderman, and the book starts with 15 year-old girls discovering their latent power to ‘electrocute’ those who cross them

They go from victims to oppressors in the space of a few chapters, and soon display predatory behaviours that our society still attach to men.

This debunks the myth that, given the upper hand, women would use their power to better ends than men. 

Such generalisation is deeply unfair to men who have historically been responsible for most advances in social justice (with notable exceptions of women’s suffrage and abortion).  

When I started writing the Skyriders’ Trilogy, I was keen to depict a truly gender-equal society, with a long tradition of interchangeability between men and women.

I decided that each book would feature a deeply flawed female protagonist. Efalaa, Sili and Vidris are not easy to like: they are selfish, brutal and sometimes manipulative. At the end of their stories, they are stronger and wiser but still far from ‘nice’. And why should they be? Women do not need to be nice, no more than men need to be brave.

Free of stereotypes, this new generation of female heroes surprises and empower us, and we – male and female viewers/readers alike – cannot get enough of them.


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