This and That Thursday - Strong Heroines
Welcome to This and That Thursday a new weekly meme (created by me) in which writers pick two books that match the week’s theme (you can see a list of all the upcoming topics here) and discuss them, comparing/contrasting the handling of the material from whatever angle they want.
This week’s topic is Strong Heroines.
This topic, of course, begs the question, “What do we mean by strong,” and “what do we mean by heroine”? These terms gave me some trouble; as I was thinking about this week’s topic, I realized that heroic is kind of a nebulous word for me that I don’t really know how to define. Certainly, there are a lot of actions and people who are brave or courageous, but not necessarily heroic. It’s courageous to leave an abusive relationship, but is it heroic? I don’t know. Doesn't seem like it.
Since I struggled with how to define heroic, I decided that, for simplicity’s sake, I’d define heroine as simply the (female) protagonist of a story. The word “strong” gave me even more trouble when it came to female protagonists, because I realized, that for me, being a strong person is synonymous with emotional strength—that is, the ability to make hard choices, undertake difficult actions, and to endure in the face of adversity with emotional resilience. Resilience is defined as the ability to bounce back after setbacks or obstacles. Resilient people don’t weep, wail, gnash their teeth, or rail against their fate. They simple dust themselves off and keep going, and to me, that is the epitome of a strong hero or heroine.
Unfortunately, too many female protagonists seem, to me, to be emotionally brittle. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, one of my favorite female protagonists, springs to mind (forgive me for bringing in a television show/character to this discussion, but it was the example that most readily sprang to mind)—in Season Two when Buffy is faced with killing the love of her life, Angel, she does everything she can to avoid the confrontation, seeking every alternative not out of hope of saving him but because she’s procrastinating facing the inevitable. There’s an emotional brittleness there—she avoids doing what needs to be done because she can’t face the pain of it. Contrast that to the end of Season Five when she sacrifices herself to save her sister. Here, Buffy willingly and easily makes the decision to save her sister, at peace with the decision to sacrifice herself. Despite the fact that the physical act necessary to conquer the adversary/obstacle is far less, I would say that Buffy is “stronger” here than she is when she kills Angel because of that emotional strength and equilibrium that she brings to this decision. Faced with a no-win situation in which her death is inevitable, Buffy could have railed and fought against it (as David Tennant’s 10th Doctor does against his own death). Instead, she accepts it with calm. That is the essence of resilience, which, for me, equals strength.
When casting about for two women protagonists who fit this mold, Percy from Cobweb Bride and Laura from The Changeover came to mind. Both of these young women meet their fates head on, simply putting their heads down and plodding into whatever is they must do—Percy to sacrifice herself as the bride of Death and Laura to give up her mortality and become a witch. And I say “plodding” not to indicate that either is staid or stupid or stumbles blindly into her fate or the solution to her problem, but simply to refrain from making it sound like either one rushes heedlessly and thoughtlessly into action—because I also don’t think recklessness makes someone strong. Just the opposite—reckless people often don’t think about the consequences of their actions, which makes it hard to argue that they accepted their fate unflinchingly. Instead, both of these characters simply put their head down and accept the inevitable without angst or anger. For both of these women, it’s much more a shrug of the shoulders and a feeling of, “This is how it’s gotta be.” And that is what, for me, makes both of them strong—I, the reader, know that they can carry the emotional weight of what they have to do and not be broken by it. With someone like Buffy (and again, I love both the show and the character), every setback or obstacle seems like the one that might break her, the one from which she will be permanently emotionally damaged. Percy and Laura, on the other hand, give one the sense that there is nothing they couldn’t handle.
And that’s my This and That for this week. How about you—who do you think of when you think of strong heroines? If you’d like to participate in This and That Thursday, just leave a link to your This and That post in the linky below, leave a comment on my post, and please link back to this post in the post on your site. If you don't have a blog, simply leave your thoughts in the comments below!
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TERRI BRUCE writes science fiction and fantasy stories with a literary bent from a haunted house in New England where she lives with her husband and three cats. Her contemporary fantasy Hereafter (Afterlife #1) is available wherever books are sold. Look for the sequel, Thereafter, coming May 1, 2014!