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
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?
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?