Ever since I could remember I have always loved the fantasy realm. Whether it be through books, games, or movies I craved the feeling of adventure that came with each storyline. I would picture myself as a fierce warrior who was sent on a life-changing journey. A magical being with powers beyond imagination. A fierce leader who could bring her people to victory. I loved these narratives but did they love me? I was a young girl. I never saw myself represented as the hero. I was the one that needed to be saved. The damsel in distress that needed a big burly man to break her free and give her a purpose in life by making her his wife.
As I grew older the representation only got worse. If I wasn’t a pathetic maiden I was a demon witch who used her sexuality to trick men. The more ‘power’ a woman held the more promiscuous she was. This, of course, bloomed the narrative that the only way a woman could gain power was through sex, and a woman embracing one of the most natural and basic parts of human nature was, in fact, the evilest thing she could do.
So where did that leave me? Confused. Struggling with my own identity and purpose in life. Believing that my growing body was a ticking time bomb that at any moment could go off and leave humanity as we know it devastated. I was inherently evil because I was a girl. So I did what the good girls in these storybooks did, I made myself small, stayed quiet, and tried to take up as little space as possible.
This phase didn’t last long as I grew alongside the genre of fantasy. I along with the women on screen started to develop a story arch that many could relate with. The sweet and obedient girl who keeps her head down. The one who gets taken advantage of one too many times and starts to find the role of the villain more desirable. You start to relate with someone you feared because life didn’t show you another option. You could either live under the thumb of a man or kill him. You know you have grown up when you realize that the villain was just a woman fighting for her freedom. She is only evil because the story is being told from the male’s perspective.
Today I want to talk about the evolution of the women in The Witcher. The stories of The Witcher have been told in many different forms. There was of course the collection of books written by Andrzej Sapkowski that was then adapted into video games to later be turned into a film called The Hexer and finally adapted into a Netflix series. Although these stories all follow a similar plot they are far from the same, especially when it comes to the depiction of women.
Let’s start with the novels. There were eight novels in total that were told from an interesting perspective. The idea was that the story would be told from the view of a community that relied on word-of-mouth. This resulted in the telling of many tall tales from many different angles. As I am sure you can guess this did not bode well for the women. Their names were dragged through the mud and unfortunately, these words could actually hurt you. It did not even matter if the woman would refute the claims as a woman’s word essentially meant nothing. This is not where I take qualm with the books as it could be seen as political commentary on the part of the writer. It is the full page dedicated to old men undressing a fifteen-year-old girl with their eyes. This was only topped by the commentary that only a penis could unlock the magical powers in a woman. This is a common theme in the books following the classic narrative that a woman is nothing without a man.
Next, we move on to the video games. We all know that this platform has never truly been kind to women especially when it comes to portraying them. The Witcher is no different as the women characters are hypersexualized in almost every way. No shocker here, the women in video games are always dressed in less than nothing and are drawn with unrealistic proportions that satisfy the male gaze. The cherry on top is that these women are using their sexuality as a weapon in this game. In fact, many of them are depicted as monsters. There are no women protagonists at all. It took till game number three for them to add a woman as a main character.
The Hexer, The short film made because of the book series is a Polish film that could be described as a European spaghetti western. However, instead of cowboys and horses, there are monsters and magic. This film did nothing out of the ordinary when it came to the depiction of women. There were damsels in distress and the brave Geralt saved them. It really shows women in a one-dimensional light but I am not surprised considering the film as a whole was pretty bland. They did not reach for anything other than the basic fantasy trope.
Finally, The Witcher, the Netflix series. The pièce de résistance, the one where women finally get their due. This series made the little girl in me squeal. It is one of the few times that I saw so many women in lead roles actually leading. Let’s start with the warrior queen, the Lioness. This strong and independent woman doesn’t just lead a whole kingdom but her troops into battle. She sits in the center of the head table and her authority is never questioned. She is not just the strongest woman in the kingdom, she’s the strongest warrior, period. She refuses to cower from her enemy. The only time she ‘ran’ from battle was when she was dying and had to protect her granddaughter. She was in the front lines, she was on the ground, she was with her people. She embodied everything a leader should. She was everything I wanted to see on screen and more. Her time in the series was short-lived but so impactful.
Yennefer, a girl who was sold by her parents because she was ugly, was given the opportunity of a lifetime, unlocking her true power. Yennifer’s story is absolutely heart-wrenching and she does fall into the stereotype that a beautiful woman in power can only be evil. However, her story doesn’t end there. She is given a chance to use her power for good. I, personally, love Yennifer’s story because she, like many of the female viewers, thought the only way to regain her power was to become more menacing than those who had hurt her. However, as the series continues you start to see Yennifer learning there is another way. She does not have to be pigeonholed into these stereotypes. She can be the hero in her own story and not just a villain in someone else’s.
The last little trailblazer is Ciri herself. We don’t know the extent of this young woman’s power but we know it is ground shaking (pun intended) .To have a young girl play such a powerful and important character is something you don’t see every day. The young man is usually the protege but not here. I predict that Ciri might even break some gender roles in the story itself. Maybe her new Witcher friend will serve as a mentor. Whatever it is I know I am excited to find out. I have great hopes for where they are going with her storyline.
As you can see the journey for women in the world of The Witcher has been a long and tireless one. For years and years, they were put in this box only to be taken out to please the male gaze. It is about time that the women not only in this storyline but all fantasy narratives got their time in the sun. Women are strong, powerful, and brilliant and that is not something to be afraid of but admired and revered.