For the Love of the Kick-Ass Heroine

Sigourney Weaver
No Sleeping Beauty: Saving the universe by kicking one alien ass at a time.
Girls are raised with an abundance of fairy tales in which a pretty but passive princess awaits rescue by her handsome, heroic prince. Cinderella would still be scrubbing floors for her evil stepmother if her prince hadn’t shown up with a glass slipper to play footsie with her.

Sleeping Beauty lay comatose until revived via the lips of her prince. Ditto for Snow White in the Disney version of the movie. Though these princesses went on to live happily ever after with their princes, if you ask me there’s still something a bit disturbing about men locking lips with unconscious women. But I digress . . .

Are we tired of perfect princes rescuing helpless damsels in distress? 

Damn straight we are!

It’s abundantly more exciting and engaging when the female lead plays an important part in her own rescue, or perhaps even saves the day for her hero or others. Why?  Because we live vicariously through the heroines of the stories we read, and who among us enjoys being docile and dependent?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Staking her claim.
A kick-ass heroine draws us in because she is tough, smart, and resourceful. Her talents, abilities, and training give her a level of freedom, autonomy, and self reliance few of us are able to attain in real life. With the skills to take care of not only herself but also the bad guys, she’s the kind of gutsy, take-charge woman every one of us would love to be—even if only for the length time it takes us to read a novel. 

The kick-ass heroine often bucks tradition and feels little compulsion to adhere to decorum or social mores. She breaks rules and tells it like it is, doing and saying the things we only wish we could do and say. In her quest for justice, she ruffles feathers, rubs people the wrong way, backs them into a corner—and she never apologizes for it either. We admire her audacity and bulldog determination, even if we might be somewhat better behaved ourselves.

In reality, most of us are forced to juggle many balls and find ourselves spread quite thin, bogged down in the minutiae of life. With so many duties and distractions, it’s a good day if we can accomplish two or three of the minor things on our never-ending “to do” lists.  On the other hand, the kick-ass heroine enjoys significant, well-defined goals and an intense sense of purpose and focus.  We admire her accomplishments, perhaps envy her ability to focus on the big picture, and cheer her on from the sidelines the entire way. 

The kick-ass heroine is by no means perfect. She makes mistakes, her blunders often having costly results. She may feel intense guilt and remorse at the unintended consequences of her actions, but she doesn’t let her failures paralyze her or derail her determination—at least not for more than a few pages. Her ability to forgive herself, to look past her errors and faults and to shoulder on despite physical and emotional obstacles is yet another trait we admire in the kick-ass heroine.

Kate Beckett of TV’s Castle
She’s got a gun and a ruggedly handsome sidekick!
While a kick-ass heroine needs no man, pairing a tough, smart heroine up with a well-matched hero can raise both the stakes and the temperature. When the two share a common goal of bringing down the bad guys, there’s lots of room for them to connect and conflict, sometimes simultaneously. The challenges of keeping up with a kick-ass hero will bring out the best—and worst— in a kick-ass heroine, making the story all the more engaging for the reader. And it’s fun for readers to dabble with the kick-ass hero, too. Few of us have boyfriends or husbands who can live up to the legendary kick-ass heroes, so experiencing life via tough-chick heroines allows us to enjoy a fun romp with a bad-ass bad boy while still maintaining our fidelity to our less-than-legendary yet-still-a-great-guy mate.

But here’s a dirty little secret. As much as we love our kick-ass heroines and enjoy venturing into their dangerous, high-stakes worlds, the truth is, for most of us, it’s only fun to play at being kick-ass. While we love reading about tough chicks, we enjoy the safety and security of our everyday lives.

Would we really want a gun aimed point-blank at our faces? Would we really want to engage in hand-to-hand combat with a hardened criminal? Would we really want to be threatened? Chased? Attacked? Heck, no! I can only speak for myself here, but the dangers of eating the unidentifiable leftover guck in the Tupperware at the back of the fridge is risky enough for me.

Moreover, as much as we admire the kick-ass heroine’s world-changing accomplishments, few of us would really want the pressure of knowing the decisions we make and the actions we take could mean life or death for countless others. Thanks to untold slices of pumpkin pie, I’m still hanging on to a few extra holiday pounds. The last thing I need is the weight of the world on my shoulders, too.

Still, give me a kick-ass heroine any day and I’ll step into her skin and fight along with her from the first word until the very last page. No doubt about it, tough chicks rule.


Death, Taxes, and a French Manicure and Death, Taxes, and a Skinny No-Whip Latte are available now. Death, Taxes, and Extra-Hold Hairspray – to follow this summer. Read excerpts at www.dianekelly.com. Visit Diane at www.dianekelly.com, on twitter, on facebook, and at www.killerfiction.net.

Comments

  1. Carmen Pinzon

    Amen to that!

    As a kid I had a set of World Faery Tales and I always enjoyed the ones where the girl rescued herself much better. I wouldn’t want to be kicked in the ribs or imprisoned by a ‘monster’, but it sure is great taking a mental vacation with a heroine who can dish it out and keep on going.

  2. Lynn Ristau

    I always preferred the stronger heroines when I was young, I was never into princesses and such. I wanted to be Wonder Woman or Sabrina on Charlie’s Angels (the smart one), or Police Woman (though I could never look like Angie Dickenson). When I was a teen my hero was Lucy Bates on Hill Street Blues, she’s the reason I became a police officer.

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