I went to the movies today to see Divergent (which I think I’ll cover in this week’s nutshell review). I sat in the dark theater with a handful of other moviegoers. As I sat back and watched the trailers, it occurred to me that most of the protagonists in the advertised movies were young, white men. It got me to thinking, like many of the bloggers these days, about what sort of messages we’re sending our young women these days. What sort of characters do they have to look up to?
I’ve talked a lot on this blog about what I want to be and what I want to do (or my complete inability to figure these things out), but I don’t believe I’ve ever really addressed the characters that inspired me when I was young. Who were my heroes? Who did I look up to? Who did I want to be when I grew up? Much as I watched a lot of TV and movies as a kid, I was really more of a bookworm than anything else. I read a lot of books starting with Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey and eventually including Dune by Frank Herbert. Sure, those books were full of neat characters, but the ones that stuck with me? I can come up with two names off of the top of my head. Alanna from The Song of the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce (it’s a series of four books, hence quartet) and Miles Vorkosigan from Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga.
Alanna was the kind of stalwart, determined heroine I always wanted to be. She put everything on the line to support her brother’s dreams while pursuing her own. She fell in puppy love with a handsome prince and then walked away when he asked her to be untrue to herself. In the end, she was everything she had wanted to be with a man she loved by her side. Alanna accepted no bullshit and stood up for what was right and did her duty. It was Alanna who taught me that I didn’t have to be feminine just because I was born female. I didn’t have to conform to societal expectations. That was a powerful lesson then and still applicable now.
Now, where to begin with Miles. Yes, I fell in love with his parents and their stories. I mean, seriously? I loved Aral and Cordelia and always knew that their progeny would be something else. That’s what brings us to Miles Vorkosigan. Born with a shortened stature and brittle bones, Miles had an uphill battle on his home planet of Barrayar. They were a militaristic society and Miles just wasn’t really cut out for the warrior’s life. That said, he more than compensated for those deficiencies in one critical respect: he was brilliant. He could talk his way into and out of most any situation. That ability was something I desperately wanted to have. Hell, it’s something I still want to have. Any man with a silver tongue and a sharp intellect should be admired. I suppose that’s one of the reasons why Tyrion Lannister has really grabbed people. All things considered, Miles and Tyrion have a lot in common except that Miles is an only child of loving parents who actually succeeds at what he sets out to do. So, there’s that. Much as I love Tyrion (and I do), he doesn’t have as great of a track record as Miles.
Whenever I was confronted with a problem that I felt that I couldn’t handle, my mom would turn to me and say, “WWMD? What would Miles do?” Somehow, that always managed to give me the right amount of motivation to tackle whatever it was in my way. To this day, there are moments when I’ll think about how Miles would handle a problem. As much as I wanted the drive and gumption that Alanna had (as well as the kick-ass fighting skills), I always knew what skill set would likely serve me best in the future. I always wanted to be the brains of the operation.
They were the underdogs. The ones that people least expected to do well. Everyone loves a good underdog story. I’d go into a diatribe here about gender roles and how femininity is seen as some sort of inherent weakness that has to be overcome in order for a hero to truly succeed. As we all know, that’s some bullshit right there. So, yes, one of my big heroes growing up was male, but he wasn’t exactly able-bodied and attractive like the heroes they throw at us on the screen.
I want more cerebral heroes. I want heroes that represent more than just one segment of the population. I want kids to have heroes that are heroic in different ways. Not every hero is going to be a fighter. There are a lot of different elements to a hero and I think it’s about time that people really saw and understood that. Still, at the end of the day, when I find myself in over my head, I still say to myself: “WWMD?” I’ve never forgotten the lessons from the idols I looked up to as a child. I don’t think anyone ever forgets those lessons.