Females in Fiction #1, Damn-sels of Distress

image from: http://denwrites.com/tag/black-and-white/

And that, my fair readers, is the problem!

Last week I kicked off Romance for a Reason, my blog tour turned fundraiser for women’s charities, with a piece about how I evolved from tomboy to writer of feminist romance stories. I ended the post with a plea: to the writers of the world, be it of books, movies, television scripts, or internet content, consider whether the heroines of our tales are worthy—of being loved, of being respected, or of just being. And if they’re not, to scrap ‘em. To the consumers of these works, please consider the same and hold your heroines and their creators to higher standards.

My standards include the following top ten things more fictional (and real-life) females ought to do:

1. Save themselves (and everyone else) whenever they can.

2. Accept when they can’t.

3. Know themselves.

4. Be willing to change.

5. Embrace their sexuality.

6. Champion their femininity.

7. Appreciate chivalry.

8. Celebrate girl power.

9. Eliminate cattiness.

10. Cry a little & laugh a lot.

Yeah, I cheated and squeezed in eleven. Call it writer’s license. For the remainder of the month, I’ll be explaining each of these in more detail, starting here with number 1. (See the calendar on the Romance for a Reason page for dates and links to the other posts.)

Damn-sels of Distress 

The Beatles weren’t the first or certainly the last people to get by with a little help from their friends, family, and, yes, lovers. I take no issue with men helping out the women around them, be it in romance books or real-life. My car would never have its oil changed if I didn’t accept help from the men in my life.

That said, I do take issue with books and other media who depict females as only being receivers of such help, often because their characters are too weak, squeamish, or stupid to do it themselves. In reality, I don’t change my own oil because I have little interest in learning how and no interest in hanging around a dealership while someone does it for me. As a car lover, my dad would camp out in a dealership for vacation—if he were into camping, that is. So he happily offers his assistance, and I gratefully accept it. There’s no condescension implied and no offence taken. The same is true when he comes to me to for help with technology. (Okay, I can sometimes be condescending then…sorry, Dad.) So where are such reciprocal relationships in
fiction? And more importantly, who’s to blame?

In fiction, the crisis facing the heroine is usually far more frightening than crudding up her engine with old oil. It’s often life or death. So can we blame the hero, her lover, for wanting to save her? Absolutely not. In fact, most readers get to this part of the story and swoon, especially if aforementioned male is scantily clad and heavily toned while completing such heroics. (Yes, I see the double standard here. But I won’t complain about the swimsuit edition, if I can have shirtless vampires and kilt-wearing
highlanders.)

Nope, the blame goes to the fictional female (and her creator) for sitting around doing little more than praying for her hulking male to sweep in and save the day. I get that women are the weaker sex. It’s a biological fact that as a little sister took me years to accept, but I’m over it. I also get that women in general tend to shy away from violence more than men; actually I appreciate and am proud of this fact. But I think having one’s life on the line ought to negate all that. That’s the time to stop being a damsel, damn it, and start saving yourself, or trying to. If you’re likely going down, at least go down with a fight. After all, if the character doesn’t care enough about herself to fight back, why should we as readers care?

A heroine who saves herself (or at least makes a valiant effort trying before her alpha-guy steps in) is admirable. One who saves everyone else, as well—totally kick-ass. That’s the next step writers need to take with their fictional females. And please don’t do this by slapping some lipstick on some body-builder shaped, gun-wielding dude-turned-dame. (You’ve all seen the book covers to which I’m referring.) The most fantastic female heroines use their brains, compassion, and common sense to save the day, proving that heroes can be feminine and kick-ass, without actually ever having to kick anyone. (Although, a good knee
to the groin of the villain never goes unappreciated.)

The damsel-in-distress-saved-by-her-knight-in-shining-armor fairytales of our youth might, sadly, have been acceptable back in the times they were created. No more. Women have come too far and fought too fiercely for any of us, male or female, to accept such female characters as our heroines. It’s time we demand our fictional females be as brave, cunning, and willing to step in and save the day as those hot heroes who make us swoon.

Read a few romance books with that type of female lately? Do share!

For those interested in checking out the stories of the fierce females from the world of Alex Crocker, Unbridled is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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