The idea of a ‘female Western’ may be both as useful, and as risible, as that of‘male melodrama’, both formulations being predicated on a supposed exclusivity of terms which are actually closely entwined. Gendered identities, the meaning, experience and parameters of masculinities and femininities, are at issue in both the Western and the melodrama, regardless of whether the fiction revolves around men or women. The perception that genres might in some senses be gendered has nonetheless persisted with narratives of crime, science-fiction, adventure and the Western acquiring and retaining a reputation as male spaces. Yet, as Pam Cook points out, women have had a long and a significant role in the genre. Writing in 1988, she indicated that women’s historical role in the west, at least as far as the Western was concerned, had foregone the ‘dubious luxury of a liberal reassessment’, adding that it is:

tempting to put this down, as many critics have, to the male Oedipal bias of the Western, a narrative based on a masculine quest for sexual and national identity which marginalizes women. Fruitful though this approach may be, it has not really come to terms with the dual, contradictory role of women. On the one hand she is peripheral…. On the other hand she is central.