Where have all the female heroes gone?

A 16 year-old girl was asked to name three female characters that she found inspiring.

She quickly rattled off, “Paris Hilton, Jessica Simpson and Britney Spears.”

Why?

“Because they are pretty and boys love them.”

A pop quiz followed. Who is Hillary Clinton?

“Don’t know.”

OK then. Maybe someone else in the pop world. “Do you like Tori Amos?”

Thoughtful look. Then, “Does she have a famous boyfriend?”

So, women are only successful if they (1) can attract (lots of) boys or (2) if they have famous boyfriends. I had to think why. I very quickly found the answer. And it was in the movies.

Just take a look at some of the strong women characters in recent films, and it is clear that they either end up alone, or they die. Look at the two female characters in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon for instance. Michelle Yeoh’s amazingly strong and quietly powerful character ends up alone after the love of her life dies. Zhang Ziyi, on the other hand, takes the first independent decision of her life and wants to be with the man of her choice. And she ends up paying for it by killing herself (although, it was the most beautiful death scene I have ever seen).

Tragic? Let’s look at a few more. Thelma and Louise – they both decide that they have had enough of problems, which were mainly due to the men in their lives, and the only option left to them at the end is driving off a cliff.

Clarice Starling is hated by almost all of her male colleagues in Hannibal. Never mind that one of them gets his brain eaten by her – she is still alone! Oh, and the superb Ripley from the Alien franchise of movies. Always loveless and alone.

In Vanity Fair, Reese Witherspoon’s character wants to rise above her class. She gets married, and only hopes to make a better life for herself, her son and husband. And what happens to her? She ends up being driven out of her home, and is barred from seeing her son. She becomes a social outcast, and is publicly disgraced. Her crime? She was ambitious.

Flip through any women’s magazine and there are mainly articles about how to get a man, or how to keep one. And I recently saw an article that said that being single is bad for your health! If I didn’t know any better, I would be scared.

The fashion pages are filled with clothes and accessories that are meant to make women more desirable to men. ‘Put this on and he will be coming back for more,’ read one caption. No sign of what to wear for yourself, or how to dress to make yourself feel good, for its own sake.

The message that young girls are getting, either consciously or subconsciously, is that being without a male partner is tragic. So, why would anyone choose to be independent? It is plain to see from these movies and magazines that women cannot have both success and love. Actually, women are only an extension of what their male counterparts are. The wife, the mother, the teacher, the porn star, the sexual object.

So, where have all the female heroes gone? They are still there. Except nobody is seeing them. The Paris’, the Jessica’s and the Britney’s. These girls are not that bad, really. I mean they are driven, and they definitely have ambition. They were talented enough to get themselves famous in the first place. They are successful. Unfortunately, they are more well-known for their ‘other’ capabilities.

So, what to do while waiting for that combination of brain and desirability of Katherine Hepburn to come back on screen? Keep looking, I guess.

Oh, and the 16 year-old who was quizzed is my cousin. She has since been given a crash course on life besides boys alone. By yours truly. I am very proud to say that she now has a bevy of boys around her who care more for what she thinks and not for that tight top that has the boys coming back for more!


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Posted on 21 December 2008. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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One Response to Where have all the female heroes gone?

  1. Yvonne Young

    Thanks to the media that people generally accept heroes as world saviours and nothing short of that. How about a single mother who raises her children after the husband left? The teacher who stays back to give tuitions to poor students? The volunteer worker who takes care of HIV patients?