Why Do Females Dominate the Dystopian World?

Guest Blogger: Nadine Brandes


Katniss Everdeen. Tris Prior. Cassia Reyes. Linh Cinder.

Recognize any of these names? It’s okay, names were never my strong suit either, but the book titles might help you: The Hunger Games, Divergent, Matched, Cinder. These books have several things in common. First, they’re all YA dystopian novels. Second, they all have strong female protagonists.

A Time to Die CoverWhy are the protagonists predominantly female in so many dystopian books these days? Not only are they dominant, but these females tend to share similar story and character traits like holding back emotions (no crying allowed), rebelling against authority (parents, government, society, etc.), being a survivalist, and/or getting stuck in a love triangle.

We could blame the rise of female protagonists on Suzanne Collins for writing The Hunger Games, but things rise in fame because they’re desired by the public. Why is a self-sufficient female heroine so desirable?

Is it because statistics show more girls read books than boys? (Especially in the YA genre.) And since females are the main readers of YA books, that would make heroines more relatable by gender default.

Is it because females are tired of being portrayed as the “romantic love interest” or sidekick in a novel? Think of Bella Swan from Twilight – her world revolved around her love interests. She needed constant rescuing and, while that type of romance can appeal to young readers, many girls want more. They want to be seen as more than a sidekick or the helpless beauty.

Is it because these books show that anyone can have the power to change the world? These heroines go against the stereotypes that have grown about girls being overly-emotional, needy, romance-obsessed, and helpless. This commercial by Always efficiently brings to light the stereotype of what it looks like to do something “like a girl.”

Instead of fitting stereotypes, Katniss, Tris, Cinder, and all the other dystopian heroines tend to be more concerned with bettering their world and caring for their families than they do about fitting into social norms. Nowadays, “fitting in” is a high demand that few young adults can meet. We’re at the crossroads of “be yourself” and “be like that girl/boy.”

Modern YA fiction is reflecting that.

I think the upswing of female heroines is due to something much deeper than gender preference in fiction. I think it portrays a shift in thinking that teens are having toward the world, toward stereotypes, and toward expectations.

What do you think? Why are females so popular in today’s dystopian fiction?




author nadine brandesNadine Brandes is an adventurer, fusing authentic faith with bold imagination. She writes stories about brave living, finding purpose, and other worlds soaked in imagination. Her debut dystopian novel, A Time to Die, released fall 2014 from Enclave Publishing. When Nadine’s not taste-testing a new chai or editing fantasy novels, she is out pursuing adventures. She currently lives in Idaho with her husband. You can find out more about Nadine and her books at http://nadinebrandes.com or on Facebook.


10 comments on “Why Do Females Dominate the Dystopian World?

  1. I love this post. I also love all the strong female characters in YA literature!

    • Question for you, for Nadine, and for any YA authors and readers who want to chime in: What makes for a “strong female character” in your eyes, and why?

      Let me give part of my own answer first…

      Meekness and humility are strengths, you know – as are all the Nine Beatitudes and their virtues. Proverbs 31 speaks of “a woman of virtue (the Hebrew is, more literally, of valor)”. Deborah, for all her skill as a judge, prophetess and poet-musician, was far more deferential to Barak in “how she said what she said” than our English versions let on (one advantage of being able to read the Hebrew Bible in its original melodic rendition is being able to pick up on that nuance).

      I get the impression – correct me if I’m wrong – that what many consider “strong female characters” are those who have a particular social, interaction or leadership style, that is, a “time-on-target” one: what some would call “in-charge” or (falsely) a “natural leader”. I have a “news flash” for society at large on this subject and it’s been one of the most useful things I’ve ever learned. There are four such styles, there is a difference between leadership role and leadership style, and by that measure, Disney’s Cinderella was as much a “strong female character” as Xena the Warrior Princess. Cinderella preferred to respond, not to initiate, in social situations but that didn’t make her “weak”. It simply means that she preferred to “lead behind the scenes” – something really helpful if you have the kind of stepmother and stepsisters she had. 🙂 You can put up with a lot of guff if you socialize that way.

      It seems popular now to cast females as “time-on-target” or as Dr. Linda Berens puts it, “In-Charge(R)” – while casting males as being anything else *but that unless they are villains. What’s wrong with this picture? A LOT.

      • Unfortunately, I think for a lot of people “strong female character” just means she can beat up a guy, and they throw one into their book, movie, video game, or what have you so they can defend against charges of misogyny by saying “but we included a Strong Female Character!” But they give little thought to leadership styles or personality or anything else, so these SFCs wind up being shallow instead of real.

        The truth is, women have always been strong. Look at any book by Jane Austen and you will see gobs of strong women, good and bad, and none of them beat guys up. *Those* are some strong female characters.

        • Yes, my twin sister – now a Ph.D. in English Lit. and a lover of Jane Austin – would agree with you wholeheartedly there.

          As for the rest, authors don’t have to get as rigorous as I do in order to make Strong Females Characters worthy of the name. “You can observe a lot just by watching”, in the words of Yogi Berra. 😀

  2. Hm. Maybe art imitates life here? Maybe there is a *zeitgeist, a “form of consciousness” operating in society at large, which drives this phenomenon? And maybe we should consider whether this real-life state of affairs is a good thing…?

    I could put up verse 12 below and tempt some of you to tune out right there, but take the verse in its context. What happened to ancient Judah is happening today in the Western world.

    (Isaiah 3:9 RSV) Their partiality witnesses against them; they proclaim their sin like Sodom, they do not hide it. Woe to them! For they have brought evil upon themselves.
    (Isaiah 3:10 RSV) Tell the righteous that it shall be well with them, for they shall eat the fruit of their deeds.
    (Isaiah 3:11 RSV) Woe to the wicked! It shall be ill with him, for what his hands have done shall be done to him.
    (Isaiah 3:12 RSV) My people–children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, your leaders mislead you, and confuse the course of your paths.

    • I was sitting here pondering a reply. I tend to think this is a multi purposed answer. If I sought only the world ‘s idea on what is spurring this trend, I would say it has been a gradual trend beginning decades ago. Where women felt oppressed and needed to fight for rights that perhaps could have been in existence from the beginning . Why they weren’t, I don’t have the answer to.
      I also think now that women have so many rights, it is like other out of balanced things, we will just keep asking and demanding more. How many movements start this way. Gay rights is moving very rapidly despite my wish it never existed. God abhors such behaviors. Like wise I think women feel they want to explore all opportunities even if it isn’t what God wants. I am seeking roles in writing with John as a worms who works with her male counterpart. But I don’t feel it morally right to rule over the make counterpart. I believe the scriptures as John is stating them correctly here. I think on some level we have lost sight of how much we don’t need to be in control even in fiction. It us a reflection of how much we have gotten off track in every aspect of reality. Yisraela

  3. […] Why Do Females Dominate the Dystopian World? (newauthors.wordpress.com) […]

  4. Unlike Tris, I actually like Katniss… she may be tough in a way, but at the same time she’s super fragile. Her attachment to Peeta and her sister show that. I really don’t think she’s afraid of being emotional. I think she’s just naturally cold and reacts toughly to the world she lives in. I agree with your thing about strong female characters… but I don’t think Katniss fits into that box.

  5. I was thinking about this tonight and googled the question. I find it interesting that females are the main characters in dystopian novels where they have to fight overwhelming odds to survive and change the world. In book franchises like Harry Potter or Percy Jackson, the male protagonist discovers he has “special powers” that set him apart from others and make him powerful. I find it interesting that this happens when the protagonists reach puberty. Is this somehow a reflection of what happens in our society?

  6. […] please check out for this older post by Nadine Brandes on The New Authors’ Fellowship entitled “Why Do Females Dominate the Dystopian World?” Like Kristin Hersh says in Dirty Answer, “You know how it feels when the real world […]

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