Strong Princesses, Agency, and Show vs Tell

I got seriously grumpy on Twitter last week, and deleted a rant about Strong Women and Agency and writing female characters. So, I’m going to try to make more sense* here.


I was reading a nominal Strong-Princess novel. Ok, great. In the first few pages they were learning to fight, and the protagonist was wondering who she’d get married off to.


But they weren’t involved in politics…  despite wanting to get involved. One princess threw a tantrum when she learned that a brother (or possibly brother-in-law) hadn’t told her that he knew about a political event.


And all the rest of the supporting cast – aka. the political players – were men.

Men ruled. Men made the decisions. Men were the envoys, ambassadors, decision-makers. Even when a Princess was RIGHT THERE, her husband did the talking for her.

But these are Strong Independent Women! We know they are because we said so!

Fuck. That. Noise.

It feels like Strong Independent Woman is now its own set of cliches, and that’s almost as frustrating. I don’t need these princesses to go off on an Adventure to prove that they’re Independent. I don’t need them to learn to fight to prove that they’re Strong. I don’t need to be told that they Definitely Are Protagonists!

What I need is for them to have Agency.

If someone doesn’t give them information, they need to react to that. If they’re frustrated with their position in life but feel hemmed in, then react badly – show us the limits, show us the frustrations, show us the problems. If they’re fighting those bounds, then fight them. – go and GET the information! Talk to people! Go  OUTSIDE with whoever the damn man was to meet whoever the damn Ambassadors are. Elbow their way into the world they want to be in!

There are more than enough Queens, Princesses, Dowager Duchesses and women of power in history to show multiple different ways of grasping power. You’re telling me that  Heirs of a Kingdom are being brought up to be completely politically ignorant? Or are they hoping their husbands and advisors are going to be a good pick? And do they have no other resources around them?

And the “oh I wonder who I’m going to marry” – ok, I know it’s a trope in romances, but seriously? Is that IT for life? “All of my sisters are married off, so I wonder who I’m going to get?” I know some people are fixated on their love lives, but to have it shoved in when the rest of the narrative was  trying (and failing) to prove that “oh no, we’re not just wilting flowers”… BAH.

I’m still struggling to put my finger on what annoyed me so much, because it’s not a big annoy – it’s just a nagging little thing that built up even after I’d put the book down. It was just a… “No. This isn’t what it should be” feeling. But I can’t pin down why I’m quite so miffed, and what would have made it better.

But, my bottom line:

The princess shouldn’t have to go off on an adventure to prove that she’s a Strong Independent Heroine, but she damn well shouldn’t be passively moping around waiting for her love life to start, either.

Probably more thoughts on this as I keep pondering!

Author: kate

Kate Coe is an editor, book reviewer and writer of fiction & fantasy. She writes the sparkpunk GreenSky series and blogs at When she's not working, she fills her spare time in between writing with web design, gaming, geeky cross-stitch and DIY (which may or may not involve destroying things). She also reads far fewer books that she would like to, but possibly more than she really has time for.