Today's heroines don’t need a man or even a family to make their way in the world in which they exist. They don’t need to criticize themselves all the time, read, "I'm so stupid he'll never look at me," or be inept at stuff, "I can't even balance my checkbook." To counteract that kind of heroine, we see many heroines who are sassy and live on the edge, proof that they are strong. For me, those qualities are just one way to express a heroine's strength and bravery. Flippant and quippy heroines can be fun to write and read, but not necessarily equated with strength and bravery.
When I think of bravery, I think of soldiers who defend the principals of the United States. I think of a little kid learning to ride a two-wheeled bike. And I think of average individuals trying to assert themselves in a world that tends to direct our actions and beliefs. Doing so is something to be proud of, according to author Dennis Rivers on The New Conversations Initiative.
"This is not an easy task. Early in life… most of us discovered that if we said what we really felt and wanted, the big important people in our lives would get unhappy with us, (and, I would add, perhaps even slap us across the face). And since we needed their love and approval, we started being good little boys and good little girls and saying whatever would get us hugs, birthday presents, and chocolate cake," he wrote.
This tendency of not wanting to rock the boat follows us until we stop caring more about that than ourselves. Not an easy task to do directly and effectively with compassion, which is why, I think, we see versions of heroines who demonstrate a "Fuck you!" attitude.
One of my favorite songs lately is one titled Brave by singer songwriter Sara Bareilles. The lyrics are simple, but profound, and challenge people to speak honestly words that have meaning for them, not others. That takes courage. It takes strength to "let the words fall out" and not be deterred or silenced by the fear that friends, family, peers, and coworkers will get upset or have hurt feelings. Of course we can say the words that are in our hearts, but we censor ourselves because we suspect the other person or people will react in anger or sorrow or something less than happy. We try to manage the conflicted perspectives by hiding ourselves, not speaking out.
Again, easy to evaluate the dynamic but hard to do in real life. It takes a mixture of strength and maturity and insight to weigh what we need to say and how to say it effectively without harm. Flippant and quippy are not necessarily signs of strength, but rather defensiveness. There's nothing wrong with that in a heroine, but it's a problem that has to be rooted in something. And the heroine who struggles with childhood or young adult trauma but goes deep to address the issue is demonstrating strength. She is brave not to project her inner chaos onto others. She doesn't have to spit expletives, though she will if it fits her moment, but can use productive interaction based on her truths. She tells the overbearing mother that, no, she's not going to run the heroine's life. Or tells the antagonist that wrong is wrong and she's not going to take it anymore. This takes an awareness of what is her truth and a brave willingness to deal with the consequences of putting her truth out there.
Portraying strength and bravery and independence is not a one-way-only type of thing, but it does mean different things for different people. Variety in heroes and heroines is nice.