Sunday, February 9, 2014

What defines a true heroine?

I recently joined a great group on Goodreads that focuses on YA Heroines. Although I don't think strong women in literature are necessarily new, I love to see readers seeking out more women and girls who kick butt, particularly in genres where women are classically shown as subservient or unable to rescue themselves (such as Fantasy and Sci-fi). And in YA and middle grade books, in particular, this is such an important topic, since what young women read will often influence how they perceive their roles in society.

But with this change from damsel in distress to action heroine comes new discussions among the heroine-seeking community about what makes a true heroine. Is it a woman who learns to defend herself, to become the strong person we all strive to be? Or is it someone who starts out strong, with fighting skills and an "I can do anything attitude"?

Although the main heroine in the Ærenden series is strong, she is not able to fully rescue herself in the beginning of her adventure. She lands on a new world without combat training and gets into trouble at times. Of course, readers have questioned why I didn't just have her parents train her to fight from birth, since they knew what she would be up against when the time came for her to leave Earth. It's a valid question and one I considered carefully before I wrote the books.

My reason for creating Meaghan the way I did is twofold: First, it would not be true to her parents' personalities; they wanted to raise her in an environment where she did not have to focus on fighting (though they did teach her the skills she needed, even if she didn't realize it right away). And second, I wanted to create a character more real to the world we live in today. I wanted to show her struggling in the beginning so that she could be an example to the young women following her journey. She might not be able to fight from the start, but she CAN learn, as anyone can, to be her own savior.

But is she a heroine if she gets rescued at times? That's the question I'd like to put up for discussion. What defines a strong woman in your reading experience? What are your favorite literary heroines and why?

Comment away; I'd love to know!


  1. I keep meaning to write a blog post on this very subject, so I'm glad you brought it up. I'll probably post something about it sometime soon. ;) Anyway, I think it's a very important topic of discussion and it's not as black and white as it may seem. I think there's a problematic trend where authors take a really bland female character, make her kick everyone's asses, and try to pass her off as being a "strong character." In general I think the word "strong" is misleading because a lot of authors seem to interpret it as physically strong, but it's much more than that. A heroine can be physically weak but still an amazing character; a heroine can be physically strong and a terrible character.

    I also don't think a female character is automatically weak if she has to be rescued sometimes. It's unrealistic that someone would always be able to save themselves from everything. If a female character is *constantly* saved by male characters and never even makes an effort to protect herself I think that can be a problem, but she doesn't have to always save the day either.

  2. I'm looking forward to reading your post! Please let me know when it's up.