Feminist Characters and Themes
Characters in feminist mystery fiction tend to be women of independent character who range in age from children to seniors, but the majority are in their twenties, thirties, or forties. These women are connected by their unique abilities to navigate the double treacheries of crime and sexism. Most are self-employed, like Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone, who operates a low-budget detective agency. Some, like Liza Cody’s Anna Lee, work in private detective firms. Others are employed in police departments or practice as lawyers. However, characters do not have to be directly tied to traditional law-and-order careers to be sleuths. A variety of characters, including musicians, teachers, and even a professional wrestler, have appeared as protagonists in feminist mystery fiction. Collectively, these women are highly competent at completing tasks traditionally associated with men, including the solving of mysteries and the capture and prosecution of criminals. Mental toughness and physical strength are often the only weapons these women possess, but some also pack firearms and know how to use them.
Themes in feminist mystery fiction tend to focus on women’s issues, particularly women’s desire for personal and financial independence, physical autonomy, and equal protection under the law. The fact that many female characters—both victims and sleuths—are denied these basic rights in fiction reflects society at large and underscores the importance of gender equality as a goal worthy of pursuit in this genre and in life.