The Real Heroes
Okay, so I'm talking to one of my friends last week about this whole "feminist hero" problem, and she says the following:
"Well, you know the real problem, don't you? It's that the only true feminist heroes out there are lesbians."
And I'm like this:
Now, I should probably clarify, and say that, in fairness, we were having a very "down with the patriarchy" kind of conversation, most of which involved a lot of us complaining to each other about dumb things men in our lives do. I'm sure that there are a lot of amazing, sensitive-but-still-powerful, completely with-it men who consider themselves feminists and could absolutely qualify as feminist heroes. I'm not planning to switch to Q romance only. I like variety in my stories.
But...I didn't think my friend's point was totally off. I mean, come on. How many times have you read a story or watched something on television only to find yourself wondering why the heroine doesn't seem to have a single girlfriend who she can turn to for emotional support? I mean, I love a story where the guy comes to the girl's aid in her time of need (I just wrote one, in fact -- it's called he made pasta). I just don't understand totally isolated heroines or heroines whose friends are basically pointless props. Imagine how different Twilight would have been if Bella had made a single female friend who wasn't a vampire in that whole first book. Maybe instead of #TeamJacob we could have been #TeamBestFriend. Why would we ever want to support a story about a woman who is reliant on a man (or two) as her only hope for emotional salvation?
Here, I think, I should put in a nod to Frozen as the movie that totally still makes me cry because it's a girl-saves-girl story WITH romance.
But the craziest thing about this, of course, is that women perpetuate the problem themselves in real life. There's a real sting to any situation where a man takes power away from you because he is a man. Ever experienced it? I have. I've been burned by situations where I've let a man take something over for me because I feel powerless in the situation. I've given power to my husband to take over difficult situations. I've given power to my business partner. Indeed, I have a bad handful of memories along these lines that I try never to think about, because when I do, I feel ashamed of giving up power I should have taken back.
Sadly, however, that's not even the worst of it. I've also had times when I did stand up for myself, refused simply to give away power I should have had, and suffered consequences, such as being perceived as a bitch or being forced to give up an opportunity or job. Almost every time, there was another woman involved--someone at least as powerful, if not more--who could have stood up for me but didn't. Furthermore, I've failed to stand up for other women. I've failed to be the feminist heroine.
Am I alone with these experiences? I doubt it. I think most women have experienced situations where they get hurt because they let a man take too much power away from them and also situations where they get hurt because they didn't give up power that was rightfully theirs. I think most women have had times when they've failed to come to the aid of another woman who is trying to hang on to power. We are hard on each other, ladies.
Romance, however, is about fantasy that we hope reality could look like for us someday, and I would really love to see a reality where a woman sees another woman who needs help and chooses to give that other woman aid. Not to take over, but to help the other woman keep the power she should rightfully have. That would be a solid romance.
You know how we defined a feminist hero based on what how he might behave? Well, let's do that here for the feminist heroine. I think a feminist heroine is one who sees another woman losing control of a situation that should be hers, and she says, "You look like you could use some help telling those fools that you're the boss. I'll help. I'll stick up for your right to lead. I'll stick up for your right to speak up. I'll tell those idiots not to talk over you, not to demean you if you get angry enough to cry, not to shut you down because they don't like that you have expertise they don't feel like paying attention to. I'll be the one who stands up in the meeting and shuts up the privileged white man who's making it so that you can't talk. You don't need a knight in shinning armor to come in and do that for you and then take away your power himself. You need me. I will stand up for you, and then I will sit down and let you carry on, and we will both be more powerful because of it."
Now, go forth, friends, and be feminist heroes and heroines!