Okay, so now that we've established that people of all sorts (including women) love reading fiction of all sorts (including epic fantasy), can we talk about how loving something does not mean we have to be blind to its faults?
I mean, I get that this is an awkward thing to bring up. We talk about how the geeks have inherited the earth, but we still get called fanboys. We feel grumpy because "our" books and authors don't get the big reviews, or nominated for the big awards. When we write a book about Unicorn Sparkle Zombies it's dismissed as derivative genre fluff, but when some refugee from the litfic camp wants to have a little fun, and writes about Unicorn Sparkle Zombies, they get a huge marketing campaign and a book tour, and praised for their blistering metaphorical examination of society, even though they had obviously never read anything about Unicorn Sparkle Zombies ever, and everyone knows Unicorn Sparkle Zombies burst into flame when they smell roses, they don't live in gardens, and by all the unholy elder gods, do some research, please!
Or something like that.
My point is, we know our genre in all of its permutations gets picked on. We all of us have always been the kid sitting alone at the lunch table. So we don't like to shine light in the dark corners or ask where that funny smell is coming from because it feels like everyone else is doing that for us already, and we're tired, so tired, of just trying to be taken seriously.
But I love my genre, and I love the people who write in it. And I think we can do better.
I love epic fantasy. I always have. I started reading it because I read fast, and I didn't want to run out of things to read before the next trip to the library, so a big enormous doorstop of a book was exactly my kind of thing. Even better if there was a multibook series. But can anyone tell me any work of epic fantasy where the main character is a woman? (Seriously, can you? I might like to read it.)
Okay, so maybe not the main character. But how about a work where the women are actual characters that do things, that aren't just there to be the sex object, or love interest, or object of the quest, or the evil, seducing sorceress? There are some, if we broaden things that much, but not many. And certainly not equal to the amount of epic fantasy novels where there just aren't any female characters at all. (Note to writers: you have not actually created a female character if you've just slapped a woman's name on a body.)
And I wish I could say that this phenomenon was just some kind of manifestation of Sturgeon's Law, that there are real, active, women characters - sometimes even two or three! - in the good books. But I can't tell you how many times I've picked up the latest highly praised and award-nominated great new thing, and found that it's the old boys' club, all over again.
But, but... it's epic fantasy, you say. With you know, wars and medieval settings. Women weren't in wars! They barely existed in the medieval period! I'm just following the history. People say this, you know.
For those of you who say that, I have three words. Joan. Of. Arc.
Her life is the arc of the fantasy epic - nobody from nowhere who becomes the chosen savior of her people. With War! And History! A magic sword, even! (No, really.) (Joan was, until the nineteenth century, the most documented person in history.)
And it isn't just Joan. Women did things in the medieval era and before, up to and including fighting in wars, and leading their countries. Sure, not every woman did, but not every man did, either. Sure, a woman who did was exceptional, but we don't write about people who aren't - the person who has a normal life, to who nothing ever happens, who never even hears of anything out of the ordinary? - we don't tell their story.
Moreover, you are writing fantasy. If you are trying to tell me you can imagine a wizard, but cannot conceive that a woman might be one, maybe the problem isn't with the source material. Maybe the problem is with you.
Women read epic fantasy. We love it. It would be nice if our genre loved us back.