Friday, March 8, 2013

In Honor of International Women's Day: Strong Heroines

It's a great day to talk about strong heroines in fiction.

It's especially pertinent as I watched this great video yesterday about the Damsel in Distress trope in video games (thanks to punkerplus on the r/GirlGamers subreddit for sharing).

This video reinforced for me why it's so important that I'm doing what I'm doing. It's easy to think, "Well, I suppose there are enough strong heroines out there, I don't really need to add to the pantheon." But the truth is, there's a huge empty space waiting to be filled by a vibrant cast of multi-layered, determined, interesting and flawed female characters. The more women we add to our fictional lexicon, the more role models new generations will have to choose from. Sure, writers like me may not necessarily create someone meant to be a shining emblem of modern feminist virtue; but simply adding to the variety of options has a huge impact.

Here, in anticipation of Kiellen's upcoming induction to the small but growing crowd, are some of the invented women who have inspired me.

Terminator 2's Sarah Connor

My love of Sarah Connor is no secret (I did, after all, dress up as her for Halloween one year and create a site detailing how to follow my lead).

I pretty much love everything about her, and a lot of her fictional genealogy goes into Kiellen's make up (except for some of the darker aspects of Sarah's personality, such as her psychosis and dark outlook on life which is justifiable given her unique life experiences). 

Like the futuristic robot-killer before her, Kiellen is physically athletic, trained to work as a soldier. She lives outside the rules of society, taking matters into her own hands with the (possibly self-aggrandizing) conviction that she's humanity's only hope. Her self-worth is not based on interactions with the males around her. She's calculating, but not heartless. The unique workings of her heart, combined with her extreme circumstances, lead to interesting, tangled relationship dynamics. (Sarah sees the potential for the new Terminator to be a father figure for her beloved son; she develops a friendship with the robot, and then is forced to destroy him).

Fallout 2's Female Vault Dweller

Fallout 2 is not exactly known for its gentle treatment of relationships between the sexes. Still, it's one of the few video games where you can choose to play a female character and not be hugely constrained by attributes applied to her to keep her "feminine."

Sure, there will be differences (as in real life) if you choose to play a woman. But these differences have to do with how you navigate the social universe, and not with such arbitrary factors as your level of intelligence, skill with small weapons, ability to rob the people around you blind, etc.

(The fact that a majority of the female NPCs are prostitutes isn't wonderful, but at least the heroine option is a step in the right direction).

Pretty Much Every Tamora Pierce Heroine, Ever

Tamora Pierce was the first author I read who created a whole universe populated by strong women heroes for me to believe in.

I've discussed with other authors whether Tamora's characters are truly feminist, or whether their need to conform to male stereotypes in some cases (Alanna in Song of the Lioness literally pretends to be a boy until she becomes a night) is really empowering. I think that Tamora has done a good job in creating a realistic universe with a consistent culture that has a well-defined history and changes naturally over time. During some parts of Tortall's timeline, there are no issues with women knights. During other parts of the timeline, the practice falls out of favor. Tamora gives her heroines realistic forces to struggle against, and I believe that they are richer for it.

Feel free to let me know if there are strong heroines who should be added to this list!

Here are a couple more. Thanks guys for sharing!

Josh on Facebook insisted that I add one of the toughest women characters of all time - Ripley from the Alien series - and I couldn't resist:

Phil on Twitter introduced me to a wonderful anime/manga character who I'll definitely need to learn more about: NausicaƤ, princess of the Valley of the Wind. NausicaƤ seeks to learn about the hazards in her post-apocalyptic world. She has great empathy and strength, and cares deeply for all those in her kingdom. Find out more on Wikipedia!

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