Right so. I was thinking about the notion of the independent woman the other day. Don’t ask why. Not sure how it came about. I think it started because I was talking to someone about boyfriends. Whatever.
After the conversation ended, it stuck in my mind. I wound up thinking about literature, as I usually do. After this came the idea of archetypes and stereotypes and how women have been portrayed in literature over the years.
Don’t laugh. Sometimes I do think of these things on my own.
The debate nowadays is that many of the principal female characters of old are spineless. This mainly springs from the conventions of the times and the ideals women were expected to live up to. It is only natural then, that heroines would embody the ideas of the times. Plus, most really old classic lit was penned by men. Of course they are going to want to make their own gender seem superior in literature. How hypocritical to live one way and write another!
Some say that women in classic lit are meek. They are humble. They have no backbone. They are simmering simpletons who do nothing but swoon and wait for their men to sweep them off their feet, save them from the villain’s clutches and marry them.
I say bollocks (one of my favorite British words).
Classic literature is full of strong female characters. Jane Austen. All of her heroines. Sure they all want to get married. What girl doesn’t want to get married? Also remember the time period in which she wrote. There were no real career options for a woman in her day. Marriage was really the only path. And yet Jane still managed to have a career for herself anyway. Of course there are elements of her spunky, independent self in her characters.
Scarlet O’Hara. You don’t have to like her. I don’t. But she’s a very strong woman.
I must credit Jane of All trades for a brilliant and more in depth post about this subject a while back. I urge you to check it out.
But I’m not done with you yet. I haven’t even gotten to the independent woman thing yet. And naturally anything here has to relate to my writing somehow. Bear with me for a while longer.
So after I disproved many great a scholar’s thesis about sappy women, I returned to the “product of the times” thought and came to the conclusion that nothing about that has changed. Women then were portrayed in such a fashion because that was how they were seen at the time. People wanted women to be virtuous, quiet and dependent. It was in demand. The reason we raise such an outcry against this nowadays and don’t see many new characters represented as such is because that’s not what we want.
Writers give the people what they want. They don’t get published otherwise.
Now women have careers. Now they are loud. Now they don’t give a damn about female limitations (at least in Western nations). Now readers want independent women who dominate every page and can generally be a total pain in the tookas and pass it off as a backbone. Instead of Ken saves Barbie at the end we get Barbie saves Ken.
As I thought about this and how to reach my target audience, I began to panic. I’m a hopeless romantic. Every single one of my stories involves a daring rescue of the woman by the man in the end. Cue hyperventilation. My readers won’t like it. Enter sharp pain down left arm. No one will read it. Come on numbing of left ear. My women are too weak and no one will love them and I’ll never get published and even if I do no one will read except my mom. People don’t want this anymore
they want this
And then I stopped myself. Just because my women get ensnared (haha! get it? Sorry, bad joke) in a whole mess of trouble, does not mean they are weak characters. They are also not simpletons. They are convincing. They are real. They get caught because the antgonists are out to get them; that’s what antagonists do. Bad guys have to be very good at being bad guys otherwise no one will believe they are bad guys. Duh.
Sometimes the villain is one step ahead of the protagonist. This has nothing to do with the character herself. She can still be in a predicament without being meek. It is her qualities that make her strong. It is her ability to out-wit a college professor when he refuses her admission. It is her determination to run away from an abusive arranged marriage. It is her survival skills keeping her and her father afloat after financial disaster. That makes her strong.
And let’s be honest here, who doesn’t like it when Ken saves Barbie and they have a fancy wedding with poofy dresses in the end? A knight in shining armor is just plain great. Come on now.
- Iconic Romantic Heroines – Intro (writingiscake.com)