The Legend of Zelda: Female Representation

Warning: spoilers abound.

Over the last year I have played an utterly obscene amount of Hyrule Warriors. I don’t want to know the number of hours I’ve poured into the game with my sisters.

One of the many reasons I love the game is the ability to play as some of the female characters the series has developed over the years. Looking at the roster for the Wii U you can play: Zelda, Impa, Sheik, Ruto, Midna, Agitha, and Fi. Including the new additions of Cia and Lana that is nine female characters on the roster. To say I was ridiculously excited at this discovery is an understatement. I could finally play as Zelda/Sheik.

Somewhere among my family’s photo albums there exists a photograph of six-year-old me sitting on the edge of our couch slack-jawed while watching my father play Ocarina of Time. I wanted to be in Hyrule. Not as Link, or Thor as my father always renamed him, but as Zelda. She was the princess of the land who also happened to be a smoke bomb wielding, magic using, enigmatically speaking, harp playing warrior. Sign me up.

The Legend of Zelda series began with Zelda as the object— a thing to be rescued. However, the series has developed over the years to craft a character with her own agency. No longer is she the princess trapped by convention as much as crystal. We have watched her begin to subvert the roll of the damsel in distress. In Ocarina of Time she is a (albeit cryptic) mentor to adult Link. In Wind Waker she is a pirate captain. In Twilight Princess her bow brings down Ganon as much as Link’s sword. In Skyward Sword she undergoes her own journey through the temples one step ahead of Link.

I wanted to play all of these games from Zelda’s perspective.

In Hyrule Warriors we see a character who can wear pink, wield a sword, giggle, oh… and lead an army.

Few things bring me to anger quicker than the female character who announces her strength via a rejection of  other women. I am strong because I am wearing pants. I am a protagonist because I am masculine. I am a worthy being because I embody society’s construct of masculinity.

Here is the thing about strong female characters: when creating them you don’t actually need to abandon characteristics that are classically considered feminine. A strong character does not automatically equal a masculine character. A weak character does not automatically equal a feminine character.

A distinct binary of masculinity and femininity is not helping anyone. Let alone a binary that is attached to strength and weakness.

“But,” you exclaim, pointing to the screen, “you just rambled on about how much you love Zelda/Sheik, a character who seems to reject her femininity in favor of a masculine alter-ego.”

Zelda leaps across those boundaries as both princess and sheikah warrior. As a princess she uses diplomacy as much as a rapier. As a sheikah warrior she uses deception as much as a kunai. Her strength of character is not defined by where her femininity and masculinity points are allocated. 

I want to play a game where Zelda, guardian of the Triforce of Wisdom, can fully be the character we see ripples of throughout the series– a princess, a warrior, a leader. I want to play as the damsel getting herself out of distress by her own wisdom, courage, and power.

My excitement for Hyrule Warriors has been rekindled with the recent announcement of Linkle coming to Hyrule Warriors Legends. I am curious to see how she will be treated. What commonalities will she have with her male counterpart? What will change to make her female?

While waiting to see who Linkle will be, Zelda and I will continue our adventures.

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