by Janis Patterson
Am I the only one tired of Superwoman? You know the kind of heroine I’m talking about - when challenged she can leap six feet in the air and take out half a dozen attacking bad guys with a symphony of martial-arts moves, all without mussing her hair or make-up. She has an encyclopedic knowledge of all kinds of esoteric knowledge and can solve a crime with a single piece of exotic evidence. Locked in a dungeon? She picks the lock with a hairpin, overpowers another gaggle of bad guys then goes home and cooks a gourmet dinner for her adoring stud-of-the-week.
Oh, there are other examples of Superwoman, some not as extreme but all redolent of the bad old days of the early feminist movement when average women were told they not only should be but were expected to be Superwoman.
Now I don’t want heroines to revert to the simpering, cloying wimps they were in the early days of the last century, incapable of much of anything except looking beautiful and allowing the hero to rescue them. They are just as unbelievable as Superwoman - and just as if not more annoying.
But - doesn’t there have to be some sort of a middle ground, one with which most people can identify? Of course there are extant examples in real life of both Superwoman and the wimp, but even their admirers admit they are rare.
I’ll admit I don’t like fantasy. Witches, shapeshifters, goblins, alternate worlds where the denizens have magical powers... they all leave me cold, and quite frankly I put both Superwoman and the incompetent wimp in that category of unbelievability. Now those of you who love fantastical stories, I wish you many joyous hours of reading and writing them... just don’t expect me to join you.
I prefer reality - at least, a reasonable simulacrum of reality. People whom you could know in everyday life, not the extremes. To me it is much more engaging to read about a heroine (or a hero, for that matter) who could be my next door neighbor - or maybe even me. Thoroughly human, with some skills others might not have but lacking others, yet all on a human scale. To me that is encouraging, heartening, something to strive for - that someone as ordinary as I can triumph in ordinary circumstances.
Maybe I should learn more about the denizens of fantasy worlds, get myself more in tune with Superwoman. Maybe not. I’m happy with ordinary fallible humanity. If they can rise above their very ordinariness and do great things, maybe I can too.
I agree with you, Janis, about the too perfect heroine. I'm not into superheroines either. Yet the old style female (too dumb to live) who needs rescuing doesn't fly either. Since I wrote a piece on women's empowerment in fiction, I will say I prefer to make my heroines like Kim Reynolds in Blood Family, a woman who has the guts and brains to rescue herself and help others with their problems. Not perfect because she does make mistakes but capable of soldiering on as we all must do to survive.
It depends on the author. I usually don't go for heroines who do outlandish things, but if the author gets me into that person's head, I can forgive a heroine for many faults or even a code of ethics different from mine.
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