The Female Heroine Club
The gallery of female protagonists is colorful and surprising. Alongside such familiar figures as The Maiden (Bella Swan, Snow White) and Quirky Misfit (Pippi Longstocking) we meet Manic Pixie Dream Girl (Zooey Deschanel in “New Girl”) and The Amazon (Wonder Woman)
Are they actually strong, these girl heroes? Not always.
As Seth Mlawski points out in his excellent article, “Why Strong Female Characters Are Bad for Women,” the concept of ‘strong’ all too often just means that the females have their own goals that move beyond whatever the male hero wants to do. These girl heroines strive to strike a balance between exerting power in the modern world and showing traditional girl likeability … many times in vain.
A recent Scientific American study concluded that female superheroes do not actually increase girls’ self-esteem. “Although women play a variety of roles in the superhero genre, including helpless maiden and powerful heroine, the female characters all tend to be hypersexualized, from their perfect, voluptuous figures to their sexy, revealing attire.”
Not a helpful role model.
With his illustrated novella “The Boatman’s Daughter,’ historical fiction author Tom Durwood may have added a new wrinkle: The Engineer. His protagonist, Salima, has two powerful characteristics. First, she understands how things actually work, when few around her do. Second, she advocates for the working class. She is engineering the empire, tugged in different directions — the proper building of the Suez Canal, and the welfare of her people.
She does not wear an alluring costume and does not seem to care what any male thinks of her. The author is using “The Girl Engineer” figure extensively in his new collection of stories, “The Adventures of Ruby Pi and the Geometry Girls.”