Guest Post: We’ve Come a Long Way

This guest post comes from L. Marie, an aspiring fantasy writer for teenagers and children. Check out her fabulous blog at www.lmarie7b.wordpress.com and read this post. Thank you L. Marie for joining us at Hardcovers & Heroines! 

032bWith the advent of Man of Steel, I returned to an old DC comic book series from the 1970s featuring intrepid TV reporter, Lois Lane. It bears the tagline “Superman’s Girl Friend.” My niece took this photo of the cover of a comic book in my possession. Upon glancing at the cover, she asked: “This is about her [Lois], yet she needs to be rescued?”

Sadly, yes. Though Lois showed courage as she pursued her news stories, she needed Superman’s help when she wound up in over her head. And for some reason, she wound up hit in the head by the bad guys more often than Nancy Drew ever did! But that was back in the day, right? Things have changed, right? Uh, not entirely. Having seen Man of Steel, I realize ****SPOILERS**** some aspects haven’t really changed. Lois still has to be rescued. ****END SPOILERS**** At least Superman is way hot.

My niece’s query reminded me of something I read in Charlene Spretnak’s book, The Politics of Women’s Spirituality: Essays on the Rise of Spiritual Power within the Feminist Movement I read the book while writing my grad thesis on the heroine’s journey in middle grade fiction.

At the end of a lecture on the Arthurian quest legends about the Holy Grail, one of his students asked why there were no roles in the legends with which women could identify. [Campbell] was puzzled and pointed out that women are present as the hero’s mother, the hero’s queen, and the damsel-in-distress. “What more do you want?” he asked. “I want to be the hero, of course!” the student replied.” (Spretnak 90)

Having grown up reading books about heroes (and loving said books—don’t get me wrong), I can relate to the desire to read books where a female has agency. Agency is a huge factor in young adult fiction with heroines like Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games dystopian series by Suzanne Collins and Beatrice (Tris) Prior in the Divergent dystopian trilogy by Veronica Roth. Both are sixteen—an age where many teens in our day begin to become more independent.

divergent-hungergames

Katniss’s journey begins with an act of self-sacrifice: she volunteers to be a contender in the hunger games—the price of being on the losing side after a war. To find out why she volunteers, you have to read the book. But Katniss displays agency. Instead of waiting to be rescued, Katniss acts over and over on her own behalf and that of others. She’s the hero of her story. Collins keeps raising the stakes of Katniss’s journey to make sure the reader realizes the extremely high cost of victory.

In Roth’s dystopia, Chicago is divided into five factions named for virtues. Tris belongs to Abnegation. But she learns a surprising truth about herself that leads to a journey of discovery—a dangerous journey in which she, like Katniss, competes with males and females for survival. I won’t spoil this plot for you either. You have to read the book for yourself or wait for the movie version. Suffice it to say that when Tris finds herself in danger, she can’t rely on a male to pull her out. She has to act for herself.

That’s what being the hero of your story is all about. What books do you like where a female is the hero of her story?

Sources:

Spretnak, Charlene, ed. Preface to “Mythic Heras as Models of Strength and Wisdom.” The Politics of Women’s Spirituality: Essays on the Rise of Spiritual Power within the Feminist Movement. New York: Doubleday, 1982. 90. Print.

<<Here is the link to Charlene’s website. I used the print copy, however.>> http://www.charlenespretnak.com/the_politics_of_women_s_spirituality_116773.htm

16 thoughts on “Guest Post: We’ve Come a Long Way

  1. I greatly enjoyed this post, although I actually didn’t enjoy either book that you referenced! I found The Hunger Games much more readable of the two.

    My favorite literary heroines to date are all found in one book: A Brief History of Montmaray. A friend recommended it to me as “not your ordinary princess story,” which put me off reading it for some time. But she was right. I’d love girls to read this book and see how many wonderful ways there are to be strong.

  2. I think the fact that Katniss volunteered was a stroke of incredible genius/perfectly inspired storytelling. Yes, the story still would have worked and the premise would have been interesting if it had been her name pulled at the reaping. But the fact that it was a decision made me love her even though I didn’t like her as a character… if that makes any sense… and made the story that much more compelling because Katniss’ decision drove the plot. Ugh, now I have to read those again. No, I can’t re-read before the next movie. ARRGH.

    Looking away from books for a second (sorry), I’m glad that Disney is moving in the direction of giving their heroines more agency. When I was growing up, what did we have? Stuff happened to these princesses, and then a prince rescued them. Now we’ve at least got girls who are making things happen. Sure, they need help sometimes, but I’d prefer that to “all tough all the time, don’t need nobody” types. Rapunzel was determined to get herself out of that tower (even if it meant *oops, spoilers*), and Merida went and found her own solution to a problem (which caused more problems, but nobody’s perfect). I think there can be a balance between damsel-in-distress and woman-as-an-island–f-agency.

    Final note: I really hate Lois Lane.. OK, I adored the one in Smallville. But that’s it. 🙂

    • Kate, I was just discussing this with a friend. We noticed how the current Disney princesses have much more agency than the past ones (Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, etc.). Granted those stories are classic and written during a time when women didn’t have a ton of agency in stories. So, I’m glad to see the advent of Katniss!!

      • Just a couple of thoughts in reading these posts. Whereas Cinderella, etc. did little to solve their own problems and pretty much waited until someone else rescued them, they had agency–they just didn’t use it. No one stopped Cinderella from tying her bedsheets together and climbing out of the tower. Instead, she chose to cry (for the fourth or fifth time) and let the critters save her. Same thing as really not having agency I guess. On the other hand, most of the princes that did the rescuing were even more one-dimensional than the princesses. Most didn’t even have names. That’s not terribly empowering either. Whereas the girls are only worthy by being good, the boys’ value is only in the deeds they do; they have no more personality than that. They are only tools. Sad all around, really.

  3. What is a hero or heroine anyway? Someone who has courage. Someone able to stand up and take the right action. I think the problem for me, in fantasy storytelling, is that in order to defeat a powerful adversary, the hero or heroine usually has to acquire some sort of ‘extra’ power, weapon or magic. This, for me, undermines any real power of their own actions. Sure, a magic sword will be useless in the hands of a coward, but it allows us to believe that we need external ‘magic’ to be heroes. Rosa Parkes sat down on a bus – not an amulet or spell in sight and became a total hero in my eyes.
    I would like to see a hero who has to abandon all magic etc to defeat an enemy just using his or her guile,determination, courage… That’s probably why I’m not a fantasy writer. That’s probably why I stopped writing comics and all my peers went on to be top comic book writers and artists! Change the roles played by women, that’s easy, just rewrite the genre. But please think about what makes anyone truly powerful. (sorry if this is a bit simplistic, I’m not a fantasy expert, and I’m sure you guys are already doing this somewhere..? Perhaps you could advise some good examples of the genre for me to read?)

  4. I really must start The Hunger Games, long since loaded on my Kindle.
    Lisbeth Salander comes to mind in the Millenium trilogy, a damaged hero/heroine, but a survivor.
    Since Doctor Who came to our screens, his heroes, sorry, ‘assistants’, do a lot more than run around being chased and screaming. Occasionally, they even save the world.

  5. Love this post. Very insightful. Of course we want to be our own heroines. And a cape too. Definitely, Lois should’ve had a cape.

  6. Pingback: Must Every Heroine Kick Butt? | El Space–The Blog of L. Marie

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