Trish Heinrich

Mother, Author, Hero

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The Power of the Female Hero

 Growing up, I had been exposed to a wide range of male heroes, but very few female heroes. Now, don’t get me wrong, these male heroes were awesome. Han Solo, Superman, Spock, Optimus Prime, these were the staple hero influences of my childhood and they are still awesome. But the female hero was in short supply. I had Princess Leia, Wonder Woman, and Lois Lane but that was about it.  The unspoken message was clear:  Heroism is really a boy thing.

I clearly remember asking, sometimes begging my parents for Star Wars action figures and that gorgeous She-Ra action figure (seriously, I still want that doll).  But, for Christmas and birthdays, I watched my brothers get all those toys while I received more female “appropriate” things.  I will admit that I did love those toys.  But somehow my Barbie’s always managed to find themselves in harrowing adventures where they were rescued by Ken.  And when I played with my brothers Leia action figures, she would start out doing something heroic, but usually, end up being saved by Han.

Do you see what could be wrong with this?

I wanted the female hero in my play as a kid, but my default was passive because that’s what I saw in the media I consumed. There was a severe lack of representation in my upbringing where the female hero was concerned.

Waking up to the power of the Female Hero

Fast forward to me in my mid-thirties. I’d been married for several years to a staunch feminist and was a mother to a precocious 18-month-old. On a whim, I decide to attend the first year of Geek Girl Con in Seattle. One of the first panels I went to was called “The History of the World According to Wonder Woman.”  There I am, sitting in a large screening room at the EMP in Seattle.  All around me are men and women; but primarily women, of all different ages, ethnic backgrounds, fandoms and walks of life. And I have no idea that my soul is about to be opened up.

The panel description talked about the guests and a rough cut of a documentary we’d be seeing called “Wonder Women: The Untold Story of American Superheroines”. I’ll admit, one of the main reasons I was there was to hear Jane Espenson talk; by this time I had become a HUGE Buffy fan.

The documentary was the first thing, and so I settled back to watch not really knowing what to expect.

Within minutes, I was crying.

I couldn’t tell you why then, but now I think I know. All my life I’d craved the female hero, but was either denied her power or didn’t know where to find her. When I was able to find her, I was doled out bits and pieces of the female hero and told that I should be happy that I at least have that much. What I saw that day was a wide world full of female heroes, both imaginary and real. And perhaps that’s what was so amazing about the documentary. It didn’t just distill the fictional female hero, there were real-life female heroes in there too. Suddenly, being a hero was no longer relegated to the pages of a book or a movie screen, I could be one in real life!

I never realized, until that moment, that I’d been starving for the empowerment that the female hero could give me.

This matters, and here’s why

What does this empowerment look like?Well, I think it’s different for each woman, depending on her experiences. If she’s trans, lesbian, a woman of color, disabled, etc. it may look different than what a white, cis, straight woman like me experienced. For me, it validated my worth and my voice as a woman. It helped me grab a hold of the truth that as a woman I can be just as heroic and strong and amazing as any of my male counterparts.

As I watched other women in the documentary and on the panel afterward, talk about female heroes, and their own heroes journey, it filled me with an indescribable pride and power. I was touched on a soul level, deep and profound.

Because of this experience, I know deep in my bones that representation matters in a huge way.  This isn’t just a cute catchphrase. It really does.

Even in the desert of female heroes that I grew up with, I still saw more women that I could relate to than a girl who grew up as trans, or lesbian, or disabled, or of a different skin color than me. The empowerment that I experienced that afternoon isn’t just for white, cis, straight women. It shouldn’t be hoarded or guarded. It should be given to anyone who wants it. We look to stories to inspire us.  Stories help us believe the impossible. They enable us to dream and feel stronger than the limitations of our circumstances.  To not see yourself in the female hero narrative sends a message that the heroic is not for you. Whether spoken outright or in the subtext that comes with lack of representation, it’s there and it’s insidious.

Share the power of the Female Hero

As an artist, I believe that it is within my power to help change this. I want to share what I was given that day because I know what it has meant to me. There’s a great example of sharing power that I always come back to.  It’s, unsurprisingly, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

In the last episode of the show, Buffy is in a room full of potential Slayers.  She looks at each of them and says “I say my power, should be our power.”  I tear up every time I watch this scene, because this sharing is what those ladies at Geek Girl Con did for me six years ago. It’s what each of us must do for those around us. This empowerment isn’t just mine, it’s ours. I hope to share it in my writing. I will not always get it right, but that’s ok because I’m learning. And no matter how challenging it may be, I will never stop striving to give to someone else what was given to me that day:

The Empowerment of the Female Hero.

Who are some of your female heroes? Are they fictional or nonfiction? Or maybe both?  I’d love to hear about the role the female hero has played in your life. Feel free to leave a comment, join the conversation on Facebook, or sign up to my newsletter. I look forward to chatting with you!

And, if you’d like a deeper dive into the female hero, check out the documentary I saw that day, “Wonder Women: The Untold Story of American Superheroines”  directed by Kristy Guevara-Flanagan. You could also read “Ink Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors” by Jennifer K. Stuller, one of the founders of Geek Girl Con.

 

 

 

 

 

Ode to a Hero: Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher

 

How do I wrap my head around the passing of a woman who meant so much to me?  A woman I never met outside of her movies, books and interviews? It feels like losing that Aunt you look forward to seeing every year at Christmas. The one who speaks truth no matter who it offends, who believes in you no matter what crazy dreams you want to pursue. The one who has had the kind of life people only live in books.

Growing up I had two women I could look up to in my vast consumption of media. Two women who had agency and courage. Two women who were Heroes.

Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher)

Carrie Fisher-Princess Leia

Wonder Woman (Lynda Carter)

Lynda Carter-Wonder Woman

I’d memorized every line of the original Star Wars trilogy. To this day I can tell you where the laser disc stopped and you had to switch it out for the next one. It was always assumed that my youngest brother was the Star Wars fanatic. But no one seemed to notice how little I protested when he wanted to watch one of them for the thousandth time.

Princess Leia was beautiful, brave, and smart. She didn’t take any shit from anyone, even Darth Vader! She stood up to the Empire all alone on the Death Star even though it cost her planet, she shot a blaster, and she killed a Hut.

Carrie Fisher was a lot like Princess Leia, but she was also more. She was funny, man was she ever! Her self deprecating humor was brilliant, and when she wasn’t lampooning herself, her barbed wit was dead on. She was a little filthy, and she didn’t care who it offended. She had demons who drove her into the ground, but she got back up again and again. She was intelligent and driven.

Her critics threw it all in her face. Her mental health problems, her drug and alcohol abuse, and the way age changed her body.  I’m sure it hurt, I’m sure that there were many times she was deeply wounded by the things people said.

But Ms. Fisher didn’t let that stop her. No way! Like the role she’d immortalized, Carrie Fisher kept going. She found a way and in the end came out stronger, more brilliant and admired than any of her detractors. In other words: She spun the shit they flung at her into solid gold.

Her honesty about her flaws, and her struggles with mental health and drug and alcohol abuse was incredibly brave. She spoke about these things at a time when no one dared; especially a celebrity.  Her honesty helped take the shame off of these issues so that we could all see the beauty of broken humanity.

One of the things I loved so much, was how she embraced the changes hard living and age had brought to her body. She turned the criticism of her appearance around onto those who spoke against her, skillfully illuminating the bullshit of ageism.

I first fell in love with Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, but since I’ve grown to admire her as herself; warts and all. Because she showed me something to strive for: the courage and beauty of accepting yourself.

She left us way too soon, but at least while she lived, she lived as herself not who others wanted her to be. And that is something to celebrate. Something to emulate.

I don’t know this for sure, but I would imagine there were many times she was tempted to lay down and stop. Who would’ve blamed her?

She didn’t seem capable of doing that, though. Carrie Fisher always got back up, she always seemed to go for it, even if the effort wasn’t graceful or couth.  I admire that too.

And so, this year, 2017, I am trying to tackle some things that scare and exhilarate me. And I may be tempted to give up. But when I am, when I may want to give in to fear, or pain or any number of things, I think what I’ll do instead is take a deep breath, give those obstacles the middle finger and blast them to hell.

Because I think that’s what Carrie Fisher would do.

What does this awesome woman mean to you? Did you ever meet her? Leave a comment below to continue the conversation. Or find me via my Facebook page. I’d love to hear from you!

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