A Heroine’s Personal Journey to Claiming Her Power
by Selene Grace Silver
We know the negative stereotype well. The heroine:
- appears dainty, freezes in the face of violence (interpretation: physically weak);
- acts indecisive or uncertain, lets a man speak for her (interpretation: intellectually weak);
- blushes and/or cries easily (interpretation: emotionally weak),
…and therefore, requires repeated rescuing by some self-appointed, protective masculine hero.
Modern readers of romance typically eschew this type of helpless heroine. They even have an acronym for her: TSTL or Too Stupid To Live.
With a history that stretches back to oral fairy tales about Cinderella, heroines of this ilk survived to flourish in the bodice-rippers of the 70s and 80s, and even into the more progressive 90s. It’s no surprise, considering that the readers and writers at that time had grown up in the idealized post-war 50s and early 60s when families lived comfortably on one income, allowing mothers to stay home and raise the children while the fathers ventured out into the harsh world to make money, an ugly business. It was an era in which the mystically handsome and politically powerful Kennedy family defined American strength and sophistication. Like the First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, who embodied the perfect feminine ideal, women were expected to be elegant and completely focused on developing their femininity as a pleasing counterpart to their husband’s vigorous, aggressive masculinity.
Ironically, the late 70s and 80s also produced a second women’s rights movement. Women coming of age in the 70s and 80s were living with one foot in the past (their mothers’ world) and one foot in the future (their daughters’ world). Those women began life as young girls who were told that their greatest aspiration should be a good marriage with lots of children. But by the time they reached late adolescence, many had been introduced to feminist ideology through the media and friends. They attended college, where they traded home economics classes for courses in women’s studies, and they read the consciousness-raising magazine Ms. These feminists believed they could have careers and marry and raise families simultaneously, without giving up anything.
Many did it. They had careers, started companies, married, got pregnant, went back to work three weeks after delivery, kept the house clean, raised the children. They were the first superwomen.
Then their marriages suffered, often ending in divorce. They hit the glass ceiling. They felt exhausted all the time. After all, being everything to everyone is exhausting. The passive, approval-seeking heroines of their romance novels needed to evolve (as did the clueless, self-absorbed heroes). The new heroines of the books their daughters would read would have present heroines who were more self-sustaining, more pragmatic.
Out of those rocky social changes, fiction gained some wonderful heroines. Wonder Woman. The Bionic Woman. Charlie’s Angels. (Okay, maybe not Charlie’s Angels. But they could kick villain butt in their high heels and designer bikinis.) The main problem with these heroines is that they had no flaws. They were invincible. They were…not real women, or not completely real women. Their perfection was elusive and out of reach for most women living in the real world.
Eventually, we got iconic and amazing female characters whose stories were so complex that even men wanted to follow their stories—heroines like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (Thank you, Joss Whedon.) She was powerful and independent, but she had flaws. We loved her. Hell, we still love her.
But does that mean that every strong heroine now has to be some copycat version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Does she have to be tough, skilled in the art of using wooden stakes, willing to shut down her feelings, give up someone she loves… in essence, be tough exactly in the (equally unfair) way society has always demanded of a traditional man—and all before she’s even a fully grown woman?
As writers, filmmakers, storytellers, we’d be crafting a disservice to women everywhere if the only alternative to the weak, clinging heroine of an earlier time had to now conform into a penis-less version of Rambo.
And how does a heroine develop into a powerful and wise woman anyway? Everyone is young and stupid at the start. Frankly, it’s rare to encounter women (or men) under 30 who never make mistakes or poor choices. I know I wasn’t one. I credit a lot of my strength today to surviving some pretty awful decisions and their consequences when I was in my late teens and twenties. (My friends acknowledge the same history so I know I’m not alone.) And since fiction is as much about showing us how to overcome the adversities of life as it is to provide us with inspiring role models, it’s appropriate, even desirable, for some stories to begin with heroines who might lack confidence or essential life skills, especially when those stories show the heroine growing and developing into a strong and confident woman by story’s end.
I was mopping (a rare event, believe me—I am definitely not a woman of the 50s—but someone has to clean the floors at least once a year) and daydreaming about nothing in particular when the image of a stunning young woman, naked and bound to a platform, appeared in my mind’s eye. She was pale with long black hair, and she was surrounded by a crowd of people whose faces were obscured by shadowy darkness. The scene was contradictorily frightening and sensual at the same moment. It made such an impression on me that I couldn’t shake it. I felt in my bones that she hadn’t wanted to end up on that stage, that situation, yet there she was.
As a writer, I respond to such visions by wanting to shape a narrative. So I sat down to craft the girl’s story. I discovered that her name was Adara and that she was a naïve but resilient young woman. I knew that she was not going to be able to leave that stage until after the ceremony was concluded. I knew she was going to have nonconsensual sex.
Most rape victims are not raped by strangers in dark alleys. They are raped by seemingly regular guys whom they thought were trustworthy but turned out to be something else—their girlfriend’s brother whom they encountered in the family’s downstairs laundry room next the bathroom, a frat brother on a college campus in a house full of other partying students, the church pastor’s cousin who chased them teasingly into the long grass during the summer picnic as the sun set.
Most people become victims because they trust someone who appears on the surface to be like lots of other people they have trusted in the past and, therefore, have no reason to distrust.
This tendency of the young to trust lands Adara in her serious predicament: on that stage where she is about to lose her virginity as part of an ancient pagan ritual. Sure, some characters, say Buffy, would have drop-kicked and karate-chopped their way out of the scene. I am woman! Hear me roar!
But Adara is not Buffy. Buffy would never have ended up tied to a platform about to be sacrificed against her will in the first place. Adara does.
Adara is the character who appeared in my mind’s eye demanding her story be written—the story of a heroine’s journey, from fool to wise woman, from beginner to virtuoso. Adara begins her story an innocent in nearly every way. She is a virgin. She’s relatively uneducated. She doesn’t know what she wants in life. She doesn’t even know she has special powers. Only through adversity does she progress towards understanding, towards laying claim to that power. The strength she develops through the course of the story is less “external master swordswoman” and more “inner spine of steel.” Sort of the way it is for most women in the world.
About The Binding of Adara: Book Two of the Witches and Warlocks of Los Angeles
SUSANA SAYS: Sensual and compelling story guaranteed to bewitch: 5/5 stars
The setting: Los Angeles, 1970’s
Alone in the world after her grandmother’s death, Adara finds herself drawn into a cult ritual of witches and warlocks on the eve of Samhain, where, as it turns out, she is fated to be the main attraction in an orgiastic mating ceremony.
A reluctant warlock, Bowie is a Vietnam vet who attends the ceremony only to protect his sister. He thinks! What but how can he stand by when the pretty girl who’s intrigued him all evening finds herself in danger
Adara and Bowie, along with Bowie’s sister Brianna and her cop lover, find themselves facing a nameless group of unscrupulous cult members seeking to use them to accomplish their evil plans. What to do? Who to trust? How does Adara’s mysterious past fit into this scenario? And is this attraction between Adara and Bo real or the result of a Halloween night spell?
It’s a rare talent for an author to create alpha males as well as strong females who can not only manage them, but also combine with them to make one powerful duo. And that’s what Ms. Silver has done here, not only with Adara and Bo, but also with Brianna and Jack from Brianna’s Bewitching.
The sexual attraction between them is immediate and compelling, but the emotional angle requires trust, and that’s not so easy when you’re suddenly thrust into a dangerous world of magick and goddesses and hidden agendas. A happy ending is an exception rather than the rule in this paranormal world, and while they are allies now, there’s no guarantee they’ll be together in the end.
About the Author
Selene believes in two true things: love and the power of stories. Everything else is up for debate.
First and foremost, she’s been an avid reader her entire life. True story. In high school, her English teacher told Selene that she was also going to be a high school English teacher (probably because she actually read the assigned novels). Horrified by this prediction (think about it–eternity in high school?!), she fled home for university. She did her best to make it a permanent stay–changing majors back and forth multiple times, completing classes that had nothing to do with any of those majors, transferring to new colleges several times–eventually earning more than double the credits required for a BA in English. She promptly enrolled in grad school, where she managed to stretch a two-year masters program into a four-year MA in Creative Writing. Then, her beloved university life kicked her to the metaphorical street and told her to GET A REAL JOB!
Selene currently teaches English to the brightest public high school honors students in the land. Mrs. Unkenholz was right.
Oh yeah, and Selene writes. Romances to be specific.
Like the HEAs of her novels, her love life has a happy ending. She’s married to a seriously romantic guy (he’s Scottish, folks), travels abroad every summer, and drives a reliable American-built foreign car. The family cats keep the mice away. Life is simple, but good.
She lives in sunny Southern California, but remains a snowy Midwestern girl at heart.
See also Brianna’s Bewitching: Book One of the Witches and Warlocks of Los Angeles