This post has been partly inspired by the excellent Katherine Langrish and her post Fairytale Princesses: tougher than you think. I can only agree: what I learned from traditional stories was that kindness and effort brought you more success than vanity and pride. So I don’t want to rescue any of those heroines myself – just the term.
That’s why I winced when I read Kate Mosse refer to ” female action heroes.” In fairness it was in a perfectly reasonable piece asking for more active central characters to be female. I am unlikely to disagree with that. (But oh, the irony – if you read the piece via Mail Online there is article after article defining women by their looks down the side bar.)
There needs to be equality. There needs to be a balance of protagonists who are girls or women. Have a look at picture books. Really look at them. The apparently gender neutral use of animals often masks the presumption that the lead is male.
I think the word ‘hero’ does that – assumes male is the only important way to be.
Not books, I know, but in an idle moment at Budapest airport I took a look at some toddler toys (British by the way). Lovely primary colours, diggers and dumpers tractors and so forth (some of my favourite things). Out of twenty named characters, three were female.
We seem to have end up back at the Smurfette Principle – if something is marketed at boys, or meant to be unisex, girls will have only a token representation. Girls are ghettoised. In pink.
And don’t get me started on pink Lego.
So it really is important that half our central characters are female – with lots of agency. I would also argue it’s important you make sure your secondary and minor characters are balanced too. I’ve found myself putting too many males.
But our heroines should not just be blokes with breasts.
Lara Croft won’t do. She’s just eye-candy for boys.
Katniss Everdeen is better. Though I wish the trilogy hadn’t dwindled to that defeatist ending – this is the Katniss I wanted:
(It gets me every time)
We will always need more Lyra Belacquas, more Jane Eyres, more Pippi Longstockings, more Tiffany Achings – and my colleagues provide some amazing female central characters. Some full of gusto and yet feminine.
Just don’t call them ‘heroes’.