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Save yourself… or don’t get saved. Why I think that mindset is dangerous for women… and men.
I’ve heard it a million times, and it drives me absolutely nuts. If there is a female protagonist, she must save herself, or she is weak and useless. Seriously? Well, I guess I’m a weak woman because the men in my life have saved my hide more than once—and I love them more for it! However, if you knew me as well as my family and friends, you would never call me weak (I mean, I am a redhead, after all.)
Let me back up a bit and give you some background for my semi-rant. A dear friend of mine has written many short stories with strong (I mean well-written) female leads who find themselves in a pickle that seems impossible for anyone to overcome. Sometimes they save themselves, sometimes a father, a stranger, or some other person comes to their aid. And for that, she has been told she should have the protagonist save herself—every single time.
Let me be clear. I love a female lead who can kick butt and take names, but when the stakes are high, let’s be honest—none of us can do everything on our own. We need people. That’s why we live in a society… a civilization. Now, don’t get me wrong. When a woman who is supposed to be the lead of the book does nothing but whine, get in her own way, and never learns from her mistakes (cough—Elena Gilbert—cough) or frequently makes ridiculous choices until some big, strong man comes to save her (cough—Bella Swan—cough), then yes, it tends to grind on my nerves a little. Whenever a woman allows a man to treat her poorly, I bristle… but that’s a far cry from writing a character who needs a little boost, or at least, accepts one with gratitude when it’s offered.
But let’s step back even more and examine a few other situations. In one of my friend’s (Crystal Crawford) stories, the female main character finds herself abducted by a human trafficking ring. It just so happens her father is a sort of tech genius and has been helping to track this very same ring. This main character does everything in her power to save herself—and another young woman—from what would likely be a horrible fate. She was not complacent, did not whine, did not sit around for a rescue team—no! She worked hard and escaped! That’s almost unheard of when it comes to human trafficking (I mean, I wish it were real, but it just isn’t), yet when her father shows up in the end with a strike team to help her and ALL THE OTHER PEOPLE… it turned some readers off. She should have saved herself, they said… I’m sorry, WHAT?
Wouldn’t it be grand if a seventeen-year-old girl could single-handedly bust up a trafficking ring without any help whatsoever? Realistic? No, not really. Yes, fiction is made up and is often unrealistic, but you need a touch of reality for a book to ground you and keep you reading. You need a reference point, and a young girl saving herself, breaking up a ring, and saving everyone else inside with her, is… what’s the word… ridiculous—unless she has superpowers, but that’s another story and another rant altogether.
In my soul, I believe that forcing a female lead (or any lead, for that matter) to always save herself in impossible situations sets a precedent that can be dangerous for women. It says you are not capable, formidable, or worthwhile if you cannot single-handedly tear apart a building, beat up all the bad guys, and rescue everyone all by yourself. It says if you are attacked by someone and cannot overpower them, you are weak. It says that having feminine emotion is bad, and it’s just not. If someone is beating me to a pulp, I would very much like for a stranger to jump in and save my butt. I don’t care if it’s a man or another woman or an animate fruitcake dressed as a human—just save me!
Let’s be real for a minute and jump back to my friend’s story. What seventeen-year-old girl is capable of such feats? And why shouldn’t her father want to help her? What sort of crummy dad would let his daughter figure that out on her own? Liam Neeson, anyone? I’d appreciate someone with a special set of skills giving me a hand when it all hits the fan.
I also think it does men (or any rescuer, but usually it’s a man) a huge disservice. Somehow, they become overbearing and patriarchal bad-guys for wanting to help the women they love. Does this mean a woman saving a man is bad, too? Going to the ends of the earth to rescue someone you love is… bad?
I really love it when a book or movie can show a couple or family helping each other because, to me, that’s what life is all about. For example, in Frozen II, Kristoff was honestly sort of useless throughout much of the film. Then, when Anna needed him the most, he came in full-force with the help of Sven, and what did he do? He asked Anna how he could help. See? He didn’t tell her she couldn’t do it herself, didn’t swoop in and save the day—he helped.
I think it sucks for both men and women when we set a precedent that asking for or receiving help somehow makes you weak. No, to me, asking makes you strong. It says you know your limits and are not afraid to show your fear, weakness, or need for another. After all, there are loads of things women can do men can’t, and that’s what makes women pretty awesome anyway. Of course, a butt-kicking heroine is awesome, and I adore them… but not if all they do is save the day alone, constantly discouraging everyone who cares for her from helping her.
This crosses into the territory of another character reminding the female lead how amazing they are. I always hear, “She shouldn’t need a boy to tell her how amazing she is…” That’s exactly right, and in a perfect world, everyone would know they are worthy of love, they are important, and exceptional in their own way. But… where is this perfect world? I think we all need reminding that we are great, that we don’t need to be anything else but what we are, and that our hard work means something to someone.
Believe me, I know loads of women who do extraordinary things every day. They fight against some of the most brutal realities of human nature, rescue people from fires, save lives, raise kids on their own… but even they need help. Not necessarily from a man, of course, but help all the same. So maybe the next time you read a book where the superhero woman gets a little nudge from someone else (especially a man), consider how strong she must be to ask, to receive, and to be grateful. And maybe one day when the man least expects it, that woman might just save his hide in return—like I’ve done for my husband. More than once. Because he can’t get out of his own way sometimes.
Many of you have fallen in love with Meaghan Ward’s rendition of my characters Eiagan and Porvarth, so I thought it would be great to hear from her and get to know her a little better. Without further ado, here’s the interview with my favorite artist!
Tell us a little about yourself, your hobbies, work, school, etc.
I am a freelance, self-taught illustrator and the author of several published short stories — one of which made Editor’s Choice in the Stories That Sing anthology with Havok Magazine. I’m also currently working on a YA fantasy novel about a knight who doesn’t want to go on a quest to save a girl who does not want to be rescued.
Even when I’m not ‘working’, I’m painting my own characters or dreaming up other worlds. Some other hobbies include reading (there are always at least two books by my bed), hiking in the mountains (but never in winter), haunting my local library (because it’s three-stories of awesomeness), and singing songs from my favorite Disney cartoons at the top of my lungs (when I think no one is listening).
When did you fall in love with the arts? How did it happen?
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t drawing or making something, but around the age of 11 there was a definite switch where drawing went from being something I enjoy doing, to a compelling hobby and genuine passion.
After attending 3rd grade, I was pulled out of school to be homeschooled due some health issues my mom was facing. She’d been diagnosed with a little known environmental illness called Multi-Chemical Sensitivity. Suddenly, she was reacting to every little thing — new carpet, chemical cleaners, car fumes, fabric softener, and laundry detergent. It got so bad at one point, we were forced to abandon our home. By the time I’d turned 11, I started showing signs of this illness too. Suddenly, simple things like finishing homework became nearly impossible. I became isolated and lost contact with all friends.
It was at this point, I started telling myself stories — wonderful, far-off tales about other worlds and characters who endured horrible things but persevered — with endings that could be far less bleak than my own was looking. I wanted to be anywhere but in this world in my own skin, so when I wasn’t writing, I started drawing. I soon found that I could make the world and the characters from my stories come alive with pencil, paper, color, and daydreams.
What drives you or gives you inspiration?
I find inspiration from just about everything. A starry sky, a summer night filled with fireflies, a burning sunset (but never sunrises because early mornings and I do not mix), a mountain dusted with snow, sunlight in deep forest, stories that make me FEEL, a song I can’t help but listen to on repeat, the sound of a genuine laugh.
Perhaps it’s because of what I went through growing up, but I think this world is kind of amazing.
What are some of your favorite projects?
I’ve worked on a lot of different types of projects, but I love working with authors on small commission projects best. Nothing satisfies me more than knowing I’ve helped make someone’s story a reality, and that I’ve given them something they can look at and be inspired from in the future.
As for a favorite past project, that would have to be illustrating The Dragon Ate My Nightlight, a children’s book about a little girl who feared the dark. At the time, I was very much a fledgling illustrator, but because of the author’s patience and willingness to take a chance on me, it’s become one of the most rewarding projects of my artist career so far.
What do you most want to say or project with your work?
A picture is worth a thousand words… or so the saying goes. There is nothing I want more than to be able to create a picture that captures emotion and tells a story all it’s own that can entertain a viewer’s imagination in a glance.
What mediums do you prefer and why?
My favorite medium by far is digital painting. I love the freedom of being able to take my art with me anywhere I go. All I need is my ipad! The setup isn’t complicated and there’s no mess. Also, there is a degree of realism and magic that I find I can capture easier in the digital medium rather than the traditional mediums.
How has your style changed over time?
My art has changed many times over the years. My first few pictures were cringeworthy, featuring back views of characters with wind-blow hair to cover faces. I soon became dissatisfied with not drawing the faces of my characters, but was frustrated that I couldn’t capture them like I imagined, so I started to imitate anime. Anime quickly morphed into my own style of cartoon with squared eyes and simple facial features. That drive to create something more realistic persisted though, and I continued to pursue improvement. It wasn’t until the last few years that I finally started seeing a recurring style that I was content with. Since then, I have continued to perfect my artwork by creating something that could be perceived as realistic while also keeping the painterly look I’ve always loved.
(Above: One of the first pictures I can find from when I started drawing my stories)
(Above: My stylized cartoons)
Since this blog is mostly followed by readers, what are your favorite books and/or characters and why?
This is a ridiculously hard question to answer. (As any reader will know!) But after some deep deliberation (in which I took some time to stare dreamily at my bookshelf), I think I’ve finally narrowed it down to a few of my favorites.
First up is The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. Yes, I love horses. No, I didn’t pick this book just because of that. Maggie Stiefvater not only created a gritty world that captured every one of my senses, but also featured characters with so many visceral dreams, desires, and flaws that they felt alive. So basically in my opinion, this book is a masterpiece and if you haven’t read it, you should go read it. Right now.
Next, would be The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale. There’s something you should probably know about me. I’m a sucker for fairytales, and this story was one of the best fairytale retellings I have ever read. It is simple and sweet while also possessing a lyrical writing style that only adds more magic to the story.
I also adore the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer. I’d picked up a sampler of Cinder when it first came out, but I’d always avoided the sci-fi genre (I always found them too technical and hard to follow), so it wasn’t until years later when I found the book on sale, that I decided to give it another try. Once I started reading it, I couldn’t stop. I loved every twist to the familiar fairytales, and by the time I reached the end of the series, I felt like a part of the Rampion crew.
Last on my short (but also probably too long for this interview) list, is The Ascendance Series by Jennifer Nielsen. This series was a culmination of my love of fantasy and adventure with my deep enjoyment of unrelenting sarcasm. To be honest, this series isn’t perfect, but it’s as obstinate as the main character, and so stubbornly memorable that I cannot help but love it.
Want to follow Meaghan as an artist or writer? Here’s how you can!
Instagram: @meaghan.draws (art account) or @meaghaneward (bookstagram and author account)
It’s here! The second book in the I’m Pretty Sure About That Series has hit the online shelves! I’m Pretty Sure You’re Gonna Regret That Darcy Pistolis, follows Darcy, Hazel’s next-door neighbor, and her daring antics. You can find the summary and links below!
Darcy Pistolis never met a dare she could turn down, and her antics are usually the talk of the town. The younger sister of Violet Pistolis, who tragically died at just twenty years old, doesn’t see herself slowing down anytime soon—especially if it means letting the memory of her sister slip from her grasp.
When the lights go out during a kissing game at a summer party, Darcy experiences the kiss of a lifetime—one that offers an adrenaline rush like she’s never known before. Determined to find the mystery kisser, she devises the Kiss Contest. If she’s lucky, the mystery guy will show up and knock her socks off again.
But unexpected feelings for her best friend complicate Darcy’s plan, proving there’s much more to life than living on the edge. Can Darcy figure out what she wants before she loses everything, or will losing everything help her find out who she really is?
You can find this installment of the series in wide distribution! For Amazon readers, you can find it here. For other distributors, check here.