Enjoy this guest post by author Leona Wisoker on how kick-ass heroines can be normal.
I’ll start by saying I’m not a big fan of the term “kick-ass heroine” (or hero, for that matter). The base idea–of a strong, independent female character able to fight her own battles–is fantastically worthy; but sometimes it seems to me that everyone is claiming that they write “kick-ass heroines”–and many of them, in fact, do not. The term feels as though it’s become a touch Barbie-fied at this point in time–commercialized, overused, trite, and turning into a parody of itself.
The term “kick-ass” is inextricably linked, in my mind, to covers showing women in ridiculously skimpy outfits holding oversized weapons and posing in ways that would break most of our spines. (In case you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the infamous post on this topic by Jim C. Hines: http://www.jimchines.com/2012/01/striking-a-pose/)
Perhaps that’s just the cover art side of the industry, which we all know is distorted. There are certainly many wonderful examples of strong heroines in speculative fiction that are in no way plastic bad grrrl copies; look at Tamora Pierce‘s work, or C.J. Cherryh’s, or Marion Zimmer Bradley. I don’t know that I’m comfortable using the term “kick-ass heroines” for any of those characters, though. I get visions of scenes from Watchmen and Tomb Raider when I’m faced with the term “kick-ass”. When I’m faced with great fantastical fiction, I tend to describe the characters with words like “incredible” and “gutsy” and “resilient” and “innovative”.
Maybe we need to come up with another word that means the same thing. Maybe I’m just being tetchy today. But when I ask my female characters if they think they’re “kick-ass”, they just laugh at me and pat me on the head and say they’re not that melodramatic. Alyea of Peysimun, throughout the Children of the Desert series, grows from an impulsive young woman with more courage than sense into an adult with a real appreciation of the hard choices life forces us into–and that the price is higher with each new responsibility we take on. Eventually, there are no good choices, only variations on less bad choices.
Now, to my way of thinking, any human being who can face an impossible decision–such as giving up your first born child as the price of your own survival–is more kick-ass than a sexy sword-wielding female samurai. Alyea faces that choice in the first book, Secrets of the Sands, not understanding at the time that it’s a rigged game; she’s supposed to die regardless. She survives, and has to live not only with the guilt of her choice but the eventual understanding that she was played. Throughout the series, she is, on multiple occasions, faced with the need to kill to protect her own life, which she does without hesitation or remorse–not because she’s a bad person or a psychopath, but because she believes her life is more important than the lives of the people trying to hurt her.
She’s the type of girl who, if someone broke into her apartment in the middle of the night, would cooly take a gun out of the bedside drawer and shoot the intruder dead–without asking questions, because questions take too long and just get you killed. Now, it’s not the act of killing that makes her tough–it’s the willingness to make a fast decision and commit to it, and to accept the consequences of that decision, right or wrong.
Not all of the women in my novels are tough. Some are moral weaklings. Some are broken in irreparable ways. Some are just flat stupid. In other words, they’re normal human beings put through normal crises–well, maybe not normal situations, or I’d be writing lit-fic, not spec-fic.
They don’t stare at hunky guys or gorgeous gals with burning passion; they don’t leap joyfully into battle; they don’t do what they do because they’re in love. There is absoutely nothing wrong with those things, mind you; I love that sort of book as much as anyone else. But it’s not what I–currently–write. (Who knows what the future holds?)
Whether my female characters deserve the label of “kick-ass” is, ultimately, up to the reader–not to me or, sadly, to my characters. I completely respect and support the original intent of the phrase as meaning “strong and independent”.
One day I may even start using it myself. Just not–quite–today.
Leona Wisoker is a writer, teacher, reviewer, editor, and blogger. She lives in eastern Virginia with her husband and two large dogs, all of whom routinely try–and usually fail–to drag her away from the computer for long, rambling walks. Details on her writing credits and projects may be found at: http://www.leonawisoker.com and http://www.mercuryretrogradepress.com; her blog is at http://leonawisoker.wordpress.com; and she recently joined Twitter under the handle leonawisoker.