Saturday, June 23, 2012

Tomboy heroines

And there’s the problem that praising a girl for acting like a boy, commonplace as it has become, is not really the same thing as identifying and praising what distinctively belongs to girls.

But Merida is far from being a typical fairy-tale princess. Having flatly rejected the three suitors proposed by her family, she is apparently prepared to go through life quite happily without a husband, and we can imagine her in later years, a weathered and indomitable Amazon queen, sort of a Boudica for the Scots. "Brave" seems at a loss to deal with her as a girl and makes her a sort of honorary boy.

It doesn’t occur to politically correct Hollywood studios that the reason men rescue women in traditional stories is not because women are helpless, but because women like to be rescued by men. It’s not so much putting the woman in a situation where a man must come to the rescue, but putting the man in a situation where he must come to the rescue. Will he rise to the challenge? Will he prove himself a worthy suitor?

It’s a trial by ordeal to test a man’s mettle. Does he have what it takes? How devoted is he? How determined? How sacrificial?

It’s not that classic heroines are incapable of doing anything for themselves. Rather, this is how they choose a mate. How they size up a prospective husband. The brave, persistent, resourceful man gets the girl. That’s the kind of man she wants to spend her life with.

That’s also why you have stories about the underdog who gets the girl. He may be the kid from the wrong side of the tracks, or the gawky nerd. Unlike the rich kid in the sports car who expects women to fall into his arms at the snap of his fingers, the underdog has to work for the girl. Overcome obstacles. Outwit the competition.

This goes to show how much he values her, and the lengths he’s prepared to go to have her. That’s the point of the traditional plot. In fact, a woman might create a situation in which she has to be rescued.


  1. "the gawky nerd"

    There is hope after all! :-)

  2. "the gawky nerd"

    There is hope after all! :-)

    I second that!

    To Steve, I think you're very right. Of course, it's not just women who want to be rescued by their man. Men want to be the one who has what it takes to be the rescuer. I remember wishing I was Superman and could save Lois Lane. I suppose if neither the hero or the heroine have any affection for each other, then they could be indifferent as to who saves whom. Even that would cut against the natural grain though since men have a protective desire even for women for whom they have no special affection.

  3. It betrays an understanding of the differences we all know women have from men that egalitarians would otherwise not admit exists. When a woman says, "I can do [something] like a man," as though she's as good as a man, it's based on the implicit premise that doing it like a man is better than doing it like a woman. It doesn't matter if it's true or not, but the statement can't be made without that premise. Interestingly, most women don't see the value in those things women can typically do better than men. What's with the competitiveness?