Thursday, January 28, 2010

Heroine Worship - Part Three -- Getting high on heroines

I’m hosting an evening in New York City at KGB on Thursday night with three terrific women writers (Masha Hamilton, Stacy Parker Aab and Louisa Ermelino) We will be reading from our own work and sharing the incredible true stories of women from the Afghan Women’s Writing Project. The title of the evening is Ordinary Women: Extraordinary Heroines. Our goal is to get you to think about your favorite heroines and if possible, to begin to think of yourself as the heroine of your own story. Over the next few days I will be blogging my thoughts on being a heroine.

Part Three -- Getting high on heroines
I was reminded the other night of the many lectures I heard during high school and college about the "hero's journey." As any good English teacher will tell you it is the stuff of all the great literature. Let's face it, The Odyssey wouldn't be much if there wasn't...well...a journey. The great stories of the ages and the lessons of history are filled with men who have struggled to overcome great obstacles to triumph.

I grew up on these stories and as much as I could I was inspired by them. I have to admit though, it was hard at times to relate to these men. The problem wasn't their story, their challenge or their choices, the problem was more basic, they were all men.

You don't hear much about the great women of our time when you grew up in a suburb of Pittsburgh in the late 60s and early 70s. Sure it was a time of "female liberation" but that didn't mean public school curriculum was ready to put the spotlight on anyone other than caucausion men.

Sure there were a few notable women, but they were treated as a fluke or novelty. The apporach was less reverential and more "hey sometimes women can help too!"

I was lucky to have some solid female role models in my life and a father who believed his daughters should be seen, heard and respected (except of course when he was speaking) so although I sought out some of the great women of history and literature I never understood what it was like to feel the power of a heroine. That is until I saw Sigourney Weaver in Aliens.

My sister dragged me to the sequal and promised that I wouldn't be lost even though I never made it through a whole viewing of the original Alien. From the moment Ripley comes back to life I was hooked. Here was a flawed, jaded, intelligent woman thrust into a incredible situation and forced to dig deep and fight the aliens.

Imagine my surprise when I, the fierce gun control advociate, found myself routing for her to blow those suckers away. At last I understood what my brothers were getting from Batman, comic books and Clint Eastwood movies. When there is someone like you on the big screen or in the center of a big story you connect to their struggle, to their fear but most of all you connect to their power.

Ripley digs deep and comes out a fighter. She doesn't cower in the corner and weep over a superficial wound and she doesn't look pretty while kicking alien butt. She looks strong and powerful and beautiful. She embodies everything a heroine should be to me.

Aliens made me hunger for more. If a hollywood movie could make me feel this way, certainly there were books and women from history that could do the same. Since then I have actively sought out stories that give me that feeling of connectedness and of power. In a way it has become part of a practice I think of as Heroine Worship.

My heroines come in all shapes and sizes and are women from all walks of life. Like their "hero" counterparts, they too are on a journey of discovery. I marvel at the accomplishments and challenges of so many women and yearn to have our stories reflected back in literature, movies, art and the media. I want my nieces and all the young women in our lives to access these stories, to understand the full breadth of experience women can have and most of all I want them to fell that exhiliration when their heroine seizes her power and rises to the challenge.

The stories are out there, the heroines are everywhere, ordinary women doing extraordinary things not waiting for the spotlight of recognition or the acknowledgement of history. My guess is you know a few of them yourself. In fact, you might just be one of them.


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