Love Letters to the Universe #23: Holding Out For a Heroine

24 Apr

Dear Universe,

I have always been taken with heroes. Since I was a little child my mind was fully occupied with thoughts as to what made a hero a hero. I studied comic books, mythology and prime time TV. I contemplated such quotes as: “Unhappy is the land that needs heroes”. I learned too well, that the violence enacted by these champions of the screen and page does not translate well to the playground. Today, we seem to need heroes more than ever, as their likenesses are reinterpreted and devoured by a growing fanbase of millions and millions.

Perhaps, more than heroes, however, we need heroines. We need to rewrite the codex of our shared dreams so that the female protagonist stands tall so that some of the damage done by centuries of wretched misogyny and cruel inequality may be undone. It is frankly ridiculous that even today when a group of heroes include a female, that the female is underrepresented by merchandise, that our girls are left with childhood heroes that are more occupied with fashion and juvenile social circles than standing up to the wrongs (however symbolically) perpetrated by the hairless monkey.

In the last few days, the attitudes opposed to this problem seem dreadfully apparent. I have watched as the Disney owned Marvel Studios have proffered entertainment with many strong and independent female characters in way that seems unparalleled in history. It hasn’t been a perfect balancing, not yet, but great strides have been made.

In just under a week, the second Avengers movie shall premiere in the United States. Sadly, there is only one returning female superhero in the mix. This is the provocative and ultra-competent Black Widow (an ordinary human surrounded by mostly godlike men whose powers stem from technology, magic and strange science). Written by the incomparable Joss Whedon, this film promises to portray the Widow as a powerful and deadly opponent to injustice. Joss Whedon has contributed much to the evolution of the super heroine in his Buffy the Vampire Slayer series.

While doing a press tour, two of the male actors in this movie were asked what their thoughts were about the romantic involvement with the Black Widow and the Incredible Hulk (not their characters). In supposed jest these two joked that the Widow was just a “slut” and a “whore”. They have since apologized, but their humor masks a very real problem with attitudes endemic to patriarchal culture at a time when the super heroine has her feet tenuously placed on the threshold of true greatness. Many of new female directed and female oriented heroic movies are slated to appear. More and more genre fans are female. We may even have a female President of the United States in the near future.

This is the problem, oh great and benevolent universe: the male hairless monkey is threatened by strong female types. When a female steps out of her more traditional subservient roles, then she is defined by her sexuality. She stops being a formidable warrior for right and becomes a “slut” or a “whore”. Many people, disgusted by this attitude, are decrying against the very medium itself, which is truly sad. It is the medium itself that stands to be the best vehicle to change these attitudes and throw the heroic female in the spotlight she deserves.

The Black Widow, a Russian spy who was taken, abused and brainwashed by the Leviathan project and turned into a weapon, has liberated herself and uses the results of her hardship to fight the good fight and was instrumental in protecting earth against invaders and has prevented a crypto-fascist coup from taking over the United States and executing thousands of free thinkers. She has met her opposite in Bruce Banner, a traumatized victim of childhood abuse. Banner’s rage manifests physically in the gamma ray-induced Hulk state. Whedon has allowed these two characters to find romantic development because of this shared pain. This truly feminist story’s poignancy is made ever the more poignant by the actors’ poor choice of humor concerning this fictional character.

We need the Black Widow. We need the woman who is brave and willing to put herself in harm’s way to make things better. We are doubly foolish to disregard her.

It is with this hope for more heroines and with a desire to see the archetype imprinted positively on both the young males and females of my hairless monkey kind, that I present to you the last member of the Empress quartet.

  1. The Heroine:

Primary Mode of Operation: Control (East)

Secondary Mode of Operation: Experience (North)

Epithets: The Dominatrix, The Lady Adventurer, The Independent Woman, the Challenger

Mythic Examples: Mulan, The Black Widow, Marion Ravenwood (Indiana Jones), Amelia Earhart, Atalanta.

Description: The Heroine feels the Empresses’ need for control while embodying the wild and free desire for true and shaping experience. Nowhere else really do we have the strength of will coupled so completely with the expansive and traditionally masculine desire to see what is on the next hillside or challenge the limits of oneself. The heroine embodies a real and tangible threat to the patriarchy, which is a good sign that the patriarchy itself is a foolish concept in need of a hasty disposal. The Heroine is a proud and defiant figure that will echo again and again in our culture, because we need her to echo.

As a young girl, the Heroine often appears to be what is traditionally described as a “Tomboy”. These girls will play rough, rise to challenges and are not afraid of a little scrape or dirt. Although they have quick minds and are ever curious, they are the least academic of the Empress types usually because of their impatient and often inattentive focus. The needs inherent in the make up of the heroine will not allow her to conform to gender expectations, nor will she be able to tolerate bullying or categorization that is based on unrealistic prejudice.

Heroines will often have a difficult time with the societal expectations centered around dating and romance. They are looking for someone who is competent enough with which to adventure through life, but who will also be able to accept her competence without resorting to insecurities.

The Heroine wants experience, and that includes sexual experience, but living in a patriarchy the rules for said behavior are stigmatized against the female. Thus, the Heroine will often be forced to experience the derision of her the less brave and adventurous peers of both sexes.

Athletic and skill based pursuits are excellent proving grounds for the young heroine. She also loves to challenge herself with outdoor excursions and physical endurance challenges such as Arctic swimming.

Very often, the Heroine in myth will have to dress, act and challenge men directly in order to get what they want accomplished. Hence they are often the first females to take on traditionally male roles as  protective service such as police, lawyers and advocates, soldiers and astronauts (explorers).

The Heroine will make demanding teachers, coaches and parents, but they are also fiercely loyal and brave advocates for those less capable than themselves. At a young age they will have often idealized some of the more competent adults around them, so they will hold their responsibility toward those who come after and may look up to them quite seriously.

The heroine’s main concern is control, and she will savor the challenge to have experiences that challenge that control and test them to their limits and beyond. When she does this she champions all of humankind.

Ideal match: The Scout

Challenging types for the Heroine: The Champion or the Valkyrie

The Shadow Type: The Femme Fatale: Our traditional literature are chock filled with these shadowy heroines who control the unwary male, lead him into a life of danger and leave him to die in the dust. Inherent in the myth of the Femme Fatale is the lie that a strong and independent woman must use men in some form of crypto-vampiric way in order to exist in the world. Sadly the power of this myth is such that it may convince young heroine’s themselves that this is their only hope to find any gratification in the world. The Noir era and even most of the modern movement of literature is filled with this evil dominatrix who lures men to their doom and a lifelong longing and despair.

When the would be heroine focuses purely on externalizing her control, she is buffered from her own experience by having to exist vicariously through men and their suffering. The femme Fatale is mostly a grossly distorted myth that stems from man’s fear. The problem lies in the pervasiveness of this myth and its ability to convince women that this is the only role open to them in their frustration. The cure for this, however, is the appearance of more and more heroine’s in firm control of their own lives and seeking without apology the experiences that will better teach them and mankind the best route to follow. These heroines will give permission to the next generation, and so on and so on.

This is why, sweet universe, I hope that the attitudes espoused by the two talented actors in regards to the heroine character, the Black Widow, be not repeated. And if they are may both men and women alike rise up and denounce the attitude whenever it rears its ugly head. The time of the Heroine is upon us, and we are in most need of her.




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