Gender Politics in Fireborne

In this essay, debut author and political theory scholar Rosaria Munda delves into gender politics—both the ways in which we’re indoctrinated into a certain world view by society, and how she has consciously challenged that view through her life, and through the writing of her first novel, the critically acclaimed Fireborne.

by Rosaria Munda

 

Growing up, I read so many fantasy books with male protagonists that I usually dreamed in the body of a boy. And while I doubt that was unusual for a child of the Harry Potter generation, the intense rhetoric surrounding gender in the conservative culture I came from compounded it. I came from the sort of community where the women (the women!) would proudly point out that the Western canon contained only men. I vividly remember being told by a woman, as a child who already liked writing, that women were simply worse writers than men. It was a belief I held for years and would share when I felt like being controversial. J.K. Rowling was the exception, I decided—but, I also noted, she was the exception because she wrote boys well.
 

So I got comfortable writing in the voice of boys—and theirs were the voices I preferred. After all, they were the protagonists I was reading about and they were, according to the culture I was surrounded by, clearly meant to lead, to be the heroes not only of stories but of the actual world. Yes, women could also pursue careers—but wasn’t it more beautiful to be a wife, a mother? Wasn’t it right that a man be the head of the household, the Church? Look at that bell curve, I was told in class. On average, women score higher—but the true outliers, the true exceptions, the true geniuses are men.
 

It took me a long time to unlearn these biases and to some extent I’m not sure I’ll ever stop unlearning them. But one of my more violent periods of personal iconoclasm were the years during which I wrote and revised Fireborne, and what began as a story about a male hero and the girl he protects transformed into a story about a heroine stepping out of a boy’s shadow and into the light.
 

The plot of Fireborne centers around Lee, the consummate male hero I read and wrote about as a child; and Annie, a bit more like me, the nerdy girl in class who doubts herself. They’re in competition together in a dragonriding tournament that determines the commander of the aerial fleet.
 

In the earliest drafts of Fireborne, Lee beat Annie for that title by the second chapter.
 

Now, the tournament spans the book, and without spoilers I think I can add: it ends differently.
 

I had to write my way there. Through revision after revision, Annie got a little bit more confident, a little bit less in need of a protector, a little bit more difficult to shrink into Lee’s shadow. Until the brain-warping moment when a reader told me, “She deserves that title just as much, if not more, than him,” and I realized that in fact, she did.
 

It takes Annie half a book to realize what she’s worth, just as it took me two years to realize it. I hope that’s a journey that will resonate with readers—especially those who, for whatever reason, think that they don’t deserve to star in their own stories.

Download the Reading Guide to Fireborne

About Rosaria Munda:

Rosaria grew up in rural North Carolina, where she climbed trees, read Harry Potter fanfiction, and taught herself Latin. She studied political theory at Princeton and lives in Chicago with her husband and cat. Her debut fantasy novel, Fireborne, has received four starred reviews.

 

 

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