As a kid I loved Wonder Woman, and as an adult I’ve already shown my girls that original series as well (and they loved it too). Rainbow Brite, She-Ra, Princess Tiana, Mulan, and now Merida too. There’s a lot of awesome fictional females that rule in this house and for good reason – who wants a helpless heroine?
Personally, I will take emotionally stunted, physically disabled, vulnerable, unpredictable, crazy, killer, badass, potty mouthed, super nice, or even insecure heroines but do not give me a helpless leading lady.
Recently I read a book and I was horrified at how everything that is strong about the heroine is literally tied into the chain inside of her that is her bond to the male lead. Oh yes, when he left to go do something (with every intention of returning) she came close to falling apart. LITERALLY.
Then I read a historical romance where the heroine does everything asked of her by people above her station (husband, aunt, etc) and desires to be well behaved and proper above all else. Really? Seriously? I mean I get this is historic fiction but it is being written in 2011/2012 by a woman who I assume did not time travel from the 1800s to write this now.
This inspired me to stop for a moment and question myself, as well as writing out my thoughts here to share with you. Was I being too hard on these ladies? Have I become predictable and narrow in my view of what makes a good heroine?
After some reflection and a few books with strong heroines leading the way I had my answer. I am intolerant of a heroine that needs a man in the picture to become interesting or worthwhile. Totally helpless heroines can stay out of my way.
I do not mean that I want a perfect heroine or a heroine without flaws – because that wouldn’t be believable at all, and it would make the character flat and boring as well. I also don’t expect a heroine to have no interest in love or sex, or have no interest in finding Mr. Right. Not at all! What I demand is that at her core, the book’s heroine has her own independent strength and worth that is not tied to anyone else.
Yes, life is better when you’re in love with someone that enhances your world. Sure, it’s easier to smile and do your best when things are going your way in general. But what happens if that isn’t a part of your life? What happens when you’re alone and it is just you?
If the answer is to cry in your room for months and then sort of try to end your life (I’m looking at you, Bella and Edward) then color me disgusted.
If the answer is to keep doing the right thing and fight through the pain (you go Gin Blanco – high five girl) then consider me interested.
What it all comes down to is that I myself am interested in heroines that I can root for, that inspire me, or that I genuinely like in some way. I don’t have to agree with all of their choices or wish they were real so we could be best friends, but I need them to be strong on their own.
I think that in this day and age it is a great disservice to women to write a female lead who looks to her man to fulfill her every need. I’m not saying he shouldn’t be capable and help his lady love out now and then – but she shouldn’t require his help for all things. While it might be nice to imagine a world where I could sit and eat chocolate and read books all day and a man would make everything happen for me – in reality I do not want that.
What I really love in a fictional heroine is when she has a balance. When vulnerabilities and strengths, weaknesses and skills come into play and we are really shown how she grows, adapts, changes, and stands up to the challenges thrown her way. I love nothing more than the strong independent woman who needs nothing finds herself hopelessly smitten over the guy who just walked in. When the shy girl gets the chance to save the day – and does so with style. I adore a heroine that is physically strong and can show some emotional vulnerability.
Bottom line, I’m a woman who strives to stand on her own two feet and do her best most (hey- I’m not perfect either!) of the time. As such, I like to read about women who are learning to stand, who never stand still because they’re too busy kicking ass, or who otherwise are strong, wonderful, fabulous ladies to be celebrated. From the debutante to the assassin, the teacher to the detective – I root for them all. In celebration of strength in heroines, I will share some examples of all-time favorite (book) heroines of mine:
Jessica Trent (Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase)
Agnes (Agnes & the Hitman by Crusie & Mayer)
Penelope Featherington (Romancing Mr Bridgerton by Julia Quinn)
Kate Daniels (Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews – in fact ALL of Andrews’ heroines are great ones)
Olivia Joules (Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination by Helen Fielding)
Phillipa Benning (Revealed by Kate Noble)
Gin Blanco (Elemental Assassin series by Jennifer Estep)
Kate Taylor (Lady by Midnight by Tessa Dare)
Mercy Thompson (Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs)
Sophia Smythe (Lord and Lady Spy by Shana Galen)
I could actually go on and on – because one thing I’ve noticed is that for the most part my favorite books all feature great heroines. Some are physically strong, some are very fit, some chose a much less physical route but all are women I can admire in some way, women I wouldn’t mind my own daughters reading about.
I would love to hear your thoughts on what you consider deal breakers in your fictional leading ladies, and who your favorites are as well.