Silly heroines?

This has been on my mind lately, because I have been reading some book club choices through Goodreads.

Regarding one book, I posted in my review.

It took me some time to get into the book, because the heroine fit certain silly stereotypes of modern women’s empowerment. I’m sure there was a reason the author pursued this track, but the heroine’s behavior made me roll my eyes.  The heroine broke up with a boyfriend because he was “too boring and conventional,” when she wanted excitement, but that can only come from a “bad boy,” and in her binary thinking, conventional men couldn’t be exciting. She foolishly put herself in a dangerous situation, wearing skimpy clothing and six inch high heels to a sleazy bar where she hoped to find a bad boy sex partner. Instead, she was almost attacked, and had to be rescued by the hero.

With respect to the other book, a member of the group observed the heroine was “reckless, self absorbed and pushy.”

I was glad she said that, because she read further than I did.  I was only a few pages into the first chapter when I noticed that about the heroine:  “foolish and pushy in her obsessions with fossils.”

I said to myself,

I’ve read enough romances to see where this is going. It is inevitable, because of her foolishness, she will eventually do something stupid which will jeopardize her safety and others’. She won’t listen and will go somewhere she shouldn’t and confront people she shouldn’t.

Another reader posted:

I’m far enough into the story to confirm that your predictions are quite true.  While I was into ch 5, I thought of quitting because I thought that the only thing that could please me is if this dingbat got a serious comeuppance and learned a hard lesson, but alas, she is a “strong” heroine that is very much in demand.

I wondered,

What is the purpose of writers presenting us with these types of heroines? Since when does strong have to mean stupid? I suppose it is part of the current cultural perspective that I have been thinking about lately, in light of some opinion pieces and even new stories I have seen.  Women’s empowerment is to be celebrated at all costs, even when it is grounded in silliness and poor judgment? Because ideology above everything, including reality!

It might be easy to think that authors are mocking empowered women, but it seems that art is imitating life.

Someone else wondered.  Books like these made her “question what the opposite of a strong woman is. Quiet? Hidden? Non-complaining? Single?”

My reply:

That is the thing I wonder about. Do we presume that strong has to mean arrogant, obnoxious and in other people’s faces about how strong one is? That seems to be the case in our culture.  Why can’t strong be seen as something less extroverted and public in its declaration? What about strong as wise and resilient? One can embody quiet strengths, and I don’t mean stoic in hiding one’s emotions like men traditionally have been urged to do.   Being a woman of strength should be something that is so obvious, that the reader doesn’t have to be banged over the head with it.   That is the problem with these characters. It is as though they have to prove they are strong, which makes me question just how strong they are when their strength isn’t linked to the wisdom that would make me admire their strengths, because they are stubborn and foolish.

Copyright Barbara James.  All rights reserved.