And during a retrospective clip on heroes, it becomes quite clear that the female voice is well overdue to become a mighty roar - one to resonate with the power to shatter mountaintops.
Sometimes reading about heroes is an exercise in the bittersweet, so easily does the heart thrill to the narrative arc, and so quickly does the mind recognize it all to be fiction. That disharmony, desire warring with the seemingly static, can hint at a sorrow that is akin to witnessing a bird in flight - consistently a window’s view, the audience seat, watching wings make the horizon attainable. A majesty unshackled, form and function made beautiful in its fluidity. It’s a power we’ll never know, never feel - hands will never stretch out into feathers touching the breeze.
We must resign ourselves to being earthbound yet we can still learn from the sight, still draw inspiration from the keen-eyed resolve, from the metaphoric perspective. A fraction of the magic to absorb and make our own.
So it is with the tales and legends of the armor-clad and caped, the peacekeepers wielding weapons of fire, light, and wit. Each story tells us something about the world and about ourselves, knowledge wrapped in the make-believe but made accessible and cogent through words that swiftly hit their mark. The heroes make us cheer and weep, and in so doing, they teach us to be human, and extraordinary in our own right.
We may never see the wonders their worlds boast with our own eyes, may never experience their particular might and prowess within our own limbs, but we can take from the heroes a piece of courage, a measure of confidence, a portion of empathy. Thus we are able to take flight, after a fashion, because of their influence.
Women daredevils of the early 19xx’s and their motorcycles, from the book The American Motorcycle Girls: 1900 to 1950 (GV1059.52 .S55 2009 Quarto).
Pictured from the top: Easter Walters, Margaret Gast, Doris Gray (and Barney Page), Marjorie Kemp & Kemp’s Motor Maniacs, Mickey Apple, Viola Pelaquin, Cookie Ayers Crum, Louise Scherbyn, Dottie Herbert, Cookie Ayers Crum.
“Since it is so likely that (children) will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.” - C.S. Lewis.
When we find in our heroes something familiar, some quality or trait that we recognize in the shape of our own hearts, we become better able to acknowledge our potential for greatness.
It may not be the stuff of dungeon crawls or magical relics, of dragons guarding hoards or sages doling out quests. We may not be wielding swords or harnessing magicks, but sometimes the bravest act we can perform is to wake and greet each day. To meet the challenges eye to eye, to learn from our mistakes, to discover something new no matter how minuscule it may seem, to cherish the small measures of joy even if the sorrows seem the greater weight, to battle our demons, to look into the mirror and accept that we are works in progress.
Each day holds a promise of victory, another chance to be our own hero, another moment to propel forward to something better.
A little nod to the not-so-almighty hero - whose journey is the victory that doesn’t yield any spoils.
I personally like my heroes to be a bit more everyman than demigod.
A Hero’s Death (a brief musing)
A discussion arose on a game forum that I frequent regarding the ways the posters would want to die, specifically, the “manliest” ways. Which I took to mean those going-down-in-a-blaze-of-glory (cue Bon Jovi), guns-blazing, sword-aloft-and-gleaming-in-the-dawn’s-radiant-light sort of deaths. Heroic deaths. Noble deaths. You know, how men die.
And while some of the posts were amusing, some were quite disturbing in the wanton violence expressed on the screen. Eventually, a second discussion arose for a counter topic – the “girliest” ways to die. Which, according to the posts, would include demise by some manner of fluffy, pink, sugar-coated horror.
A few things stood out: 1. That there was a sharp distinction in language – one death was manly, while the other was girly. Not womanly, but girly. Immediately, this was a way to belittle and undervalue. 2. The girly ways to die were feminine in method. Not the stuff of legends or lore, but something akin to being crushed by all of the pink boxes in the toy store Barbie aisle (I don’t think that was actually mentioned, but that was the general gist). And 3. For some reason, we have to yet again attach gender qualifiers and labels to a topic, and in doing so, we highlight the grand divide into how each gender is perceived.
In all of our geeky delusions of grandeur, many of us, women and men alike, may have pondered an RPG-esque way to meet our demise, how we would not go gently into that good night. Had the topic been solely about that, about “how would you wish to die”, maybe with an adjective or two such as “heroic” or “epic” thrown in for that gamer-flair, I would have gladly participated in the discussion. But with the forced categorization, I had no interest. Because the underlying message was “women – you will greet the Reaper differently than the men. You will greet him with a whimper.”
Now I suppose while the menfolk are off fighting dragons and ogres, are being run through while facing their enemies boldly, the women…no, girls…are huddled in the village, waiting for bandits to come and pillage and burn. Or we’re dodging the fate of getting our long, chaste dresses caught in the millstone while we toil over our domestic tasks. Those are our deaths, such is our lot.
Simply, there is no glory in being a woman.
Maybe I’m taking it too far, generalizing more than should be allowed, but my indignation was great and immediate. Because it’s this sort of acquiescence into our social conditioning that, when presented over and over still, limits the ability for people, for gamers, to truly meet in a common arena and really talk to one another. We should shake off that bias.
“Manly” is a positive – it represents the virtues of strength, courage, prowess, resolve, and subsequently, it allows for honor and nobility to thrive. “Girly” is a negative – it represents softness, weakness, everything delicate, and thus promotes this idea that someone/something must be protected, as it (she) cannot act sufficiently on its own.
Women cannot be strong, or courageous, or tough. They cannot hold their own in a fight or commit acts of incredible bravery. That’s the takeaway I see from something designating manly versus girly deaths (not to mention the undercurrent of potential branding of men who are perceived as weaker or possessing “feminine” qualities. The wuss or pussy, the 98-pound weakling, etc.). And despite every historical example of women who have taken up arms, or faced off invaders, or run into the gaping maw of hell on earth to perform a rescue or recovery, well…that’s all folklore or flukes.
That’s the legacy, at least. A legacy of gender labeling, of these neat little men-women boxes. And it needs to be a thing of the past. And certainly not included in discussions about bold deaths…because that is what “manliest” did imply – bold, grandiose, gutsy.
It’s for this very type of thing why I have to celebrate the strong female protagonists of games, books, and comics – the slow building wave of characters that, in some manner and to varying degrees, have shifted that perception away from “woman = weak.” Whether it be Chell, Samus Aran, Jade, April Ryan, Leliana or Aveline, we have new faces of women who should be evidence that heroism is not defined or restricted by gender. And maybe, in associating these valorous and noble qualities with fictional personas, we can begin to see them in real life, and accept that they do, in fact, exist in real women.
Then perhaps the next conversation will be “what is the most heroic way you would like to die?” And it will be devoid of the negative connotations and gender distinction.
Because that epic into-the-sunset death does not care if you are a man or a woman, only that you meet it head on, with eyes open, and with a battlecry upon your lips.