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Does Graceling Send an Anti-Feminity Message? Depends.

The other eye is green.
Here's another opinion that's not 100% mine,  but in my own words.

A popular book swimming in mainstream YA is Graceling, which I have occasionally seen mentioned alongside . In its simplest form, it's a story about a girl "Graced" with the magical ability to kill. As in, a strong ability. Her greedy uncle uses her as an assassin, although she's unhappy enough to form a secret organization to house more positive activities. Naturally, she feels trapped (which is a huge theme in YA. For example, the Sleeping Beauty retelling A Kiss in Time). One day, however, she rescues an old man captured in the name of a cover-up and meets a prince Graced in fighting...

It's a romance, of course. But a very fantastical one. I have seen many people express how the protagonist, Katsa, is a strong female character. She can handle herself pretty much...

...but in one or two places, I have heard that Katsa is an unhealthy case of anti-feminity.


Unfortunate Implications

This is a complaint I know exists, but thinks the syndromes can be attributed to different justifications. Still, these are the justifications for this opinion, from at least two other writers:

  • She treats dresses like a death sentence.
  • She also treats marriage and having babies as a death sentence.
  • She rants about the first two bullet points in the narration and in the actual story.
  • She doesn't like being saved.
  • She cuts her hair short.
  • When she disguises herself, she acts as masculine as possible.
  • The author admits to writing such a message and they are her own beliefs.

But in general, the complaint showed by more than two people is basically "Graceling sends the message that in order to be a strong female, you have to be as unfeminine as possible."

Does Strong=Unfeminine?


First of all, would you say that Graceling has a anti-feminity message? Not anti-female. Anti-feminine. The concept that girls shouldn't be girly, that being girly equals being weak, and you can't be strong unless you're more masculine than feminine

I totally disagree with this. Feminine girls can be strong characters. The girl who is a great medic, cook or sewer can be one of the most effective characters in the story. For example, the clearly female character in one story can warp reality and ends up in a "damsel in distress" situation because of it. An action girl can wear a skirt while kicking the main villain out of Dodge. 

In fact, some of the male characters I have envision has some feminine traits. Not to the point of being camp, but enough that they clearly stand from the crowd. And more than one are the protagonist of their respective stories.

As a Rebuttal

Back on-topic: is Graceling anti-feminine? I would say no. To address those points:
  • Katsa finds those dresses inconvenient and demeaning. While I agree she overreacts a bit, some of the few dresses she had been forced to wear were high-maintenance.
  • She associates marriage and babies with being trapped. Her uncle has already used her as his little dog. And her society has a "stay in the kitchen" outlook against women. She doesn't want to be confined to being the mistress of the household for the rest of her life, as opposed as being able to roam the land.
  • Her "ranting" isn't too extensive.
  • Well, would you want to have to admit to having to have help if you can kill a man with only a finger.
  • She states that her long hair is impractical. Real life female soldiers use short haircuts because longer hair would hamper them. 
  • Well, since her hair's already short...
  • This is probably the hardest bulletpoint to disprove. But there's always Death of the Author.

So, I wouldn't say it's strong or slanted enough to be harmful, but it does exist. It's understandable how some people have a problem with it.

Also, the author makes it up with the book Fire. The protagonist of that one exploits her cursed beauty, wears dresses naturally, and although she won't have a child to prevent creating another of her own kind, she is pained by it. She's the anti-Katsa.

Still, it's something to consider. The gender spectrum is an interesting topic that I'll explore in the future.

How much feminine do you think a "strong female character" can/should be?