Ok, so I have spent a huge chunk of my life both writing and consuming stories just loaded with plucky heroines. You know, the girl (or POC/Queer/Trans person, or some intersection of all those things) who has to work her ass off and do amazing things to be considered the equal of men who got where they are mostly by being dudes. I ate these up when I was a kid.
But I’m kind of done with them, and here’s why:
We should be long past this.
It’s the Twenty-First Fucking Century, darling. We shouldn’t still consistently feel like we have to fight twice as hard to be considered half as competent. And we do. And that pisses me the fuck off.
Yeah, it’s gonna be a swear-y post.
What we should be seeing are competent and established women/POC/Queers/Transpeople called on to do things that are within their specialty, or that are adjacent. You know, like Wooden McNoPersonality in the DaVinci Code.* (Don’t get me started on that book.) You can still tell gripping and engaging stories about people in over their heads within their own profession, instead of, you know, having a character have to cure cancer to be considered for a school nurse position.
What this trope does is reinforce that as women/POC/Queers/Trans people, someone has to be beyond amazing to do anything.** It leaves no room for mistakes, for failure, for personhood. These characters are paragons of those whom they represent, and no one can live up to that. And before some cis/het/white dude brings up Captain America or some shit, I would like to draw your attention to the aforementioned DaVinci Code lead, who has all the personality of a cactus and still gets the hot ingenue so many years his junior. You have plenty of flawed characters who still succeed. Do not make me list off a bunch of them from fucking every “Best Literature of X year” list. I can and will, but I’d rather not.
Men get to be shallow, rude, classless, assholes in literature. They get to leave their wives for nubile co-eds and still be considered the hero of their tales. Not so much for women. Even in ostensibly women’s fiction, like Jackie Collins, adulterous women typically get theirs.
This is one of the reasons that the First Wives Club by Olivia Goldsmith was such a success, because for once the philandering husbands got what was coming to them. (The book is much darker than the movie. I was stunned when they announced they were making it a movie, because the novel is definitely a lot darker.)
I have spent my life reading novels where men abandoned their families for “laudable” or not so laudable reasons, and still got to think of themselves like good guys. As opposed to every book/movie where the woman abandons her family. I am presenting to you the movie Rikki and the Flash with Meryl Streep and Sebastian Stan, when her son is getting married he doesn’t want her there because she left to pursue a career in music. (This movie is that most rare of creatures, a Sebastian Stan movie I won’t see because, no.)
Ok, so yes, basically all of literature, all media really, suffers from a massive Madonna-Whore complex. And while it is changing, it’s still super depressingly prevalent in all genres.
My childhood and adolscent books were full of plucky heroines, Menolly who overcomes adversity to become a Harper in the Harper Hall of Pern books by Anne McCaffrey, after her family abused her for daring to be good at music, and let a hand wound heal badly on purpose. Lessa in that same world, who fought tooth and nail to recover her birthright from the man who murdered her family. Gods, there are so many others I’m having a hard time coming up with specifics, but Arya from Game of Thrones and Katniss from Hunger Games are just two of the most recently popular.
But this shouldn’t be the lesson we teach people who are not cis/het/white dudes. We should be teaching them that they can be quietly competent in their field, respected by their peers, AND THEN sucked through a wormhole and forced to survive by their wits, hopefully utilizing some facet of their field and knowledge base.
*DaVinci Code should be catnip to me. I love that sort of apocryphal Christian mythology and conspiracy shit. But I didn’t make it through the second chapter because the main character was so fucking 2-dimensional it turned into snooze city.
**Ogre brought up Legally Blonde, which is a fantastic movie but suffers from plucky heroine syndrome. Not only does Elle have to get into Harvard, but she has to be the best law student in Harvard.
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