Thursday, September 30, 2010

Steampunk Character Type: The Suffragette

Both women and men can fulfill the Mad Scientist/Quirky Inventor or Adventurer character types in Steampunk, but there is one particular character type unique to women that took on particular importance during the late 1800s. The Suffragette arose with the drive for women's rights that took place throughout much of the Western Republics during the late 19th/early 20th centuries. We have women like Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Muriel Matters, Louisa Lawson, Viscountess Nancy Witcher Astor, Emmeline Pankhurst, and the list goes on and on.
Susan B. Anthony

Though the historical Suffragettes crusaded for women's rights, there isn't a need to do the same in order to fall under the Suffragette character type. A fine example of this character type, in fact, is Alexia Tarabotti from Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series. Alexia is intelligent, independent, and though she's aware of her place within society she isn't hidebound by the societal mores she doesn't agree with.

The proper Suffragette character type is that type of woman -- intelligent, independent, and capable of ignoring established laws when they stand in her way. The Suffragette's of history were almost all very, very smart women who were focused on altering the established rules of society to give women all sorts of rights under the law that they didn't have before in the Western Republics.

Not every independent female character is a Suffragette-type, but many of them are. The character archetype of the Warrior Woman from fantasy novels is subsumed under the Suffragette umbrella within Steampunk, primarily because the drive for Women's Suffrage took place smack in the middle of the time period where much of Steampunk is set. Both character types can still exist in a Steampunk world, but the Suffragette is almost more natural because she understands the nature of the society she lives in and seeks to change it for the better.

In terms of real-life Steampunks, I can think of few better examples for the attitudes of the "punk" suffix of the word than the Suffragette. She quests for change in the world around her, to give a voice in government to groups that don't yet have one or to help change an attitude that has sent her nation spiraling down the proverbial tubes. She also might be a wife and mother, sometimes to a husband that shares her goals and sometimes to one that tells her she should give up and accept the world for what it is. However, the fictional Suffragette can't do that because she sees an injustice and something in her character forces her to right it.

I realize, as I write this, that I've created Moriah Rowani (heroine of CALLARION AT NIGHT) as a Suffragette character. She doesn't really start off this way, but eventually becomes a leader when she realizes the true depth of the wrongs going on in the city.

An alternate side is the Suffragette-as-villain; this might be someone who's had a psychotic break and is convinced that something's wrong with the world when it's really not, or someone who's taken their quest to the extremes of using fear tactics and hatred to change things. Granted, this is my personal opinion (and one you're welcome to disagree with).

Can you think of any other Suffragette characters in fiction?


Linda G. said...

The mom in Mary Poppins? Only, I don't expect that qualifies as Steampunk. ;)

Anonymous said...

I do so appreciate your steampunk posts, good sir. One of these days I'll write a steampunk novel, and I sure as west Gehenna will be browsing your archives and taking notes.

Nicely done!

Fitz-Badger said...

How about Maggie Dubois (played by Natalie Wood) in the movie "The Great Race"?

Michelle Black said...

I just discovered this blog and it is already a new fav of mine. I now list it on my own blog as a new reference. (
I must add a favorite real-life American heroine to your Suffragette category: Victoria Woodhull.
She is a remarkable woman who is unjustly obscure. She was the first woman to run for president (1872), yet how many people know this?
I have used her as my protagonist in my next Victorian mystery novel, Seance in Sepia. (October 2011)
I recently blogged about her: