Art by Jason Chan

I’m going to tell you a story about llamas. It will be like every other story you’ve ever heard about llamas: how they are covered in fine scales; how they eat their young if not raised properly; and how, at the end of their lives, they hurl themselves – lemming-like- over cliffs to drown in the surging sea. They are, at heart, sea creatures, birthed from the sea, married to it like the fishing people who make their livelihood there.

Every story you hear about llamas is the same. You see it in books: the poor doomed baby llama getting chomped up by its intemperate parent. On television: the massive tide of scaly llamas falling in a great, majestic herd into the sea below. In the movies: bad-ass llamas smoking cigars and painting their scales in jungle camouflage.

Because you’ve seen this story so many times, because you already know the nature and history of llamas, it sometimes shocks you, of course, to see a llama outside of these media spaces. The llamas you see don’t have scales. So you doubt what you see, and you joke with your friends about “those scaly llamas” and they laugh and say, “Yes, llamas sure are scaly!” and you forget your actual experience.

So you forget the llamas that don’t fit the narrative you saw in films, books, television – the ones you heard about in the stories.

What you remember is the llama you saw who had mange, which sort of looked scaly, after a while, and that one llama who was sort of aggressive toward a baby llama, like maybe it was going to eat it. So you forget the llamas that don’t fit the narrative you saw in films, books, television – the ones you heard about in the stories – and you remember the ones that exhibited the behavior the stories talk about. Suddenly, all the llamas you remember fit the narrative you see and hear every day from those around you.  You make jokes about it with your friends. You feel like you’ve won something. You’re not crazy. You think just like everyone else.

And then there came a day when you started writing about your own llamas. Unsurprisingly, you didn’t choose to write about the soft, downy, non-cannibalistic ones you actually met, because you knew no one would find those “realistic.” You plucked out the llamas from the stories. You created cannibal llamas with a death wish, their scales matted in paint.

It’s easier to tell the same stories everyone else does. There’s no particular shame in it.

It’s just that it’s lazy, which is just about the worst possible thing a spec fic writer can be.

Oh, and it’s not true.


I’m passionately interested in truth: truth is something that happens whether or not we see it, or believe it, or write about. Truth just is.

As somebody with more than a passing knowledge of history (All the Thing That Came Before Me), I’m passionately interested in truth: truth is something that happens whether or not we see it, or believe it, or write about. Truth just is. We can call it something else, or pretend it didn’t happen, but its repercussions live with us, whether we choose to remember and acknowledge it or not.

When I sat down with one of my senior professors in Durban, South Africa to talk about my Master’s thesis, he asked me why I wanted to write about women resistance fighters.

“Because women made up twenty percent of the ANC’s militant wing!” I gushed. “Twenty percent! When I found that out I couldn’t believe it. And you know – women have never been part of fighting forces –”

The Huntress

The Huntress, art by S. Ross Browne

He interrupted me. “Women have always fought,” he said.

“What?” I said.

“Women have always fought,” he said. “Shaka Zulu had an all-female force of fighters. Women have been part of every resistance movement. Women dressed as men and went to war, went to sea, and participated actively in combat for as long as there have been people.”

I had no idea what to say to this. I had been nurtured in the U.S. school system on a steady diet of the Great Men theory of history. History was full of Great Men. I had to take separate Women’s History courses just to learn about what women were doing while all the men were killing each other. It turned out many of them were governing countries and figuring out rather effective methods of birth control that had sweeping ramifications on the makeup of particular states, especially Greece and Rome.

Half the world is full of women, but it’s rare to hear a narrative that doesn’t speak of women as the people who have things done to them instead of the people who do things. More often, women are talked about as a man’s daughter. A man’s wife.

I just watched a reality TV show about Alaska bush pilots where all of the pilots get these little intros about their families and passions, but the single female pilot is given the one-line “Pilot X’s girlfriend.” It wasn’t until they broke up, in season 2, that she got her own intro. Turns out she’s been in Alaska four times longer than the other pilot and hunts, fishes, and climbs ice walls, in addition to being an ace pilot.

But the narrative was “cannibalistic llama,” and our eyes glazed over, and we stopped seeing her as anything else.


Language is a powerful thing, and it changes the way we view ourselves, and other people, in delightful and horrifying ways. Anyone with any knowledge of the military, or who pays attention to how the media talks about war, has likely caught on to this.

We don’t kill “people.” We kill “targets.” (Or japs or gooks or ragheads).  We don’t kill “fifteen year old boys” but “enemy combatants” (yes, every boy 15 and over killed in drone strikes now is automatically listed as an enemy combatant. Not a boy. Not a child.).

And when we talk about “people” we don’t really mean “men and women.” We mean “people and female people.”  We talk about “American Novelists” and “American Women Novelists.” We talk about “Teenage Coders” and “Lady Teenage Coders.”

And when we talk about war, we talk about soldiers and female soldiers.

Because this is the way we talk, when we talk about history and use the word “soldiers” it immediately erases any women doing the fighting. Which is it comes as no surprise that the folks excavating Viking graves didn’t bother to check whether the graves they dug up were male or female. They were graves with swords in them. Swords are for soldiers. Soldiers are men.

It was years before they thought to even check the actual bones of the skeletons, instead of just saying, “Sword means dude!” and realized their mistake.

Women fought too.

Let’s just put it this way: if you think there’s a thing – anything – women didn’t do in the past, you’re wrong.

In fact, women did all sorts of things we think they didn’t do. In the middle ages, they were doctors and sheriffs. In Greece they were… oh, sod it. Listen. Foz Meadows does a better job with all the linky-links, for those who desire “proof.” Let’s just put it this way: if you think there’s a thing – anything – women didn’t do in the past, you’re wrong. Women – now and then – even made a habit of peeing standing up. They wore dildos. So even things the funny-ha-ha folks immediately raise a hand to say, like: “It’s impossible women did X!” Well. They did it. Intersex women and trans women, too, have fought and died, often misgendered and forgotten, in the ranks of history. And let us remember, when we speak about women and men as if these are immutable, somehow “historical” categories, that there are those who have always lived and fought in the seams between things.

But none of those things fit our narrative. What we want to talk about are women in one capacity: their capacity as wife, mother, sister, daughter to a man.  I see this in fiction all the time.  I see it in books and TV. I hear it in the way people talk.

All those cannibal llamas.

It makes it really hard for me to write about llamas who aren’t cannibals.


James Tiptree Jr. has a very interesting story called, “The Women Men Don’t See.” I read it when I was twenty, and I admit I had a difficult time understanding what the fuss was all about. This was the story? But… this wasn’t the story! We’re stuck for the full narrative inside the head of a man who does very little, who’s traveling with a woman and her daughter. Like the man, of course, we as readers don’t “see” them. We don’t realize that they are, in fact, the heroes of the story until it’s over.

This was the man’s story, after all. That was his narrative. It’s his story we were a part of. They were just passing objects, some NPC’s in his limited landscape.

We didn’t see them.


Art above by Jason Chan, Kimonas, & Tony Foti

When I was sixteen, I wrote an essay about why women should remain barred from combat in the U.S. military. I found it recently while going through some old papers. My argument for why women shouldn’t be in combat was because war was terrible, and families were important, and with all these men dying in war, why would we want women to die, too?

That was my entire argument.

“Women shouldn’t go to war because, like men do now, they would die there.”

I got an “A.”

Valkyrie, art by anndr

Valkyrie, art by anndr

I often tell people that I’m the biggest self-aware misogynist I know.

I was writing a scene last night between a woman general and the man she helped put on the throne. I started writing in some romantic tension, and realized how lazy that was. There are other kinds of tension.

I made a passing reference to sexual slavery, which I had to cut.  I nearly had him use a gendered slur against her. I growled at the screen. He wanted to help save her child… no. Her brother? Ok.  She was going to betray him. OK. He had some wives who died… ug. No. Close advisors? Friends? Maybe somebody  just… left him?

Even writing about societies where there is very little sexual violence, or no sexual violence against women, I find myself writing in the same tired tropes and motivations. “Well, this is a bad guy, and I need something traumatic to happen to this heroine, so I’ll have him rape her.” That was an actual thing I did in the first draft of my first book, which features a violent society where women outnumber men 25-1.  Because, of course, it’s What You Do.

I actually watched a TV show recently that was supposedly about this traumatic experience a young girl went through, but was, in fact, simply tossed in so that the two male characters in the show could fight over it, and argue about which of them was at fault because of what happened to her. It was the most flagrant erasure of a female character and her experiences that I’d seen in some time. She’s literally in the room with them while they fight about it, revealing all these character things about them while she sort of fades into the background.

We forget what the story’s about. We erase women in our stories who, in our own lives, are powerful, forthright, intelligent, terrifying people. Women stab and maim and kill and lead and manage and own and run. We know that. We experience it every day. We see it.

But this is our narrative: two men fighting loudly in a room, and a woman snuffling in a corner.


The trouble is, it’s often hard to sort out what we actually experienced from what we’re told we experienced, or what we should have experienced.

What is “realism”? What is “truth”? People tell me that the truth is what they’ve experienced. But the trouble is, it’s often hard to sort out what we actually experienced from what we’re told we experienced, or what we should have experienced. We’re social creatures, and fallible.

In disaster situations, the average person will ask for about four other opinions before forming their own, before taking action. You can train people to respond quickly in these types of situations through vigorous training (such as in the military), but for the most part, about 70% of human beings like to just go along with their everyday routine. We like our narrative. It takes overwhelming evidence and – more importantly – the words of many, many, many people around us, for us to take action.

You see this all the time in big cities. It’s why people can get into fistfights and assault others on busy sidewalks. It’s why people are killed in broad daylight, and homes are broken into even in areas with lots of foot traffic. Most people actually ignore things out of the ordinary. Or, worse, hope that someone else will take care of it.

I remember being on the train in Chicago in a car with about a dozen other people. On the other side of the car, a man suddenly fell off his seat. Just… toppled over into the aisle. He started convulsing. There were three people between me and him. But nobody said anything. Nobody did anything.

I stood up, “Sir?” I said, and started toward him.

And that’s when everyone started to move.  I called for someone at the back to push the operator alert button, to tell the train driver to call for an ambulance at the next stop.  After I moved, there were suddenly three or four other people with me, coming to the man’s aid.

But somebody had to move first.

I stood in a crowded, standing-room only train on another day and watched a young woman standing near the door close her eyes and drop her papers and binder onto the floor. She was packed tight, surrounded by other people, and no one said anything.

Her body began to go limp. “Are you OK!?” I said loudly, leaning toward her, and then other people were looking, and she was sagging, and the buzz started, and somebody called up from the front of the car that he was a doctor, and someone gave up their seat, and people moved, moved, moved.

Somebody needs to be the person who says something is wrong. We can’t pretend we don’t see it. Because people have been murdered and assaulted on street corners where hundreds of people milled around, pretending everything was normal.

But pretending it was normal didn’t make it so.

Somebody has to point it out. Somebody has to get folks to move.

Somebody has to act.


I shot my first gun at my boyfriend’s house in high school: first a rifle, then a sawed-off shotgun.  I have since gotten to be pretty decent with a Glock, still terrible with a rifle, and had the opportunity to shoot an AK-47, the gun of choice for revolutionary armies around the world, particularly in the 80’s.

I knocked over my first 200 lb. punching bag with my fist when I was 24.

The punch meant more.  Anyone could shoot a gun. But now I knew how to hit things properly in the face. Hard.

The women in my family were hardworking matriarchs. But the stories I saw on TV and movies and even in many books said they were anomalies.

Growing up, I learned that women fulfilled certain types of roles and did certain types of things. It wasn’t that I didn’t have great role models. The women in my family were hardworking matriarchs. But the stories I saw on TV and movies and even in many books said they were anomalies. They were furry, non-cannibalistic llamas. So rare.

But the stories were all wrong.

I spent two years in South Africa and another decade once I returned to the states finding out about all the women who fought. Women fought in every revolutionary army, I found, and those armies were often composed of fighting forces that were 20-30% women. But when we say “revolutionary army” what do we think of? What image does it conjure? Does the force in your mind include three women and seven men? Six women and fourteen men?

Women not only made bombs and guns in WWII – they picked up guns and drove tanks and flew airplanes. The civil war, the revolutionary war – point me to a war and I can point to an instance where a women picked up a hat and a gun and went off to join it. And yes, Shaka Zulu employed female fighters as well. But when we say “Shaka Zulu’s fighters” what image do we conjure in our minds? Do we think of these women? Or are they the ones we don’t see? The ones who, if we included them in our stories, people would say weren’t “realistic”?

Of course, we do talk about women who ran with Shaka Zulu. When I Google “women who fought for Shaka Zulu” I learn all about his “harem of 1200 women.”  And his mother, of course.  And this line was very popular: “Women, cattle and slaves.” One breath.

It’s easy to think women never fought, never led, when we are never seen.


What does it matter, if we tell the same old stories? If we share the same old lies? If women fight, and women lead, and women hold up half the sky, what do stories matter to the truth? We won’t change the truth by writing people out of it.

Will we?

Stories tell us who we are. What we’re capable of. When we go out looking for stories we are, I think, in many ways going in search of ourselves, trying to find understanding of our lives, and the people around us.  Stories, and language tell us what’s important.

If women are “bitches” and “cunts” and “whores” and the people we’re killing are “gooks” and “japs” and “rag heads” then they aren’t really people, are they?  It makes them easier to erase. Easier to kill. To disregard. To un-see.

But the moment we re-imagine the world as a buzzing hive of individuals with a variety of genders and complicated sexes and unique, passionate narratives that have yet to be told – it makes them harder to ignore. They are no longer, “women and cattle and slaves” but active players in their own stories.

And ours.

Because when we choose to write stories, it’s not just an individual story we’re telling. It’s theirs. And yours. And ours. We all exist together. It all happens here. It’s muddy and complex and often tragic and terrifying. But ignoring half of it, and pretending there’s only one way a woman lives or has ever lived – in relation to the men that surround her – is not a single act of erasure, but a political erasure.

Populating a world with men, with male heroes, male people, and their “women cattle and slaves” is a political act. You are making a conscious choice to erase half the world.

Buy The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley: Book/eBook

Buy The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley: Book/eBook

As storytellers, there are more interesting choices we can make.

I can tell you all day that llamas have scales. I can draw you pictures. I can rewrite history.  But I am a single storyteller, and my lies don’t become narrative unless you agree with me. Unless you write just like me. Unless you, too, buy my lazy narrative and perpetuate it.

You must be complicit in this erasure for it to happen. You, me, all of us.

Don’t let it happen.

Don’t be lazy.

The llamas will thank you.

Real human people will, too.

Written by Kameron Hurley

Kameron Hurley

Kameron Hurley is the author of The Mirror Empire, as well as the award-winning God’s War Trilogy, comprising the books God's War, Infidel, and Rapture. She has won the Hugo Award, Kitschy Award, and Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer. Hurley has also been a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, Nebula Award, the Locus Award, BFS Award, and the BSFA Award for Best Novel. Her short fiction has appeared in Lightspeed Magazine, Year's Best SF, EscapePod, The Lowest Heaven, and the upcoming Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women.     @kameronhurley

  • Django Wexler May 20, 2013 at 9:28 am

    This is great. Our (constructed) version of “realism” is so easy to use as a straightjacket.

  • Catherine Lundoff May 20, 2013 at 10:23 am

    Terrific post!
    If you haven ‘t seen it already, Jessica Ananda Salmonsen’s Encyclopedia of Amazons is well worth tracking down.
    “The Women Men Don’t See” is by
    Tiptree, not Russ, BTW.

  • Lele May 20, 2013 at 10:37 am

    Thanks. It’s good to have this spelled out so clearly (again). And we’re not just written out of stories when we actually take action and do the ‘unexpected’ people either ignore us or put us down.

  • Paul Weimer (@princejvstin) May 20, 2013 at 10:42 am

    Thanks, Kameron. Excellent article, punctuated by great art, too. Well done!

  • Ann Burlingham May 20, 2013 at 12:16 pm

    Found via Mary Anne Mohanraj’s Facebook page, and very much enjoyed, but a small factual correction: “The women men don’t see” is by James Tiptree, Jr., not Joanna Russ (author of the outstanding _How to suppress women’s writing_). (Wiscon would be a great convention to learn about all things Tiptreeian; they have the award in her name.)

  • Lisa Nohealani Morton May 20, 2013 at 12:35 pm

    This is a fabulous essay and there is not enough YES THIS in the world.

    One small quibble: “The Women Men Don’t See” is by James Tiptree Jr (aka Alice Sheldon), not Joanna Russ.

  • Kado May 20, 2013 at 12:48 pm

    Great article. If I may, I’d however like to point out that Joanna Russ did not write “The Women Men Don’t See”. That was Alice Sheldon, writing as James Tiptree, Jr. But other than that, you hit the nail on the head. Thank you.

  • valdemar May 20, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    Hi! Pedant siren: this is indeed an excellent article, marred by a small error – ‘The Women Men Don’t See’ was written by the late Alice Sheldon (writing as James Tiptree, Jnr) not Joanna Russ.

  • Stina May 20, 2013 at 1:03 pm

    Good job.

  • Robin Steen May 20, 2013 at 1:04 pm

    Thank you so much for this. Your text beautifully defines something that’s very hard to define for people who keep insisting that “don’t be ridiculous, of course llamas are scaly and cannibalistic”.

  • Chelsea Pitcher May 20, 2013 at 1:11 pm

    AMAZING article, thank you so much for sharing it!

  • Lori S. May 20, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    Psst…”The Women Men Don’t See” is by Tiptree.

  • Lisa (starmetal oak0 May 20, 2013 at 1:56 pm

    Loved the article and loved all the artwork.

  • Lysana May 20, 2013 at 2:08 pm

    Marvelous essay. Just marvelous. I have one correction that needs making, though. You use “intersex” when you mean “transgender.” Those are two different situations for a person to be in that sometimes overlap, but it would be a transgender woman who impregnated a cisgender woman (or a trans man, for that matter). Intersex is more correctly used for people whose genitalia does not conform to certain standards (sometimes cosmetic, sometimes beyond that).

  • Marguerite Reed May 20, 2013 at 3:04 pm

    This made me cry. It’s wonderful. (Slight quibble, it was James Tiptree, Jr. who wrote “The Women Men don’t See.” She was trying to work within her own personal llama hell…. But this takes nothing away from this essay which I will now share with everyone.)

  • Aidan Moher May 20, 2013 at 3:22 pm

    Thanks, all. I’ve corrected the reference to Joanna Russ. Apologies for not catching it myself.

  • N. K. Jemisin May 20, 2013 at 4:53 pm

    ::slow clap:: All kinds of awesome, Kameron.

  • Jonathan May 20, 2013 at 6:01 pm

    It may be worthwhile to consider that some of us never chose to believe these sorts of lies about womenfolk in the first place.

  • Alan Gold May 20, 2013 at 6:03 pm

    The llamas stand in awe. As they should.

    Thank you.

  • Kimberly May 20, 2013 at 6:50 pm

    Well said. Thank you.

  • Emily May 20, 2013 at 7:24 pm

    Fantastic post! Sharing this EVERYWHERE!

  • Tansy Rayner Roberts May 20, 2013 at 7:56 pm

    Thank you, Kameron for this spectactular article (beautifully presented with the art that adds much to the text). Everything you say here is so important, and (sadly) it’s something that has to be said over and over again to start enacting change. I particularly like the way you explain how even an enlightened feminist-type writer still has to struggle at times not to allow the conventional narrative to slide in and take over. Brilliant!

  • Lauren Mufford May 20, 2013 at 8:23 pm

    This makes so much sense. Thanks you.

  • Pam Torres May 20, 2013 at 10:00 pm

    Excellent and beautifully written. Thank you!

  • Arielle May 20, 2013 at 10:11 pm

    Thank you for writing such an inspiring article! I’m a game designer, and I know about the impact stories have in games. I’ve been meaning to write about women’s roles in game narrative, but I have yet to actually finish any articles about it. If I ever get around to it, I’ll be sure to reference your article!

  • Clare May 20, 2013 at 11:14 pm

    Thank you for this. Clearly stated and unfolded argument. You’ve given me much to research. I work as a storyteller, and am currently dissatisfied with my own repertoire and the deluge of male driven narratives. I will post this everywhere too. It reminds me of Joss Whedon’s Equality Now speech where he responds to the question: Why do you write such strong female characters?” Its on youtube for any who are interested.

  • Karin Tidbeck May 21, 2013 at 12:54 am

    Thank you so much for a brilliant article. Even as a writer who tries to be aware of these things, it’s so horrifyingly easy to reproduce this narrative.

  • Fuzzy Llama May 21, 2013 at 1:25 am

    Thank you.

  • Al Dowd May 21, 2013 at 2:03 am

    Outstanding essay! I am sharing it widely.

    Perhaps trivial in the overall narrative, but this did resonate personally with me: “You can train people to respond quickly in [disaster situations] through vigorous training (such as in the military)…”. I can still remember, some forty years after the fact (in a basement smelling of unpainted concrete, underneath a barracks on Lackland AFB), learning that the first thing you do when an emergency occurs is to move to help and that the second thing to do, even as you move, is to point to someone, anyone, and bark out “YOU! Go for help!”. It DOES take vigorous, focused training to turn sheep into sheep dogs. The gender is immaterial.

    Thanks again for this thought-provoking essay.

  • Linda Adams - Soldier, Storyteller May 21, 2013 at 2:15 am

    The military has about 15% women serving. Yet, if I were to judge it based on the number of photos I see on the service sites, I would think that there were only a handful of women. The women soldiers are almost never photographed, and when they are, it’s usually when they’re with a child. It’s rare to find some of them doing their job like the men do. I was in the first Persian Gulf War. Trust me, we didn’t just stop to play with children.

    I’m also amazed at how many books do like the movies — default to a single woman character (even if she is the protagonist) and then have a cast of 100 men. It’s like there’s this default everyone has, and they don’t think about it because we keep seeing it everything. I have about seven female characters and am considering a project with no male characters. I’m sure someone will be shocked and find it unbelieved, despite the fact I work in an office with all women and only two men.

  • everwalker May 21, 2013 at 2:24 am

    Reblogged here: Thank you for the very interesting insight.

  • K. A. Laity May 21, 2013 at 4:45 am

    Very nicely done. Thank you!

  • Michel R. Vaillancourt May 21, 2013 at 4:59 am

    A wonderful blog post and a fantastic point of discussion. In addition, your selection of artwork to support the theme of your post was brilliant. All in all, bravo, and thank you.

  • Ki-Wing Merlin May 21, 2013 at 5:16 am

    This is wonderful. Thank you.

  • Kathleen Young Rybarczyk May 21, 2013 at 5:29 am

    Wonderful article – while I’m writing a story with a strong female protagonist who has dealt with violence against her person committed by evil people, she’s survived and decided to come through it stronger and not let it define her. She’s taken the ashes of her life and risen from them like a phoenix. And now, she’s going to get the chance to pay back her tormentors by being one of the main people bringing them to justice. I’m trying so hard to make sure she stays strong, even as she occasionally has weaker moments where she feels like she’s falling apart. I want to write strong characters, be they male or female – and your article just strengthened my resolve!

  • Scott May 21, 2013 at 5:30 am

    A solid essay, interesting and well-thought out. It brought to mind historical women I enjoyed reading about like Boudica, and Zenobia.

    It made me think that SOME folk ARE taking note of this and hopefully things are changing. Case in point: WRATH OF THE TITANS. Historically (mythology-wise at any rate), and in the first movie (CLASH OF THE TITANS) Queen Andromeda is relegated to damsel in distress. She never really moves beyond this role and for the most part exists as love interest for Perseus. Well that changed in WRATH. Andromeda not only spends the whole film being a very strong female lead, but commanding her army into battle against the very Titans themselves…and when Zeus and Hades do their hail may run against their father (Chronos) it’s Andromeda, dressed for battle, wading into the thick of it, on the front lines. I don’t think
    I’ve been quite that impressed with a B-movie (of all things!) being forward thinking in a very long while (if ever).

    Anyways, not to sidetrack. Good post.

  • LA May 21, 2013 at 6:06 am

    So do you believe that women were oppressed throughout history?

  • Evie Manieri May 21, 2013 at 6:11 am

    This is wonderful, thank you so much for this! I find it frustrating that so much time is being spent talking about “realism” in fantasy. Why even frame the discussion that way, unless “realism” is just code for “not at all challenging to my assumptions?” I worry that a focus on (a completely subjective) realism will not just reinforce the existing narratives as you’ve so beautifully described, but also squash the exuberantly imaginative voices out there that need to be allowed to flourish if fantasy isn’t going to stagnate.

  • EllieMurasaki May 21, 2013 at 7:54 am


  • Alan Edwards May 21, 2013 at 8:13 am

    Simply excellent. Reading this made me think back through my books and stories to see if I was as guilty as I feared. While I do have female soldiers in my fantasy work, along with some other strong female roles, I definitely feel like I can do better – and will in the future. For the llamas.

  • Steve Fahnestalk May 21, 2013 at 9:04 am

    Great post; however, I would point out that people can be, and have been–and are still being–killed by child soldiers. Which would for me, if I were facing armed children intent on killing me, put them squarely in the “enemy combatant” camp. Other than that, I liked this article a lot.

  • Kate Howell May 21, 2013 at 9:18 am

    Great article. I learned a lot from this and I love your style of writing: analytical and well laid out. Thank you.

  • Jamie May 21, 2013 at 9:26 am

    Fantastic. Inspiring. Thank you.

  • Alana Joli Abbott May 21, 2013 at 9:43 am

    Lovely essay, Kameron. I found it particularly interesting that, from the beginning of the essay, I assumed you were a male writer. In light of the essay, I think that says intriguing things about me as a reader — and, I hope, some choices you made while writing it. It’s easy for me to assume that other women grew up with the same narrative that I did — the recognition that limitations on women’s roles were a lie, and that we should be considered people first — but I need to be reminded, sometimes, that I was very fortunate to grow up on my mother’s stories, and believe them.

  • Ernie May 21, 2013 at 9:55 am

    Wow, I love this article, in no small part because it helps to illuminate how much George RR Martin’s writing in “Game of Thrones” is better than the “standard narrative.” And quite possibly, because like you, his research showed that strong and powerful women were found in abundance throughout history. His story is rife with a rich tapestry of all kinds of different people that somehow we just don’t expect from today’s media; gay men who are brave and competent knights, women who are equally brave and competent knights, queens and ladies who are ambitious and bloodthirsty, men who are weak and ineffectual, young girls who are stubborn and brave, but “unready”, and men who completely underestimate all of the women throughout, usually to their own detriment.

    Interestingly enough, I’ve read plenty of other books with strong female characters that would have never been able to, say, serve in a combat unit in the US Marine corps in the 1980’s (when the “Deed of Paksenarrion” series was written, for example). So while sci-fi and fantasy novels of the 1950s and 1960s were horrible parodies of misogyny, it’s not very hard to find a completely different narrative.

    But, like you say, you’re the biggest self-aware misogynist you know. ;)

  • Patrik May 21, 2013 at 11:02 am

    Pure awesome. I too will share this.

  • Petey May 21, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    I agree. Just like we should change the narrative of men always being rapists and abusers. Of course if women can be pirates and soldiers and all those other wonderful things, it means they are just as capable of violence as men and maybe we should stop thinking of the man as always being the abuser and the woman as the victim in domestic violence and even in rape cases….

  • Fearsclave May 21, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    It would have been nice to see some illustrations of real-world female warriors. The choice of fantasy artwork, as opposed to pictures of real-world furry llamas like Lyudmilla Pavlichenko, who had nearly twice as many confirmed sniper kills as the late Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, tends to undermine the whole thrust of the piece. There’s lots of photographic and other real-world illustrations out there; I’m puzzled over the choice to go with video game and RPG box art instead.

    That quibble aside, well said!

  • Aidan Moher May 21, 2013 at 1:29 pm

    Thanks for the kind words, Fearsclave. To your point, this is a blog focussed on Science Fiction and Fantasy (books, film, videogames, etc…), and my regular audience is overwhelmingly built on fans of these genres, so the artwork was chosen to fit this audience. I did not expect this article to have the widespread and mainstream coverage that is received.

  • Nicole May 21, 2013 at 1:37 pm

    This is *fantastic*. I’ve been writing my own little fiction on and off for 8 – 10 years (as a hobby) and haven’t been able to touch it for almost 5 of those. You have just inspired me greatly to jump back in and rewrite some aspects, as well as given me fodder for all new scenes and encounters. I’m going home after work and printing this out. I’m keeping it always. And someday, when I have children, and they can understand the words, I will have them read it, and make sure they know how important it all is. Thank you.

  • Amanda May 21, 2013 at 1:37 pm

    I might have to change some things in that “fictional” political satire novel I’m writing.

  • Fearsclave May 21, 2013 at 1:43 pm

    Duly noted. As a military history buff rather than a geek, my first reaction was “Article on female warriors? Where’s the pics of Pavlichenko? And Rosa Shanina? And Aleksandra Shamushenko? And…” Heck, the Soviets in WII alone prove enough examples of highly successful female soldiers to illustrate a dozen pieces like this one. But yeah, to a(nother) niche audience than mine a bunch of grainy black-and-white pics of non-idealized non-pointy-eared real-world women in decidedly unflattering and ill-fitting Soviet uniforms might not have the same impact, and you know your audience better than I do…

  • Leslee Beldotti May 21, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    I’ve had my dog tags hanging in every vehicle I’ve owned since I left the Army in 1992. Once, while parked in an airport parking garage, a note was left on the windshield of my Jeep, berrating me for my public, “STUDLY” display of dog tags (their actual words). Obviously, it never occurred to the note’s author that the owner of the Jeep/dog tags might be FEMALE. This article speaks to that experience.

  • Andrea May 21, 2013 at 1:47 pm

    Wonderful article! There are many books about women warriors and famous pirates like Sky O’Malley. I read one history book where the Native Americans wouldn’t let the women near a captured enemy because they were more vicious than the men ;)

  • Bob Dobolina May 21, 2013 at 2:00 pm

    A nice article that brings up a couple of problems for me:

    1. I have probably never seen represented in fiction form — even in much fiction of the feminist stamp — most of the real contexts in which women fought, historically speaking. It is bothersome how little we actually know (well, how little *I* actually know) about what they faced, how they were treated , why they so often had to disguise themselves as men, what the consequences of discovery might be if any, and so on. I don’t think I could deliver a reliable answer that was more than rank guesswork if asked, when regiment of female soldiers are portrayed as kings taking their “harems” to war, is this true or false and what exactly it means (what kinds of training, regimen, relationships and institutions it implies). I’ve seen the theme of hidden gender explored in a few stories and novels — like *The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse* — but if I were tasked with realistically representing a day in the life of a female soldier in one of Shaka’s women’s regiments, or a day in the life of a female soldier who’d disguised herself as a man or boy in order to serve on the line in some part of the world, I don’t think I could credibly render the motives that would drive or the obstacles likely to face either character. (I could tell you about the aristocratic women of Europe or Japan or China and the circumstances of familial dynasty, ambition or necessity that sometimes took them into the field to lead troops. But it’s not wise to generalize from them to any other class.) A lot of what I rely on to answer questions like that is research in social history, but there’s really very little historical writing that touches directly on these themes. We need more of it.

    2. The question of how to represent and treat history and society’s unsavory aspects is a vexing one. On the one hand, cheaply exploiting as tropes of convenience rape and sexual assault for women, or the lynching of blacks, or other forms of violence leveled against groups of people, is wrong. On the other hand refusing to portray such events at all would feel dishonest. In some settings where there’s personal tension across, say, racial lines, it would be tempting to go with something other than the bog-standard racial tension as part of one or the other’s motivations: and yet that constant tension, the ever-present and none-too-subtle threat of being subjected to verbal and emotional and physical abuse because of race, is a pacing part of what racism was and is. So is writing it out really the way to go, or is the more proper goal to be able to write it without sensationalizing it or perpetuating myths about it? (The parallel to women and sexual assault is obvious, I hope…)

  • Bob Dobolina May 21, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    “a pacing part of what racism was and is” should read “a basic part of what racism was and is” in the third-last sentence of the above comment.

  • Quhart May 21, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    Firstly: what was said here needs to be said, and then backed up with swords, sub-machine-guns and rifles.

    On the other hand (speaking, nervously, as a man), I think there are still some interesting spins that can be added on top.

    1.) Historically, and practically, is the ultimate conclusion that women have actually had _more_ of a choice than men. They can be Desperate Housewives, AND they can be Starbuck. Llamas can be tough, valid and interesting whether they’re cannibalistic or not. In contrast, everyone’s expectations generally place men in masculine roles (or at worst, pseudo-masculine ones; cf. “banker”). We expect our camels to purposefully soldier on.

    2.) The critique about narrative and characterization both interests and discomforts me. I’ve never been interested in what you call “our narrative”, with its marginalization of women (not in the real world, not in what little fiction I’ve written, and not in all the history I know), but at the same time, I wonder if the sexualized tension that you characterize as “lazy” is also, unfortunately, “true”… because of the way men are? Distrust or disagreement among men tends to produce competitive tensions, however much they’re sublimated (the “front” put up by professionals socializing, for example); when the participants are basically being honest with each other, that tension becomes explicit; and when one player (and probably the _smarter_ player) is a woman, that tension often tends to acquire some element of sexual tension. Yes, there are and will be exceptions, but a lot of the time, it’s a cannibal llama looking at its next snack.

    3.) I’ve always felt slightly uneasy about some feminist expectations of male behaviour, and thinking about what you wrote has maybe helped me pinpoint why. Yes, we’re probably annoying when we behave in old-fashioned male ways, but at least we’re honest and dumb when we do; I’m not really interested in being the sort of smart man who cynically manoeuvres through a set of socially-conditioned rules and expectations to gain female approval. As well as being something I’m rubbish at, that strikes me as something that’s a bit manipulative, regardless of whose narrative we’re acting out.

    Feel free, of course, to shoot me down on all that?

  • Kameron Hurley May 21, 2013 at 2:26 pm

    @fearsclave Yeah, this was originally written with science fiction/fantasy writers and readers in mind, as part of a larger conversation about representation and “realism” in the genre we’ve been having. Foz Meadows covered a lot of the linky-links to historical women in active roles (which I linked to in the article). But I wanted to focus primarily on narrative. If you’re interested, her excellent post is here:

  • stef May 21, 2013 at 2:28 pm

    WOW. As a writer, as a reader, as a woman, as a mother of 3 very young men who love science fiction I found this a very very good read and I am going to save it somewhere to reread! I write about llamas that are not scaly but then people don’t seem to “get” my work or they think it’s feminism instead of “realism” because “Real” llamas are scaly? Didn’t you know? But the other stuff you said too, about lazily using sexual tension instead of remembering to use other types of tension and the overuse of rape to define bad guys. Really better ponder that when keeping on working on my novel :/

  • Kwizzy May 21, 2013 at 2:49 pm

    And of course the usual story about llamas always has to involve sexual assault by the most scaly llamas, because a llama is always at risk the moment it steps outside the fenced area. Those scaly llamas are always on the prowl. Scaly llamas never assault other scaly llamas or younger scaly llamas. Unless it’s a horror story.

    One reason I put down Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series was that the female lead — strong and intelligent and a perfectly active character — gets sexually assaulted by the main character’s brother within the first hundred pages or so. And he doesn’t really do anything about it besides a confused, “What was up with that, bro?” Yes, she can take care of herself, but, wtf? Was that necessary? What was the point?

    It seems along the same lines of its What You Do. If it has female parts, you have to threaten them with harm. Imagine if castration or severe repeated ball kicking (not humorous) was incessantly threatened and that threat felt obligatory whenever a character was male.

    I typically don’t have to think to myself, “Gee, I sure hope he doesn’t get kicked in the balls by a bad guy — I don’t want to read about that.” But if there’s a woman… Yeah, I brace myself. She might not ever get hurt, but there will be a constant threat of it.

  • Nigel-63 May 21, 2013 at 3:59 pm

    … there are a couple of No-Longer-Journalists-For-Major-Papers here in Australia who would find this comparable to The Narrative constantly being reinforced by the Murdoch Press (Australia has the highest concentration of Media ownership in the Western world, with Murdoch owning over 70% of the newspapers and the only real Cable tv station) regarding our female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard… I don’t particularly like Julia’s government, one of her Ministers is my local Federal MP and I don’t vote for him – that said – the repeated misogynistic lies that are repeated in our Media – repeated and almost never addressed by that Media – is both disgusting AND resonates with what you’ve written here…

    … more power to your pen, Kameron… (and stay off the Coke Zero – it’ll kill ya!)

    – cheers,

  • DR Slaten May 21, 2013 at 4:01 pm

    Totally diggin’ what you’re writin’. Way back when, I got a degree in the Study of Women and Men in Society. I think I was closet feminist even as a child. lol Anywho, I moved from Alaska a couple of years ago, where many women do ‘men’s’ work. BTW, LOVE the illustrations.

  • Mark Pemburn May 21, 2013 at 4:55 pm

    Brilliant! I will make this required reading for everyone I know. Thank you!

  • Gereg Jones Muller May 21, 2013 at 6:00 pm

    As a teacher of international sword and miscellaneous weapon arts, and as someone who actively promotes female participation in my classes, I applaud from the heart. The message isn’t new, and the history is no news: but it’s powerfully and clearly expressed here, with a writer’s angle that I (as a poet, musician, and author) really appreciate. The power of art to shape thought, in context of women taking on warrior ways, is a subject near and dear to my heart. I’ve never seen it addressed so well.

  • Karilee May 21, 2013 at 6:13 pm

    Very enjoyable read – thanks. Keep up the not dying, Kameron. It’s a good choice.

  • Patricia Heidel May 21, 2013 at 6:19 pm

    Awesome inspiring article . And that leads me to ask WHY all the art work to illustrate it is by men?? Illustrators are truth telling story tellers also and I know for a fact there are some stunning female illustrators out there. Please repost with female artists.

  • Doctor Science May 21, 2013 at 6:27 pm

    Wonderful essay, especially useful because you talk about your *own* misogyny and how it’s a constant fight against it.

    But speaking of llamas:

    Look at the women warriors in these pictures, and notice their hair. All of them except the Black woman and the Assassin have loose hair, in most cases very long loose hair.

    This does not happen. Long, loose hair when you’re fighting (or working with heavy or delicate equipment) is extremely dangerous for both males and females — it interferes with what you’re trying to do, and it gives an enemy a handle on your head. Soldiers, male or female, invariably either cut their hair, braid it tightly, or put it inside a covering (e.g. a Sikh dastar). Fighters only wear their hair loose and grabable as a taunt, nanny-nanny-poo-poo-you-can’t-catch-me.

    So why is everyone making pictures of women warriors with long, loose hair? Because that’s what llamas look like — and long hair, male or female, is naturally sexy. So women warriors have long hair to make it clear that the warrior part isn’t as important as the fact that they’re *women*, whose #1 purpose is to be sexy. Because llamas are like that.

  • Ironyage May 21, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    What were women in Greece? You trail off there, but the site you link to doesn’t say anything about women warriors in Greece either. There were female warriors in Greek mythology, but none in the armies of the Greek city-states, or in Roman legions either.

    The women who were prominent in the Greek and Roman eras tended to be dynastic rulers like Artemesia of Halicarnassus, Julia Soaemias, and Zenobia of Palmyra.

    There were a number of institutional and practical barriers to female fighting in Greek and Roman cities, not the least of which was the use of heavily armored infantry troops as the core fighting units. Absent artificial hormones, most women have a hard time building the requisite muscle mass to support 100 percent of their body weight in iron. Female physical advantages, like agility and flexibility, were completely useless in a phalanx.

    Women could be successful raiders and guerilla fighters like Boudicca, but they didn’t really stand a chance against swarms of foot soldiers protected against both ranged combat (by armor and shields) and cavalry attacks (by tight formations and spears).

    So, in a sense, women were not always fighters, at least not in every society or every army.

  • KL Murgatroyd May 21, 2013 at 6:39 pm

    Thank you. Your thoughts challenge me as a writer & female people. I think I have a lit of cutting and writing to do.

  • Joe May 21, 2013 at 7:46 pm

    I was in the Marines, and we referred to female Marines as “Women Marines,” usually shortened to “WM.” About 10 years after I got out, I started a job, and was told that a co-worker had also been in the Marines. When I got the chance to talk to her, I said something to the effect “So, I heard you’re a WM.” Without a blink, she responded, “No. I’m a Marine.” I’ve never made that mistake since.

  • Cynthia Lee May 21, 2013 at 8:16 pm

    Whoo-hoo! Standing ovation for you here! You just became my new favourite author, and I’m sharing this one around like crazy. There are so many people who are UN-seen by the people around them, not just women (take me: I’m just the front desk, so the big-wigs don’t have to even acknowledge my existence unless they’re feeling condescending – because, I’m not a person, am I.) And you’re right: We cannot perpetrate this by being complicit, ourselves.

  • Ida Jagaric May 21, 2013 at 8:24 pm

    omg where to start! seeing in your bio about learning to box (i’m “pretending” to learn too! haha! ie. i only spar etc “recreationally”) … it brings to mind this awesome book and one of the above comments about women need to be seen as abusers sometimes reminded me too coz the book made a good point that we need to see them that way for the sake of their victims… the book is called Kill The Body The Head Will Fall by Rene Denfeld and she discusses female agression partly through boxing which she was doing at the time. and she makes some amazing AMAZING points along the lines of the discussion above!

    other mini-topic… i lent an old Mercedes Lackey book to a younger friend who was a bit put off by the sword ‘Need’ that only helped women etc… and i realized as i was talking to her about it, in the 80s was kinda the early stages of female fantasy writers and female warrior heroines and i would say coz of the stereotypes mentioned above female warriors often had to have become that coz of rape or some other horror coz we couldnt have them just wanting to fight right!?

    LOVE the joss whedon Equality Now speech mentioned above!! such a succint point of whats wrong!

    also all of this reminds of the Bechdel Test! a good ‘test’ of whether something (usually movies) has good female characters! :)

    ps. i’m also a ‘self aware misogynist’ ! haha good term! but i think we cant help but be having grown up in our society? coz i like your point about ‘female soldiers’ vs. just soldier for women… coz guess what i call myself?! Lady Knight! instead of just knight. sigh.

    and a friend was making a *fantasy* movie… and all the soldiers were men except an ‘elite’ group of scantily clad female warriors. its fantasy you can do whatever! make women soldiers! and from what i’m grateful to learn above, even in reality there was a good many women soldiers! good to know!

    so that was a long winded comment to say awesome, rockin article!!!!!! :D

  • Ida Jagaric May 21, 2013 at 8:27 pm

    ps. i really dont think Game of Thrones is a good example of strong female characters. not many of them are seen in a totally positive light and very few warriors. I’m loving Steven Erikson’s books in comparison coz female fighters are the norm, every army and group has some. Versus Martin who’s only female characters that carry a sword are a little girl and a woman who was only introduced in the 3rd book and had a noose around her neck in the 4th book. (i’m refusing to read the 5th)

  • Django Wexler May 21, 2013 at 8:32 pm

    I thought the pictures worked great — good job finding fantasy women wearing non-ridiculous armor! That isn’t always easy.

  • Amy Sterling Casil May 21, 2013 at 8:51 pm

    Awesome McAwesomeness. And Mc What You should be thinking about to tell the best stories you can. Fight on.

  • Karla Akins May 21, 2013 at 8:56 pm

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. If there’s one thing I want to teach my granddaughters it is this: you are strong.

  • Emmett Rensin May 21, 2013 at 8:57 pm

    I’m going to give you a metaphor. It will be like every other metaphor you’ve ever read: how it picks an obviously ridiculous neutral case; how its hands are heavy; how you can see where it’s going from yet this doesn’t – despite the existence of a merciful God – make it any shorter. They are, at core, hackneyed devices, rarely subtle, and used by every author high on their own sense of wit.

    Every metaphor you’ve read is the same. You see them in books: the moral of the story, bludgeoning your cerebellum long before the big reveal. On television: using slight alterations in detail to “cover up” a comment on reality. In the movies: employed by studios looking for a little, but not too much indie cred.

    Because you’ve seen these metaphors so many times, because you already know the pretensions and pedantry of metaphors, it sometimes shocks you, of course, to read a metaphor that defies these lazy conventions. These metaphors don’t signal themselves from a mile away, they don’t drag on well past their point. So you doubt what you read, and you joke with your friends about those “heavy-handed metaphors” and they laugh and yes, “Yes, metaphors sure are heavy-handed!” and you forget your actual experience.

    What you remember is the metaphor you read that wasn’t literal, which sort of felt obvious, after a while, and that one metaphor which actually revealed itself at the proper moment, like maybe it was properly subtle. So you forget the metaphors that don’t fit the pages of newspapers, blogs, and Facebooks – the ones you were made to suffer through by amateurs – and you remember the ones that were as hackish and overdrawn like in all the essays you suffered through. Suddenly, all the metaphors you can think of fit the cliché you read and hear every day from the hacks around you. You make jokes about it with your friends. You feel like you’ve won something. Those predictable metaphors aren’t predictable. You’re just better at spotting them than everyone else.

    And then there came a day when you started writing your own metaphor. Unsurprisingly, you weren’t able to write one of the soft, subtle, and effective ones you encountered in rare good writing, because you aren’t nearly as talented as you think you are. You constructed a metaphor like the ones from the blog entries. You created boring metaphors with obvious points, dragging out in paragraph after paragraph.

    It’s easy to write as badly as everyone else does. There’s no particular shame in it.

    It’s just that it’s lazy, which is just about the worst possible thing a critical writer can be.

    Oh, and this is a meta-commentary.

  • Clarence May 21, 2013 at 9:09 pm

    Tsk. I’ve been aware of most of the facts in this essay for years.
    It’s one reason I’ve never believed in the ‘patriarchy’ theories of some feminists.
    Want to see some ongoing erasure?

  • LarryArnold May 21, 2013 at 9:53 pm

    You nailed it. This is going to my writer’s group. Maybe they’ll understand my female characters better.
    Of course I’ve been teaching women to shoot for about thirty years, so my perspective is a bit different.
    It took me ten years to get my first novel published. According to agents and editors one of the main characters is unrealistic, since “women just don’t compete in shooting matches.”

  • karmarad May 21, 2013 at 10:34 pm

    What a clear-eyed article, and true in all respects. You’re a fine writer. What you said is important. I’d like to see this on the front page of the New York Review of books. And I’d like every writer to remember what you said about tired old tropes when they’re writing, and to struggle with themselves as you did so as not to fall into the lazy old narratives. Thanks!

  • Abhinav Jain (@abhinavjain87) May 21, 2013 at 11:09 pm

    Aidan, that’s a good point, but still, given that there are ample references in the article to real world history, Fearsclave’s concern is entirely valid.

  • Devin Harrigan May 21, 2013 at 11:42 pm

    A call for variety in character, motivation and story is always wonderful, But at the same time I am of the opinion one should never be so terrified of being called cliche that it paralysis them when they feel it will just be the appropriate choice for a given situation. Forcing yourself to write the anti-cliche all the time is just as limiting and narrowing as writing the cliche.


  • =Tamar May 21, 2013 at 11:48 pm

    There have indeed been intersex (DSD) people who have fathered children. Stevie Crecelius fathered six children before finding out he was intersex; he then decided to identify as female.

  • Leonie May 22, 2013 at 12:19 am

    Thanks so much for this essay! It’s beautifully articulated, and reminds us all that women are so much more than the sum of their body parts. We writers have the power to change the world of stereotypes by writing about strong, clever, talented and competent women. It is most definitely time to move away from the trophy princess, who exists only to be rescued, or to define the male characters. Thank you!

  • Chris Meadows May 22, 2013 at 12:30 am

    Interesting article. Have you read the Discworld novel Monstrous Regiment, by Terry Pratchett? You might find it interesting as it explores a lot of the same sorts of themes.

  • Cari Hislop May 22, 2013 at 1:02 am

    It’s human nature for people to see what they want/expect to see. We all have our own truth and for some people (both men and women) that truth follows the cliched narrative that women are what men allow them to be. You could drop a library of books on their head proving women have done mind blowing things in any age, but if they are comfortable living the cliche, it will remain their truth. They will never pick up one of those books that hit them on the head. It would be too painful! In my senior year in high school English we had to do a dissertation. I chose to do it on women sculptors who worked in stone. When I told my teacher (he must have been pushing 65 and this was decades ago), he sort of looked at me like I had three eyes and actually said, “There aren’t any!” Well, it so happens there have been lots of women who’ve sculpted in stone over the ages (probably since people have been napping flint). Did this persuade him to change his truth? No. Because he never read my paper. When he called my name to come get my paper he hadn’t yet read it. He admitted as much and while I stood there he picked it up, thumbed through it and gave me an A. I just thought, what an idiot! He desired to remain blissfully chauvinistically deluded in his superiority as a male and he did.
    Turning the cliche over…stories ( aimed at both men and women) are equally littered with cliched men whose inner realities or emotional lives/value remains equally invisible (or nonexistent). In a lot of modern stories the hero is an Alpha robot with a washboard chest who saves his idiot heroine (or is saved by her) and then after an exhausting day slaying the euphemistic dragon (the man with a gaping head wound or a severed limb) then whips out his other sword and pleasures his lady (or the nearest lady) half to death because men don’t feel pain, not if there’s an opportunity to have sex. Yes, it’s fantasy, but there are countless women who have no idea how fragile a man’s heart can be. There are probably numerous men who won’t admit to themselves how fragile their hearts can be. In most western society a man who cries is seen as weak. It’s a normal body function! What is wrong with us? What are men trying to prove? That men really are unfeeling robots? Some people accept the cliche that men are hard and heartless ( some are). Would meeting or reading about kind gentle loving heroes change their perspective? No! It might be a mere cliche, but cliches are intertwined with the ego. There’s no simple cure.

  • Maverynthia May 22, 2013 at 1:55 am

    This reminds me of “The Pirate Mermaid” thread in the Lemmasoft forums where EVERYONE including the author was buying into the “Suspend your belief that women were pirates in actual history!” and some admitted that there were female pirates “BUT there weren’t THAT many!” It made me want to flip a table.
    Really, people need a comprehensive history class that INCLUDES women in history and not just white women either.

  • Stan May 22, 2013 at 2:32 am

    First, a wonderful, powerful essay.
    Second, I’d like to ask for a pointer to more historical information about women wearing dildos which you briefly mentioned. This is very relevant to my interests.

  • Ozaline May 22, 2013 at 2:44 am

    Fantastic piece of writing, I do want to echo Lysana’s comments at the possible trans-erasure in the impregnating part… but yeah, this essay makes a great read. Thank-you so much.

  • Kate Anderson May 22, 2013 at 2:57 am

    Hey, glad to see this page – I finished an archaeology PhD in Edinburgh last year on weapons and warfare in British prehistory and devoted an entire chapter to proving how and why women were evidently active combatants during the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age in northern Britain. I had reasoned arguments backed up with evidence. And *still* I get people who say “yeah, interesting paper but I’m not convinced about the women thing”. When I ask why, the answer is always essentially “well, just because, you know, they’re *girls*”.

  • Ash May 22, 2013 at 3:03 am

    This is amazing, thank you. (And comes on a day when I’m struggling to put into research-proposal words why what I do–women’s literary history–is important, so well-timed.)

  • Paul Anthony Shortt May 22, 2013 at 3:59 am

    Thank you so much for writing this! Your article might be one of the most important statements I’ve seen about the poor representation of women in fiction.

    I’m an author myself and after my two daughters were born last December I noticed a shift in my perceptions and goals. I wanted to find strong role models for them. More than that, I wanted to write those role models. I’ll be keeping this article bookmarked as a reminder of the importance of writers to act and change the way things are done.

  • JLM May 22, 2013 at 5:21 am

    Scariest fliers in WWII, bar none, were the Night Witches of the Soviet Union. Flew at night, no lights, outdated planes, and coasting engines off over enemy camps so no one heard their approach. 1 in 3 died because of the system, but it worked so well they had the highest kill ratio of any squadron. ALL WOMEN.

  • Madelyn CK May 22, 2013 at 5:28 am

    in third year university, I tried to write about Japanese history. About women who used the naginata, a traditional women’s weapon, but I could find fuck all about it in history books. All the histories of Japan suppose that histories regarding men must be true, but the second a woman warrior steps into the scene, it’s all bullshit or fantastical legends. OK so when and where did naginatas become seen as the traditional weapons of women? When did they develop songs to learn the usage of naginatas? Women have clearly been involved in warfare since the beginning but white douchebag males simply cannot picture Japanese women as sentient beings capable of defending their homes or attacking their enemies. Mothafucking white asshole historians cannot conceive of a Japanese woman using a polearm they are too weak to weild so it’s got to be some fucking sexist legend, amirite?

  • Leah May 22, 2013 at 5:36 am

    “I often tell people that I’m the biggest self-aware misogynist I know.” Great article, and I love that you acknowledge that reproducing internalized misogyny is hard for women to overcome, too.

  • Rachel May 22, 2013 at 5:47 am

    I love everything about this so much.

  • Mridu Khullar Relph May 22, 2013 at 5:58 am

    I was reading this thinking, whoever wrote this sounds awfully like a blogger I used to love. Brutal Woman, I think the blog was called. I reached the end and joy– it’s you! So glad to have found you again, Kameron.

  • Aidan Moher May 22, 2013 at 6:07 am

    @Abhinav Jain — Absolutely agree, just wanted to explain the decision to include the artwork that I did. :)

  • Paul Weimer (@princejvstin) May 22, 2013 at 6:42 am

    AS I have said on twitter, if you think Kameron writes a hell of an essay (like this one), you really owe it to yourself to try God’s War.

  • D.W. Coventry May 22, 2013 at 6:45 am

    Great post. Everyone remembers the (mythical) Arthur, but few recall the (factual) Boudica. Hopefully as more voices speak out, more people will realize that rugged white men don’t have a monopoly on agency.

  • Vesta May 22, 2013 at 6:49 am

    If you want some awesome stories of real-life women who kicked tuchus and took names…may I recommend Badass of the Week?
    The most recent listings for women include Nancy Wake, Edith Garrud, Violette Morris, Milunka Savic, Hawa Abdi… there’s tons more. They’re badass women. The blogger’s style is full of hyperbole that’s absolutely NSFW, however, so warnings there.
    I have Badass of the Week on my feed and it’s one of the best things I read.

  • Thomas May 22, 2013 at 7:18 am

    Great piece! Although I found it a bit over inclusive–I read a lot of books with really strong women in them (Martin, Dan Abnett, Joe Abercrombie) –and those are in genres where erasing the women, or relegating them to “women, slaves and cattle” is traditional. But, the point is accurate. I studied Old Norse literature, language and history, and I question the “shield maiden” in the History Channel’s The Vikings series. Bad habit. Llama confusion.
    As a father of daughters, and a man who will eternally respect John Stuart Mills for his essay, “The Subjugation of Women,”, I actively seek to avoid bad examples of stereotyped women and help create more accurate–and more constructive–narratives and images.
    Vicki León’s series of books on “Uppity Women” throughout history is great :)

  • jen greyson May 22, 2013 at 7:20 am


    (sorry for the caps, but I really meant all this)

    Women are insanely strong. They are born with an inane toughness. *off to buy every single one of your books*

    BTW, count me in on writing a female hero in a fantasy. Done.

  • Anj Pettigrew May 22, 2013 at 7:22 am

    I’d like to specifically invite Aidan and Kourtney to next year’s Superstars Writing Seminar put together primarily by Kevin J. Anderson and his wife Rebecca Moesta. I attended this year and found it to be *extremely* helpful. (* = all caps for me) I won’t give their website here because I’m unsure of your rules about links to other sites, however it is easy enough to Google. I’m a writer (not yet published) who *loves* critiques and essays. Brilliant essay by Kourtney and thank you to Aiden for putting together this wonderful site. I’m so happy I have found it.

  • Wendy May 22, 2013 at 8:08 am

    Brava! Brilliantly and thoughtfully written.

  • Aidan Moher May 22, 2013 at 8:12 am

    As Paul mentioned, for those interesting in checking out Kameron’s work, you can buy her first book, God’s War, here: book/eBook

  • Kay Camden May 22, 2013 at 8:29 am

    Great writing. Inspired and inspiring. It’s hard for me to read articles of this length on the internet but you had me glued through the end. That’s saying a lot. I am so with you, I want to make signs. I want a revolution.


    Something I often struggle with is this masculine filter that obscures our view of our world. To write strong heroines, we give them guns. We put them in armies. We make them fight. We give them a “male” role. We make them single and childless and tattooed and badass. In order for women to gain respect, we join the boys. We shove our way into their “No Girls Allowed” fort and we demand equality. And in doing so, we’re declaring our roles to be worthless. Our playhouse to be inferior.

    I want the boys longing to get into our playhouse. And not for the stereotypical reason, for the lazy writing reason–to get into our pants. I want them hungry to join US. To be like us. I want motherhood and teaching and nursing to be as heroic as being a soldier.

    Can you think of any traditional female role that men fight their way for the privilege of taking on? I’ve tried, and I can’t think of any and I know I must be overlooking something.

    Our definition of heroism lives in a man’s world. How do we overcome that without undermining the value of our own roles?

  • cindy May 22, 2013 at 9:24 am

    So, how many people googled Llama’s after reading this?

    Seriously, great article. It is so important to be aware of the connection between words and our thought processes in all aspects of our lives.

  • Steve Miller May 22, 2013 at 9:28 am

    You didn’t take the direction I thought you would with this. Most of the female characters I see in fiction the past few years are warriors and fighters. Last night it was Star Trek’s Lt. Uhura. Before it was the Mistborn Vin. Or the futuristic gladiator Katniss. Or even Hermione Granger. The last couple of years I’ve been waiting to see a woman who does something other than fight. At least is the SF realm.

  • Aidan Moher May 22, 2013 at 9:35 am

    @Steve Miller — I really think you should check out Daniel Abraham’s The Dagger and the Coin series. You’ll likely enjoy how Abraham develops the characters of Cithrin and Clara. Both are powerful and convincing in ways that don’t lazily replicate traditionally masculine definitions of strength. My reviews: The Dragon’s Path, The King’s Blood, The Tyrant’s Law.

  • Happycrow May 22, 2013 at 9:39 am

    And a number of them were REAL ass-kickers, too. c.f. Russian snipers, pilots of various nations, Taborite women with huge freaking war flails killing men at a blow….some of the “women men don’t see” is also because other WOMEN refuse to see them, too.

  • Stace Dumoski May 22, 2013 at 10:03 am

    Thank you for a wonderful article – and a wonderful metaphor with the cannibalistic llamas! I realized years ago the power language has (and stories by extension) to change the world, if only we pay attention to what those llamas really look like.

  • elfenstar May 22, 2013 at 10:29 am

    I have to partially disagree. I’m sure the stereotype is painted often, however in truth I think fantasy is the one genre that actually paints a picture of a furry llama fairly often, and far more than in other genres.

    Take the Chronicles of Narnia for example, we have women heros. There are characters like Kitiara in the Dragonlance series. We even have Feist’s Empire series which focuses three fantastic books on a furry, non-cannibalistic llama called Mara. There also Tigana’s Dianora and Catriana, etc. I can go on with more furry llama names if you need more reading material.

  • Patricia Yager Delagrange May 22, 2013 at 11:15 am

    Really great post. You taught me SO much I didn’t know. Thank you.

  • Hannah May 22, 2013 at 11:31 am

    My friend shared this on facebook, and I’m so glad she did. Female characters in books and films are almost always less interesting to me, and I think it’s because they tend to lack the dimension of male characters. The misperception of women is a tragedy I’m glad to see noticed. Proud to pass this post on to my friends.

  • lubkin May 22, 2013 at 11:57 am

    Llama is an apt choice. Not for the llamas in Monty Python, or for one-elled Fernando and Dalai. But because, in Hebrew, /lama/ (למה) means “Why?”

  • The Hanged Man May 22, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    Well said, Well said. I have felt this way about a lot of the fiction I have experienced in book , film and game form. Thank you.

  • Beth N. May 22, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    @Kay Camden, Steve Miller: the valorization, actual or implied, of the capacity for violence didn’t sit well with me, either.

    Acting when necessary and when no one else will, though, as Ms. Hurley also mentions? That’s more like it.

    @Aidan: I have the first two of The Dagger and the Coin, largely because you’ve recommended them so highly. They’re creeping further and further up Mount TBR by the day!

  • Karen Kincy May 22, 2013 at 1:58 pm

    As an author of speculative fiction, this is something I ponder–and worry about–constantly. It’s so easy to say, especially in a historical fantasy or steampunk/dieselpunk setting, that it would be more “realistic” to make most of the characters male, but that’s sloppiness on the author’s behalf. One of the best tricks I have for avoiding this? Writing at least a few scenes with a character, sometimes even the entire book, and then switching their gender simply by doing a Find/Replace on their name and all the pronouns referring to them. It’s fascinating to see how the exact same scenes can be interpreted so much differently afterward, and it at least helps to subvert preconceptions and create a more truly realistic character.

  • Laura May 22, 2013 at 2:17 pm

    This has me seriously re-considering a plot line in the book I’m currently writing, and my reasons for wanting to include it in the first place. Brilliant, brilliant post. Thank you.

    ” What we want to talk about are women in one capacity: their capacity as wife, mother, sister, daughter to a man.”

    I recently read a very well-received fantasy book by a very well-respected author. My husband LOVES this book. I could not fully explain to him why I didn’t like it one bit. Reading the above sentence, I just realized why–ALL the female characters in the book existed solely to support the male protagonist.

  • Gwynn May 22, 2013 at 4:04 pm

    Very inspirational.

  • M L Brennan May 22, 2013 at 4:15 pm

    Fantastically written and constructed — really, really great stuff!

  • Nell May 22, 2013 at 5:24 pm

    Great article but I have to point out that llamas are woolly South American ruminants used as pack animals. I think you mean lamias.

  • Elenor Li May 22, 2013 at 5:31 pm

    “They did it. Except maybe impregnate other women. But even then, there were, of course, intersex folks categorized as “women” who did just that.”

    Talk about erasure.

    Lately I’ve been dealing with the consummate attempt at erasure of people who live in the fuzzy marches of gender and sex. People like me.

    Want to see some invisible women who have to fight on every side? Dig a bit more into transgender, transsexual, and intersex issues. In all these categories, there are women. And no scare quotes are needed, please. We struggle, raise children, shoot guns, play backgammon, and, amazingly, have even impregnated other women. And no, you don’t always know us on sight. We are there when you put those scare quotes around the word, women, when others erase us from the Book of Official Women without a shred of irony or self reflection.

    Mostly, in such moments, we are silent, because we know the price of speaking an honest voice. Many people, from fundies to feminists, would rather we don’t exist. They work each day to erase our bodies and lives, by brutal force if necessary. Stridently. Violently. One thing about all TG, TS, and IS women: we are all forced to be warriors. If only in our own hearts, when we are sitting quietly, smiling wanly. We’re not supposed to speak, you see, to get uppity.

    But in our better moments, we do shout. And always have. Even when they dig up our bones and speak lies for us. Even then, we are raging.

  • Lisette May 22, 2013 at 5:43 pm

    There’s a book you might be interested in, called “The Calvary Maiden: Journals of a Russian Officer in the Napoleonic War” that is about a woman officer. It’s been a while since I’ve read it, but I remember it discussing the “beardless youth” who fought in other wars as well, likely in the introduction.
    Overall, an excellent article. I really enjoyed it, and remember my astonishment when I found out about how many women have done “atypical” things. You are right about people agreeing “not to see” – one way the “beardless youth” got away with serving in the army was that, dressed as men, people took them for men and didn’t look all that closely.

  • Saint Cynicism May 22, 2013 at 6:17 pm

    Excellent article, definitely saving it to my bookmarks.

    And as someone who had to deliver a senior presentation on the enormous number of women comprising the Red Army in World War II to a completely dumbstruck classroom, I’ve definitely seen how bad things have gotten. Earlier in the course we’d been assigned to read–and discuss in class–a book called “Even the Women Must Fight” (I still have it, it’s just packed away with the rest of my college things). It was about the largely erased women who aided or fought for the North Vietnamese Army in the Vietnam War. This was fresh in the minds of everyone in the classroom, and yet the news that there had been another famous war with a significant amount of women fighting in it, openly, was somehow received like it was new information that women fought in war.

    It’s frustrating beyond belief, because the more you delve into it, the more interesting these women become. They have incredible stories that deserve to be told, even widely known, but they go unrecognized and unreported. Ask anyone outside Ireland, and maybe England, about Grace O’Malley and you’ll probably get nothing but dumb stares. Not an immediate recognition that she was known as the Pirate Queen of Ireland and ruled the coasts with virtual impunity, even butting heads with Queen Elizabeth–the same Queen Elizabeth who’d stared down Spain and its famous armada–and walked away unscathed (hell, she even raided one of the Spanish ships when it got lost in her neighborhood). Stories abound of her still leading her ships–yes, ships, plural–into battle while visibly pregnant. Even fighting off boarding parties while still a young teenage girl aboard her father’s ship.

    And she’s just one of MANY. They’ve launched entire dynasties, through both political manipulation and military campaigns of their own even (you know, just like the guys), but most people never hear about it. So instead we get stuck with the same tired narrative of “women can’t fight wars, they aren’t as strong as men” and a constant barrage of information on how they’re nothing but emotionally driven, potentially backstabbing, shallow bits of property riding on a hair trigger until an appropriate temple of manliness arrives to exert dominance and put them in their place. It’s maddening (as you can probably tell, both from experience and this barrage of text).

  • Noelle May 22, 2013 at 7:46 pm

    This is my favorite article of all time. Thank you.

  • Tessa French May 22, 2013 at 7:49 pm

    part of me debated to not retweet this because one of followers in great with child and I don’t want to upset her. She gets a lot of cruel tweets because of who she’s married to. And the other is a 10 year old girl. Then I realized These are the people who should read this article. KIITA

  • Jensen May 22, 2013 at 8:05 pm

    No. This article is silly and ridiculous.

    > I’m passionately interested in truth: truth is something that happens whether or not we see it, or believe it, or write about. Truth just is.

    For someone interested in the truth, you do seem to be pretty committed to spinning a fantasy.

    No one has ever believed that women NEVER, EVER fought, just that men were the VAST MAJORITY of fighters, which is the actual truth.

    I do not have time for all the moronic claims in this article, so I will just go after one I have the data right on hand to refute:

    > Women not only made bombs and guns in WWII – they picked up guns and drove tanks and flew airplanes.

    I mean, sure there must have been SOME women who picked up guns during World War I…… but not many, not many at all.

    We can get kind of a feel of the ratio by looking at casualties, people will tend to die in proportion to which they fight. Here are U.S. casualties for World War I:

    MEN – KIA: 53,402 [a]
    WOMEN – KIA: 2 [b]



  • Terry Karney SSG USA (ret) May 22, 2013 at 8:08 pm

    I will make a small quibble (and it’s qualified). In the US Army, soldiers are not quite as cut and dried in the way one says, “soldiers” and female soldiers.

    The default is to assume all units which aren’t required to be male only are mixed. The male only units are identified by type. When referring to those things which need to be segregated (e.g. shower points, multiple toilet latrines) they are separated off as, Male and Female, not, “and the female soldiers will go over there”.

    It’s a small quibble, and perhaps not terribly germane to the larger narrative problem; but in that locale, at least, it is getting better.

  • Eva May 22, 2013 at 10:21 pm

    Wow. Thank you.

  • communi_kate May 22, 2013 at 11:22 pm

    What a wonderful article. Reblogged.

  • Niklas Nord May 22, 2013 at 11:32 pm

    Thank. You. Awesome.

  • Vashra Araeshkigal May 23, 2013 at 5:45 am

    You covered only half the problem: not only are the majority of depicted llamas scaly and vicious, but often the furry non-young-eating ones which *are* depicted are given over to certain other stereotypes (usually negative) that don’t really work either.

    An excellent example was Starbuck from the new version of Battlestar Galactica. Rather than create a strong female military character (which is, to be fair, what I think the writers were *trying* to accomplish), they simply put a vagina on the old Starbuck and moved on. The result was a woman soldier (sort of) who never looked more uncomfortable and awkward than when she was in a beautiful evening gown at a political event. She struck one as one of ‘those girls’ who had a mouth like a sailor and the morals of an ally cat. And if my husband winced because our daughter saw this brash and uncultured female as a role model, should I curse him for being misogynist or sexist…or admit that *he* was recognizing something also true which many “Feminists” ignore:

    Every trait of the *feminine* (not feminist) seemed out of place on our not-quite-Lady Starbuck, which means the baby was neatly thrown out with the bath water. This was not a heroine. It was a hero with an inexplicable sex op!

    I remember watching a dear friend of mine, who happens to be an expert sniper and a veteran of the war in Afghanistan. She was sitting at the kitchen table, in full fatigues (having just arrived home on leave), and she was helping her son and daughter to make sugar cookies. She was a soldier, certainly. But to those children, she was “Mum.” In trying to correct the scaly llama paradigm, too many works of fiction swing the pendulum so far away from all things feminine that one can barely call the heroine “female” before it’s all said and done. It’s as though we cannot work through our cognitive dissonance to have a woman who is BOTH a solider and a wife or mother or daughter or whatever. And that is very sad…because THAT is the truth that is still being missed.

  • Robert V.S. Redick May 23, 2013 at 6:15 am

    Superb essay, Kameron! Learned and willful delusions take so many forms. And I find the people who give up even TRYING to see the saddest of all.

  • Saint Cynicism May 23, 2013 at 7:10 am

    Someone want to explain to Jensen that not JUST America fought in World War I, and active duty bans made it a bit trickier for American women to get in? And, just for giggles, how there’s far more positions in the military than just “front line combatant”? Oh, this one’s important, and how one example does not refute a trend? I mean, women couldn’t vote when we were fighting out Civil War, but to say that means they weren’t involved in politics anywhere on Earth and the few times they were were just isolated incidents borders on lunacy. But somehow that’s an acceptable approach to war.

    The “women can’t fight” (or do anything of importance) is very much a modern belief (and policy) to start with, which was sort of the point of the article he apparently didn’t read.

  • Kay Camden May 23, 2013 at 7:50 am

    Vashra, I think you said it better than me. Bravo.

  • Shannon Donnelly May 23, 2013 at 8:12 am

    Excellent essay. It reminds me of the test you need to run–do you have two women in a scene and are they talking about something other than a man. We need to break more of the misconceptions.

  • Matthew Wilson May 23, 2013 at 8:31 am

    The strongest essay I have read in a very long time, excellent work.

  • Kate Luhr May 23, 2013 at 8:51 am

    As someone who – inspired by reading “Half the Sky” – is currently at work on my own artistic attempt to rewrite the narrative about women, I consider your piece a must read. Well done. Just last night I was reading about fantasy writers in the Victorian age, and the author pointed out that women were hugely sucessful in this genre – far more so than men, but it’s the Lewis Carrolls and J.M. Barries whose works we are more familiar with today, because “tales by 19th century women can make for distinctly uncomfortable reading.” They were filled with anger and rebellion against the “ideals of femininity, duty and motherhood.” You might also want to dig up the essay by Francis Power Cobbe, “Criminals, Idiots, Women and Minors” which makes the same point about the ways we choose to categorize women so as to dismiss them. Meanwhile, I’ll be sharing this with everyone I know. Great work!

  • Glen Murie May 23, 2013 at 9:22 am

    Please please PLEASE expand this essay out into a fully researched book! I will buy it for my daughters.

    As a father of a pair of eight year olds (I was the stay at home parent and read to them all the time) I have found some gems among kids books, and there’s a lot of progressive sentiment starting with kids books that wasn’t there in the older books I find in the library. I can recommend Beautiful Warrior, The Legend of Nun’s Kung Fu, by Emily Arnold McCully and just about anything by Cornelia Funke, especially Princess Knight.

    I’m surprised that your essay didn’t cover Wu Mei and the origins of Wing Chun, but perhaps your history knowledge is more focused in the West and Africa. If you want to see strong butt kicking women in cinema you need look no further than the Hong Kong action movies from the cheesy Shaw flicks to as recent as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The movie Wing Chun starring Michelle Yeoh is well worth looking for. There is some dreadfully, and almost gleefully, sexist stuff in those movies, but often times the misogynists in those films get their teeth kicked in by a woman.

  • Sumiko Saulson May 23, 2013 at 9:48 am

    As women writing speculative fiction, I think we have to make a lot of choices regarding how to present our characters and ourselves. The first choice I had to make as a writer of horror and science-fiction was to use my given name, rather than a masculine pen name. The second was to use the more accurate “horror” label for the majority of my works rather than the broader, perhaps more respected speculative fiction umbrella. I however, haven’t given the same kind of thought as you have to my women – and there are a lot of women in my stories. They are heroes and villains, and not a lot of victims. I suppose that for horror, that is progress.

  • Lisa Hall-Wilson May 23, 2013 at 11:16 am

    Fabulous article! Let’s do better – for the llamas! :D

  • la dee da May 23, 2013 at 11:54 am

    This is a fantastic article. Thank you!

  • Hope Cook May 23, 2013 at 12:39 pm

    Loved this so much! And I borrowed that wonderful line as the perfect title for my own blog post today–thank you!

  • Victoria May 23, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    This has to be the most inspiring and moving writing articles I’ve ever read, I’d never really thought about how much the by stander effect factored into these issues but this article flicked on the switch for me. Thank you for this this article is beautiful.

  • John H. Carroll May 23, 2013 at 1:49 pm

    Very, very well said. :) I write strong female characters in my books, but even I haven’t realized how much it needs to be seen as normal to combat the sexism that exists in society.

  • Technopatra May 23, 2013 at 1:51 pm

    BRAVA! Sharing everywhere.

  • Alicia May 23, 2013 at 3:04 pm

    I think it makes total sense. HIStory is written by men. So, of course it will be about men. We need some HERstory to be uncovered!

  • Andrea Black May 23, 2013 at 4:45 pm

    Thank you for this article. I am an African American female writer/theatre artist who, at times, feels like I am the only one who can see the travesty of the llamas :) This post is a great reminder I am not the only one. I will print this and post this by my bed so I can remember why I write and why I began acting in the first place. I gave up on my dream, and this is a good reminder to keep going. Thank you. :)

  • Lynn Donham May 23, 2013 at 5:33 pm

    Enjoyed your article. I got interested in researching women in martial arts and found a striking photo online of Japanese women training with babies on their backs. Your point is well made and interestingly written. Really enjoyed the artwork, too.

  • Kathryn Allen May 23, 2013 at 5:45 pm

    Llamas will thank you: real human people will bitch and whine and complain that you’re doing it wrong :) (but like being the first to say ‘are you okay?’ it needs doing by someone/s, thanks or no)

    [this homnid thanks you for the llamas and for a few pointed points I’ll be considering further… possibly even mulling]

  • Brie May 24, 2013 at 2:23 am

    Love the intro, threw me back when you mentioned llamas and scales, I was like, is she talking about something I haven’t heard about, llamas, aren’t they those furry Peruvian camel like things that spit? Good message thanks for telling it like it is and calling it out! And you’re story is inspirational as well, hope to read more from you.

  • Sarah May 24, 2013 at 7:08 am

    I rarely comment on any blogs, but I just needed to tell you that I thought this was fantastic! I’ve never thought about the way we tell stories about women before and I love history (as well as sci-fi/fantasy). When I have time I will spend some reading more about this. Thank you!

  • lawrence chaters May 24, 2013 at 10:32 am

    I have a daughter, and the fact that she pointed me to you blog entry is, I believe, a sign that the world of cannibalistic llamas may begin to fracture. And by the way, “cannibalistic llamas” is one of the best narrative hooks I’ve read in a long, long, long time.

  • Kathy May 24, 2013 at 10:37 am

    Thank you for writing this. I really appreciate it on so many levels.

  • Jami Gold May 24, 2013 at 11:08 am

    Fascinating! I write romance, where the stories should focus on the hero and heroine equally. But I’ve seen too many that relegate the heroine to the damsel in distress, or in paranormal romance (my genre), the hero is the paranormal half of the couple and the heroine is the plain human. In the story I’m currently working on getting published, the heroine is the paranormal creature–because I’m the writer and I can. Heh.

    Thank you for this article! I’ve been struggling with one scene where the hero takes a bit too much of a “rescuer” attitude and this helped me figure out how to address that issue. :)

  • Rob May 24, 2013 at 12:14 pm

    I wish I had something nearly intelligent enough to add to your article but I am a self aware non intellectual:) This is the best article I’ve read in ages. This is a really thoughtful and incredibly well written piece. Thank you.

  • Shunka Warakin May 24, 2013 at 1:53 pm

    *Applauding and reblogging*
    Not much here I was unaware of, but SO WELL STATED.
    Also, the business about ‘one person has to move first.’ So true. And again, so perfectly explained and made relevant.
    Keep moving!

  • lotesse May 24, 2013 at 2:31 pm

    Kameron, I’ve been quietly reading your writing since I was a young teen, and this gorgeous piece showcases all the reasons why your words have been so meaningful to me for the better part of a decade. Thank you for them.

  • DexX May 24, 2013 at 8:16 pm

    Simply wonderful. I consider myself to be a progressive kinda guy, but there were still quite a few surprises in this piece for me. Went off halfway through and read about ancient birth control methods, for example. Great work.

  • matango May 24, 2013 at 10:44 pm

    Eh, call me a rebel, or someone who likes a good opposition….
    Or someone who dislikes revisionist history:

  • Erica May 24, 2013 at 11:24 pm

    Nice and thought provoking post. Lots of good stuff to think about here. I have to pick my jaw up off the floor when I still run across people (and not all of the male) who play that “but it’s not realistic” card when someone has a fantasy story with female warriors or adventurers or whatever. 1. As you pointed out, a perusal shows it happened sometimes, even in our sexist world. 2. There’s no reason a fantasy world had to evolve with the same religious and cultural taboos as western Europe did.

  • shogggoth May 25, 2013 at 4:53 am

    “And when we talk about “people” we don’t really mean “men and women.” We mean “people and female people.” We talk about “American Novelists” and “American Women Novelists.” We talk about “Teenage Coders” and “Lady Teenage Coders.”
    And when we talk about war, we talk about soldiers and female soldiers.”

    But if we’re going for equality, wouldn’t we just call them ‘people’, ‘american novelists’, teenage coders’ and ‘soldiers’?

  • Kameron Hurley May 25, 2013 at 6:59 am

    @lotesse Lifetime reader! Woooooot! Glad these resonate with you.

    @DexX going down the rabbit hole of ancient contraception methods is pretty incredible. Many upper-class Roman women were able to get away with having just 2 children employing these methods, much to the annoyance of Roman men (childbirth killed 1-in-4 so there were good reasons to figure this out). Have fun!

  • Patrick R May 25, 2013 at 7:07 am

    I think we do underestimate the historical role of women. Much of our world view is tinted by a western-centric point of view, itself strongly influenced by Victorian and 20th century historiography and their social and religious mores and values, ie the old “women should be seen, not heard” We then make the mistake to think these were universal values for most of history. This view comes from two angles, one is borne from the desire to do away with the old views and give more emphasis to contemporary views and prove we are somehow superior to our forebearers, the other because we don’t even question these tired old accepted tropes and clichés.

  • Moosh May 26, 2013 at 12:25 am

    Excellent description of a situation that needs addressing, but can’t be dealt with until it is more widely recognised. The cultural landscape we grow up in shapes us & limits us, this is just removing the limits. Let’s see what’s really out there, rather than assuming it fits standard Hollywood tropes.
    Meanwhile, here’s a woman whose cool badass courage saved the day recently in London –

  • Sharon M May 26, 2013 at 9:14 am

    Have you heard of Stagecoach Mary?
    A movie is supposedly in the works about her life. I hope to HELL she won’t be whitewashed!

  • Saint_Sithney May 26, 2013 at 5:00 pm

    My high school English classes are usually stunned when I tell them the Vikings had a fairly egalatarian society. For the most part, men were raiders (though plenty of women raided), while women took care of the villages… and by take care of, that includes heavy farming, guarding, and governing.

    Wealthow, usually dismissed for her “hostessing” role in ‘Beowulf’ (even by feminist critics), was fulfilling basically the same role as Prime Minister or Secretary-General. Women’s status as keepers of society was near-sacred in Viking culture. I’m a direct descendant of a Viking clan (priests of the god of justice and raiders), so that info didn’t really get lost through the family line. Some of the traditional knowledge did stay alive (even if the archaelogists did assume that it was all male). Just reading the Sagas will turn up plenty of women.

  • Aaron May 27, 2013 at 5:43 am

    Really awesome article, gave me a new perspective on an argument I thought I was on the right side off. A real eye opener and very well written. Thank you.

  • Jason Martorino May 27, 2013 at 5:56 am

    Great points. A wonderful piece. I would like to add that the reverse is also implicit in this. Men have been boxed into the mindless-emotionless-warrior-jock archetype for too long and to often as well, leaving the general populace to balk or laugh at the notion that a man can make emotionally intelligent choices, or be emotionally supportive. This, not to mention the general lack of understanding (or interest therein) of those who exhibit transgender traits in our society. It all comes together to paint a very limited picture of any individual’s role in the world, based on a very narrow notion of gender, and limits our individual and cumulative happiness. Awareness needs continue to rise, across the board, on how we are limiting ourselves through our habits of association.

  • ERose May 27, 2013 at 1:45 pm

    It’s always so hard to explain why this stuff is so important, especially when you’re a little girl who wants to play tea party AND aliens – or even invite the aliens to the tea party and then rescue them from the evil witch (yeah, I was *that* kid.) Finding women, fictional and real, to show me how many ways there were to be a woman, was huge for that little girl finding a way to grow up strong.
    Hearing about what women did and were like – as opposed to whether each was pretty and who they married – was fundamental to my ability to value my own courage, intelligence and compassion and to my ability to avoid limiting my dreams. Harriet Tubman and her work on the underground railroad showed me a whole new idea about the ways a woman could be brave. Ida Tarbell, whose magazine articles exposed the Rockefellers’ corrupt de facto monopoly showed me that there was room for great work by women in a field where every man believes he is the voice of his generation. Jo March and Anne Shirley and Lizzie Bennett showed me that what makes a woman different can be the same thing that makes her unforgettable.
    Sometimes we don’t know how to believe a thing about ourselves until we see evidence that it could be true.

  • mythago May 27, 2013 at 2:57 pm

    Sharing this EVERYWHERE.

    Another good source, regarding the soldiers of Dahomey, is here, and is a refreshingly historical/anthropological treatment that doesn’t go into “Gosh! Girl soldiers, isn’t that something!” but discusses their culture with respect.

  • Kay Camden May 27, 2013 at 4:34 pm

    Jason Martorino, your comments are true, and further prove that once we can figure out how to give women the respect we deserve–whether we’re mothers, CEOs, ballerinas, or warriors–everyone will benefit. The issues you bring up are consequences of misogyny and sexism, not consequences of misandry (yeah there’s a word, but does it even exist on a cultural level? Firefox thinks that word is a typo!).

    “Feminine” traits in men will be respected as soon as women are. We don’t fix it by fixing our views of men. We fix it by fixing our views of women.

  • Jay-Em May 28, 2013 at 4:47 am

    Got here via via. Was confronted with own prejudicies. Didn’t like self……

    You know what I likes the most? (Superficial asI am) the illustrations where women wear réal armor, instead of some idiotic chain-mail bikini.

    I come from a nest of active/activist feminists. I read all classic feminist literature, studies etc. Just because they were there. And yet, I stìll left the ingrained narratieve of several books and films steer my perception of women in history, despíte knowing of f.i. The active combat-roles Kelt women had, how the Romans shat their breeches when confronted with those “gangs of half-naked harlots” as one scribe once named them.

    The, call it “historic narrative pressure”, is very hard to shake. It ís changing, but only very véry slowly. I wonder what will happen if more & more women become part of the boardrooms of the entertainment industry, and nót as secretaries, I mean.

  • Jay-Em May 28, 2013 at 4:53 am


    The fact that You felt the need to post that, is quite telling.

    Fear is a bad advisor.

  • Peter Murphy May 29, 2013 at 1:11 am

    Great article. One small quibble though; up until the advent of feminism (sorry!) in the early-to-mid C20th, it wouldn’t have surprised anyone to know that women played an equal, though different and complementary, role to men. Women voted in UK elections in the C18th and C19th for example. Strong women appear throughout early literature (see the Bronte’s or Jane Austen), and warfare (the early example of Queen Boudicca). It’s not that ‘men don’t see women’, it’s that feminism created a narrative that said women were always oppressed, and society swallowed it.

  • Andrew May 29, 2013 at 1:21 am

    So let me get this right – women weren’t oppressed for the past thousand years?? I mean which is it? We’re constantly told by feminists that women never had any power and were always under the thumb of the man until the early 1900’s, and that men are savages and tyrants … and now we’re hearing that women were actually just as tyrannical and savage as men can be?

  • Andrew May 29, 2013 at 1:26 am

    Kay Camden – You could just as easily say that masculine traits of women will not be fixed by fixing our views of women, but rather fixing our views of men.

    That kind of logic doesn’t really brush with me I’m afraid. When a man is judged because of his feminine aspects, he isn’t judged for “being too much of a woman” but he is judged for “not being enough of a man” – likewise with women, they’re not judged with being “too much of a man” but are judged as being “not enough of a woman” – addressing perceptions of only ONE side of the coin will not do anything but create more disparity.

    What we really need to settle is how much of our gender personality or gender “output” is determined by our sex, and how much is determined by our environment?

    All of this stuff really does boil down to the nature versus nurture debate, which has been raging for centuries and centuries, with no clear cut answers.

  • Angela May 29, 2013 at 2:33 am

    What she’s saying is that despite the narrative of women having no agency, lots of women have and use their agency in a wonderful plethora of ways, so we should change the narrative to reflect reality.

    What you’re saying is despite the fact the vast majority of rapes, murders, abuses are carried out by men, we should stop thinking of men as rapists and abusers, so we should change the narrative to some sort of utopian fantasy.

    She’s asking us to recognize reality.
    You’re asking us to ignore it.

  • Andrew May 29, 2013 at 2:56 am

    Speaks volumes when you delete perfectly reasonable comments.

  • J. May 29, 2013 at 5:13 am

    Thanks for all of your work here! It’ll be great ammo when I argue with Third-Wave Feminists that insist women have never had any rights or done anything amazing, and have just been property. :)

  • Andrew May 29, 2013 at 6:41 am


    “Wonderful plethora of ways” – like cutting peoples heads off during armed assaults? Sounds wonderful!

    You cannot lump rape, murder, and abuse all together in the same category. Nor can you place them entirely at the feet of men. You *should* stop thinking of men as rapists and abusers, because it isn’t a healthy perspective.

    RE: Rape. I wont contend that the vast majority of rapists are men. I think I can go along with that, except to say that it isn’t categorically only men that do it. Women do it in frightening numbers too.

    But what I can say is that taken in a global context, men are overwhelming the victims of rape (prisons, warzones, poverty stricken countries) and that no-one makes a peep about it.

    Murder: It is true that men are the majority of perpetrators in murder cases. But the ones where women are the perpetrators, they are often painted to be victims of domestic violence (not often true) or to be depressed, or to have some other ailment that caused her to kill her husband, her kids, the neighbours, etc…

    When a man does it, he is an evil killer psychopath. When you’re brought up in an environment where you are constantly told that you’re worthless, stupid, a potential rapist, naturally aggressive, have violent or anti-social tendencies, are put on drugs like Ritalin at alarming rates… it’s no wonder that men bear the burdern of 90% of murders. We’re conditioned from birth to act in those ways. This links in with what Jason said earlier; we have our stereotypes and agendas to battle with, often enough these come primarily from women in the family and society (white feather movement anyone?)

    As to abuse; there have been many scientifically sound reports suggesting that domestic violence is a reciprocal act. Two people fighting, not just one person abusing another. You do get those cases, but the overwhelming majority of cases are where two people have an argument and it goes too far. Due to humanity’s sexual dimorphism, women come off the worst in these altercations when they get to that point.

    A report came out in Germany recently suggesting that in a lot of cases, women are the aggressors:

    I’m not suggesting that men are perfect and that all our stereotyping ills are the fault of women. We have to work together to solve these issues, not just throw them at the feet of men. Think about how disposable men have been considered throughout all of human existence – having to fight animals for food, having to protect the group at a huge risk to their own lives.. and for what?? The chance to mate??? Wow. What a brilliant deal we got!!

    Lets take the common theory of “micro-aggressions” – women aren’t the only ones who experience these. If Jungian psychology shows us anything, it is that small assumptions and archetypal expectations create entire sub-cultures. We have a sub-culture where the man is expendable, and where his input is nullified and he is made to feel like an animal. It’s no wonder that some men then go on to act that way.

    I am not expecting you to ignore reality. But I am expecting you to widen your horizons, and expand your perspective to include men as well as women in your worldview.

  • Tamooj May 29, 2013 at 7:24 am

    So here’s a point of view – So what? Most people are intellectually lazy, and accept lies, distortions, simplifications and rewrites of the historical narrative ALL THE TIME. It’s just the way that most people’s brains work. It’s biology – the tyranny of the bell curve. When we write “Populating a world with men, with male heroes, male people, and their “women cattle and slaves” is a political act. You are making a conscious choice to erase half the world.” we are just repeating a different lie – for culture rests solidly on a foundation of biological impulses expressed over generations – a predilection to think one way versus another. Precisely because people’s brains are so lazy (or another way; neural pathways always optimize towards the lowest metabolic energy connections possible) humans will almost always simplify, dumb-down and create blindspots in our thinking and emotional reactions, ESPECIALLY where there is a biological nudge to do so. Make no mistake – strong sexual dimorphism is a powerful mammalian / primate trait that impacts effects everything about being human. Our basic cognition is obviously impacted by such species survival oriented characteristics. Sure, from time to time a small percentage of smart people will see through the haze of biological and cultural bias – and then the mob will burn them for it when they get too loud. On the positive side – we, as a species are gradually growing up, as hard as it may be to see those changes from within them; contrast today’s cultural zeitgeist about gender or race or pollution to that of just a century ago. However – glibly claiming this bias is a personal choice which people make is just like saying sexual orientation is a choice it’s not. Reality is far more complex and nuanced than that… but then again, our brains are lazy too, and we don’t want to hear that, do we? :-)

  • Darkelf May 29, 2013 at 1:16 pm

    Women are being erased very thoroughly. They are even removed from photographs and news reports. Completely removing anyone female. What are these people afraid of? Look here:

  • dawakhana May 31, 2013 at 10:25 am

    After read this one thing flash in my mind is She was a brave lady.

  • John Waldmann June 1, 2013 at 3:02 pm

    As always, another essay that goes beyond acknowledgement of the diverse ways people choose to live ( and die), that as with most feminist narratives tells but one side of the explanatory story.
    I suggest that the reason women are somewhat neglected in stories of war is that men (en massé) are extremely discomforted by mental images of women who fight. Women as warrior colleagues fighting for us is immediate and ok. However women fighting against us challenges our ability to disassociate from the act of killing, and worse women opponents are damn scary because of an ascribed viciousness: women opponents are viewed as “wrong” unemotional vindictive, psychopaths acting contrary to their genetic imperatives. Women as fighters raises an image of an undisciplined blood thirsty warrior without emotional or intellectual boundaries that might restrain them once the job is done. The nearest male equivalent – the berserker – gets the job done but then reverts to an almost childlike state of ignorance as to the extremities of battle, whilst women warrios are perceived to carry the battle emotionally once all is done.
    In both male and female warriors training provides the ability to act, to be decisive and set aside conflicting emotions that might get in the way of doing the job, or putting the job aside when it is done. In civilian life that level of training is uncommon and yet the stereotypes remain and influence popular expectations of the woman in the workforce, especially in the boardroom, or in street fights.
    Not surprisingly there is not only a social predilection for ignoring women fighters, but a genetic basis that establishes emotional, and intellectual responses to conflict and death. The modern military plays down the difference by attempting to train the difference out of men &women fighters. This was not always the case: where historically women warriors existed as cadre they were often used as shock troops just as berserker men were.
    Fair to say, that men do not want to even think about facing women in battle because the notion of a female opponent at one level brings forth a sense of fighting the smaller, weaker gender but women do not often share the same ultimate boundaries on behaviour as men (c.f, the little guy scrapper in a knife fight is the one to fear ).
    And more importantly if women are acknowledged as warriors en massé, then what hope is their for men returning from war. The notion of women safe at home, as nurturers creates an emotional space that gives wholesome meaning to war, something to defend and look forward to. Acknowledging women on the battlefield is tantamount to accepting defeat. The exction beng resistance fighters who begin from a position of defeat and therefore are already engaged in a battle on home territory.
    The author of the piece proudly speaks of knowing what it means to deliver a full blown punch at age 24, but does she know at an experiential level what it is to be able to throw a punch capable of tossing a 300 pound opponent, but holding the power back (when emotion is running high) to deliver a baby punch that merely rocks an 80 pound opponent, i.e., just enough to prevent escalation, delivering only just enough of a punch to remind your opponent that things could get nasty, limited to bruises not breaks. How many women feel comfortable recovering from being knocked down hard, and then shaking hands and having a drink with the one who knocked you down? Probably as many women feel comfortable having that drink, as men who don’t – a minority. Training helps, but observation of schoolyard scraps show quite different baselines for girls and boys. Girl fights are beyond nasty, and never really seem to be resolved, they just change modes from punches, to verbal, to texting to knives, to simmering and round and round. Boys fights are immediate, brutal, then most often over and done with. Boys may remain enemies, but enemies with acknowledged rules and boundaries that constrain future behaviour, rules and boundaries that are not so self evident when girls are enemies.
    Maintaining a mythos that denies acknowledging women’s place on the battlefield is one of the means men use to cope other the decidedly uncomfortable truth that they are present and from a male perspective are either damn scary, or utterly inadequate, neither a worthy opponent or one you’d wish to meet.

  • Stefon Severance June 2, 2013 at 5:52 am

    Thank you for this. Even knowing all of this deep down, even trying to live and write with this in mind, it can be all to easy to fall into the same trap over and over again. Hopefully this will help it stick to me a but better.

  • Kerry Gans June 3, 2013 at 12:00 pm

    Loved the post–it inspired my post for this week on The Author Chronicles, in fact. I was especially intrigued at how easily and thoroughly narratives can be erased from history. It’s a little scary how easy it is to get everyone to “know” something that isn’t really true. Might be fun to play with in a story sometime… :-)

  • Matt O'Berski June 3, 2013 at 5:21 pm

    Thank you so much for writing this piece. Not only did the inter and hypertexts keep me going to and fro (enjoying each and every bit of the journey), but your own extended metaphor kept me coming, even running, back for more. A long while later, still you earn ‘only’ huge thanks and well wishes. Take care!

  • Spencer La France June 3, 2013 at 10:20 pm

    I have to say, I really enjoyed this article. It got me thinking about my own characters and attempts at writing, and the stuff I learn in my history classes. It’s amazing (and terrifying) how women can be completely sidelined without people even noticing.

  • Petey June 4, 2013 at 8:04 pm

    “What you’re saying is despite the fact the vast majority of rapes, murders, abuses are carried out by men, we should stop thinking of men as rapists and abusers, so we should change the narrative to some sort of utopian fantasy.”
    This is the type of fuzzy thinking that really enrages me and that is committed so often by feminist demagogues. It’s real simple, let me explain it to you: if only 1% of men commit rape and the frequency of rape in any given year is 7 in 10000 (least common of all violent crimes short of murder), you can’t by any stretch of the imagination say that “all men are rapists,” even if the majority of rapists are men.

    The statement is sexist and it’s disgusting.

    Moreover, as soon as you admit that women are capable of fighting in wars as soldiers–as agents of violence–you admit that women are just as capable of violence as men and perhaps, just perhaps, because of the narrative we have about men, we are not willing to recognize the woman as abuser, as murderess, as rapist even and she is not given her due credit in that area… Sorry but you can’t have it both ways. I realise that this sexual double standard suits a lot of women very well, but it is contrary to logic.

  • Cynnara Tregarth June 5, 2013 at 9:39 am

    What a fantastic article! Absolutely the perfect reminder to not let things become the stereotype but to bring the true reality of what was into our writing as well as our daily life. When you grow up hearing stories that “Your great aunt So-So did this during World War II” it doesn’t always ring as hard as truth as when you see other truth. It’s time to go back and hit up the family for the stories and bring some of them back to life in another way. Thank you so much!

  • Eric June 5, 2013 at 10:19 am

    Great article, and interesting historical info! I always knew women fought in various situations, but I didn’t know it was as ubiquitous as you’ve shown here.

    I do wonder if there is also a selective blindness like you describe, but going in the opposite direction… To use the llama example, I feel like I am familiar with the fluffy non-cannibalistic ones, and have therefore been missing/ignoring/not seeing the portrayals of the scaly kind. Make sense? I’ve always thought of women as able to do anything men can do, baring legal hurdles such as a military policy that won’t permit them. I’ve grown up hearing the same refrain all my life – girls can do anything boys can do! Women can do anything men can do, while the reverse is not true – men can’t bear children or produce food from our bodies for them. I’m so accustomed to this narrative, that I’ve perhaps not seen it when the other narrative is presented (except in the obvious cases where a character is portrayed as a bigot for thinking less of women or trying to hold them down). A show that presents a woman as a homemaker? Of course homemakers exist but I haven’t seen it as an attempt to claim that that’s all women can be, I’ve seen it as simply one example of a thing a woman can do and maybe not noticed if that kind of portrayal is too widespread. A guy on a comment board complaining that a female pirate is unrealistic? I’ve dismissed him as an idiot not worth paying attention to, and promptly forgotten all about him, and maybe failed to realize just how many comments like that there are.

    Because, to me, obviously a woman can be a pirate, I learned about female pirates in history. Maybe not history class in school, but I do a lot of reading about history and then I don’t always remember where I learned a particular thing, so I might sometimes hear people say school skews things, and think, no it doesn’t, I learned that stuff! Failing to recall that I read it somewhere and didn’t actually hear about it in school. Which is to say, I’m not sure if my schooling fits your narrative or not. And I’m not sure if what I see around me in media does or not, either, because as you’ve shown me here, I may have been simply ignoring or failing to notice the things which don’t fit my narrative, which is that women can and do perform every type of task.

    I do want to say that, just as women are not monolithic, not all following the same story, I don’t think literature and media and society are monolithic either. I do think there are stories presenting women as people (I feel like most of what I read does; either I’m reading the good stuff, or I’m blocking out whatever doesn’t fit my narrative). I do think there are men perceiving women as people, perceiving words like soldier and pirate as gender-neutral, etc. But there probably are too many instances where this is not the case.

  • Todd Moody June 6, 2013 at 6:00 pm

    I love this so much! Thanks for sharing the truth.

  • CJ June 7, 2013 at 5:38 am

    This is a really interesting look at the foundations we’ve built worlds around. It was definitely eye-opening for me because the first novel I started at 14 was solely built around 4 female protagonists. By the time I finished it at 17, I decided it was unmarketable because “men wouldn’t read a novel with only female protagonists” (although women will read one with a man). I can recall reading advice for writers of YA and that was one of the implications – you need a male protagonist boys can relate to or they won’t read it. I got so discouraged trying to rewrite it taking away all the story arcs I’d developed I dropped it. (and didn’t write again for about six months). I think there is a need for people who provide inspiration to spark new beliefs, instead of reinforcing the status quo. I know I plan to start by dusting that story off and looking at it with fresh eyes. Sorry lads, in this one you’re relegated to the role of needing to be rescued.

  • Rena June 7, 2013 at 8:50 am

    I came here today because a friend sent me here. I’m querying a book where a mother of two saves the world. It’s shocking really. She joins a group of interstellar knights (interesting fact, there isn’t a special word for female knight), and saves billions of lives. Billions. And the response I get to my query letter is “but she has kids, why would she leave them?”

    Why would she leave to save the planet her children are on? They ask that. Never mind that men go off to war all the time. Never mind that she is a scientist, the only thing that matters is that she’s going to leave her well trodden place in society as the bearer and raiser of children in an attempt to save their lives.

    It has me furious that people are overlooking my story because of a sexist narrative that has permeated our society. Thank you for writing this, because I was starting to wonder what the hell was going on. It wasn’t until I started trying to get this book published that I realized we’re losing the war if the first thing people ask is “Why would she leave her kids?”

    Now I’m off to buy your books, Kameron. Thank you for this post.

  • Bibliotropic June 9, 2013 at 3:47 pm

    I don’t have much to say except that this was a wonderful piece, and reading it certain did make me think a little harder about the portrayals of females in fantasy (and sci-fi, and the real world…). There are many things that can be said on the subject, but I think you summed everything up in a very clear and poignant way, and I thank you for taking the time to do so. This meant a lot to me.

  • T.S.Millar June 11, 2013 at 10:56 am

    Thank you for the extra insight, Kameron. I’ve been trying, as a male, to write female characters who are more powerful and independent than most other females I’ve read. Being a feminist from a male’s perspective is fairly difficult because the anti-female bias is very deep and subtle, where it turns out I’ve written things that are chauvinistic despite having good intentions. Luckily, articles like this give something to think about. Thank you.

  • Shelby Edwards June 12, 2013 at 7:46 am

    I found my way to this article accidentally. As a writer, thank you. As a soldier first (who happens to be female), you nailed it. And yes, the punch always means more. Perfectly piece.

  • David Evans June 13, 2013 at 2:16 am

    Excellent article. True (of course), beautifully written, entertaining, imaginative. The scaly llamas will be with me forever.

  • John McCreery June 13, 2013 at 5:55 pm

    Those who want to learn more should check out Minerva (the journal and the website):

  • Jessica Plattner June 14, 2013 at 2:25 am

    Thank you for this. I’m so glad that people are slowly waking up to this. Spreading the word!

  • Robbie June 14, 2013 at 8:28 am

    Hi, lovely article, although as a writer I found your content a little less detailed than I would have liked. By this I’m referring to your use of global statements which I think is what Jonathan is referring to further up the comments chain. Even so you make some good points but please remember that not everyone has your cultural reference points and sometimes some expansion can really help open a subject up. For instance in the uk women’s role in conflict has long been a much discussed topic, right down to gcse level and earlier, with an especial focus on the roles taken by women during the two world wars. I realise these are relatively modern conflicts, and perhaps this is unique to the UK bearing in mind our relatively tiny population in comparison with the US, Greece or SA, but we are taught examples of women during conflict going back to the Zulu, Crimea, of course the Falklands. You see in the UK women have generally had to pitch in despite draconian patriarchal governance because we just… well, run out of other people willing to fight. I fully agree and backup the fact that only recently has credit been given to the correct gender for a lot of the actions taken in past conflicts and this has taken far too long, with examples still being described today in historical journals, however to expand upon a point you made about the term ‘soldier.’ Although this term may have become synonymous with men this is entirely a cultural misnomer. The etymology of the word soldier reveals that its derivation comes from an Anglo-French (and therefore from an indo-european proto language pulling through to a Latin or Roman background) word means ‘wage’ or ‘pay’ and really just decribes a job. Closely related to the term ‘salary’ which of course is related to Roman military and traders being paid in salt as a necessity to healthy diet and a mineral that did not depreciate in value due to its consumable properties. However if we are then aware that this term entered the English language in the 14th century then it becomes a lot clearer as to WHY this has become synonymous with the male element (not that this is appropriate, but just the case, remembering the Patriarchal governance of the time previously mentioned). Thats only a little way off a time when as ‘a whole population’ we believed in the divine right of kings, except that of course I doubt the entire population of the uk actually believed in this, otherwise we would never have had the internal conflicts that we did! So I guess the culmination of this thought is that as you say and I agree, it is the way in which terms are used and the archetypes we place on them that actually have an impact on the way women are credited throughout history. ‘Soldier’ refers to a ‘paid employee,’ neither man nor woman. By being a soldier you are paid to have gender removed and instead become an androgynous representative of your country, therefore it is peoples opinions, grounded in 14th century Lore that actually causes this misrepresentation. A greater understanding of the English language I’m sure would elucidate most but there will always be men (and women) who refuse to accept that their understanding may be based on an untruth.

    Please keep up the good work, and please don’t take this as criticism, it was meant only to expand upon a few elements of your essay and possibly interest you in another culture. Have a look at the british educational system, its by far not perfect but I think you’d be pleasantly surprised by the content of the gcse history syllabus.

  • Robbie June 14, 2013 at 8:33 am

    Incidentally my Gran (rest her soul) made bullets and bombs and cables during the second world war. She was an amazing woman with some amazing stories and I make it a point to tell as many people as possible. She would have approved of your content.

  • Robbie June 14, 2013 at 8:46 am

    Another incidentally: ‘Woman’ is an Anglo-Saxon term derived from the expanded term Wif-man brought over by the vikings and absorbed into Anglo culture. A wif-man was a married ‘woman’ as we now refer to it, but an unmarried ‘woman’ was, like men, referred to as a ‘Man.’ ‘Man’ actually directly meaning ‘human being’ in Old English not as many would believe meaning a ‘Male.’ The term Woman became adopted as the corrupted acceptance of the word around the 11th century, previous to this there were too many regional variances for a single word meaning either a male or a female for a term to be described, the use of metaphor was common as an aid to expansion on the subject.

  • Spartacus July 6, 2013 at 11:38 am

    You do realize all those women you wrote about are exceptions, don’t you ? You don’t classify groups by their exceptions, but by their averages. And, on average, women weren’t warriors, or leaders, they were what the “oppressive” version of history says they were. BTW, why no mention of Joan d’Arc ?

  • Aidan Moher July 8, 2013 at 6:52 am

    On average, men weren’t leaders, either. There are as many different variations of ‘on average’ as there are societies and cultures in the history of our world.

  • Endre Fodstad July 12, 2013 at 3:13 am

    In my circles, “everybody” knows female fighters and military leaders have existed thorough history – but almost always as a small minority, and sometimes not at all. I can see someone misconstrue that to “never”, of course.

  • Marta July 12, 2013 at 2:47 pm

    Very good article. A friend shared it with me on FB. You don’t have to go to Africa to learn about women warriors. There are all kinds of women warriors in Native American cultures. Talk about women leaders! And they are again becoming the leaders of their people, as it has been traditionally in many of their cultures.

  • Emily July 27, 2013 at 11:05 pm

    Just wanted to give a two big thumbs up for this article!

  • Sarah Tops July 30, 2013 at 7:16 am

    Fantastic! Mind if I turn it into a [well-credited] zine for [free] print distribution in my town? Probably the best essay I’ve read all year. THANK YOU.

  • Raven Whyte August 4, 2013 at 7:48 pm

    Well written! Thanks for the reference to Shaka Zulu’s warriors, I had mentioned them in the past and been repeatedly told they were his harem, and only warriors in fiction. Women have been more and less dominant through history. I am neithe historian nor anthropologist, but I have found odd references to them Trung sisters for vietnam is an example. Od cultural quips, like how though Japanese and Chinese women joined their husbands’ households and became separate from the household of their birth, they never lost their given name, and with the Japanese the child chooses which name to go by at a certain age. In Europe, in the middle ages, a woman took up her husband’s profession and often became the master if he died. I have read that in the Fian a man trained a woman in all ways, and a woman trained a man. And of course the scariest warriors at one time were the pcti women, who fought naked with a shield on her back only to protect their baby who was with her. We were taught to forget how women and men once fought, rode, farmed, and hunted together. We need help to remember, sometimes.

  • alacaprice August 15, 2013 at 11:29 pm

    Frankly the best written blog about perception of characters and the automatic roles we assign. If you write short plays, I have a venue to read them. Coming up. Thank you for your perspective.

  • Agrytube August 16, 2013 at 4:37 am

    Boy o boy do I ever want to read more about these llamas. One of them spit in my face when I was in Peru … i could have sworn it was acid fire flung in my face from the scaly horror but i was assured i had seen it wrong. .. Oh and this is a wonderful piece. Thank you for writing it. I “knew” most of this at some point but it is important to be reminded.

  • Tess Healy August 16, 2013 at 6:39 pm

    I teach a class called Gender Outlaws, since 1996. It is updated annually because ideas and access to sources and thinking in gender “Circles” is moving so fast. One of the most popular sections of the class is the “his”tory of women who passed as men in military clothes. The stories are fascinating, inspiring, poignant. Check out The Lieutenant Nun or the Lesbian pirates, the female Pharoah, …. there are so many and with each year that passes our access grows and we learn more, gain more so story tellers unite, shift the narrative “women have always fought.”

  • Kimberly August 23, 2013 at 5:49 pm

    Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant! As I writer, I am inspired (and slightly sheepish at the shades of scaly cannibalism that may have appeared on my pages from time to time). Bravo!

  • Sabio Lantz August 27, 2013 at 4:29 am

    Wow, that was amazing — thank you! I too am a recovering misogynist but not as self-aware as you. Thank you for the therapy. I always need it.

  • Guille Puerto October 12, 2013 at 11:43 pm

    You know, the point you make at the beggining about forgetting the real examples that break from the traditional narrative, reminds me that the same thing (cognitive-dissonance?) happening in Europe’s Middle Ages, when people believed Aristotle’s or Pliny the Elder’s descriptions of nature rather than their own experiences. At the end, cultural and traditional biases deform our perception of reality.

  • Jennifer Duncan October 21, 2013 at 7:21 am

    Wow! Impressive. You don’t really think about these things until someone brings them up (parallel to the train episodes intended). I teach in a school where so many of my female teens fight. If this history were included in their education, they might be better able to understand themselves and their roles in society. This may change the way I teach. Thanks so much!

  • Kellie October 21, 2013 at 8:36 am

    Did Shaka Zulu really have a female fighting regiment? I thought that was based on a single erroneous report. He did have female regiments but they served as military support (cooking, etc). If any female regiment actually fought as a primary function, I would love the reference on that.

  • A.D.Trosper October 21, 2013 at 9:29 am

    Excellent article! It’s a terrible shame when the deeds and achievements of an entire half a species are routinely erased. And a shame also when the other half the of the species is always reduced to lowest common denominator. And so we end up with half the species portrayed as helpless possessions and the other half portrayed as brutish aggressors with more brawn than brain. It’s a disservice to both the types of llamas.

  • Jess Mahler October 21, 2013 at 10:29 am

    I know this is an old post, but I want to say that I have it bookmarked and come back to it from time to time, when I need to be reminded that it’s okay (good even!) to write furry llamas.

  • Tamora Pierce October 21, 2013 at 11:45 am

    I am far behind the fair, but I wanted to tell you that this article directed me to your science fiction trilogy, which I think is amazing. I can’t wait for more work from you.

    I’ve spent my whole life looking for female heroes. It was bitterly hard at first. Now I’m finding more and more of them, in nonfiction and in fiction, and I rejoice that I made it to this time.

  • Garrett Calcaterra October 21, 2013 at 3:30 pm

    Fantastic article, Kameron. I think this is an important conversation for readers and writers to be having, and you do a fantastic job of articulating how we let our world views dictate the reality of our lives.

    I am going to disagree with you on aspect, though. I don’t think the gender tropes or stereotypes we accept by rote are merely a result of us believing the stories we read and write. Rather, the tropes and stereotypes are the result of a very real systematic effort in modern civilization to subjugate women. There are the extremely violent examples–the Imposition and Salem Witch Trials, come to mind, where females who were outside the “norm” were murdered as witches, and also the practice of female castration, which takes the pleasure of sex away from women and completely commoditizer them–but also the more subtle, subversive examples: the purposeful structuring of institutions so that females are barred from positions of influence and power. If only men are allowed to be kings, politicians, spiritual leaders, or become highly educated, then of course, the history we learn is biased by patriarchal interests. This is the real world we live in, and literature and art reflect this (which, as you say, makes writers and artists complicit in the propagation of the problem, but not the cause I would say).

    I make this distinction only because, as a spec-fic writer myself, I think there are many ways authors can have an impact in erasing millennia of misogyny. Portraying a real woman (or llama to use your analogy) as a real woman (or a real llama) is one way to go about it. But so is fiction that illuminates and explores the systematic, sexist problems in society. In other words, exploring a world that reflects our own, where our heroes fight in some way to buck the system that subjugates women is just as valuable as a story that recasts gender roles without our mistaken gender stereotypes and tropes. Both lead to readers analyzing the issue and questioning their own role in how we perceive the sexes, which is exactly what we need.

    Of course, you achieved the exact same thing by writing your article we’re now discussing, so here’s to you for that. Thank you and Cheers!

  • […] communication: DNLee, Bora, & the SciAm fiasco Historically Authentic Sexism in Fantasy ‘We Have Always Fought’ Proud Dad Of Two Geek Girls Talks Superheroes, Disney Princesses, And […]

  • ZombieGreen November 6, 2013 at 7:44 pm

    It’s delightfully fitting to the thrust of this article that lemmings do not, in fact, jump off cliffs en masse (or, indeed, at all): it’s a scaly, cannibalistic “fact” perpetrated (upon an unfortunate group of lemmings) by Disney documentary makers in the Fifties. A beautiful and well-chosen allusion.

    As for the rest of it: I’m saving this to my computer so I will have it with me always to read and re-read and give to friends who tell me that words don’t matter and that women have always been wives and mothers. Thank you.

  • ZombieGreen November 6, 2013 at 7:47 pm

    I mean, obviously women have always been wives and mothers. But, like, as a career choice. As the only option and the only “accomplishment.”

  • about women’s rights | feminism nowadays November 9, 2013 at 2:44 am

    […] “We Have Always Fought’: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves” Narrativ… […]

  • 0gre November 15, 2013 at 7:38 am


  • SeedOfFlies November 30, 2013 at 10:20 pm

    I have been drafting notes for a story in which my 2 main characters are women.It has been a strange and maturing process-as a man I am nothing of an expert on how women operate, feel,think and so on,so it has been a challenge.I really appreciate this article,it has strengthened my resolve to go ahead and be uncomfortable with my ignorance,to write through and perhaps tell a story of some merit and originality-thank you

  • Soren Sjogren December 13, 2013 at 12:11 pm

    You share such an important insight to perception. I am constantly reminded of it when I enter the current US debate on allowing women in combat. In the Danish army women have served alongside men in combat roles since 1988. Thus there is no such thing as “a soldier and a female soldier” in my book. There are just soldiers. Whenever I share my views with Americans I have to make sure to establish common ground as my perception of a soldier gender neutral.

  • […] since much of its themes regarding gender and acceptance are (unfortunately) still very current and relevant to the conversations held in the field today. The Left Hand of Darkness has so much to unpack, that […]

  • Veronica Coldiron December 28, 2013 at 8:57 pm

    This blog REALLY reaches me. I once read about a woman (I think she was a Hun or certainly one of the women of the Steppes), who mounted a rebellion against an aggressor. When her son was killed in battle, she mounted a horse, sprang into action, cut off the head of the enemy’s king, put it into a sack and tossed it on the field of battle in front of his son. I am working on an Epic Fantasy Series that places four queens on the thrones of power in the aftermath of a war that was started by “The Kings of Old”. This blog has certainly given me some ideas and insight. I’m hoping to portray my lady leaders as individual people and not the stereotypical archetypes people pigeon-hole them to be.

  • […] was also the year I wrote my most popular post ever, “We Have Always Fought” for Aidan Moher’s Dribble of Ink blog (which was then reprinted at the SFWA blog). This is one of […]

  • Chix in Film and Television January 2, 2014 at 7:15 pm

    […] Before you read this, read this. Then come […]

  • […] “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative” can also be nominated on its own for the Hugos as Best Related Work, I’m told. If all you liked of what I did this year was this post (and I think there were something like 70-80,000 of you who read it, which is more readers than have picked up all my books combined by a massive margin), then skip fan writer and go to Best Related Work. This one was popular with writers across the spectrum, from comics to gaming to spec fic. If I’m never known for writing anything else, ever, I’ll be happy to go down being known for this one. […]

  • […] remember that it’s a good time to challenge your own expectations for who fights, and why. Women have of course fought in regular armies, revolutionary armies, and in individual combat forever. It’s something folks […]

  • […] We continue our ongoing new series of posts called “SFF in Conversation” with a guest post from Kameron Hurley, author of the novels God’s War (excellent book, out in the UK now), Infidel, and Rapture as well as numerous short stories and kick-ass essays. […]

  • […] We continue our ongoing new series of posts called “SFF in Conversation” with a guest post from Kameron Hurley, author of the novels God’s War (excellent book, out in the UK now), Infidel, and Rapture as well as numerous short stories and kick-ass essays. […]

  • […] “We have always fought” […]

  • Initial Hugo Thoughts | Inspiration Struck January 26, 2014 at 5:00 am

    […] Wonderbook is eligible here. A lot of people have been mentioning Kameron Hurley’s essay “We Have Always Fought”, which is pretty strong […]

  • […] “We have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle, and Slaves Narrative” by Kameron Hurley (essay) […]

  • Gender in Stories and Stuff | Katy Watkins January 29, 2014 at 11:18 am

    […] to tell them) are incredibly powerful. There’s a ton to unpack there, but Kameron Hurley’s “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the ‘Women, Catgtle and Slaves’ Narrative” is a great place to start. Cracked’s got “5 Ways You Don’t Realize Movies are Dontrolling […]

  • […] Books announced the Worldbreaker Saga, a new fantasy/science fiction trilogy from Kameron Hurley (remember her?). “The Mirror Empire will be published worldwide in September this year, with the sequel to […]

  • […] week, I read a excellent essay by sci-fi/fantasy author Kameron Hurley entitled “‘We Have Always Fought’: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrative”.  It is a bit long, but well worth […]

  • […] Knight and Princess rolereversal was (maybe) a thing even 2600 years ago, fuck yeah (other then most of the times on the internet: read the comments!)! Der hier z. B. passt sehr schön zum obigen Bullshit-Computerspiel: Frauen waren zu allen Zeiten in der Armee und haben gekämpft. […]

  • […] “‘We Have Always Fought’: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative,” by Kameron Hurley, at A Dribble of Ink. […]

  • Writing Women | everwalker February 14, 2014 at 4:51 am

    […] And then I read this. […]

  • […] favorite read from this week is “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle, and Slaves Narrative” by Kameron Hurley. It’s a powerful essay — and if you haven’t read it yet, […]

  • Racial Diversity in Speculative Fiction February 15, 2014 at 2:44 pm

    […] ‘We Have Always Fought’: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrativ… by Kameron Hurley (A Dribble of Ink) […]

  • […] ranty article is a reaction to this Reddit comment, which I had the misfortune of reading. Who in turn, is reacting this post over here that talks about the erasure of women as active, […]

  • […] Now I’m not saying that Clarke was actively misogynist – he may or may not have been, I have no idea. He probably was only a man of his time, almost all of his women are, after all, little more than background noise. Very probably much like the women around him were supposed to be. Of course that’s not the whole truth and never has been. […]

  • […] further than that and I’ve seen a couple of nominations for individual blog posts such as ‘We Have Always Fought’ (which, incidentally, is being collected in Speculative Fiction 2013). This doesn’t seem […]

  • Al B March 3, 2014 at 8:20 pm

    Not bad for a girl…. I joke of course :)
    You’re awesome. loved your writing and breath of fresh air on this … I wish you all the best in your task of not dying – may you live long and effect many!

  • Ben March 4, 2014 at 1:30 pm Good example for people everywhere.

  • […] the thrust of my arguments is wider, but this is an excellent example.  It’s called “We Have Always Fought“, by Kameron Hurley, and it’s about how women fighting in history is portrayed as […]

  • Kala March 16, 2014 at 7:37 pm

    Bravo!!!! :)

  • […] “‘We Have Always Fought’: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ N… – a great article on female characters. […]

  • […] straight “normal” MCs in all of English-written book-dom. I have some really awesome compatriots in that, and we all seem to find our own ways of […]

  • […] ‘We have always fought:’ Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ narrative. On writing women and realizing the many spaces they occupy, and the stereotypes that limit our awareness of this. […]

  • […] Hurley, ‘We Have Always Fought’: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative,” at A Dribble of […]

  • […] Tropes vs Women in Video Games (Damsel in Distress 1 & 2, Ms Male Character)   Kameron Hurley, ‘We Have Always Fought’: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative,” at A Dribble of Ink.   The Doubleclicks – Nothing to Prove music video   Cheryl Morgan […]

  • Amir Adel March 27, 2014 at 6:18 pm

    “But when we say “revolutionary army” what do we think of? What image does it conjure? Does the force in your mind include three women and seven men? Six women and fourteen men?”

    I live in Egypt. I’ve participated in the mass protests that have toppled two presidents over the past three years. Women have constituted a huge ratio; about 40% of protesters were females. Some as young as 14 and others so old as to have grand children. They’ve been there among us, chanting against the regime, throwing rocks at the police, grabbing the gas bombs the police threw at us and throwing them back at them.

    I’ve seen it all with my eyes, but somehow, the prevailing narrative is so overwhelmingly strong that whenever I recall those days, I remember the women only when I “decide” to. Another furry llama dismissed…

    That was an excellent article. Straight to my bookmarks folder.

  • Robert April 1, 2014 at 3:43 am

    This was inspirational, thank you

  • […] Related Work Speculative Fiction 2012 by Justin Landon & Jared Shurin (Jurassic London) ‘We Have Always Fought’: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle, and Slaves’ Narrati… by Kameron Hurley (A Dribble of […]

  • […] We Have Always Fought: Challenging The Women, Cattle, and Slaves Narrative […]

  • […] thanks to Foz Meadows and Kameron Hurley for writing thoughtful articles that have helped clarify my thinking on this matter, and to […]

  • […] at Aidan Moher’s blog, Kameron Hurrley writes We have always fought: challenging the women, cattle and slaves narrative. It’s a long post but well worth reading all the way […]

  • […] article is “‘We Have Always Fought’: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ N… by Kameron Hurley, and that hilarious and jarring first paragraph is only the tip of a clear and […]

  • Jacqueline Sweet April 19, 2014 at 3:29 pm

    Thank you for writing this. It’s tremendous.

  • Tom Kratman April 19, 2014 at 4:53 pm

    I’m just fascinated by Shaka’s female combatant regiments. Tell me, what part of the perimeter did they hold at Gqokli Hill? At Phongola, how were they able to keep up with the main impi? Did they take the loins position, or the left horn, or the right, or the chest?

  • John Blake Arnold April 19, 2014 at 6:26 pm

    What does this mean for dromedaries, Bactrian camels, alpacas, vicuñas, and guanacos!?!

    Congratulations for your Hugo nomination for this piece. Personally, though you make some excellent points, I feel this essay would have been given a C at my university– not because of your position on the topic– but due to the awkward phrasing, the assumption that everyone else outside of your immediate peer group will understand your metaphor (like a fish needs a bicycle?), your need to defend yourself before anyone questions your historical credentials, and the quasi-conversational/confrontational tone.

    Sometimes authors need distance from their own pieces, especially if they feel strongly about them. Due to their feelings, they rarely rewrite and edit pieces that they are too sure about, meanwhile pieces considered lesser by the author are often rewritten and better edited, and due to the author’s distance, end up being better works.

    I enjoy strongly worded feminist criticism as much as the next English Lit. grad, (Hélène Cixous’s “Laugh of the Medusa” comes to mind Cixous is high level literary criticism and to be taken seriously as a literary critic– not a female feminist literary critic– you probably need to up your game.

    If I were you, in order to improve my writing for the next piece, I would consider not only the Hugo nomination but also the words of poster Emmett Rensin above, on May 21, 2013 at 8:57 pm.

    If someone can so easily dismantle an essay into it’s component parts and then reconstitute it in such a way, the author is endanger of having his or her strong voice turned to a jest.

    It may be interesting for you to privately rewrite this essay with the exact same thesis, but presenting it in a less confrontational manner.

  • Hey look, the Hugo noms | Genre-bending April 19, 2014 at 7:14 pm

    […] Related works category seems to be full of great writing, including Speculative Fiction 2012 and We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative by Kameron […]

  • […] “We Have Always Fought” is the first blog post, ever, to be nominated for a Hugo Award. It’s also been read by more people than all of my books and short stories combined, and possibly read more than any single book in the Best Novel category except the collective Wheel of Time. […]

  • […] Related Work: “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative”, Kameron Hurley (A Dribble of […]

  • […] with the list. I’m absolutely thrilled to see Kameron Hurley’s eloquent and powerful essay, “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle, and Slaves Narrative,” […]

  • […] “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative” de Kameron Hurley […]

  • David Jón Fuller April 21, 2014 at 5:13 am

    You’re right, we need to look past the scaled llamas everyone else has written about, and write some real llamas.
    I’m in the process of researching/writing a speculative fiction novel set in the First World War. I had previously thought the only women on the front lines then (in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, anyways, which is what I’m concentrating on) would be nurses, but now I’m going to take a much closer look at this.

  • 2014 Hugo Noms are in! | (s)IB April 21, 2014 at 6:40 am

    […] “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative”, Kameron Hurley (A Dribble of Ink) […]

  • finstergrrrl April 21, 2014 at 9:27 am

    John Blake Arnold: . Read it. Know it. Love it.

  • […] Hurley’s epic essay, We Have Always Fought, was an out-of-control avalanche last year. As Hurley described, in her own reaction to the […]

  • Tom Kratman April 21, 2014 at 2:23 pm

    David, google for Botchkareva.

  • […] “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative”, Kameron Hurley (A Dribble of Ink) […]

  • Bruce Taylor April 21, 2014 at 7:49 pm

    Well, as the macho Hem used to say, if you haven’t lived it, you don’t know the truth of it. It’s not a 100% guarantee, of course, but I prefer memoirs and autobiographical fiction to what is called genre fiction. Yeah, I know there’s good stuff there, but I can often detect what’s a fabricated tale from one that came from the passion of someone’s life.

  • Family Feud of Thrones | Four Moons Press April 21, 2014 at 7:50 pm

    […] this Family Feud of the Thrones is that we fantasists spend a lot of time writing about scaly cannibal llamas when we create the politics of our worlds. As readers we expect to see ruthless factions who will […]

  • Hugo Nominations « Daniel Libris April 22, 2014 at 3:03 am

    […] Work continues the theme of progressive, well-done projects being rewarded; Kameron Hurley’s We Have Always Fought essay is a slight entry on this section of the ballot, but it is undeniably a brilliantly […]

  • Nigel April 22, 2014 at 6:15 am

    Hmmm, Shaka’s female “regiments” are an interesting example to use. They were trained and organised, but as support units and could fight in emergencies but were not generally used in battle. Units of unmarried females were assigned to each impi to prepare food and perform other domestic duties. Shaka did not allow his warriors to marry until he gave permission, which he did infrequently and only when the regiment was being retired. Then, he would order the entire regiment to marry and would specify the unit among the women that the male regiment was to marry. Can’t find a situation where they actually fought, which kind of negates the argument somewhat.

  • […] picked, along with God’s War by Kameron Hurley (whose awesome, Hugo-nominated essay We Have Always Fought you should also read), The Disestablishment of Paradise by Phillip Mann, The Adjacent by […]

  • […] war. Leaving aside how accurate his assessment of “traditional roles” was—I was reading an article reposted on Facebook earlier today by Kameron Hurley, from last year, which challenges many […]

  • […] Telling Women To Smile (featuring Mel from Hollaback! Bmore on the right!), consider the pervasive women, cattle and slaves narrative, have a laugh with Anna as she illustrates Tinder creeps in the nude, pay some attention to a type […]

  • […] the dominance of the kyriarchy not in telling stories so much as deciding what stories are worthy; women have always written, to paraphrase Kameron Hurley, but their writing, like the writing of queer people and people of […]

  • rvraiment April 30, 2014 at 8:43 am

    It was around 1986, when my wife was expecting our first baby, that I first made a serious effort to write. The story will never be published, for a number of reasons, but it was a ‘children’s’ story called Bearyl Flynne and the Fighting Furries, its central sea-faring, all-action hero a young female bear. In my 1990s’ still unpublished ‘Sword of Attalan’ the central character is a female warrior. From the very beginning I wanted to write role models and inspiring characters who reflected the true equality – by me never questioned – of the sexes. I’ve been published since and my heroes remain much the same. In a history dominated by patriarchal societies it is not particularly surprising that examples of women soldiers are relatively few, but there are enough examples to demonstrate their capacity. Excluding the front line their history in the revolutionary and resistance campaigns demonstrate enough. Female agents and resistance fighters went up against the Nazis in the knowledge that if they were caught they had every chance of being tortured by the most brutal and deviant regime ever devised. It did not stop them.

  • […] I feel like I don’t really need to introduce Kameron Hurley to you, because the post below does it so well – after all, that’s what it’s about. However, because she won’t say this, I will; Kameron is one of the most interesting voices in the genre scene today, with God’s War presenting a unique science fictional world and a translation of grimdark through a feminist lens into a pseudo-Islamic matriarchal bugpunk society and being nominated for a number of awards including winning the Kitschies Golden Tentacle for 2011. She’s also a vital commenter on the state of the genre, with her blog this year earning her a nomination for Best Fanwriter in the Hugos to go with the Best Related Work nomination for her much-discussed, widely-quoted and essential essay We Have Always Fought. […]

  • […] read by her (she is very deservedly one of this year’s Hugo nominees for Best Fan Writer and Best Related Work). Her upcoming book also sounds fantastic, and it’s been on my list of books I want to read […]

  • […] ‘We Have Always Fought’: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrativ… – Kameron Hurley in einem sehr lesenswerten Beitrag darüber, dass Frauen schon immer gekämpft haben, dies in der Geschichtsschreibung und vor allem in Erzählungen und Geschichten aber kaum vorkommt. Populating a world with men, with male heroes, male people, and their “women cattle and slaves” is a political act. You are making a conscious choice to erase half the world. Da muss ich ihr Recht geben. In meinem Studium (Nordamerikastudien) nahm z. B. die North American slave narrative eine wichtige Rolle ein, im Fokus standen aber meist Autoren wie Frederick Douglas oder Solomon Northrup (jüngst bekannt durch die Verfilmung 12 Years a Slave). Slave narratives von Frauen wie Harriet Jacobs und Harriet Tubman werden da zu sehr vernachlässigt. […]

  • […] who knows anything about history knows that women fought.  Joan d’Arc was alive and well in the 15th century, and she fought.  Saint Geneveive […]

  • […] Hurley knocked the ball out of the park with her article ‘We Have Always Fought‘ – which is currently nominated for the Hugo for Best Reated Work. I would like to […]

  • […] Fought': Challenging the 'Women, Cattle and Slaves' Narrative" apareció publicado originalmente en "A Dribble of Ink el 20 de mayo de 2013. Está nominado a los premios Hugo 2014 en la categoría Mejor obra […]

  • Guest of Honor Recommendations May 5, 2014 at 5:03 am

    […] Nebula and Arthur C. Clarke awards. She’s currently on the Hugo Award ballot for her essay, We Have Always Fought, making her the first person ever (I believe) to be nominated for the Hugo for a blog […]

  • hobbitqueen May 5, 2014 at 1:00 pm

    Interesting and related:

    It’s not directly related but it’s another example of how “women, cattle and slaves” still shows up outside the media portrayals.

    To paraphrase: In families where the kids are both male and female, it’s usually the girls who get preferentially handed housework chores for less reward than their brothers – in cases where the kids get allowances, girls tend to get less money (or none) for doing more chores than their brothers. Further, there’s a study that shows that “boys who grew up only with sisters are 13.5 percent more conservative in their views of women’s roles compared to boys who grew up only with brothers. The researchers speculate that because their sisters are given the housework, those boys tend to assume domestic chores are women’s work.”

  • […] which feature a setting in which women would be rare, such as historical war dramas, but if you really know your history you’ll find that’s a much narrower slice of the narrative pie than is popularly […]

  • […] and willowy? They are rarely tall and powerfully built to go with their intellect and courage. It is as though we can’t accept a female character as authentic unless she is seen as weak in …, or worse that a woman who is tall, strong, and smart can’t be feminine. Weakness has become […]

  • […] to erase the women. And that’s nowhere better said in this Hugo-nominated essay  “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative” by Kameron […]

  • Joe Kremer May 9, 2014 at 11:21 am

    I think it reversed causality. The language of “soldiers” vs “female soldiers” didn’t erase women from military history, their erasing caused the language. For the language to cause their removal, there would have to be a concerted and planned effort across wide swaths of the population. That is less likely than a 9/11 cover up.

    Regarding the portion on tropes, it is certainly just something born of being lazy and uncreative in writing. Often though, they are quite useful. An old 8-bit game didn’t have a lot of memory to work with, so culturally ingrained plots were easy and quick to explain. That is to say, the problem is the culture, and the stories are the side effect.

    We sort of half to reclassify our enemies as non-humans in a society that teaches us from the moment of birth that killing people is wrong, otherwise we won’t be able to kill them. When that happens, the societies that do reclassify their enemies kill us instead.

  • […] when she became the first writer to be nominated for the Hugo prize for a blog post. Her essay, ‘We Have Always Fought’, examines narratives of gender and war, recognising the difference between reality and […]

  • Hugo helpfulness « Aphotic Ink May 24, 2014 at 5:33 pm

    […] “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative” by Kameron Hurley (A Dribble of Ink) […]

  • Sexism Is Over | In Search of Secrets May 26, 2014 at 3:50 pm

    […] discouraged in women today since it’s seen as an implicit challenge to the patriarchy. Women have always fought, worn pants, made discoveries, and invented new technologies. They never got credit for it, of […]

  • […] of course, headlining the collection is Kameron Hurley’s tremendous essay, ‘We Have Always Fought: Challenging the “Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrative&#8221…, which itself is nominated in the “Best Related Work” […]

  • […]  “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative”  by Kameron Hurley is a blog post about why representation matters, and about how portrayals of history often miss out things like women fighting in Shaka Zulu’s army. It’s a very good blog post, but I really don’t see why it’s nominated separately rather than being part of the evidence for Hurley in the Best Fan Writer category. It also has very little — basically nothing — to do with SF/F. On its own merits, it’s good enough that I’d have included it in a linkblog roundup if I’d read it out of the Hugo context, but it’s got no place on the ballot. […]

  • Red Dead Redemption and women | I, Ian June 18, 2014 at 12:41 pm

    […] exposed to so much media that pretends it is.  Women have always been active in our public life; women have always been present in fields we think of as traditionally belonging to men.  Anyone who tells you that all the women characters being relegated to passive, supporting roles […]

  • Bee-bee-dee Boop! | Bwandungi's Blog June 19, 2014 at 11:05 am

    […] with all the familiar tropes I’ve been trying to get away from. I had the opportunity to check out a post regarding challenging those familiar plots we have all come to accept as the truth or […]

  • The Invisible Woman - Nina Niskanen June 24, 2014 at 7:02 am

    […] but keeping the home and raising the children. Kameron Hurley wrote about that brilliantly in We Have Always Fought but I’m not sure if that’s the whole story. Confirmation bias is, of course, a thing so […]

  • […] So yeah, reading this, I was wondering how I missed some of these. Some, like ‘We Have Always Fought’: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative and Hurley’s post on the Hugos, got shared a lot so I did see them, but I’d have been […]

  • HAL July 6, 2014 at 4:00 pm

    My logic, is just that – women and other people with different skin colors, sexuality. Existed and so they should be included. I wonder if you have any experience with Anime, Manga and old East Asian Martial Art movies? I actually found myself. Seeing so many deep female characters and bad asses in them. As well as so many, beyond easily counting. Passed the Bechel test. Its funny, Eastern Media can be more liberal than their society.

  • […] by : this post on Women in History, or should I say challenged by, I took another look at short story that I written. I had chosen a […]

  • […] “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative”, Kameron Hurley […]

  • […] steal from a illusory article, women have always fought. (Go review that essay if we haven’t before. I’ll still be here when we get back.) We […]

  • […] artwork of women in various classes of armour. I read an article at A Dribble of Ink called “‘We Have Always Fought’: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrative” by Kamer…. Kameron’s interesting essay was illustrated, inspiring my blog […]

  • […] Women have always fought. Shaka Zulu had an all-female force of fighters. Women have been part of every resistance movement. Women dressed as men and went to war, went to sea, and participated actively in combat for as long as there have been people. […]

  • […] We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle & Slaves Narrative @ A Dribble of Ink […]

  • […] **‘We Have Always Fought’: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrativ… […]

  • […] enough word. I’d say she was galvanized) by an essay written by Kameron Hurley called, “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle, and Slaves’ Narrative&#822… It’s a pretty amazing essay. You should go read […]

  • […] recently read Kameron Hurley’s Hugo-nominated essay on the historical erasure of women, “We Have Always Fought”. (hear the author read it in audio here!). I’d also just discovered the Medieval PoC Tumblr, […]

  • […] egalitarian, and reflect a world closer to what Kameron Hurley’s getting at in her essay “We Have Always Fought.”  Women are everywhere in this world fighting alongside men, and yet the broad story about the […]

  • Hugo Awards, 2014 Edition August 17, 2014 at 2:44 pm

    […] “We Have Always Fought”: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative by Kameron Hurley on A Dribble of Ink. Very much worth reading. In a related note, here’s how the lemming myth was perpetuated. […]

  • […] Related Work: “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative” by Kameron Hurley (A Dribble of […]

  • […] Kameron Hurley, who won in the “Best Fan Writer” category also won for “Best Related Work” for her article that rails against the old, familiar and worn narrative that pushes women to the background- it’s a thought-provoking piece that’s definitely worth a read. You can check out We Have Always Fought on A Dribble of Ink. […]

  • Hugo awards! | I, fat robot August 17, 2014 at 10:12 pm

    […] “related work” went to Kameron Hurley’s We have always fought: Challenging the women, cattle, and slaves narrative.  I hadn’t read this – but now I have, since the link was in my morning blog feed, and […]

  • […] publicity, fandom and celebrity on the internet – this time all in one neat package. “We Have Always Fought” is the title of the first blog post to be nominated for a Hugo Award, and is included in this […]

  • […] to see how much it has evolved over time. Seeing Kameron Hurley’s guest blog post, “We Have Always Fought” win the Hugo for best related work was the epitome of evolutionary coolness. People might […]

  • CAV August 18, 2014 at 7:50 am

    Excellent essay. It applies to the narratives about race as well as those about gender.

    I do have 2 quibbles though: 1) the idea that only the US tells history via “Great Men”–I don’t think they even had a “Women’s History” option when I was in school in Germany–though my Poli Sci course did start 5000 years ago with the Babylonians instead of a brief mention of the Greeks and Romans and a quick jump to the magna charta.

    2) This paragraph: “You see this all the time in big cities. It’s why people can get into fistfights and assault others on busy sidewalks. It’s why people are killed in broad daylight, and homes are broken into even in areas with lots of foot traffic.” A. it’s a bit of a non-sequitur to the previous paragraph. B. it commits the exact sin she is writing about–there is a presumption that cities are more violent and indifferent than non-urban areas. To use Hurley’s words, people portray cities as “cannibal llamas,” but in reality, it’s the less urbanized regions that are full of cannibal llamas. and .

  • […] of Ink, which took two awards: Best Fanzine and Best Related Work for Kameron Hurley’s essay “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative”. Hurley also won Best Fan […]

  • Neanderthal August 18, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    Fantastic piece !

    I run across this everytime i try and discuss the series “The Bridge” with folks.

    I realized that the lead actress gets labeled as behaviorally stunted, or an Asperger case, because she actually just does everything as a man would !

    No one else seems to sees it ……

  • […] as a relatively new concept, our Jedi Historian Priya passed along the link to a fascinating article by Kameron Hurley challenging the conventional narrative that women haven’t always played a […]

  • […] Hurley won Best Fan Writer and Best Related Work for “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative,” which was posted at A Dribble of Ink. Hurley’s award-winning post about the perpetuation […]

  • […] We Have Always Fought […]

  • […] Kameron Hurley-inspired panel ‘We Have Always Fought’ followed a rather different path, almost totally diverging from historical female warriors and also […]

  • The Hugo Awards 2014 | Inspiration Struck August 19, 2014 at 2:20 pm

    […] Hurley was a big success this year, taking home Best Fan Writer and Best Related Work for her essay “We ave Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative”. That essay may have also played a part in the victory of Aiden Moher’s A Dribble of Ink in […]

  • […] addition to the award for Best Fanzine, A Dribble of Ink also published Kameron Hurley’s We Have Always Fought: Challenging the “Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative”, which took home the trophy for Best Related Work. She also won for Best Fan Writer. Kameron posted […]

  • Heather Weech August 19, 2014 at 4:05 pm

    Thank you. Well done.

  • […] ‘We Have Always Fought': Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrative […]

  • […] turns out I didn’t go to Aidan Moher at A Dribble of Ink and say, “Hey, I want to write this thing about llamas.” I didn’t know much about A Dribble of Ink or Aidan, so had no idea he’d be open to such […]

  • 2014 Hugo Awards | The Relentless Reader August 20, 2014 at 7:42 pm

    […] Best Related Work: “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative” by Kameron Hurley. […]

  • […] No, not the Hugo. Being invited by Veronica Belmont and Tom Merritt for an interview on the Sword & Laser podcast. I’m a huge fan of their work, and had a blast chatting with them about the Hugo Awards, LonCon 3, the SFF fan community, and working with Kameron Hurley on “We Have Always Fought”. […]

  • […] a large number of fiction awards, she is also the first person to win a Best Related Work Hugo for a single blog post, and also won at least two more half-Hugos (Fan Writer, and Fanzine for Aidan Moher’s A […]

  • […] this review, Hurley had recently received the Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer and her guest post “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrative” at A Dribble of Ink, Aidan Moher’s recently Hugo-award winning Fanzine/ Blog, netted Kameron […]

  • […] I also had time to attend a panel on epic fantasy. If you want an idea of the humour involved, please see Liz Bourke’s review of Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan. Sadly, she didn’t win the Hugo for Best Related Work – that was won by Kameron Hurley for We Have Always Fought […]

  • The weekly web ramble (8/22) August 22, 2014 at 2:29 pm

    […] – Kameron Hurley on how women have always fought […]

  • […] Hurley wrote an enjoyable and thought-provoking blog post about challenging the false narrative of women in history and literature and what we writers need to do about […]

  • […] sino participantes activos en sus propias historias. Premio Hugo 2014 Best Related Work Original: etiquetas: literatura, mujeres, ciencia ficción, kameron hurley usuarios: 1   […]

  • […] Writer and Best Related Work.  The related work was the first blog post ever to win the award, “We Have Always Fought': Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrative,&#82…  So far, I haven’t read anything more deserving of […]

  • Sunday Musings | The BiblioSanctum August 24, 2014 at 6:59 am

    […] I love fantasy and science fiction. But I am so very tired of the rhetoric that keeps telling me that I have no place in it as a woman of colour unless I am a whore or an exotic novelty.  Simply put, if you can imagine alien species and dragons and all sorts of wonderful magical things, then you can most certainly imagine that people like me can be actual people in your stories, rather than plot devices. And if you want to use the excuse that you’re trying to reflect the cultural dynamic of the area and the history, then do your damn research. […]

  • Feminist Porn & Scaly Llamas – en|Gender August 25, 2014 at 11:34 am

    […] simultaneously, a friend sent me this link to female spec fic writer Kameron Hurley talking about what it’s li…, and especially why she writes female characters who are soldiers and warriors. And while I think […]

  • […] be killed by a police officer with a gun than someone in Britain is by a criminal with one.” ‘We Have Always Fought’: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrativ… – An essay from the Hugo-winning writer Kameron Hurley. “Half the world is full of […]

  • Premiile Hugo 2014 | August 28, 2014 at 3:54 am

    […] conexă: We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves de Kameron […]

  • Jeff Lewis August 28, 2014 at 2:41 pm

    Meanwhile, the other really odd presumption that rarely goes unchallenged: “Why are all games about men fighting?” – which is just as much a stereotype as “Women are cannon-fodder, mcguffins or rewards.”

    From this perspective, the question to me isn’t “Why aren’t women in games fighters?” but “Why aren’t more people in games *not-fighters*?” Is there really no other kind of conflict or way of dealing with conflict that can be made into a game?

    Me – I’m male. I hate fighter games or games that consist of just holding a gun and shooting at things until you’re either dead, our of bullets or out of targets. Yet every time I bring this up, inevitably it becomes ‘but people find other kinds of games (are there other kinds of games, really?) boring.’

    I find that almost as sad as the way women are portrayed in games because of what it suggests about the majority of the males in the world (who are still the main players of these games…).

  • […] of the best essays about writing I’ve ever read, author Kameron Hurley explains this idea with an extended metaphor involving llamas. If you’re playing a game, you’ll usually judge the story more by what you’ve seen in other […]

  • Simon Maynard August 31, 2014 at 1:48 am

    Really interesting article. As a FTM trans guy who didn’t transition out of being a feminist, I wanted to cheer! (this is me cheering) I also went to ebay and got a copy of book 1 in your trilogy.

  • […] in the history of South African resistance movements. Her essay on the history of women in conflict “We Have Always Fought” was the first blog post to win a Hugo […]

  • […] in the history of South African resistance movements. Her essay on the history of women in conflict “We Have Always Fought” was the first blog post to win a Hugo Award.  You can find out more about her on her […]

  • Carol Ryan September 2, 2014 at 8:41 pm

    One of my favorite alternate realities is featured in a short story by Mercedes Lackey- the Lacu’un insist that all their generals must be female because they respect life enough not to waste lives on “glory”. Really a very throwaway comment, which I don’t recall well enough to quote properly; but the very casualness of it made me go- “Whoa, you’ve just turned my paradigm upside down!”

  • Lee Walter September 3, 2014 at 6:46 am

    I have some RPG fiction for a PC that involves a race for whom gender does not exist and one’s sex is unimportant (unless you’re trying to reproduce.) I can write about them in their own, gender neutral language just fine. (Yes, I made up a language.) Writing about them in English absolutely sucks. I’ve kind of stopped writing about that character because, as much as I’d like to continue, I have to read, re-read, and re-re-read each installment to make sure I haven’t used a gendered word regarding that race. (And the resulting English is revoltingly clumsy.) Gender is baked into our language and brings with it all the mis-conceptions about women that fill this world. Worse, the act of writing about people imposes that worldview on them, whether or not they share it.

  • A reader September 3, 2014 at 9:47 am

    oh, fuck! I just realized how sexist I was with the only main female character in my story D=
    luckly there are still some important characters to introduce… I think I can still fix it

  • Sara September 3, 2014 at 4:43 pm

    Hey—Loved this. Also, I am a woman writing a scene right now where I did just this–the cliche female gets attacked by rapist and someone saves her. I am not proud that I resorted to this after this article. I’m going to rethink how to do this, because I know I am a better writer than the simple sexist things. Thank you.

  • […] First: the throwback read care of an old post by Kameron Hurley on how women are treated in narratives. […]

  • […] thank goodness, Kameron Hurley is here to fill me in in this interesting article about the importance of writing misogyny out of our narratives and not just […]

  • Worthy Regardless | Blair MacGregor September 4, 2014 at 5:51 am

    […] have made throughout history acknowledged.  And the more articles we have like Hurley’s We Have Always Fought, the […]

  • Travel as Catalyst | The Practical Free Spirit September 4, 2014 at 7:00 am

    […] time was different. Kameron Hurley and her double win for Fan Writer and for her brilliant essay “We Have Always Fought” meant a lot to me. This recognition from my community for such important work gave me hope. The […]

  • Heather Gray September 4, 2014 at 7:42 am

    Just re-read this, think I got more out of it this time than last year (health issues, getting better at retaining things finally). Thank you for writing this, and for keeping on keeping on.

  • Heather September 4, 2014 at 8:49 pm


    Thank you for writing this.

    You couldn’t have known but so much of what you have said has been exactly what I needed to hear.

    You said somebody has to do something first, and sometimes, there are writers that have to write things first.

    Thank you for writing – keep it up – and congratulations for writing something so truthful, honest, and refreshing.

  • […] to the obedient, silent, and compliant wife/mother/daughter/sister narrative of a later era. Read  We Have Always Fought, a great essay from A Dribble of Ink by author Kameron Hurley on why writing outside the […]

  • […] came across a really interesting article this week: ‘We Have Always Fought’: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle, and Slaves’ Narrati…, by Kameron Hurley.  Her opening illustration about the cannibal llamas really caught my […]

  • […] Tweet of the Day: “We Have Always Fought'; Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrative&#822… […]

  • […] “‘We Have Always Fought': Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrati…. […]

  • Bitch Flicks’ Weekly Picks | Bitch Flicks September 7, 2014 at 8:05 am

    […] ‘We Have Always Fought’: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrativ… by Kameron Hurley at A Dribble of Ink […]

  • Shelley September 7, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    This is an amazing article and I’m trying to come up with a way of sharing it that doesn’t immediately get buried in a pile of other articles on Twitter and Facebook feeds. Thank you for writing it.

  • 2014 British Fantasy Award Winners September 7, 2014 at 7:34 pm

    […] and Justin Landon, editors of Speculative Fiction 2012, which beat out Kameron Hurley’s “We Have Always Fought”, are Americans and there is a scandal afoot and I demand a recount and how could they possibly win […]

  • […] “We have always fought.” Challenging the Women Cattle and Slaves Narrative <— By far one of the best articles I've read this week, especially in pertains to writing and other forms of media. Must read. […]

  • […] We have always fought. […]

  • […] also been thinking a lot about awe, and was re-inspired by Kameron Hurley’s Hugo Award winning essay about women in sci-fi and struggled with a work-in-progress children’s book for my niece about a dragon named […]

  • Fred September 12, 2014 at 2:58 am

    This is obviously not a complete analysis, but one of the issues with the reportage of women in conflicts, from a male perspective, is the consequences women often suffer for simply being near the conflict; namely rape and sexual violence. To *consider* the possibility of women who might be your sisters, mothers or daughters being raped is perhaps harder than imagining your sons or bothers being simply killed. Rape is simply considered a far worse crime than killing, one can be accidentally killed, but there are no accidental rapes. Likewise, whilst a murder leaves a hole in families and communities, a rape leaves a recurring humiliation in addition to potentially hijacking the fertility of the woman. It is a deeply uncomfortable subject, particularly for men… and so they shy away and gloss over the subject when writing history or reportage, unwilling to dwell and grant full person-hood to the women involved.

  • Länksamling 2014:36 | September 12, 2014 at 7:04 am

    […] Hurley om alla de kvinnor som ständigt faller utanför våra konventionella narrativ. (aidanmoher) (via charles […]

  • […] a writer, this experience served as a wake-up call. Around that time, “We Have Always Fought” by Kameron Hurley appeared on my Facebook feed, and I realized something really […]

  • M. Leigh Hood September 12, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    Absolutely fantastic. I suffer from a similar case of unintentional misogyny. You inspired me to write about my own experiences in less eloquent terms ( Thank you so much for writing. In general and in particular.

  • Links Lundi | Ruby Bastille September 15, 2014 at 5:07 am

    […] Amazing essay tying all the little moments of misogyny and erasure in media to the larger problem of…. “I’m going to tell you a story about llamas. It will be like every other story you’ve ever heard about llamas: how they are covered in fine scales; how they eat their young if not raised properly; and how, at the end of their lives, they hurl themselves – lemming-like- over cliffs to drown in the surging sea. Every story you hear about llamas is the same…Oh, and it’s not true.” If you read nothing else this week, read this. […]

  • […] I’ve said it about novels, and I’ll say it about games: if you can’t imagine a world without the toxic, repugnant -isms of the world we live in yet insist on dragons, limitless ammo and health packs that fix broken bones, zombies, aliens, or WHATEVER, then you’re not going for realism. You’re just really, really lazy, and frankly, unimaginative. To continually create fantasy worlds (yes, even military shooters are fantasy worlds) which fall along the exact same failing lines as our society is laziness. Are we that arrogant as a species to think that if we found sentient life on another planet that they’d have the exact same flaws as we do? Or that in a second world fantasy that women would just be “whores”*? Never mind the fact that much like my “there have always been women gamers” comment, women have always fought. […]

  • […] how I began my most popular essay to date, which went on to win a Hugo Award for Best Related Work, get nominated for a British Fantasy Award […]

  • […] aimed at women shouldn’t be ignored. On that point, the video reminded me strongly of author Kameron Hurley’s Hugo-winning essay on the misrepresentation of women in science fictio…: “As storytellers, there are more interesting choices we can […]

  • Drake September 19, 2014 at 8:05 am

    ** Ida Jagaric May 21, 2013 at 8:27 pm

    ps. i really dont think Game of Thrones is a good example of strong female characters. not many of them are seen in a totally positive light and very few warriors. I’m loving Steven Erikson’s books in comparison coz female fighters are the norm, every army and group has some. Versus Martin who’s only female characters that carry a sword are a little girl and a woman who was only introduced in the 3rd book and had a noose around her neck in the 4th book. (i’m refusing to read the 5th)**
    ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^THIS THANK YOU SO MUCH, GoT is such a WEAK story/fantasy, Martin is a closet pedo/perv, Im always horrified by the amount of people who watch and rave about the tv series, its beyond disturbing.

    I love Steven Erikson’s books true deep story telling and fantasy

  • […] keep ourselves from continuing to weave as we do, prolonging this narrative. As this article, “We Have Always Fought,” points out, the story we learn about history and women is full of more plot holes than say, […]

  • […] in general anyway), and that has bled into modern fantasy. It’s pervasive and poisonous. Women have always been there, at home and in combat, and so have peoples of many […]

  • women fighters who fight | lucas thorn September 26, 2014 at 9:13 pm

    […] not competent in being what she is would be the readers. Historically, women have always fought. There’s a great article by Kameron Hurley which made this point much better than I ever could. So it’s surprising that in this day and age, with every […]

  • […] Kameron Hurley frequently comments on fandom and media representation. Perhaps her most famous essay on the subject is “‘We Have Always Fought’: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrative”.[11] […]

  • […] av historieskrivning och feminism, läs den här artikeln om kvinnor och krigande: ‘We Have Always Fought': Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrative. Välskriven och […]

  • […] be strong heroes: tough grunts, tank fighters or front-line heroes is a sexist one. It is also a myth. And once you get past the lie, you can find plenty of real-life examples […]

  • […] went on the defensive. Gaiman occupies a shelf in my heart beside The Mirror Empire’s fiercely outspoken Kameron Hurley and short story virtuoso Benjanun […]

  • […] went on the defensive. Gaiman occupies a shelf in my heart beside The Mirror Empire’s fiercely outspoken Kameron Hurley and short story virtuoso Benjanun […]

  • Bel Dame Apocrypha | In Another Library October 11, 2014 at 5:56 am

    […] upp på min att-läsa-lista omedelbart efter att jag läst Kameron Hurleys fantastiska essä ”We Have Always Fought: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrative” (som hon numera vunnit en välförtjänt Hugo för) men det var först nu i somras som jag […]

  • […] article, which I would definitely recommend reading fully here, highlights the way that it’s much easier to keep telling stories that fit in with […]

  • Women Rise in Sci Fi (Again) | Review Value November 5, 2014 at 9:17 am

    […] to the writers’ room, is one that Hurley thinks about a lot. This year, her essay “‘We Have Always Fought': Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrative” on the long history of female fighters and why history writes them out of the picture, won a […]

  • The 3rd, 4th and 5th Gender | November 6, 2014 at 7:21 am

    […] Hurley won a Hugo Award for her blog post “We Have Always Fought,” another excellent read for […]

  • Sturm November 6, 2014 at 7:26 pm

    “When I was sixteen, I wrote an essay about why women should remain barred from combat in the U.S. military. I found it recently while going through some old papers. My argument for why women shouldn’t be in combat was because war was terrible, and families were important, and with all these men dying in war, why would we want women to die, too?

    That was my entire argument.

    “Women shouldn’t go to war because, like men do now, they would die there.”

    I got an “A.””
    Wow. I wonder how some people can claim that misandry doesn’t exist.

  • […] most persuasive piece I ever wrote was a story about llamas, for goodness’ […]

  • Andrea Kirkby November 14, 2014 at 6:31 am

    This was a very interesting article (though I am still waiting for pictures of llamas…). There’s really no excuse in SF&F for writing the same old gender roles; by definition this is speculative fiction, but it seems some fans don’t want to allow authors to take a speculative approach to gender or sexual orientation or race. I’ve always loved Ursula K LeGuin’s work because she rethinks the entire world afresh in every story, notably with her treatment of sexuality in The Left Hand of Darkness. (And also because she has marvellous goats on Gont, almost as nice as llamas. Did I mention that I’d like some pictures of llamas?) If we can’t speculate in speculative fiction, where can we do so?

  • […] Best Related Work: “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative” by Kameron Hurley. […]

  • […] הוגו ליצירה הקשורה לתחום, עבור מאמר זה שלפניכם. המאמר התפרסם לראשונה באתר A Dribble of Ink, והוא מובא כאן באדיבותה של […]

  • […] A Dribble of Ink a blog by Aidan Moher about fantasy and science fiction. The article was titled: ‘We Have Always Fought’: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrativ… by Kameron Hurley on May 20th, 2013. It is an excellent and well written article about women and […]

  • […] vrouwen zijn, schieten twitter, websites en andere digitale media schrijfsters te hulp, signaleert Kameron Hurley. Degenen die vrouwen niet zien staan, krijgen een hele lijst sf-schrijfsters te zien, zodat ze de […]

  • […] Hurley won Best Fan Writer and Best Related Work for “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative,” which was posted at A Dribble of Ink. Hurley’s award-winning post about the perpetuation […]

  • […] Hurley’s essay “‘We Have Always Fought': Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrati… on A Dribble of […]

  • […] in 2014, you’ve likely heard of Kameron Hurley. She won two Hugo Awards (one for her essay, We Have Always Fought: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle, and Slaves’ Narrative, published by A Dribble of Ink), The Mirror Empire, the first volume of the Worldbreaker trilogy […]

  • […] of Doctor Who by the LGBTQ Fans Who Love It, Sigrid Ellis & Michael Damian Thomas, eds.”We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative”, Kameron HurleySpeculative Fiction 2012: The Best Online Reviews, Essays and Commentary, […]

  • We Have Always Fought | James Chris Fields December 26, 2014 at 10:05 am

    […] whole essay can be found here at Dribble of Ink. If you can read it, I suggest you do. If you don’t have time I’ve included the podcast […]

  • […] biggest shift for me – in my writing career and in my online visibility – happened when “We Have Always Fought” started making the rounds in May of 2013. It also helps that heavy-hitters like John Scalzi and […]

  • […] “We Have Always Fought” had gone viral in May the year before, and I was seeing that pop up all over. That was gratifying. […]

  • […] just a few days ago I read Kameron Hurley’s We Have Always Fought – which I found to be a really excellent and moving essay. She says it way better than I think I […]

  • about women’s rights | feminism nowadays January 3, 2015 at 4:44 pm

    […] “We Have Always Fought': Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves” Narrative […]

  • […] het blanke mannenprobleem van sf. Het gebrek aan diversiteit ligt internationaal steeds meer onder vuur. Pogingen van blanke mannelijke makers om hun privileges te verdedigen, kunnen op steeds minder […]

  • This Is How We Forget History | Line Hollis January 5, 2015 at 8:09 am

    […] the exception that proves the rule in worlds built on the lie that Kameron Hurley tears apart in We Have Always Fought. The person “stuck between worlds” – one to which they naturally belong, and one […]

  • […] to ALL sff readers and writers. Seriously, EVERYONE. Kameron Hurley won a Hugo award for her essay “‘We Have Always Fought': Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrati…, on false assumptions about the roles of women in history (eg. that women don’t fight in […]

  • This Is How We Forget History | Line Hollis January 7, 2015 at 6:21 am

    […] the exception that proves the rule in worlds built on the lie that Kameron Hurley tears apart in We Have Always Fought. The person “stuck between worlds” – one to which they naturally belong, and one relatively […]

  • Because We Are Awesome | R.S.A.Garcia January 8, 2015 at 6:02 pm

    […] Here is a really great piece by Kameron Hurley about how women have always been a living, breathing … […]

  • […] this one. I first encountered Kameron Hurley’s writing in her truly excellent piece “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle, and Slaves Narrative“, which won a Hugo award last year. When I heard that she had a new epic fantasy series […]

  • […] happens.” Individual essays occasionally get nods (such as last year’s winner, “We Have Always Fought” by Kameron Hurley,) but it is hard to define a critic’s body of work as a whole. You […]

  • Amanda January 31, 2015 at 4:54 pm

    Love this so much, sharing right now

  • […] Far and away the most popular article published by A Dribble of Ink is Kameron Hurley’s We Have Always Fought: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrative. It won the Hugo Award for ‘Best Related Work’ in 2014 (the same year that A Dribble of […]

  • […] to the writers’ room, is one that Hurley thinks about a lot. This year, her essay “‘We Have Always Fought’: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrative” on the long history of female fighters and why history writes them out of the picture, won a […]

  • Bel Dame Apocrypha » Not Just Bitchy February 17, 2015 at 6:02 pm

    […] also writes essays like as We Have Always Fought, which should make it entirely clear why I think she’s awesome. To quote a small snippet of […]

  • […] all began with Hurley’s Hugo Award-winning blog post, We Have Always Fought. I am myself a military historian by training, and I have more than a few obscure and […]

  • […] on historical erasure of women and people of color in the vein of Kameron Hurley’s essay “We Have Always Fought.”  I’ve read all of Rachael’s writing, and this is one of her best to come out in the […]

  • […] fight! Of course they do. Of course they’ve always fought (see Kameron Hurley’s brilliant takedown), and history erases that because it’s written a certain way. (and let’s not even get […]

  • War and Women | Lyn the Pen March 15, 2015 at 2:22 pm

    […] you haven’t read Kameron Hurley’s essay on women and fighting, check it out here. Do […]

  • nunya April 1, 2015 at 12:46 pm

    “Intersex women and trans women, too, have fought and died, often misgendered and forgotten, in the ranks of history.”

    Actually, women who didn’t fit gender norms were and are often misgendered as transgender once they are dead and no longer able to speak for themselves. Just as transwomen being in women’s sports skews female sport statistics, counting dead butch lesbians as transmen skews the transgender death rate. But who cares, right? They’re just butch lesbians.

  • nunya April 1, 2015 at 12:48 pm

    And did Vashra really say that baking cookies with your kids is feminine? Oh man, gender needs to just die already.

  • […] you read nothing else today, read this by Kameron Hurley. It will take you a while so get a warm drink or a sugary lozenge and buckle […]

  • […] Hurley wrote an enjoyable and thought-provoking blog post about challenging the false narrative of women in history and literature and what we writers need to do about […]

  • […] ’We Have Always Fought’: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrative by Kameron Hurley on May 20, 2013 […]

  • […] For why it’s hard to fully separate politics from art, let me turn to Kameron Hurley’s piece, “‘We Have Always Fought': Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle, and Slaves’ Narrat…: […]

  • […] have been involved in Hurley’s well-deserved success, having first worked with her to publish “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle, and Slaves’ Narrative&#822…, which went on to win the Hugo Award for “Best Related Work” in 2014. I’ll be […]

  • […] Mino deserve a unique place in history – for though women have always fought, they’ve often done so while integrated into largely male units. Most female-only military […]

  • Vikings May 21, 2015 at 6:57 am

    […] Badass warrior women of history #ladydespot […]

  • […] המאמרים המבריקים והמוצלחים ביותר שאי-פעם נכתבו, "תמיד נלחמנו", קמרון הרלי מתארת את הדרך שבה פיקציה משפיעה על ראייה […]

  • Recapitulando: Mai. 2015 - Sofia Soter May 31, 2015 at 8:36 pm

    […] “We have always fought”: challenging the “women, cattle and slaves” narrativ… (Kameron Hurley, A dribble of ink, 20 mai. 2013): sobre gênero, personagens fortes e o poder da narrativa. “We forget what the story’s about. We erase women in our stories who, in our own lives, are powerful, forthright, intelligent, terrifying people. Women stab and maim and kill and lead and manage and own and run. We know that. We experience it every day. We see it. But this is our narrative: two men fighting loudly in a room, and a woman snuffling in a corner.” […]

  • […] We have always fought by Kameron Hurley […]

  • […] for resources and fighting off predators. Women are not magical beings devoid of this trait. Women have always fought. Violence is not always a tool of oppression–it is also a tool to stay […]

  • […] Kameron Hurley’s award winning piece, We Have Always Fought, she argues that women have always been involved in warfare. And not just in support units or in […]

  • […] lukea tuo kirja (God’s War). Tajusin vasta myöhemmin, että maailmaani järisyttänyt essee “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the ‘Women as Cattle and Slaves’ Narrative&#82… oli sekin Kameronin käsialaa. Helmikuussa pääsin haastattelemaan Kameronia erinäisistä […]

  • […] found out about Kameron Hurley when I read her essay “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle, and Slaves’ Narrative” which I highly recommend you read. The author bio said that she’d written a fantasy […]

  • Lisa July 15, 2015 at 7:26 am

    It’s chattel, not cattle.

  • […] Kameron Hurley is a true wonder, and I think she’s the only person to win a Hugo award for a blog post. […]

  • […]  Morningstar Award. And if you haven’t read Hurley’s magnificent Hugo-winning essay, “We Have Always Fought,” you should. Available Oct. […]

  • […] have read this masterpiece by Kameron Hurley and it got me to think. It made me decide to do the right thing and fight. Someone has to act. […]

  • […] In a powerful piece, Kameron Hurley challenges anyone writing about women to change the narrative of women in history by writing the truth. […]

  • Bel Dame Apocrypha | Svart Rymd August 22, 2015 at 1:59 am

    […] upp på min att-läsa-lista omedelbart efter att jag läst Kameron Hurleys fantastiska essä ”We Have Always Fought: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrative” (som hon numera vunnit en välförtjänt Hugo för) men det var först nu i somras som jag […]

  • » The Value of Six Letters A Book A Day August 23, 2015 at 7:26 pm

    […] like to work at a higher level in an organizational hierarchy–even though I know it’s not unusual, per se. (And it’s TOTALLY worth reading that article about the nature of female participation in […]

  • […] “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrative&#8221… by Kameron Hurley (Hugo Award Winner); […]

  • […] could I solve it, then, without ruining the book? For as we’re all told, political correctness is destroying creativity, or at least America. I couldn’t see that […]

  • […] enjoying responsibility and respect in other spheres. Obviously, there are female spies and — as always — women crossdressing in order to be soldiers. However, there are female doctors running […]

  • […] numbers and what she actually gets paid for her novels. And most definitely, read her essay, We Have Always Fought, on the true role of female soldiers in history versus what we’ve always been told to believe […]

  • […] of Viking women roaming around pillaging? And that they probably fought just as much as the men? As Kameron Hurley noted in this essay Juliane pointed me to , which cites research conducted by Shane McLeod of the Centre for Medieval and Early Modern […]

  • […] Fantasy can also, the panel agreed, be insufficiently imaginative about what is and isn’t possible; the mindset in which dragons and telepathy are fine, but women in roles of power are “historically inaccurate”. Not to mention the fact that, as per Kate Elliot’s recent column, our view of ‘historical accuracy’ is woefully distorted when it comes to what women actually did and did not do. (See also, of course, ‘We Have Always Fought’ by Kameron Hurley.) […]

  • […] become heroes and warriors very recently. Kameron Hurley’s brilliant, Hugo Award winning essay, We Have Always Fought, digs into this […]

  • […] piece on about the diverse fighters of the Punic Wars or to Kameron Hurley’s magnificent essay about women fighters throughout history. Heck, thirteen of the first fourteen Roman Emperors are […]

  • […] Why We’re Excited: Who run the world of speculative fiction? GIRLS. If you like reading science fiction or fantasy — and those genres make up a big part of the YA landscape these days — it’s worth reading about how science fiction and fantasy have treated and are still treating women (whether you happen to be a woman or not). If you can’t wait until The Geek Feminist Revolution comes out to read Hurley’s pearls of wisdom, you can read “‘We Have Always Fought’: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrative,” the essay she won a Hugo Award for, here. […]

  • Gaius May 22, 2016 at 12:52 am


    The 588th Night Bomber Regiment (“Night Witches”) did not have the “highest kill ratio of any squadron.” It was simply the most highly decorated of the all-female units. It is important to note that they flew biplane bombers, which were outdated, but they were not fighter aces. In fact, a large part of their success was that their planes were so slow that German fighters literally could not slow down enough to engage them due to higher stall speed. It is inaccurate to suggest they were the “scariest fliers” of WWII, had a “high kill ratio,” &c.


    No, Shaka Zulu did not have “a female fighting regiment.” He rather formed men into age-based amabutho. The thinking being that men of a similar age could form stronger bonds. Females were then formed into their own amabutho, but they only served ceremonial and support functions. Once a male amabutho was allowed to marry, a female amabutho of similar age would be given to the men as wives. All else is just myth.


    Saying, “We have always fought,” is meaningless. It implies that women have been not only present but at least somewhat prominent on battlefields throughout history, but that simply is not the case. Yes, there are rare cases throughout history, but they must be acknowledged as such rather than trying to connect rare dots as though they form some overarching history hidden by the evil patriarchy.

    For example, neither the Scandinavian shieldmaidens nor the Greek Amazons are supported by actual evidence. There are some cases of females taking up arms. There are some cases of female burials with weapons present, albeit the purpose or meaning is not definitive. We do not have any real evidence of communities of female warriors, or even of female warriors being regular parts of historical armies.

    Now, it is all well and good to suggest that women can do anything through “female power,” but battle is a physical endeavor, which was even more true in the past. For example, for most of history, battles were two shield walls slamming into each other and then pushing, stabbing, and grinding until one overwhelmed the other. Humans are sexually dimorphic. The average male is stronger than the average female. In fact, an average male is typically stronger than even an above average female. A leather-covered, wooden round shield as seen in much of Europe would weigh in the area of 15 pounds. A sword or ax would then typically weigh 4-5 pounds. Armor could then add another 30-50 pounds. Just wearing armor and carrying a shield and weapon would be tiring, not to mention actually pushing with the shield, moving while bearing the armor, and swinging the weapon.

    Today, military personnel do not have to walk to every battle, carrying all of their armor, weapons, and equipment on their person. The Marines still found in their study that women were far more prone to stress fractures just during basic activities, not actual combat. Now, imagine women bearing 50-75 pounds of weapons, armor, and miscellany while marching for days or weeks to every engagement. Also, bear in mind that such activities resulted in injuries, illnesses, and even deaths among men, who on average are better suited for it all.

    The reality is that it would be far more reasonable to say, “female warriors aren’t impossible,” rather than making a blanket statement of, “Women have always fault.”

    Finally, let’s look at the continual references to “female revolutionaries.” Revolutionaries are, by their very nature, forced to do whatever they can to combat more formal, standing armies. This almost universally means guerrilla tactics, insurgencies, terrorist attacks, subversion, and so on. Very, very little of the typical “revolution” looks anything like actual military endeavors. That is why virtually all “revolutionaries” lose horribly when forced to engage properly trained military forces in actual, straightforward combat. A female Viet Cong operating near her home, or out of a village, is not evidence of shieldmaidens having a home in a shield wall.

    The flaw in this whole argument is that its premise is that women were a substantive part of military forces throughout history and across the globe, but the reality has always been that combat was a male domain for very practical (not sexist) reasons. It’s for the same reason female boxers do not compete against male boxers. We are not physically the same. A typical female knight would be outmatched by a typical male knight. Why? Because he would be better able to wield his shield, bear his armor, and swing his weapon for a longer period of time. It may be romantic to think of female paladins in full armor, but the reality is they would end up dying far more frequently than their male counterparts just due to physical differences and the law of averages.

    There is no reason to exaggerate females in combat, or to ignore biological and statistical realities. If an author wants to incorporate a female warrior into their story, why not attempt to make them more realistic rather than try to pretend that a 110-120 lbs woman is physically the same as a 180-190 lbs man? For example, a woman could be a good shot with a bow, albeit female Olympic archers are typically not as accurate as their male counterparts (From 2004-2012, males hit the 10-ring 38.8% more of the time). Females also use much lighter bows than males. Still, female archers can still take game animals, so a female ranger wouldn’t be impossible in a fantasy setting. Lighter armor would fit with such a persona and also be more fitting for a female.

    Eight of the nine women depicted in this article are wearing full suits of armor and/or carrying large weapons. Why focus on trying to pretend women are men? Why not make female characters realistic and play to actual abilities rather than pushing a false narrative of the only thing separating women from combat is the garb? It may be fun to imagine women dressing up as men and showing the “boys club” that “girls are just as strong,” but no one should pretend that telling such a story is meant to be practical or realistic. Depicting the extraordinary or unheard of as normal and mundane is by its very nature unrealistic. The fact that the comments have numerous examples of myths passed off as reality speaks to how badly some want to believe the fantasy, but it seems far more valuable to depict female characters realistically. A female ranger may not be as “empowering” as a female knight being the best knight in all of the realm, but why? The moral of the story should be that women can be the best they can be, not be the best man they can pretend to be in the most unrealistic way possible.

  • Zarah May 22, 2016 at 5:02 pm

    I want to freakin’ make love to this article, I love it so much. Thank you.

  • Ciara Ballintyne May 23, 2016 at 8:04 pm

    I’m a furry, non-cannibalistic llama, and because of that, it took me a long time to see “the narrative”. I always just assumed everyone else saw things the way I did. Another writer I knows describes it as “growing up expecting all the privilege of male privilege”. I really did. (The interesting thing is that people generally let you get away with it if you act like it’s normal–maybe because of the 70% thing you mentioned where people like to pretend they don’t see abnormal things). Now I’m older, I see it (although I’m lucky enough that largely it passes me by) but I now have two daughters who have yet to grow up in this reality.

    A friend and I both write epic fantasy. We both, recently, released a book featuring a strong female protagonist. Interestingly, hers has received a number of negative reviews reacting against the protagonist that I suspect are because she breaks the expected narrative. People can’t deal with it. Mine didn’t, and I don’t know why–possibly because my friend’s also deals with child abuse, so she is kind of breaking two narratives at once (because don’t we all like to pretend we don’t see the real world of child abuse).

    That said, I wonder with some tropes… when we ask if writing about women being raped or losing a child is wrong, is it the right question? This is not all a woman is, but at the same time a man is not just battles and politics. Maybe the right question is, why aren’t we writing about those things for MEN as well? And when we do write about them for women, why do the women need to be scaly, cannibalistic llamas? I think human experiences are universal, and maybe that’s the real issue. I can say, even as a furry, non-cannibalistic llama, that a threat to my child WILL incite dire consequences, even though I am not particularly maternal. Which reminds me of the brief TV show, MISSING, where a woman pursued her missing son (very female trope) in a very masculine way (secret agent style). Now that was a show I could relate to. It’s a genuine conflict, one I think, as a matter of truth, is very difficult to discount (hell hath no fury like a woman scorned? Nay, hell hath no fury like a mother whose child is threatened). But it’s also a universal conflict,rather than uniquely female, as shown by Neeson’s TAKEN. But MISSING gave us the furry, non-cannibalistic llama spin on it.

    I rambled a lot there. I think where I got to isn’t that we should do away with female tropes, but that we should be seeing furry, non-cannibalistic llamas dealing with those tropes, and also men.

  • […] Kameron Hurley has written some of the most memorable science fiction and fantasy novels I’ve ever read. While the start of her epic fantasy series The Mirror Empire was ultimately too grimdark for my taste, I admire her inventive world building and dedication to creating complicated, unlikable female characters. She’s also written several science fiction books, including the Bel Dame Apocrypha series (begins with God’s War) and a stand alone space opera with an all female cast, The Stars Are Legion. She’s written essays relating to the science fiction and fantasy genre, most notably the moving “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative.” […]

  • […] ‘We Have Always Fought’: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrativ… […]

  • […] or want to read about women from all over the globe, please read the wonderful article by Hurley: ‘We Have Always Fought’: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrativ…. This article was life-changing for me. And I would definitely recommend that everyone reads […]

  • […] body of work — which includes the novels God’s War and The Mirror Empire, and nonfiction like We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slave Narrative and The Geek Feminist Revolution — has pushed against the tropes of science fiction and fantasy […]

  • […] We can and should seek to understand and empathize with the situations of others. That’s the essence of what reading a book does to you. It allows you to step into the shoes of others, experience their story, and learn from their trials and challenges, successes and failures. It’s the reason I love reading. It is also the reason that representation and visibility in all works matters so much. The more we see and can experience other’s lives, in fiction or reality, the more we broaden our minds and welcome new realities into our worldview. We can break cycles of oppression. We don’t have to only accept scaly, cannibal llamas. […]

  • […] This article can be read as a feminist rant and dismissed, but it’s much more complex than that. Kameron Hurley looks at how her own journey was flavored by the “accepted narrative” in the portrayal of women, and how she became complicit in that narrative. Just off hand, I can remember two critical events in my life where the accepted narrative overwhelmed the obvious truth until I was slapped in the face by it. The first was Native Americans. When I was a kid, we had a camping plot right on the edge of a reservation. We went over there for specific events and interacted with real live modern day Native Americans. So how was it that when I went to college and took a course on Native Americans, I was stunned to learn they still existed as distinct peoples in modern times? The truth of my own experiences had been wiped out by the overwhelming narrative. The second is more personal, but no less persuasive. I was a straight A math and science student. I took AP courses even. So why, when I decided on a path in college did I ignore the sciences entirely. I’d been a hard science fiction reader practically since I started to read. Science fascinated/(s) me, and I have always performed experiments to explore my world. But girls didn’t do math and science. Girls didn’t do computers. The narrative rewrote my truth. Read this article and look at how the narrative works, then look for ways that it works in your life. If we do not become aware, we cannot create changes in the narrative.; […]

  • […] is, Kameron Hurley is a good writer. Both The Horror Novel You’ll Never Have To Live and We Have Always Fought are very well done! I’ve heard from numerous sources that God’s War is really good, and […]

  • […] del premio Hugo We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrative; e quello relativo a un altro articolo contenuto nel libro, Where Have All the Women Gone? […]

  • […] to women in history, from a post made by Indiana Jen to Wikipedia, and we have the article, “Women Have Always Fought” by Kameron Hurley. Also this article talking about women in […]

  • […] “‘We Have Always Fought’: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrative” by Kamer… […]

  • […] in the historical role of women in war. There’s a fantastic essay by Kameron Hurley called We Have Always Fought, which looks at the role of women in stories vs what actually happened. It’s a fascinating […]

  • Sylvan March 2, 2018 at 3:29 am

    Yes, women have fought and participated in every large war. Yes, women have participated and benefited from every form of oppression. One of these statements is celebrated, the other enough to likely keep this post from being seen by anyone other than the author. Can you see the troubling narcissism of the current movement?

    Women today erase anything that was real about women in the past in order to fit a narrative that women are awesome, have always been, and the only thing keeping them from making the world awesome is the men. History shows that things are more nuanced. There has never been a golden thread uniting women, the idea that women are in any ways related is a byproduct of consumer ideology. In the past, women in power preferred their family, their caste, their ethnicity, their religion, and always themselves before other women. Globally, this is still the case.

  • […] and fought in probably every conflict in human history (Kameron Hurley’s classic essay “We Have Always Fought” is a great read on that), but it can be difficult to say how many of them were women […]

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