Please welcome today's guest blogger, author Nicole Galland, to the Book Club GIrl blog! Nicole's newest novel, Godiva, goes on sale today! If you can't get enough Godiva, Nicole will also join us for a Book Club Girl on Air chat on July 23rd at 7 PM EST.
I love strong female characters. After four novels with primarily male protagonists, writing Godiva felt like finally coming home – speaking my own language after several years in the Foreign Legion. I took off my combat boots and put on silk slippers. It felt good.
Then I started worrying, which I’m very good at. I worried that I had created a regressive heroine who would disappoint all my female friends. Godiva is very charming, but her feminine wiles get her into a lot of trouble. Wasn’t I promoting sexism and (an even worse offense for a writer) resorting to stereotypes, making a heroine out of a damsel in distress?
The “damsel in distress” trope has been around in various forms since the dawn of stories. In some eras and societies, her narrative is secondary to the male hero’s – she’s one of his adventures while he is out and about hero-izing. More progressively, she gets her own storyline, but she is still rescued by a man.
Damsels in distress are (traditionally) both physically attractive and physically weak. For centuries they were not very interesting personalities. So it’s thrilling, in these enlightened times, to encounter heroines who are original, well-defined, sassy, confident, and powerful… but even these are often still damsels in distress, by definition: they tend to get rescued by men. Look at Princess Leia.
If you think we’ve come a long way since the 1970’s, you’re right of course… in 2013, even women as powerful, original and not-traditionally-feminine as Brienne of Tarth can be damsels in distress. In Game of Thrones (and the novels it is based on), Brienne is an Amazonian knight of magnificent heart, skill and strength… who is saved (“single-handedly” no less) from certain death by the once-dashing Jamie Lanister, her former prisoner. Even this fierce and wildly popular female warrior of contemporary pop culture has to do her time as… a damsel in distress.
So if Godiva is a damsel in distress, at least she’s in admirable company.
But Godiva isn’t a damsel in distress. She has all the presenting symptoms: physically attractive, physically weak, a damsel, and in distress. But Godiva refuses to be rescued by any male in the story. She insists on saving herself through her own effort. That takes her out of the damsel-in-distress category.
I’m not knocking damsels in distress; I myself would appreciate being rescued, if the need arose. But I like Godiva for refusing to obey the damsel-in-distress rules. She and I are nothing alike in personality, but it still feels good to have written a character who can make me stop and think about my own strength in the world.