“Eleanor “Elle” Chance is far from your typical turn-of-the-century miss, foregoing traditional female pastimes such as teas, dances, and gossip for”–Quoted from Amazon reviewer Ruth Anderson from a review of the book A Conspiracy of Alchemists.
Every time I see this as a character description for a book I sigh and then I get angry. I’m tired, so, so tired of every single heroine in every single steampunk fantasy, alternate, Regency, alternate history, what have you, being ‘far from the typical miss, forgoing teas and dances and gossip and nine times out of ten complaining bitterly about clothing, like corsets, which they would have grown up wearing.
Why does every single ‘action heroine’ have to forego tea? Why can’t they like dances? Or society, or God forbid, nice clothes? Why are these supposed ‘female’ past times used to deride every other woman in the book? The heroine must be superior to silly things that other women like, and because other women, who aren’t action heroes like these things they are inferior and silly.
Now, things can go too far the other way too. Then you have a book all about OMG designer shoes. But there isn’t that much of a dichotomy in woman kind. A woman can be a passionate reader and a gossip. She can kick ass and still care about nice clothes. She can love high tea and still build a bomb. It’s not either or. And so many books pick one, or somehow pick the worst traits of either fashionista, or grrl hero and play them up. Real people aren’t like that. Yes, some women collect handbags and some collect comic books. One hobby isn’t necessarily superior to the other. But we tend to value one or the other more depending on our views and prejudices.
For some reason what happens in genre fiction is that the heroine ends up being a 20th century woman with 20th century values and ideas inserted into a vaguely Victorian milieu and sent forth to eschew all things Victorian, when if born and raised in the era the main characters supposedly are- most of it they wouldn’t question or complain about. It would be NORMAL to the heroine to go to dances and drink tea. Non of which are BAD THINGS.