Are We There Yet?

The other night, I plucked from my shelf an old Perry Mason novel by Erle Stanley Gardner. This one in fact:

004Hadn’t read it in years. I bought it ages ago, when I was a teen and frequented used bookstores in Chicago, where you could trade books and get others for 25 cents. (Yes, 25 cents, contrary to the 15-cent sticker on the book.)

Anyhoo, if you’re not familiar with Perry, he’s a defense attorney (Gardner also practiced law) with a faithful secretary, Della Street, who gazes adoringly at him from time to time. There was a television show (1957—1966) based on the characters, which starred Raymond Burr as Perry Mason. (Click here for more on that.) But that’s probably way more than you care to know on that subject. I read several Perry Mason books when I was a teen because I was into mysteries, and they were cheap to buy.

But as I read the first few pages of the above book the other day, my twenty-first century sensibilities kicked in as Della dutifully handed Perry his mail, called him Chief, and basked in his wonderfulness. When he asked her a question that she answered with an opinion contrary to his opinion, he quipped, “I should have known better than to argue with a woman,” which usually comes across as condescending. Basically Della does whatever Perry tells her to do. In all fairness, he is her boss, and her actions fit the social mores of the times (back when secretaries were known as secretaries rather than administrative assistants).

I’m not trying to get on a soapbox here. After all, I own this book. Revisiting literature of the past to analyze the gender roles is a mini-hobby of mine. Having seen Guardians of the Galaxy (a film directed by James Gunn) twice now, I can’t help noticing how different a character like Gamora, a trained assassin (played by Zoe Saldana) is from Della Street (played on the show by Barbara Hale). Gamora didn’t spend a ton of time gazing adoringly at anyone. Note the job description trained assassin. She had her own plans, some of which involved giving or taking a beating. (This is also why I loved Black Widow in Marvel movies like The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Iron Man 2.) Women have come a long way, huh? But have we really “arrived”?

          Guardians of the Galaxy International Character Movie Posters - Zoe Saldana as Gamora  Barbara_Hale-0327

Zoe Saldana (Gamora) and Barbara Hale (Della)

scarlett-johansson-black-widow

Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow)

Though I loved Guardians of the Galaxy, I can count on one hand the number of women in positions of strength in it. This is an observation, rather than a criticism. After all, this movie is based on the Marvel comics series. Also, one of the scriptwriters is a woman—Nicole Perlman.

Here’s another reason why I can’t criticize: I’m writing a book with three main characters, two of which are male. One reason for this is the fact that I grew up with two brothers and no sisters. So I’m used to this sort of triad. But really, that’s no excuse. I have to ask myself: If I like seeing strong females in books and movies, am I doing my part to ensure that kids and teens reading my books will find strong females?

Only I can answer that, of course. But it’s something to think about. As someone who grew up reading comic books and who longed to see strong female superheroes with story arcs involving more than being the love interest of the hero, I need to be more proactive about providing said heroines.

On a side note, Scarlett Johansson’s movie, Lucy, opened the same weekend as Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson’s Hercules movie and beat it at the box office. It was trounced at the box office, however, by Guardians of the Galaxy. I haven’t seen Lucy, though I probably will at some point.

Gardner, Erle Stanley. Perry Mason: The Case of the Perjured Parrot. New York: Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster, 1947. 2.

Zoe Saldana as Gamora poster from theblotsays.com. Barbara Hale as Della Street photo from freerepublic.com. Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow from newsmanone.wordpress.com.

Must Every Heroine Kick Butt?

Before I get into the subject of today’s post, first, a little housekeeping. The winner of the $15 Amazon gift card to purchase Mary Quattlebaum’s newest book, Jo MacDonald Hiked in the Woods, is

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Akoss!

Jo-MacDonald-Hiked-in-the-Woods-Cvr

Congratulations, Akoss!!!! Please send your email address to lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com or comment below with it so that I can get that ecard to you!

Once again, thank you to all who commented. Now, on with the show. . . .

300px-Sigourney-weaver-alien1Does a heroine have to be battle savvy in order to be considered a strong heroine? (I’m thinking of heroines in science fiction and fantasy stories, rather than in realistic fiction by the way.)

Don’t get me wrong! I greatly appreciate a heroine who can kick butt. I wept tears of joy watching Sigourney Weaver (above) as Ellen Ripley in the Alien movies. I championed Katniss Everdeen in Suzanne Collins’s young adult dystopian (and series) The Hunger Games (played by Jennifer Lawrence in the movie, below). I loved Katara and Toph in the Avatar series. I even said, “Woo hoo,” at Lara Croft’s antics in the first Tomb Raider movie. And I wanted to be Buffy, Storm, and the Black Widow.

katniss

There are many, many YA heroines besides Katniss who are battle ready (like Katsa in Kristin Cashore’s Graceling) or, in many paranormal romance books, trained by hot instructors to battle the enemy with an arsenal of weapons. And then they later get to date the hot instructors. Good times.

3236307Awhile ago, I wrote a guest post for Hardcovers and Heroines where I whined about an old Lois Lane comic book, because my niece questioned the fact that Lois, the star of her own series, had to be rescued. That was back in “the day.” We’re in a new era of empowered female heroes with agency galore. Like Helen Parr in The Incredibles, we can have it all!

Mrs._Incredible

Yet when I sat down to write the novel I recently completed, I evaluated what I wanted from my heroine. Having earlier begun a novel with a magic-wielding heroine (one to which I’ve since returned), I didn’t want to go the same route. So, I asked myself, and now I’m asking you, does every heroine have to have an edge—that sense of knowing that she’s armed and deadly? Granted, the idea has merit. I’ve mentioned in other posts that I grew up in a rough neighborhood. Even someone nerdy like me needed to look fierce, even if I wasn’t exactly Ripley. But most days, I looked about as fierce as a poodle.

Poodle_Ballerina_Wallpaper_mq8mvAttack, Fifi! . . . Oh forget it!

But I didn’t want my heroine to have the veneer of power. I didn’t want her to be a pushover, you understand. But combat trained? Nope. I wanted her to get by on her ingenuity, her MacGyver-like sense of scraping herself out of danger with whatever she can quickly grab (a rock for example). (Wondering who MacGyver is? Look here.) I also wanted her to fail most of the time, but still try.

Charles Yallowitz has a great post on female characters. In his Legends of Windemere series, his heroines are tough and plucky. But Charles is well versed in weaponry. Me? I wouldn’t know how to swing a sword properly if someone held a . . . well . . . a sword to my head. Yes, I know there’s a thing called research. Trust me. You don’t want me researching a sword thrust. I’ve cut my fingers on my own steak knives. Anyway, sword wielding didn’t seem right for my character. Making hard choices is her strength.

So, once again, I pose the question: Must a heroine kick butt to be viewed as a strong heroine? Please tell me what you think. Inquiring minds wanna know. . . .

Poodle image from scenicreflections.com. Sigourney Weaver as Ripley from alienfilmspedia.wikia.com. Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss from rhsapinoso.wordpress.com. Graceling cover from Goodreads. Helen Parr from disneywikia.