Recognition that a woman doesn’t need to be ‘like a man’ to be strong, and ‘feminine’ qualities don’t indicate weakness.
When I finished The Song of the Lioness for the first time and moved on to the Immortals Quartet, I was confused. Why…why isn’t Daine stabbing anyone and learning combat?
But I realized, a little further in, that I had missed a couple crucial points. First, Alanna realizes she does not have to choose between being a warrior and being a woman. Although it does happen that her skills and strengths lie within what the people of Tortall (and our society) would define as a masculine domain, that doesn’t mean she wants to be ‘masculine’.
Neither Alanna nor Kel feel that their sex or gender is anything to be ashamed of. Alanna only hides her sex out of necessity, and can we talk about Kel wearing a dress to dinner every night of page training?
Second, Daine is amazingly powerful, and the fact that her power doesn’t lie in a traditionally ‘male’ area doesn’t lessen it any way. She doesn’t need to be swinging a sword, succeeding in a male dominated field, to be strong, resilient, and amazing (see also: Sansa Stark).
Beka nerds out over maps, and Kel is good at math, and neither of those things make them ‘masculine’. This is because these qualities do not exist in relation to or despite their sex or gender.
It’s also not necessary that a woman be an obvious powerhouse sort of person in order to deserve to be taken seriously. Varice likes pretty clothes, makeup, baking, and party planning. That doesn’t mean she has any less worth as a person than the main heroines of Tortall. And as Daine says to her, “You needn’t explain yourself to me.” If Varice wants to use her Gift to make bitchin’ cakes, that’s her goddamn business, and she doesn’t need to defend that choice to anyone. And who doesn’t like cake? Probably Ozorne ‘cause he’s the worst. Don’t be Ozorne.
And I point this out as someone who was smug and disdainful about Varice until, well, about that scene.
It’s just Tamora Pierce, helping me realize I still have things to learn and it’s important to keep an eye out for one’s own biases.
It’s just Tamora Pierce, reminding us that the idea that one’s strength, talents, or abilities are limited or defined by one’s sex or gender expression in any way is, well, a silly social construct.