What Makes a Kick-Butt Literary Heroine?
By Karen Ballum on November 22, 2008
BlogHer Original Post
I like strong women. I like the women in the books I read to be strong. I don't like weak heroines that sit around waiting to be rescued. In fact, I much prefer it when they are the ones that do the rescuing. But what makes a kick-butt literary heroine? Is that they are strong? Independent? Opinionated? Do they actually have to kick butt? Or do we just need to like them? I think many people would consider Buffy to be pretty kick butt and she's all of those things (and ok, was mostly on screen but there are books). But what about Anne Shirley? Nancy Drew? Elizabeth Bennett? In my world, they all kick butt.
Anne Shirley got a BA when university degrees for women were very much not the norm. She was a trailblazer. Nancy Drew more often than not rescued herself when she got into a sticky situation and she wasn't above rescuing Ned along the way. Elizabeth Bennett was pretty kick-butt for her time. She turned down a marriage that would have secured her family's future and told off a Lady who stuck her nose into her business. She was no simpering wallflower.
At Racy Romance Reviews Jessica talks about her view of kick-ass heroines.
My own understanding of the term “kick ass” as an adjective is either “really great” (a “kick ass movie”), which is not the sense that’s at issue here, or “really powerful, forceful, effective”. I can cheer for a kick ass heroine because she’s strong in a way and at a time that matters. She doesn’t merely have the right beliefs and stick to them — she acts on them, and impacts others by doing so.
I love that definition. Really, really love it.
The Anne Shirley's and the Elizabeth Bennett's of the literary world aren't pin-up girls either. The other characters in the Anne books find Anne ugly (we all remember that wonderful scene with Rachel Lynde) or lovely (Gilbert Blythe, natch). We are frequently reminded in Pride and Prejudice that Elizabeth is attractive but that her older sister Jane is the beautiful one. The kick-butt heroines in books are attractive, but not because of their physical appearance. Author Kat Richardson talks about the beauty thing and heroines.
A while ago I got an email from a fan who, just in passing, referred to my protagonist as “a beautiful woman.” This threw me a little because I’ve never described Harper as beautiful. Rather I think I’d taken pains to describer her as ordinary-looking except for her height. She’s a bit too thin and there’s certainly nothing outstanding about her looks. She has plain brown hair and plain brown eyes and small breasts on an athlete’s body hidden under layers of boring clothes. No Marilyn Monroe figure, no gorgeous hair or designer clothes. She’s a working stiff and the sort of person you wouldn’t notice under most circumstances.
The ordinary person who could be you or I is the one that we are most attracted to and they kick butt because of their actions, not because of their looks. At Random Top Five Sabrina lists her favourite literary heroines, who range from Victoria Leonard to Wendy Darling. Pretty Face reflects on the fashion style of her literary heroines and it's not all frills and fluffs.
Even the austere Jane Eyre takes pride in her simple grey silk dress, a garment which has always stuck in my mind as something I'd like to wear.
What makes a kick-butt heroine and who are your favourites?
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