Heroines: Just heroes with breasts?

Cross-posted from my Silk And Shadows weekly Monday blog

Working on: Chapter 7 of FORGED OF SHADOWS
Wherein our hero & heroine find an ally… or maybe an enemy
Mood: Curious

This week’s topic is Heroines: The Good, The Kick-Ass, and The… Well, heroines are never really ugly, are they?  We’ll be looking at what is a heroine?  What makes her appealing to the hero… and to you?  How have heroines changed over time?  Who is your favorite heroine?  And, for today, how is she different from a hero?

Some say it’s semantics, that a heroine is just the feminine of hero.  But I think she’s different.  How could she not be?  Even today, when many women have access to many of the same opportunities as their male counterparts, the female experience is intrinsically different from the man’s.  From lingering stereotypes and gender expectations to unavoidable physical distinctions, the heroine faces challenges that no man considers as he goes forth to slay his dragons.  I mean, sure you gotta save the world, but who’s gonna pack the kids’ lunches?

Obviously, all stories could be changed by switching the gender of the lead character, but my favorite example of how the XY chromosomes influence the very (exploding) heart of a story is Alien.

For Alien was the first science fiction film to assault the rational humanist subject from the basis of biological sex and gender roles: when the chest of the unfortunate space explorer Kane exploded and that phallic little beastie escaped from the depth of our unconscious and onto the screen, with it went the primacy of the sexed body in science fiction film.

The original treatment for the film called for a male Ripley.  But director Ridley Scott cast Sigourney Weaver instead.  In interviews, he’s said he never saw the change as significant, although he admits he hoped handing the heroic reins to a young woman would shake the audience much as Hitchcock had after killing his Psycho star early on.

In ‘Who Are You?’: Alien/Woman as Posthuman Subject in Alien Resurrection, (quoted above) Ximena Gallardo C. gives an awesome academically weighty run-down on the mother of all monster movies – literally, as Ripley becomes, in the course of the franchise, surrogate mother to a little girl and eventually Queen Mother to a new race of alien/human hybrids.  Ain’t no hero could pull that off!  Point being, gender informed that story on every level, from the themes that played out over several movies to our experience as viewers.

For ancient stories nearly as gory as Alien still featuring strong heroines who follow and diverge from the traditional hero’s journey, read about Isis and Hi’iaka. These goddesses are fully realized and well-rounded characters who could easily stand beside Lt. Ripley or any other modern heroine with their strength, cleverness and determination.

For an interesting take on how a woman’s path can differ in real life as well as storyworld, check out Maureen Murdock’s The Heroine’s Journey: Woman’s Quest for Wholeness.  One aspect that fascinates me is the interpretation that unlike the hero’s journey where the man seeks integration with the Mystic Feminine during his descent into the Otherworld Cave (could we BE any more gynecologically unsubtle?) and is made whole the heroine seeks freedom and independence in the masculine realm and discovers it is still not enough.  In a way, the heroine’s path is more complex than the hero’s.

The writers among you might be interested in this chart and graphic representation of the heroine’s story arc.  The emphasized differences between hero and heroine here culminate in the final stages where the hero traditionally becomes “the master of two worlds,” while the heroine experiences “the release of creativity” that was denied her in her old world.  As a woman writer writing primarily for other women, I’m intrigued on the personal as well as the story level.  Because while men have always been celebrated for their outward bound adventures, women have had to first meet responsibilities to their families, communities and society or face raised eyebrows at the least.  As if being the fire-tender somehow precludes carrying the fire out into the wider world.

Not that I dismiss the hero’s unique challenges.  After all, the cave IS a scary place 🙂  The glory of the romance novel today is that it explores the journey from both the female and male points of view, integrating two disparate paths as the heroine and her hero come together for their happily ever after.

What do you see as the key differences between the heroine’s path and the hero’s, both in the stories you love and your own life?  Will we ever come to a place where the journey is essentially the same for men and women?  Would you want it to be?


One thought on “Heroines: Just heroes with breasts?

  1. I absolutely do not want the journey to be the same for men and women! We are wired differently and should bring a balance to the other. That’s why I wonder why the heroine only brings the hero a nurturing balance and good sex.

    I haven’t been reading many romances lately though will be again shortly. However, as I said on the SAS blog, I think more attention should be on the hero’s journey. The heroes have changed a bit, many now have a domesticity rating and a sense of humor. But your book won’t be out until November 2009 so I don’t know what you’ve done with a hero who knows he’s doomed yet can’t die. Interesting concept!!

    However, one of the jokes is “we write about alpha males but wouldn’t want to marry one.” Why not? Then what makes them a good hero? While in the paranormal world, happily ever after may take a different spin, but… I have to wait and see what you did… LOL! Anyhow, the joke is still on me because I did marry an alpha male.

    That’s why I want to see something more. He does see himself as invincible, immortal, impressive – and in his 30’s he sort-of was… how does that differ from the heroic alpha males? He’s also childish, stubborn, and can forget to shower. He has workaholic tendencies (alpha male) but he plays hard too.

    See, this is what I am getting at. My hubby’s passion is flying small airplanes. What I brought to his life is the encouragement to do so. He’s a good dad, hubby, son with all the alpha male arrogance but without his flying time – he’s edgy, rude and isolates himself in a cave. LOL! That’s why I think the romantic hero needs another look see and should start transforming a little.

    Maybe in the paranormal would, he can. That’s why I want the hero and heroine to have a greater need than saving humanity from destruction. Armageddon’s been done to death. Satan and God having a tug-a-war with a human’s soul? Boring! Now if demonic possession means you can’t eat chocolate, well I’m going to be right there cheering the destruction of the demons. If the angels are trying to shut down the music industry, I’ll be cheering on the demons. See what I mean about there being more at stake than death?

    In my life, he flies & I write and neither of us are into the others thing. But if he can’t fly and I can’t write – we’d kill each other… That’s what I mean about a personal passion beyond good sex. That’s why I think the heroine has transformed beyond the classic hero so it’s time he begins. Of course that is how humanity has transformed in real time, the woman wants change first then the men need to wake up and make an effort.



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