Wonder Woman Is Still Innocent

Wednesday, November 28, 2018
I was sitting in my classroom today, talking to the girls who comprise our school’s NaNoWriMo club, when I asked them a question: What are you tired of seeing in fiction today?

Their response was immediate and visceral. The answer?  All female characters are the same.

When I asked them to elaborate, they didn’t hesitate to answer.

The first piece of feedback was that female protagonists are too strong. You read it right. They’re tired of heroines who are quintessential superheros. Authors have done a 180 in recent years, making female characters capable of moving mountains, but my students feel these characters have lost their human side as a result, becoming more of a statement or cliche than someone to whom they can relate. “They represent something,” one girl said of the new heroine, “but it’s not a real woman - at least not anymore.  They're missing crucial flaws."

Which brought them to their next point. If female characters are flawed, their failings are weak. In fiction, now, the heroine might like a boy or a girl who doesn’t like them back. Maybe they aren’t in shape or their parents work all the time instead of doting on them. To my NaNo kids, those flaws are superficial.

“Make them dark,” one student said.

“Yes!” said another. “Maybe she likes revenge. Or seriously contemplates murder!”

They want the flaws to be real. Harsh. Very, very dark.

By dark, they mean the opposite of innocent, which was their next complaint. As they moved the conversation to the virtuousness of heroines, their tone became bitter. They felt like while some high school students are innocent - and while some grown women may still retain that innocence - by the time one hits the age of eighteen, many of them aren’t. At least not the way they’re portrayed in books. My NaNo kids were tired of strong, bad-ass women being naive. “Even Wonder Woman was innocent,” one student lamented, "which is so disappointing. If she had a dark side - a real dark side - she would be much more interesting.”

By the end of our conversation, they decided that Wonder Woman would be much improved if she was an eighty-four year old grandmother, widowed, with six cats and a serious addiction to apple juice and listening to country rap.  But she would, of course, retain her bad-assery.

So I challenge you, as you craft your heroines, to think outside the box. Make my teenage NaNo students happy by creating vulnerable, interesting heroines with a dark side.  Make them complicated and original. But most of all, keep them as far from cookie-cutter as you can get.

Bethany Masone Harar is an author, teacher, and blogger, who does her best to turn reluctant readers into voracious, book-reading nerds. Check out her blog here and her website here.


Margo Dill said...

This is really insightful and I think those girls really have a point. It helps me with my current WIP too. Thanks for sharing with us!

Mary Horner said...

I love this idea! Thanks for sharing.

Angela Mackintosh said...

Great post, Beth! I'm actually glad to hear this because often the characters I write are a bit dark...even writing my memoir, I fear that the darkness of my past may be too dark, so this is great news. :)

Did you know that Wonder Woman really wasn't originally so innocent? Her creator based her character off of a dominatrix. Look up William Marston...he lived with three women in a matriarchal situation. Now the lasso and cuffs make sense!

I think you should write a story with the character of Wonder Woman as an 84-yr-old, country-rap lovin' cat lady! That's hilarious.

Renee Roberson said...

Wow, this is great to hear and so helpful! I'm working on a YA where the main female character has sensory processing disorder, and I see now that I really need to play that up. She also gets stalked by the hottest boy in school, but may become too much of a victim. I see now that it would totally be fine if I made her thoughts go even darker than they already do--along the lines of revenge. Bravo to these young writers for being in a NaNoWriMo club!

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