Female Characters are not Men with Breasts

The stench of social justice is strong with this piece.

Which is why Rat Queens is so damn important: it’s essentially a D&D campaign driven by women. The heart of the story follows the eponymous mercenary team, a brash quartet who know what they want and just go for it…

 

On the off-chance that you don’t relate to any of the Queens, good news! There’s a slew of other ladies to love and admire! Lola is the muscular second-in-command in the city guard; Braga is a death-defying lady orc built like a tank; Tizzie is Hannah’s very blonde and very feminine friend-turned-chief rival; Faeyri is Betty’s punk elf girlfriend.

Even some of the baddies are women! “Old Lady” Bernadette is a merchant, tired of the Queens constantly destroying her businesses, and the team has to face down a troll army led by a pissed off girlfriend (after they killed her boyfriend earlier in the story—hey, the dude was trying to smash them all into paste! It was absolutely self-defense!)…

 

And, let’s not forget, some killer representation. Not only is there an amazing preponderance of ladies, there’s also people of color (in a fantasy world! Because if you can have dwarves and dragons, you sure as hell can have black people) and LGBT+ representation (Betty’s a lesbian and Braga’s transgender)…

 

With so many of us ladies demanding better representation and hungry for anything starring women, the network that adapted Queens would also be guaranteed a huge female viewership, which is nothing to sneeze at. We’re half the population, folks, and we deserve to have more loud and proud heroines to admire in our media.

When I read fantasy, I think of sweeping landscapes, intricate magic systems, sprawling empires, clashes of cultures and civilisations, and tales of good and evil. The best fantasy stories should tell readers something timeless about human nature. Spending one in six paragraphs talking up women and diversity tells me that either the story is incredibly bland, or that the writer is incredibly solipsistic. I suspect both.

Look at the character descriptions.

Hannah is the mage: an aggressive, tattooed, and confrontational lady who would like nothing better than to pick a fight with the entire world. Her parents are necromancers, so she has a direct line to the next world.

‘Aggressive, tattooed and confrontational’ are masculine traits. There are women who are like that, and all of the ones I’ve met who embody those traits are fundamentally broken. People who ‘would like nothing better than to pick a fight with the entire world’ usually get their wish–and usually die soon after. There is always a bigger fish, and if you spend your life fighting everybody you meet, the bigger fish will oblige. People with this character trait aren’t badass — they’re flawed. They are ticking time bombs with a sharply limited life expectancy.

Violet is the resident dwarf and swordswoman. She’s got a chip on her shoulder re: her culture and family and shaves her beard as a statement. She’s also the most heavily-armored of the Queens and has a driving need to prove herself.

Body hair is political only to feminists. This seems to be an inversion of modern-day feminism’s obssession with keeping armpit and leg hair. This tells me nothing about the character, only the creator’s hamfisted attempts at pushing a political message. Further, people with a ‘driving need to prove’ themselves by taking up an inherently violent profession and deliberately entering combat tend to be men with an excess of testosterone.

Further, being the resident swordswoman, she should know better than to mount swords on her back, and she would understand the virtues of not carrying so much gear that they could catch on anything, interfere with her actions and slow her down. The character designs tell me that the creator chose style over substance — as expected of third-rate stories.

Betty is fondly referred to as a “smidgen” by her teammates; she’s pretty clearly a halfling/hobbit, and because of her size and speed, she’s often the thief (when they need information) or a projectile weapon (in a melee). Betty’s typically high on a lethal mixture of magic mushrooms and sugary candy and is pretty laid back as a result.

In other words, she’s a drug addict. That makes her a liability in the real world. Not badass.

And size and speed does not a thief make. Real thieves are stealthy and smooth. Fast and unnatural actions draw attention, and attention leads to a lethal dose of metal poisoning. A real thief would be invisible in plain sight, unseen and unknown until after the job. A good thief would stay unknown well after the job — quite the opposite of the Rat Queens’ reputation. (See The Thief, the Burke series, and other crime noir stories for more realistic representations of actual thieves.)

Further, ‘(small) size and speed’ do not a good projectile weapon user make. Longbows, for instance, require immense upper body strength. Crossbows may need less strength than longbows, but longbows have a faster rate of fire. Slings, darts and javelins are propelled by the user’s muscles; speed comes from body mechanics and proper application of bodyweight. If we’re talking fantasy weapons not reliant on gunpowder or magic, strength matters. So does size–the larger the better. Not the other way around.

Dee is the group’s cleric and healer. An atheist with divine abilities, thanks to being raised in a cult that worships a flying squid—think Lovecraft meets the Flying Spaghetti Monster—she’s also the homebody of the Queens. While the others love nothing more than a rousing bar fight, Dee would prefer to stay home with a big book.

Now this does not make sense. Clerics are not inherently powerful; they channel the power of their god(s) based on their long-standing relationship with the divine. In harder fantasy settings, clerics and other believers must act in ways commensurate with the morals and creed of the power they worship, or suffer the consequences. How can a person who does not believe in gods draw on the power of gods when she will not form a relationship with something she does not believe in, much less embody the values of that greater power? Being raised in a flying squid cult is not enough; by being an atheist she repudiates the squid, severing her relationship with it. By drawing on the power of the squid, or any other divinity, she necessarily forms a relationship with a divine being, which means she must confront her atheism. And the divine power, in turn, will pay more attention to her and her behaviour — and wonder why she still will not believe in it. At the very least, she must resolve the question of whether she can have a relationship with something she does not believe in. You do not get to be fashionably atheist and still be blessed with the power of a god without having to reconcile the two.

Berry sums up the Rat Queens as such:

A team of hard-drinking, foul-mouthed, fun-loving, totally asskicking female mercenaries.

‘Hard-drinking’ and ‘foul-mouthed’ are masculine characteristics. They are the traits of men and male soldiers I have been around. The female soldiers I have served with tend to be less hard-drinking and foul-mouthed than the men, and indeed, in an interview with Pioneer magazine, male sailors recounted reminding each other to watch their language after female sailors were assigned to the ship. The presence of women make men gentlemen; they should not make the world even more masculine.

The most damning flaw with Rat Queens is that I don’t see women. I see men with breasts. They act like men, talk like men, drink like men and fight like men. Nothing in their described behaviour sets them apart from the male soldiers and adventurers I have known. There is nothing about, say, compassion, diplomacy, morality, relationship-building, solidarity or any other traits that women tend to employ more than men.

At the same time, the Rat Queens get away with things men will not, because they are women.

Due to their wild partying, they’re on the mayor’s naughty list in their current home base of Palisade and have frequent brushes with the law (good thing Hannah can usually seduce the Captain of the Guard and get them all off “on good behavior”).

Real mercenaries and operators know that you cannot afford to alienate your home community, especially the movers and shakers.Men who do what the Rat Queens do will quickly find themselves arrested, imprisoned and exiled. Or executed. At the very least, they will have to deal with the wrath and resentment of the businesses they bust up, and the constant attention of local law enforcement. But the Rat Queens get to get away with destructive behaviour because of Hannah’s feminine wiles, and the mayor’s inability to have the Captain of the Guard replaced.

Berry’s write-up on the Rat Queens tells me that this comic is typical feminist fantasy fare. The comic portrays unbelievable women who enjoy the traits of men and the privilege of women without having to deal with the consequences of their behaviour.

I don’t care whether a fantasy story has minority representation, diversity or women or whatever. I care whether the story is believable. Fantasy stories, especially good stories by J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis and John C. Wright, are stories about timeless truths. Fantasy stories that do not reflect the truth are failed stories.

Female Characters are not Men with Breasts

2 thoughts on “Female Characters are not Men with Breasts

  1. Fantasy stories that do not reflect the truth are failed stories.

    Which is the paradox that fantasy stories often have. Though they are made up, they must ring true on some level to be effective.

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