So I got into a discussion the other day with pal Mhairi Simpson, trying to get at what the average reader really gets out of 50 Shades and Twilight. This was a more general discussion, not looking at the terrifying psychological implications (I’ve done that), but trying to see what it is that women truly like about these (because stalker vampire boyfriend and BDSM isn’t it for the general population). Because we’d love to figure out what that thing is and see if we can tap into that market.
Mhairi made the observation that
…the majority of women don’t want a role model. They want someone they can relate to NOW, but they also want wish-fulfillment in the form of a heroine who gets a relationship where they don’t have to be strong and Do All The Things but the man still loves them beyond reason and is moved to acts of violence and/or extreme passion on their behalf.
I thought it was marvelously insightful, and not something that I, as a woman who really does not relate to non-kick ass heroines, was not likely to make on my own.
So then I mentioned it to Susan and we started brainstorming trying to think of good examples of heroines who fit this bill. We couldn’t really think of any. Susan wasn’t sure if this was because that kind of story isn’t really her thing or because it’s very hard to pull off. I’m inclined to think it’s the latter.
Because, really, it is INCREDIBLY difficult to write a woman who is–not necessarily passive (because I still think no matter what, passivity is something to avoid in our characters), but one who cannot Do All The Things, not only needs help but accepts it (and dare I say, might even ask for it–I don’t know what that’s like, as I’m awful at it), and does not come across simply as a weak, needy female.
In light of Tricia Sullivan’s remark at Eastercon, about finding herself totally excluded from the literature unless she’s a whore, a victim, or a warrior, I am forced to conclude that this type of heroine is a largely ignored opportunity in the literature. Or, I should say, this type of heroine DONE WELL. Perhaps I am wrong, and I absolutely open the floor to comments if you know of any examples. Please share them, as I’m interested in exploring this topic further.
This is not an area I have ever given any thought because I firmly believe that you can never have too many kick-ass, strong women in fiction. Those stubborn, strong leaders who don’t wait for a man to get them out of trouble, don’t expect anybody to do anything for them, and come hell or high water will figure out how to Do All The Things and Then Some are who I relate to. Because, hello, that’s me. And that is a role that many, many modern women are expected to fill, whether it’s their natural inclination or not.
But it is not all women. And just because a woman does not fit that mold does not make her weak. And I am ashamed to admit, that’s a bit of a revelation to me. Part of that is, I think, because all the books I’ve read and movies I’ve seen where women were anything other than strong, they absolutely came across as weak. And needy. And often whiny (:cough: Bella :cough:). And perhaps they grew out of that over the course of the story, but I never found out because the weak, needy, (whiny) that was presented at the beginning ticked me off so much as a reader that I threw it against the wall and never finished.
I confess, I have a VERY hard time trying to wrap my brain around the concept of a woman being okay NOT being strong, capable, and able to Do All The Things. For me, personally, that’s a state of affairs one aspires to CHANGE. Because I am independent to a fault and cannot tolerate the idea that I can’t do something. Tell me “no” and watch me prove you wrong. My husband is, I think, by turns amused and proud of my capability and independence (and if some family members call that “bull-headedness” on my part, I’ll take that label as a compliment). I wouldn’t have the first clue what the hell to do with myself if I had one of these portrayed overbearing, dominant men who did everything for me–well, other than straight up housekeeping stuff that nobody really likes doing).
But I am not all women.
So exactly what does this new kind of heroine look like? The one who isn’t like Buffy, isn’t vampy and oversexed, and isn’t a victim? The one who may not be obviously strong but isn’t weak? The one who can’t do everything herself but isn’t needy? Help me paint a picture, y’all.