Trish Heinrich

Mother, Author, Hero

Tag: female hero

The Good, The Bad and The Beautiful: Wonder Woman (Part Two)

Part Two of my three part series on the Wonder Woman movie. Now we get to talk about:

The Beautiful

After seventy-six years, and a lot of wishing and hoping, we finally get Wonder Woman on the big screen. And what’s awesome is that we truly did get a Wonder Woman film because the people making this movie understood, at some deep levels, the hero whose story they were telling.

Like a lot of women, this movie was emotional for me. I cry just thinking of certain scenes.  The fight in No Man’s Land, or the charge of the Amazons on the beach. Not to mention the end. Why did a superhero film make me cry while watching it? And why am I not alone in that? It’s a good question, a hard one to answer because it’s different and yet the same for each of us.   I agree with many of the women who are already writing about this that there is an emotional release because at last, we see that these stories aren’t just for male heroes, they are for any and all of us.

The feminine is heroic.

To me, this is the power of this film.  Seeing my daughter pump her fist in the air and want to be just like General Antiope (Robin Wright). To see my son clap his hands with glee when Wonder Woman battles heroically.  I could use every adjective I know and still, I would not come close to how I feel when I think of this film.

God! I’ve waited so long to see a female hero like this. Strong, beautiful, compassionate, loving, kind. Wholly a woman and wholly a hero. The two coexist in Wonder Woman as naturally as breathing, and no one doubts that it should be that way.

We have seen so many sister heroes who have had to justify their strength and showcase their feminity in ways that weaken them as characters, heroes, and people. We have seen them reduced to sidekicks, to have to be one thing for all women. And even though Diana is one woman, we get to see her Amazonian sisters alongside her for the first twenty minutes or so of the movie. They are of all shapes and sizes, all skin hues. They are young. They are older. They are all completely female and completely heroic.

I didn’t realize it at first, but most of the Amazons are portrayed by athletes, the real-life superheroes of our world. And watching it a second time in one weekend I could see the strength, grace, courage, and grit that made them heroes in the real world.  They were, individually and as a whole, one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen on film.

For Wonder Woman, Love is the most Powerful

Wonder Woman is arguably one of the most powerful heroes in all of DC, and she uses her powers with compassion and love. Really, that’s the theme of the movie: Power used with Love.  It’s profound, especially in our worldwide political climate. She sees the suffering of mankind, and is told again and again by the men around her “You can’t do anything, this isn’t our mission.” And, finally fed up with it, does what her heart and soul tell her to. In the process, she inspires an army of men and saves a village of innocent people.   She is clear-eyed and sure in her purpose, no matter the naivete that she carries with her. When faced with the shattering of deeply held beliefs and heartbreak she doesn’t respond with anger or vengeance, she chooses to love.

 

Was the film perfect? No, but it was damn close.

 

A New Urban Fantasy Hero to Love

Unleash (Spellhounds Book One) by Lauren Harris

I will admit that I have become burned out on Urban Fantasy. I often find it predictable, recycling the same old magic systems, problems, etc.

While Unleash does have some familiar elements, it still managed to fee fresh and exciting.

Here’s a little about the book from the author’s blurb before we go on.

Helena Martin doesn’t know who she hates more, the sorcerers who fired the magic laced bullet or the gang-lord master who used her mother as a shield. It’s not the price she expected for escaping magical slavery, nor is the unstable power now pulsing in her veins.

Caught between her former master’s hunters and the Guild of Sorcerers determined to kill them, she finds a safe haven at a dog rescue willing to take in a different kid of stray. But Helena’s newly-unleashed power is a beacon for her enemies. And they’re threatening the first place she’s ever thought of as home.

 I give this book 4 out of 5 stars, and here’s why

So yes, there are some elements here I’ve seen before. The difference? In the execution. The book starts off at break neck pace, doesn’t slow for several chapters. When it finally did I felt like I’d been running a marathon.  There are calm moments that are interrupted by fights, attacks and the unveiling of truth. The pacing and structure was spot on and only fell to explaining things once. Which in a book with a unique magic system, is pretty impressive.

And yes, you read that right, I said unique magic system.  I have become so bored with magic systems that were either too complex because the author was in love with their world building.  Or so simple that there were giant logical holes in the system that it was part of the reason I stopped reading the genre. This magic system, however, is based on Mandalas working with different metals; iron, gold, etc. And, since blood has iron, there is also a type of magic where you can use Mandalas and blood. The scene where the history of this is explained could’ve verged on the info dumping side if the author hadn’t built up to that moment the way she did. I didn’t care that I was getting a little history lesson because I was nervous about what the Guild was going to do the hero I had become very invested in. As well as just knowing that the bounty hunters were probably about to attack.

And that leads me to our hero: Helena Martin

I’ll admit that I also have been tired of the beautiful, thin and all powerful hero in Urban Fantasy. While Helena is pretty, thin, white and does have unique power, she is clueless about how to use it and so the author uses that as an opportunity to teach us a little about the magical system and about Helena too. The kind of childhood that Helena has had means she doesn’t trust anyone easily. She’s secretive, suspicious and scared. Instead of neatly resolving all of this so that Helena can boink the cute Korean guy quicker, or dumping it because it would be easier to write (like I’ve seen other authors do), the author full on embraces it. We see Helena’s painful PTSD, we see her inability to grieve for those she’s lost, the fear of trusting, the fear of bringing pain and death to anyone she might begin to care for. The author uses the past she’s given Helena to take us on that journey with her. It’s awesome, and even a little frustrating because I just wanted her to kiss the cute Korean guy already! By the time we reach the end of the book, though, I felt that Helena’s journey was all the more satisfying because of how true to the character the author stayed.

Even though Helena as a  white female is nothing new, the author surrounds her with a diverse cast of characters. The already mentioned Korean guy, a curvaceous lesbian, a woman with mental health struggles, an East Indian a sorceress, and a mixed race woman who runs a dog rescue.  I loved seeing the real world represented so well, without stereo types. In fact, there is much poking fun of said stereo types.

I also loved the ever present menace of the villain, who is “on screen” for very little time. The Guild was far more present, as well as the creepy bounty hunters. We see him at the beginning and the end, but I felt his presence throughout the entire book. I’ve seen other authors try to pull off something like this.  But they only succeeded in making it all feel clunky and over done. Not so here. I knew that this guy was haunting her every step, even when she thought he was dead.

One of the only things that kept me from giving it five stars was the formatting. There were some serious issues at certain points. These included key pieces of dialogue missing or combined with another characters, which made it difficult to figure out what was happening. There was also extra words in sentences that stopped my flow of reading. Sometimes this happened in the middle of a really tense moment. I wouldn’t make a big deal out of a handful of such things, but this was a rampant problem throughout the book and became frustrating by the end.

Overall, I would highly recommend this to anyone who is or has been a fan of Urban Fantasy.  I can’t wait to see what happens next!

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. And so, even though I wanted to own heroism,  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

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 catch phrase. 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

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 comment below, join the conversation on Facebook, or sign up for my once a month email 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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