I’ve written several posts about strong women characters in sci-fi and fantasy. My goal is to highlight some well-written female characters who are strong leaders, every bit equal to men, and yet still feminine. In this post, I’ll cover two female lead characters from the “Oz” books.
Let me begin by repeating that a strong female character is not a male character in a woman’s body. Women are inherently different in more than just biology, and those differences are important to portray well in fiction if a strong female character is to be believable. Yes, women can be warriors, leaders, and protectors (traditionally male attributes), just as men can be gentle, calming, and nurturing. But in a story, a strong female character needs to be so much more than just a gender-swapped man.
Many fantasy and sci-fi stories have an overwhelmingly male cast. All too often, the “token female” is just that—serving either as romance/sexual tension, and/or to simply say “this story is all about equality because look a woman.”
There’s no romance in the original Oz books by L. Frank Baum, primarily because they were written for young children. Even with some of the reimaginings of the Oz stories featuring romance to different degrees, most of the best Oz retellings stay fairly true to the strength of the female characters in the original tales.
Princess Ozma and Glinda the Good
In the original Oz books (and in many retellings), both Ozma and Glinda hold leadership roles. They are in charge of the Land of Oz—Ozma as the rightful Princess, Glinda as the oldest and most powerful sorceress. Leadership roles of this sort are often given to and expected to be held by men.
So what makes Ozma and Glinda strong women, instead of just girls in a male role, or gender-swapped men? First of all, they have many qualities necessary for good leaders (male or female). Both women are patient, kind, very secure in their authority and their abilities, and highly intelligent. Glinda is very decisive and doesn’t waffle or doubt her own decisions, thus inspiring confidence to those who follow her. Ozma always seeks out communication first in a situation, and patiently listens to all sides of an argument, thus securing her reputation as a kind and thoughtful ruler who truly cares about her people as individuals.
These are all good traits for a strong leader, regardless of gender. But Ozma and Glinda are inarguably female leaders because of their femininity. Neither one tries to act like a man. They never resort to violence or blustery shows of ego. Even though Ozma is technically the commander-in-chief of the Ozian army, and Glinda technically has the power to blow things up or turn enemies into muffin pans, they always work to find the least harmful and violent solution to a problem.
Both women enjoy being feminine. They love their fancy dresses and elegant palaces, their well-mannered maids and their comfortable carriages, their glittering jewelry and their fine gardens. Both are more than content to let men do the hard physical tasks and even many of the heroic deeds. But when they are needed, both Ozma and Glinda immediately rise to the occasion.
Working Together—Strong Women and Strong Men
A true woman of strength (in fiction and real life) can stand on her own, both without a man and with a man. Her strength as a woman comes from within, not from emasculating the men around her. Since both Ozma and Glinda are unfailingly kind, neither one would ever insult a man to his face or boast about their own power with the intent to belittle a man.
But working together is more than just being nice to each other. Glinda, as the most powerful and most experienced magician in the land, takes the Wizard under her wing to train him in using real magic. And while her magic is often needed to save the day, sometimes the Wizard gets to be the hero and save the day. Glinda is secure enough in herself to let the Wizard perform tasks and heroics that she knows he is capable of achieving; and she lets him take every reward or accolade that he rightfully earns. She is unquestionably “better” than the Wizard at all things magical, but Glinda has no problem sharing the glory. She and the Wizard sometimes work together to solve problems, as well, as he has some knowledge and skills that she does not.
Likewise, Princess Ozma does not mind delegating her authority to her various trusted councilors whenever the situation calls for it. She trusts her male advisors—the Wizard, the Scarecrow, and even Jack Pumpkinhead—enough to give them important tasks or even leave one of them to rule in her stead if she leaves the Emerald City. She treats all of her subject equally, whether they are male, older than her, or vastly inhuman (as many beings in Oz are).
The original Oz books were written over 100 years ago, and in some respects might appear quite dated in their content. But the strong female leads of the series are every bit the modern, empowered woman. Ozma and Glinda neither need nor desire a man to take care of them. But their kindness, patience, humble self-confidence, and ability to work with other people make both the sort of strong female characters that can still be role models today.