Heroes & Heroines

I’ve been thinking about something recently.  I’ve been thinking about some of the action in Redeemer of the Realm, my current work in progress.

Redeemer is a fantasy work.  Early on, there is a scene where a sword-wielding assassin breaks into our hero’s room.  Our hero, who is just becoming proficient with a blade, manages to defend well enough to stay alive, but sustains a pretty nasty wound in the process.

Later on, our hero gets mouthy with somebody bigger and meaner and mentally unstable, and gets pretty soundly beaten.  Very soundly beaten.

These scenes sound pretty standard, pretty much like anything you might read in any other fantasy novel.  So why are they being singled out?

Because in Redeemer of the Realm, our hero is female.  Now consider, this is fantasy–by definition the people in the story are bound by different societal and cultural conventions than our own.

But the readers–the readers are still bound pretty firmly by our societal and cultural conventions.  And in our conventions, violence toward women is A Very Bad Thing.

I agree with that, by the way.  I’m not arguing against that.

What I’m doing is raising an interesting dilemma brought up by a couple of views we hold in our society.  They don’t seem to directly contradict each other, but these couple of scenes in Redeemer–and some of the action in Concerto, especially, because it’s set here and now–show that there is at least one way in which holding both beliefs simultaneously can cause some reader discomfort.

  1. Women should be treated as equals to men
  2. Violence against women is bad

In the context of a story, these views do contradict.  When you read a story, you expect the hero to have a goal.  You expect him to meet strong opposition.  You expect him to fight hard, and not always win.  Things are never easy for the hero, and if for a short time they seem easy, it’s only because they are about to take a turn for the hellish.

Heroes fight hard.  Heroes get knocked down, and get back up again.  As many times as it takes.

But…when your hero is a female, what then?  I’ve seen in some writers a tendency to take it easier on their heroines than their heroes–the writers I’ve noticed doing that tend to be men, although that may be because I read a lot of male writers.  (For the record, I am female, which may be why I am giving the question thought.  I’m not sure of my own bias here.)

I thought about all of this when I first started The Music Mage (the book before Redeemer) and when I first started Concerto.  I don’t think it’s fair to make things easier on my heroines just because they are female.

My heroines fight hard.  My heroines get knocked down, and get back up again.  As many times as it takes.  They aren’t super-human, and they are often at a disadvantage against men who are bigger and stronger than they are, and many of their fights are not physical.  But they work hard for their goals, just as hard as the heroes.

I don’t claim to offer any answers here–just raising an interesting question.  What about you?  How do you treat heroes vs heroines in your writing?  How do you prefer them treated in your reading?

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