Male fantasy writers tend to create more powerful female heroes than female fantasy writers, according to new research published in Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences. The findings suggest that women are more likely to create a hero who uses intellect rather than physical violence and supernatural powers.
“I am an animal behaviorist, evolutionary biologist, and college professor. After teaching and thinking about biology for 10 or more hours per day, when I come home from school I relax by watching escapist television shows, and in the 1990s that included Xena Warrior Princess and Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” said study author Victoria Ingalls of the Marist College School of Science.
“I noticed that others started to applaud these characters as new, strong female role models, but I noted that they had all been created by men. The data supporting evolved differences in the behaviors of males and females is substantial, so I wondered if the sex of the creator impacted the traits of their heroes.”
Ingalls systematically analyzed female heroes in 15 children’s fantasy stories written by a male author and 15 children’s fantasy stories written by a female author. She found that most of the female heroes created by female authors did not engage in physical combat and had either weak magical powers or no special powers.
“It is interesting to note that two of the female-created female heroes who do have some special powers either lose that power or find that the power is essentially useless at the end of the series,” Ingalls wrote in her study.
In contrast, many of the female heroes created by men were warriors who engaged in physical battles.
The findings suggest that “the sex of an author does influence the characteristics of their heroes in some interesting ways,” Ingalls told PsyPost.
“Male-created female heroes typically had some superhuman power, were very powerful physically, were quite willing to engage in physical battles, and were not completely human (they could be an alien, a demigod, an elf, etc.), while the female-created female heroes were more likely to be normal girls (not superhuman) who were simply dealing with some type of superhuman evil.”
Rather than relying on physical prowess, the female heroes created by women often solved their problems by being clever and finding answers to mysteries.
“If we hold up certain characters as role models for girls, I think it would be valuable to determine if it matters whether that character was created by a male mind or a female mind. Note that female-created heroes are less likely to solve their problems with physical violence than are male-created heroes,” Ingalls remarked.