Holding out for a Heroine

We once again circle back to the lack of strong female characters in today’s day and age. While I’d say the U.S. is still far more advanced than most countries in that it is even willing to have a discussion about female empowerment, it’s still got a long way to go.

NY Times writer Peggy Orenstein decided to tackle the issue with her daughter getting bored by princesses waiting to be rescued. There’s a song from a Disney movie that seems oddly appropriate titled “Cinderella.” There was one princess cartoon movie, not from Disney, titled Anastasia, where the girl did save herself and the guy too. It’s one of my all time favorites from my childhood.

Girls rarely get the chance to play the hero. The hero’s girlfriend (Sue Storm), the hero’s archnemesis (Catwoman), or just his sidekick (Supergirl). Orenstein quickly recognizes that most female heroines are just eye-candy molded for boys and that its an unfortunate thing she and her daughter must settle for. Female heroines often find themselves in conflict with their femininity. Often donning revealing costumes, they are one of the few outlets for young girls who are sick of waiting for Prince Charming to save them. I won’t go into the body types of female characters because really, how is that less biased than the male form depicted in fiction? Both are beautifully fit and flexible, with form-fitting costumes that leave little to the imagination.

I read a debate recently about the Power Rangers not having a female leader, and the one time they did, it was an interim period between when their original leader (also the female’s boyfriend) died and the next one was to take his place.

Why aren’t heroines unable to escape this cycle? Well, most cartoon artists are male for one thing. The American comic book nation is male-oriented, so they won’t waste R&D with marketing dollars for a niche like this. A lot of things are catered to men, more so than women. It’s okay for girls to look up to men or be tomboy-ish, but the minute the tables get turned, people get mighty sensitive.

For those TV watchers out there from the early 2000s, you’ll remember the “girl power” phase that swept the nation. Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer became the beacon of this idea and the girl hero for the 21st century. The task of keeping humanity safe was left in the hands of a girl, and one that played by her own rules no less. Another show that comes to mind was James Cameron’s short-lived Dark Angel series, which too featured a street smart, genetically empowered teenaged girl who was the hero with not one, but two hot male sidekicks.

In the literary world was where I found refuge as a young girl anxiously looking for that slick, smart heroine I knew had to exist somewhere. Garth Nix’s Abhorsen Trilogy was great, with two female leads who carried on with unsure steps but a ton of heart. If you browse through any young adult section in the bookstore or the library, you’ll quickly notice that a majority of the books are female oriented — girls in mythical kingdoms who have to save it, sword-wielding smart alecs, princesses who have to save princes, girls with superpowers from other planets… The list goes on.

I won’t make many bones about it, most people don’t like to read these days and so a lot of things go uncensored. That is where the female heroine has been relegated to, the underground, between the lines world of novels and what is sometimes known as “chick lit.” Good heroines do exist, but their PR sucks. If Harry Potter were a girl, it is highly doubtful it would have reached the proportions it has today. Author J. K. Rowling had to take the nom de plume “J. K.” instead of “Joanne” because publishers feared boys wouldn’t read books written by a woman.

Society has yet to embrace the notion of a popular, individual heroine with mass appeal. Until that happens, girls are stuck just reading about great heroines rather than seeing them in action.

Image Credit to: Fanpop