One of the things that I’ve newly realized I really love about Tamora Pierce’s Circle of Magic series is the way that femininity is valued. I realize that it’s apparently the hot new “realistic” thing to load your fantasy settings with lots of unnecessary casual sexism because “that’s just the way the world is” or to give us all a cheap thrill when the antagonistic, aggressively sexist character is told off with a rousing speech about how women are equal to men (and then never bring up the issue again) but damned if Tamora Pierce doesn’t kick that shitty idea right back where it came from. I realized I kept expecting it to show up at some point while reading Sandry’s Book, and was pleasantly surprised when it doesn’t.
Frostpine never tells Daja that smithing will be harder for her since she’s a girl and not as strong/won’t be taken as seriously as a boy. In fact, the smith Daja remembers working gold when she first tries to work magic is casually mentioned as female, and Daja doesn’t view it as though it’s anything odd. The narrative never sets her up to be competing against Kirel as the “real” male apprentice, or for him to resent working alongside and not having the same magical skills as a girl. (Daja is, in fact, the physically strongest one in the group, being the tallest, the most muscular from her smith work, and well versed in staff fighting.)
Briar never puts down Sandry’s work of spinning as being girly or of less inherent worth, even though it’s very much seen as women’s work (and commoner women’s work at that.) In fact says that it seems soothing and asks to learn to do it himself, with no teasing or indication that it’s odd a boy should want to learn it.
Tris and Briar are both seen noting the price and quality of people’s clothes, and this is shown merely as a trait of their respectively growing up in positions, as a merchant and thief, where they needed to know those values, without a mention of shopping and clothing being stereotypically feminine areas of knowledge.
Rosethorn is fairly butch, with short hair and no interest in nice clothes that would just get dirty in the garden or other feminine pursuits, but she never puts down the girly things she’s not interested in (as is an unfortunately common trait in tomboyish female characters.) She is, in fact, at least a little interested in her appearance, shown making sure to use broad brimmed hats and lotions to keep the ivory complexion she’s proud of, even when she works in the sun all day, and no one ever makes fun of that for being out of character, girly, or frivolous.
Honestly, it’s pretty refreshing to read a series that isn’t shoving sexism as the status quo down your throat every few pages. Not to say that Tamora Pierce doesn’t address sexism in her books, but when she does they’re generally the books meant for an older audience who’s better equipped to handle it, like the sequel Circle Opens series, or The Will of the Empress. The Circle of Magic series is mostly aimed at girls (and boys) about the ages of the protagonists (ages 12 and up, grades 6-9 apparently) who don’t need the toxic message that sexism is omnipresent and has to be accepted as a constant part of life. They’ll get that soon enough thank you, or are already getting it and deserve a refuge from it. It’s better to give girls an empowering message that they can do anything and that their work is valuable as firm ground to stand on first.