Have-A-Go Heroines: And Why We Love Them
by Allie Spencer
Who is your ideal heroine? Personally, I’d take Elizabeth Bennet every time – and not simply because she ends up with the most eligible bachelor English literature has ever produced. I read Pride and Prejudice for the first time as a teenager, and was struck by how together, how self-assured – how grown up – this person only a few years older than myself was. Lizzie is not only pretty and clever with a cutting turn of phrase when needed, but she has a gutsy, ‘bring-it-on’ approach to life that means she knows her own worth. At the end of the book, when she is cornered by Lady Catherine and told in no uncertain terms to stop messing around with Mr Darcy – whom Lady Catherine considers infinitely superior to our Lizzie – she is able to retort: ‘He is a gentleman and I am a gentleman’s daughter: so far, we are equal.’
And that’s what makes her perfect in my eyes: she sees herself as every bit as good as her man.
Not so long ago, we had real women as role models: think back to the heyday of Hollywood glamour, not only did we have female stars who actually looked like women (Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russell, Katharine Hepburn) as opposed to waif-like girls, but there were also real meaty parts for them to play – parts where they gave as good as they got and often had the men at their beck and call. True, this was comedy and part of the joke was that women didn’t normally get to do this in real life – but how many rom-coms get made in Hollywood today that do not portray the heroine as inadequate, incapable, dysfunctional or simply plain desperate to find a man?
I can only speak for myself, but this is not what I see in the women I know: instead I am aware of a generation of intelligent, hard-working, loving, feisty gals who are every bit as good as the men around them – and I wonder where the heroines like them have gone.
The answer, I believe, is chick lit. When I pick up a book, I want to be entertained, yes, but I also want to read about someone I identify with. She doesn’t have to be perfect – in fact, she is more interesting if you give her some demons to fight – but she will be bold and brave and take responsibility for getting herself out of whatever situation she finds herself in. The women in the books I read (and hopefully in the ones I write too!) are smart and brave, witty and gutsy – and this is where good chick lit has stolen a march on the chick flick. No one could accuse Marian Keyes’ heroines of lacking chutzpah, or Freya North’s leading ladies of needing a man to sort their lives out. Even Bridget Jones refuses to put up with anything less than the best where her love life is concerned: as L’Oreal insists on telling us – we are worth it.
Life may have changed a lot since Lizzie Bennet bagged her dream guy but good heroines haven’t. So let’s keep expecting the best from our heroines – because we deserve nothing less.
Allie Spencer’s Tug of Love won the Romantic Novelists’ Association prize for the best debut novel of 2009 and was shortlisted for the Melissa Nathan Award for Comedy Romance in 2010. Her new book, Summer Loving, tells the tale of four friends who plan a party-tastic holiday in Greece – only to have their expectations well and truly shattered! It’s out May 26 from Arrow.