Please welcome author Samantha Bryant to the blog as she shares her views on the female hero.
In real life, the hero-women in my life are older than me. My mother, my grandmothers, my aunts, mentors, colleagues, teachers, other writers. It makes a logical sense: I look to those who have already “been there” to learn how best to traverse the rockier landscapes of my life. While I can be inspired and influenced by younger people, and often am, I look to the elder women in my life when I am in serious need, when I need saving.
Maybe that’s why I became disenchanted with the female heroes I could find in movies, TV, and books. It could also be because I’m getting older myself, and I find it harder to see myself in these eternally single and childless twenty-something women. I’m impatient with their overdramatic situations and narcissism. Their stories are forever trapped in beginnings, without forward motion and change. Too often, they make me want to roll my eyes right back at them.
Underage and Underdressed
There’s been a good spate of strong female characters of late (even if some of them seem to take “strong” a little too one-note seriously). I’ve been happy to see them: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Black Widow from the Avengers series, Lisbeth Salander from the Girl Who series, Katniss Everdeen of Hunger Games, Tris Prior of Divergent, Princess Bubblegum of Adventure Time, Agent Carter, all the clones on Orphan Black, etc. Women who have skills, brains, and talents who use them to save themselves and others.
The frustrating thing to me has been that, even in stories about amazing women, we still worship at the altar of youth. Think about that list I just made. Not a gray hair or stretch mark among them. Several of them still respond to “girl” without feeling insulted or weird.
When I’m feeling cynical, I see it as a reflection of our society’s obsession with youth, especially when it comes to women, especially in Hollywood. By the time a woman gains enough experience to know what she’s doing, large segments of the population are ready to write her off as over the hill, like her worth lasts only as long as her fertility. Ask any actress over forty. That’s why they all seem to be developing their own projects, producing and directing as well as performing. Because otherwise, it’s over to the corner in the role of “mother” or “grandmother” (who is tertiary to the story, at best).
After all this time, are women really still primarily valued in the world at large for surface traits like physical beauty? How disappointing. Would anyone care that Black Widow knows a dozen different ways to kill with her bare hands if she weren’t also sleek in her black jumpsuit and strikingly beautiful with her vibrant red hair? Compared to icons like Wonder Woman and Supergirl, Black Widow is demurely dressed in practical combat gear (and don’t get me started on costuming).
When I’m feeling more sanguine, I can see it as wish-fulfillment. We glorify youth in our fiction because we miss it and know that we could do it so much better now than we did when we had it. “Youth is wasted on the young,” as they say, which is probably why our young female heroes are such paragons of physical prowess as well. We’re living the “if I knew then what I knew now” vision through them, giving them skills at twenty-two that, more realistically, would take fifteen years more experience of trial and error to develop. Skills that would come with scars.
Don’t get me wrong: I like this shining paragon kind of character much better than I liked the weepy doormat victims of the past., but she’s still too often not a fully-developed, well-rounded, interesting person. A strong female character isn’t really any different than a strong male character: she just needs to be a fully developed human, allowed to have flaws, history, motivations and doubts. Some wrinkles in her face as well as her psyche wouldn’t hurt either.
Where are all the grown women?
Thank goodness, grown women are starting to show up out there. Recent years have brought Helen Mirren as Victoria in Red and Judi Dench as M, both amazing and complex female characters, distinctly feminine and definitely dangerous, though neither is the “star” of her particular vehicle. Ming-Na Wen’s portrayal of Agent May on Agents of Shield gives me hope for the entire superhero genre. She’s a woman with history and experience, treachery and expertise. I’ve been thrilled to see more of these women showing up on the imaginary hero landscape.
Now, I want more women like that who also have people they love in their lives. There are plenty of loner heroes, not so many heroes with a family. Why are all women heroes broken and tragically alone (as opposed to by choice)?
At least we have Helen Parr of The Incredibles. Even if she still lets people call her girl, she does have a husband, home, and kids, as well as superpowers.
My Axe to Grind
That’s why I wrote Going Through the Change: A Menopausal Superhero Novel. I wanted to consider the idea of a woman hero, someone who was already established in herself before the strange new life-changing element (in this case: superpowers) comes in. Someone with adult life considerations.
I wanted characters I could really connect to—and that means women who are women, strong and flawed and interesting, just like male characters. People with enough years under their belts to have experience, and history. I wanted a superhero story about full-grown, capable and flawed women with lives, jobs, families and responsibilities. Women like me and my friends, but with superpowers.
Like Toni Morrison said, “If there is a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.”
So, I did.
Going Through the Change: A Menopausal Superhero Novel is my attempt to show the heroism of grown women. Besides dealing with the sudden onset of superpowers, my characters are also facing conflicts in the rest of their lives: relationships, work, families, society. The main characters range in age from thirty-two to sixty-seven. One is a mother to young children, two to grown children. One is a grandmother. Two are horrified at the very prospect of children. They are diverse in other ways, too: attitudes toward love, money, careers, and race.
Superhero fiction has been a great venue for exploring what it means to be a female hero. I love speculative fiction for its ability to take on issues without feeling like you’re doing anything more than playing. Ideally, I want a fun story that leaves the reader thinking. I hope that’s what I’ve written: thinking woman’s heroes.
About the Author:
Samantha Bryant is a middle school Spanish teacher by day and a mom and novelist by night. That makes her a superhero all the time. Her debut novel, Going Through the Change: A Menopausal Superhero Novel is now for sale by Curiosity Quills. You can find her online on her blog, Twitter, on Facebook, on Amazon, on Goodreads, on the Curiosity Quills page, or on Google+.
About the Book:
Going through “the change” isn’t easy on any woman. Mood swings, hot flashes, hormonal imbalances, and itchy skin are par for the course. But for these four seemingly unrelated women, menopause brought changes none of them had ever anticipated—super-heroic changes.
Helen discovers a spark within that reignites her fire. Jessica finds that her mood is lighter, and so is her body. Patricia always had a tough hide, but now even bullets bounce off her. Linda doesn’t have trouble opening the pickle jar anymore… now that she’s a man.
When events throw the women together, they find out that they have more in common than they knew—one person has touched all their lives. The hunt for answers is on.
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