Friday, September 10, 2010

Strong Female Role Models

For the record, I didn't grow up with strong female role models. I had a "stereotypical" Asian daughter's upbringing. According to my mother, my goal in life was "to go to school, get a good job and help the family." It was implied that I would follow the desired paths of law or medical school. My mother had been a nurse' she had hopes I would follow in her footsteps.

Being a writer wasn't encouraged. I knew I had no real desire to enter the medical profession, although I admired people who had the courage (and determination) to become doctors. Being a lawyer wasn't too appealing to me, either. When I told Mom that I was thinking about majoring in journalism, she had visions of CNN dancing in her head.

"Oh, that's so dangerous!" she gasped. Or she wanted me to take her on overseas assignments so she could travel. On the whole, she didn't approve of my dreams or ambitions. They were not part of her plan.

As a result, my writing had very few strong female characters. Most of them were submissive and suffering, or domineering and meddling. I didn't know better at the time. One of my friends at the time commented, "Do you really hate us that much?" I guess I had a subconscious scorn and disdain for women, whom I considered weak. I must have spewed a lot of venom in those early days. In one way, it cleared a lot of emotional garbage that was happening at the time. It allowed me to reconcile my feelings of an independent person breaking free of her mother's shadow.

I began looking at others for role models: teachers, acquaintances, friends. What kind of qualities appealed to me? What kind of traits do I want? Honesty, courage, strength, patience, enducrace, love, honor and respect. To be treated, and treat others, equally, instead of assuming control over others and forcing them to do your will.

I also turned to books, mainly science fiction and fantasy. Authors like Marion  Zimmer Bradley (The Mists of Avalon) and Mercedes Lackey (the Heralds of Valdemar series) included powerfu characters in their stories. To my delight, I found David Weber's Honor Harrington series. Honor's character has been described as "a female Horatio Hornblower or Lord Admiral Nelson".

Although these women embody sterling qualities, they are far from infallible. Morgaine Le Fey is a priestess of the Old Celtic Ways, and tries to stem the tide of a new religion in Britain: Christianity. Talia Sensdaughter struggles to deal with strange powers. Honor Harrington deals with politics that interfere with her military career, as well as her personal life. They must overcome their struggles in a very human-like manner.

Anime cartoons for young girls featured a strong central female character. Most of the time, it centered on a normal girl who had been granted magical powers to do some good in the world. The more mature films showed women in positions of power: military leaders, pilots, and heads of business corporations. Even the villains possessed a delicious ruthlessness that was unique. Women held their own beside the men (and even had somewhat believable sex lives!) It was an eye opener for me.

All this influenced my writing in a positive way. Gone was the passive geisha girl, the teary-eyed Victorian heroine. I began to unlock a new treasure chest of characters. They spoke with new confidence and new life and enriched my literary world a thousand-fold.

All original writing and art copyright A. Dameron 2000-2010

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