It is not an easy thing to criticize fiction in general, but authors are creators and sometimes get so caught up in the creating part, they do not always look carefully at the ingredients used to make their creations. And although the whole doesn’t always equal the sum of its parts, sometimes one bad ingredient spoils the entire creation.
Wonder Woman is a case in point: she is not a feminist icon. Her creator may have thought he was making a strong female character, but her origins of lying to her female authority figure (her mother, the queen) to leave to follow an inferior man she not only has to keep saving, but her foray into “man’s world” involves her taking a job that is ridiculously below her.
She doesn’t leave paradise because she is some sort of independent free spirit or visionary. She is not an explorer like Dora. She is not a curious young woman out to rule/change/understand the world. Her hormones kick in and she leaves home the first chance she gets. The end.
She is no Batman or Superman.
Yet very often female protagonists have a peculiar problem: they are not visionaries. They are not boundary-breakers.
Take Bella from the Twilight series. Did she meet her future-husband because she was some sort of paranormal-being explorer? Was she some curious and ambitious young woman who went to get to know some race of humanoids?
No, of course not. She is passive by nature and eventually becomes the same as her husband.
Notice her lover does not turn human for her, let alone they remain who they were before they got together.
Compare to The Little Mermaid who relinquishes her supernatural form — and the sacrifice of her own voice — for a man.
It is a disturbing undercurrent in many fictional stories: the woman requires some sort of validation from an Other. She is someone else’s proxy and she can never stand on her own two feet. Someone else must see her talent or qualities and then allow her to use them. Heaven forbid if she has her own ideas and does not look to others to tell her who she is and what she must do with her life.
Someone must take pity on her, whether she becomes a super heroine or a detective.
When I was writing The World’s Most Dangerous Woman, my female protagonist Magnus Lyme decided to infiltrate two powerful global cabals as a teenager when she saw how the two groups inspired two students from her own high school to cheat at the student council elections. She investigates and then asks her mother who not only confirms the existence of those two secret groups, but reveals their own family had been harmed by one.
A teenaged girl who vows to expose their ways was the foundation of the book. She had plans to become a psychologist as it is a long family tradition, but while she decides to study psychology in university, she makes a shift and decides she is better off becoming a journalist — and joining one cabal in university to go undercover before leaving and joining the other with the express notion of writing exposés on both when she is done.
I had a publisher object to the origin story, telling me it would be better if that spunky and feisty young visionary was perhaps bullied in her youth and then got tricked in university to join one of the groups.
This idea did not appeal to me. I wanted a confident and daring young female visionary who has dreams, ambitions, and lofty goals. It is easy to want to be a rock star in your teenaged years, but thinking big does not always mean wanting to perform on stage — there are other ways to make your mark on the world.
It was then when I realized female protagonists do not have the same freedom as male protagonists, and the ramifications of that divide have a far greater impact than we can imagine.
I was watching The National, a Canadian news program the other night and three of my nations female Premiers noted that when they ask a man to run for office on behest of the party, he wonders what took her so long to ask him.
But getting woman to agree often takes months to broker. Women hem and haw, wonder if they are truly qualified or right for the job, look for consensus from their spouses, and the list goes on.
She doesn’t run because it is her dream to run, but we see it in many other ways: how many disciplines in science, business, or the arts do we see movements that were started by a woman or a group of women? How many cities or countries were founded by women?
It is not because women aren’t smart or capable, but when we first tell little girls bedtime stories, we never plant those seeds in her heart that yes, she has vision to see the future, and it is her duty to herself and the world to make that vision a reality.
She doesn’t need Prince Charming to be a queen or empress, building new worlds with her ideas, innovations, and integrity.
It is the reason why I began my own Story Studio: it is my vision to create fiction where characters can be visionaries and not look for validation to make those bold leaps the world needs to progress and thrive.