Searching for a (Lady) Hero


Will Katniss have to choose between her conscience and her heart? And why don’t guys seem to face these dilemmas? (Photo by Murray Close.)

There seem to be some universal experiences single women share. A sense of searching, inside ourselves and in the world, for meaning and direction. I know that men engage with these feelings as well, but it feels as though something in our biology or socialization make the female experience intangibly, distinctly different.

I know I, at least, tend to look at women in fiction as an extension of my of own self. How do they approach their work, their relationships? What can I learn from them? And while there are certainly more than enough examples of females who are horribly written, the best have me rooting for them to secure everything they’ve ever wanted.

I notice we never question whether men can “have it all” – no one writes New York Times features on men’s challenges to balance aspirations, relationships and family. Why? I don’t know. I’m sure a lot would benefit from such explorations. I suppose that even academia is not immune to pressure to selling ideas it believes will bear the most fruit.

Returning to the fictional realm, women in literature, film and television tend to take on this cultural transcendence – where their anxieties and victories represent those of all women, from Mary Richards to Carrie Bradshaw. Meanwhile, male archetypes tend to remain the familiar superhero (or villain), outlaw, executive. Superman saves the world and flies into the sunset (metaphorically, at least) with Lois Lane, and we have no doubt he’ll be able to do so. Meanwhile, we spend the entire Hunger Games Trilogy wondering how Katniss Everdeen will shape her destiny.

Many female protagonists are writers in some form – I mentioned the likely over-studied Bradshaw, and then there’s Bridget Jones, Liz Lemon, Hannah Horvath. Even the recent MTV series Awkward. draws upon main character Jenna’s interest in blogging to share her story. As if in writing about our experiences we’ll be able to reach revelations we otherwise wouldn’t have. In retrospect, the cartoon Doug was pretty groundbreaking in featuring an eleven year old boy pouring his soul into his beloved journal in this regard.

I know that these are rough observations – if I were attempting to be published in a peer reviewed journal, this piece would be very different. But that is not my intent, at least not now. Mine is to pose questions, and see what ideas they might solicit from you. So share your thoughts – who are your heroes, male or female, and are they such because you identify with them on some level? Do they reinforce or challenge our assumptions about gender? Leave some points in the comments section below.

2 thoughts on “Searching for a (Lady) Hero

  1. How you seen Brene Brown’s two TED talks about vulnerability? They are awesome. In one of them she discusses cultural expectations of females (in the US, at least). She summed them up as, “Do it all, do it perfectly, and never let them see you sweat”. I believe this answers why many women seem to openly wonder how the heck they are supposed to accomplish everything. By contrast, a man’s life is (usually) much simpler. For a start, there’s far less pressure on us to look beautiful/handsome. And men aren’t supposed to talk about their feelings, though I’ve never identified myself as particularly macho.

    My heroes tend to encompass both a triumph of intellect over unreason, plus a great sense of humour, and a superior use of the English language. They include Richard Dawkins (his science is excellent, though he could learn a thing or two about PR), the fictional character Gregory House, M.D. (played by British actor Hugh Laurie), Stephen Fry, and George R R Martin (author of the Game of Thrones books), Charlie Brooker (TV presenter and comedian), David Mitchell (likewise), Jimmy Carr (and again).

    Hmmm, mostly British. All men. Do I have ANY female heroes? I suppose I admire Victoria Coren. She’s perhaps the most well known professional poker player, as well as a newspaper columnist and presenter. She is witty and articulate. And of course it doesn’t hurt that she’s attractive.

    I’ve seen Mila Kunis in a couple of interviews. She seems intelligent, articulate and she’s very self-assured, which I find attractive. Oh, and she’s also quite attractive.

    I better stop now for fear of being labelled shallow :)

    • I just watched Brene’s talks as per your recommendation – they are fantastic. For those who would like to see them, the links are here and here.

      The list of people you admire is really interesting – I love asking people this question because you never get the same set of answers, and all the people you mention are very impressive. And it’s totally fine to admit to finding someone attractive. :)

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