Fierce. Independent. No-nonsense, kick-butt, and angry.
Meet the new generation of heroines: the Angry Girl. She's a down-to-earth, working-class girl who hates the oppression of the upper class and isn't afraid to stand up for herself. She doesn't need looks, charm, or luck to get what she wants, and she certainly doesn't need a man to help her get it.
She is, as a stock character, virtually untouchable. If you criticize her, you're sexist. If you wish she weren't so aggressive, you hate women. If you question the need for violence, you're passively assisting the oppression.
Let me, therefore, begin this post with a disclaimer. I am a feminist, hereby defined as "advocating social, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men". I do not believe in the so-called Biblical view of subservient femininity, although neither do I discriminate against those who choose to live by this ideal. I believe myself to be the social equal of a man. I want to pursue a career as a lawyer and have a family, and I do not believe these to be incompatible.
This being said, I still think that these repetitive, generically Angry Heroines consistently miss something. And I believe that this actually has very little to do with their gender.
Before I can dissect this stock character, here are what I consider the classic marks of an angry heroine:
1. She's just an ordinary girl.
The Angry Heroine is not pretty. She eschews makeup, loathes girls who spend their time on needless things like personal hygiene, and would sooner die than wear a dress. If you use her as a scale by which to measure women, any sort of interest in one's appearance immediately equals sin.
This point bothers me more than the others. Authors go out of their way to tear down the idea of beauty as value, but it becomes a matter of "Do as I say, not as I do." In almost every narrative, there comes a time when the heroine must regretfully don a dress and embrace classical femininity, in order to highlight that-- even though physical beauty doesn't matter-- she's still smokin' hot. But all the while, remember:
Nothing special here.
2. She's angry.
This seems fairly evident, but I think it ties into an overarching theme of Specialness that, perhaps, factors more into the Angry Heroine than actual anger does. She is surrounded by weak, passive people who would rather cozy up to the unjust regime than overthrow it. The heroine's anger-- both at the regime and at her peers-- drives her to the third, final characteristic.
3. She's vengeful.
These last two may seem like the same thing, but compare the definitions. Angry means "having a strong feeling of or showing annoyance, displeasure, or hostility". It is an emotion. Vengeful, conversely, means "seeking to harm someone in return for a perceived injury". That's right. The Angry Heroine, at the end of the day, wants an eye for an eye. She wants to make those who wronged her pay. She is, in short, a violent person.
And there, ladies and gentlemen, lies my problem with the Angry Heroine, and it has absolutely nothing to do with her gender. I have a problem with the Angry Heroine because she glorifies violence. She promotes the idea that, if you think someone's wrong, you can tear them down without mercy. She is not peaceful. She is not a diplomat. She is judge, jury, and executioner.
And she is not only a female character. Her counterpart, the Angry Hero, pops up in literature all the time: a vigilante, out-for-revenge man who's ready to do things his own way. He doesn't care who he hurts as long as he gets the last laugh and a dramatic walk into the sunset. In a way, I am incredibly grateful to the Angry Heroine, whose dichotomy of femininity and vengeance is so controversial, because it is my hope that she will draw attention to a more subversive issue in literature, the Angry Hero.
"But Allison," critics may say. "It's just a story. Really all she's doing is promoting the belief that women can change the world."
No. I believe that men and women can change the world, and I encourage them to do so. But I cannot believe that being violent simply because one is angry will ever be acceptable. I believe firmly in soldiers, crusaders, and heroes. In history there has always been a time for violence, and I see no reason why there should not be in literature as well. But it should not ever be simply for vengeance, not change.
To which the critics will probably respond, "Sexist."
Ah, well. You can't win them all.