Recently, weak, clumsy and I-love-to-be-abused female characters have begun to pop up in romances as actual heroines and role-models.
What is a heroine?
The New Oxford American Dictionary says that a heroine is: “(a) a woman admired or idealized for her courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities (…); (b) the chief female character in a book, play, or movie, who is typically identified with good qualities, and with whom the reader is expected to sympathize; (c) (in mythology and folklore) a woman of superhuman qualities and often semidivine origin, (…).”
Clarified that, I ask myself: Is weakness or clumsiness good qualities? NO!
There’re many great characters in classics, such as Elizabeth Bennet, in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. She’s an assertive character whose confidence and wit led her to mock the 18th-century British society and customs. Elizabeth is well-read and fiercely independent; or Jane Eyre, in Jane Eyre by the Brönte sisters. She never lets her societal position or gender determine her fate. Her shyness and lack of resources don’t hinder her from getting what she wants. She’s no damsel in distress. Or Sophia Leibowitz, in the TRUST TRILOGY. Sophia stands up to her believes and shows that compromise doesn’t mean bending to the other.
Literature is influential. It teaches while it entertains. If all that’s provided for readers – young or not – are examples of weak, abused heroines, they will, in some way, think that women are expected to behave like that. A part of that is modeling behaviors which individuals might exhibit, be they male or female.
The importance of setting strong female role-models is twofold: Women get inspired, become proud and secure with their identities; therefore men respect and appreciate them for all they have to offer. Offering examples to readers, I believe, is an author’s responsibility.
A strong heroine doesn’t mean perfection or an overly aggressive type. It’s enough that she stand strong and has either emotional – or physical – strength to overcome challenges. A strong heroine doesn’t always have to be badass or a bitch.
Strength can be quiet and subtle, but it is there. It can be derided from a not so entirely positive thing – like a character with a tragic past – but it is there because it holds the character together.
There’s also certainly nothing wrong with male heroes rescuing or helping their women. Also, there is nothing wrong with an alpha male leading the way. But a strong heroine can be in jeopardy without her being weak or defenseless. And an alpha male can have an alpha partner without being emasculated or striped bare of his strength.
So, let’s not forget to set a good example for the ones we write for. Words have power. Let’s choose them well and set a good example for a better world.