Women and Heroism in Fiction

There’s a through-provoking essay and discussion going on about how we write women in fiction and how we view women in our real world over on aidanmoher.com. The comments are all worth reading. My own is on page 3. If you get that far, the rest of this post will be a rerun.

I consider myself a feminist. But I struggle. The feminist I am lives in a world where our definitions of heroism, strength, and courage are often defined by a male-oriented world.

I often struggle with this masculine filter that obscures our view of our world. To write strong heroines, we often give them guns. We put them in armies. We make them fight. We give them a “male” role. We make them single and childless and tattooed and badass.

In real life, we often gain respect by joining the boys. We shove our way into their No-Girls-Allowed fort and we demand equality. And in doing so, we’re declaring our roles to be worthless. Our playhouse to be inferior.

I want the boys longing to get into our playhouse. And not for the stereotypical reason, for the lazy writing reason–to get into our pants. I want them hungry to join us. To be like us. I want motherhood and teaching and nursing to be as valued as being a soldier.

Can you think of any highly-respected traditional female role that men fight their way for the privilege of taking on? I’ve tried, and I can’t think of any and I know I must be overlooking something. Because if nothing exists, that just isn’t right.

Our definition of heroism lives in a man’s world. How do we overcome that without undermining the value of our own roles?

I don’t think we will ever know the answer to this until men and women are truly equal, and women are respected as women–not as women who have become more like men. But if, or when, that happens, this question will be irrelevant.

Have you seen Joss Whedon’s Equality Now speech? It’s good.

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8 thoughts on “Women and Heroism in Fiction

  1. Hi Kay. I really enjoyed/appreciated your comments here (which I first read in the comment thread of Kameron Hurley’s article).

    I’ve written my own response to the article (which I’ll be posting to my blog on Monday), and in which I quote a bit of this post. I hope you like it. Be on the lookout for the pingback. :)

  2. You’re so right! Women need to stand up and claim who they are without any apologies and make everyone else want to be in on the fun. I think the biggest problem is the fact that society sets up gender forts in the first place. We need to stop imposing arbitrary qualities on people because of gender. Do something because you love it, not because you’re a man or a woman. The sooner we can get society focussed on the person and not the gender, the better.

    • Yes. No apologies. We can’t change the fact that men and women are different. It’s actually pretty cool that we’re different. But why can’t we embrace that and take advantage of it instead if use it to exclude and oppress?

      Have you read the book Herland? I’m about 8% into it right now and it’s blowing my mind. It was written in 1915. WAY ahead of its time…but maybe not. We think of women in the early 1900s as being so oppressed, but the thought that went into Herland makes me think women’s rights (along with women’s self respect) have actually regressed due to the current media and pressures on women and our current perception of ourselves. Is it possible women valued themselves more then than they do now?

  3. Pingback: Strong Female Characters Who Fight Silent Wars | The Rules of Engagement

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