Archive for February 15th, 2008


Kick Ass Heroines


One of the biggest comments I get about the Kitty books (the fourth, KITTY AND THE SILVER BULLET, is just out) is how “Kitty seems so real.”  I’ve thought about what this means, what prompts people to say this, and realized what Kitty’s being compared to:  the gung-ho, take no prisoners kind of character so popular in supernatural fiction right now.  The kick ass heroine.  Maybe Kitty seems real because she doesn’t go into every situation looking to kick ass.  This isn’t to say she’s weak or doesn’t stand up for herself.  Rather, I think it means she’s less likely to depend on that particular skill set.  I like to put the emphasis on the “heroine” rather than the “kick-ass.”


I saw (and loved) the latest Resident Evil movie last fall.  One of the reasons I love these films so much is the heroine, Alice.  She’s about as kick ass as they come, but she also shows compassion.  She’s a problem solver.  She has the skill to shoot, fight, battle, and kick her way out of just about any situation.  But you get the feeling that she’d rather not.  She smiles at children.  She cares about her friends.  She cares about the world.


To be frank, I’m a little tired of heroines who strap stiletto blades on their forearms in the first chapter, and who would just as soon spray down a room with an Uzi than actually try to solve a problem.  That doesn’t feel real to me, and more than anything else I want Kitty to feel like someone you could meet in real life.  I get lots of comments about how Kitty starts out so submissive and weak.  When most supernatural books feature women who are fighting right out of the gate, this seems odd.  But over the course of the books, Kitty learns to stand up for herself, and learns to fight when she needs to.  To me, watching a heroine learn how to fight rather than starting out at that level means more.


Sometimes I’m afraid that violence and kicking ass have become synonymous with “strong woman character.”  Like if a character doesn’t wear leather pants and carry a Glock she can’t possibly be a strong woman.  A powerful woman.  But I don’t think this is true.  A character doesn’t have to be violent and confrontational to be a strong woman character.  There seems to be a point where she crosses the line and becomes simply pissed off and unpleasant, and frankly, I don’t need to spend 400 pages reading about someone who’s perpetually pissed off and unpleasant.  Instead of being strong, she takes on a victim mentality, feeling like the whole world is out to get her and the only way she can respond is by kicking ass.


Here’s the thing:  I look at history, and the women I admire, the ones who really are strong women, are women like Sandra Day O’Conner.  Quiet, dignified, confident.  This is not to say they’re going to give up in a fight.  On the contrary, when you hear the stories of what O’Conner, Pat Schroeder, Janet Reno and their generation of women had to do to get through law school, you can’t tell me they weren’t strong women.  Women like Jane Goodall and Sally Ride who bucked the system in order to do what they love.  Powerful women.  Kick ass women who stood up for themselves.  And they didn’t have to wear leather and be violent.  They still changed the world.  To me, that’s real, admirable, and heroic. 


That’s the kind of character I’d rather write about.


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