AJ: One of the things I adore about paranormal romance and urban fantasy is that writers have a little bit more freedom with gender roles. In what other genre do we get so many heroines with mental and physical toughness to outmatch any man? But when I sat down to think about my favorite feminist paranormal heroines, the first two I came up with were Nicole Peeler’s Jane True and Marta Acosta’s Milagro De Los Santos. Neither qualifies as a traditional butt-kicking heroine—Jane refers to herself as “built for comfort”—but they both resist being defined by the men in their lives. I think that’s what makes a heroine feminist: she has an independent sense of self.
Amber: Thanks for that great working definition, AJ, because there is so much debate about feminism, and whether certain stories are or aren’t. To me, a heroine that has a distinct self apart from the hero is a great standard, because that’s also what creates chemistry and makes a character appealing. But sometimes I worry that we expect a heroine to lack vulnerability in order to be feminist. IMHO this leads to the proliferation of unmemorable leather-clad bad-ass characters who seem to be mysteriously reproducing like were-rabbits (now there’s a paranormal plot for you!). A strong heroine can risk vulnerability and can need as well as be needed by other characters.
But I do also love when the tough female character has to learn how to love, like Xhex in the Black Dagger Brotherhood. Those kind of stories are fun because they reverse the usual brooding alpha male trope. But, at the same time, I like stories where the female character is already strong enough to love–if she throws caution to the wind, risks her heart easily, knows her own worth and goes after the love she wants–that’s feminist too. Although there are shockingly few heroines I can think of like this, one that comes to mind is Alexia Tarabotti from Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate Series, once she figures out Connal McCann doesn’t mind how “Italian” she looks.
AJ: There is a lot of debate about what feminism is–and I definitely don’t feel qualified to define it! But I think you make a great point, here: Being feminist isn’t about lacking vulnerability. Unfortunately, sometimes invulnerability gets used a literary shorthand for strength.
One thing I do love about those badass, leather-clad heroines is that they usually aren’t shy about what they want in the bedroom (or in the back seats of cars, or on top of dining rooms tables, or up against convenient trees…) They know how to get their O.
Amber: So true! And they’ve given me some good tips about it too 🙂
Another tough, learn-how-to-love character I adore is Sin from Larissa Ione’s Sin Undone. As a succubus, she needs sex to survive, but she is a wham-bam-thank-you-sir procurer of it. The scene where her hero teaches her to go slow and actually enjoy sex for the quality, not quantity of orgasms is, um, hot. And even though she is aloof about sex, there is no shame associated with her needs in the book.
AJ: That’s something I think paranormal does particularly well: letting female characters enjoy sex for it’s own sake. Jane True talks about her libido like it’s a friendly pet she can’t wait to take for a walk, plus she has a close friendship with a randy succubus. I love that these books allow female characters to be highly sexual without slipping into slut-shaming.
Amber: Me too. Like Erica Hayes mentioned in her post on Wednesday, paranormal was my introduction to erotica. I got hooked on vampires when I overdosed on frustratingly sweet regencies in which the bedroom door slammed closed at the end! I love the way paranormal worlds can heighten sexuality–the rapturous pleasure of vampire bites, demons who feed on sex, werewolves that go into heat, etc. It’s one of the ways paranormal shines light on the human condition, by turning up the intensity on our regular sexual experiences.
When the heroine lives in a world with these intense parameters, and it’s just a given that she will need and enjoy sex, it provides a great antidote for slut shaming. Maybe that sounds like a big job for the lowly genre of romance, but the romance novels I read in high school were an influential part of my sexual education. I wish I’d read paranormal books instead of those old fashioned bodice rippers, because heroines who embrace their sexuality are just plain old good for women to read–they excite and inspire us, and probably get us all laid more often.
AJ: I think you may be right about that. 😉 Seriously, I think romance does a lot to help women see sexual pleasure as not just acceptable but great. And in paranormal, writers can play around with sexuality in ways that might be considered over-the-line in other genres. Blood bonds are a great example–it’s the classic marriage-of-convenience trope taken to it’s emotional limits. Your point made me think of J.R. Ward’s Dark Lover, in which the heroine Beth has sex with Wrath moments after she meets him, and it’s due to her vampire transition lust. On the other hand, is “explaining” sexual encounters this way anti-feminist?
Amber: Hhmm. Good question. I don’t think it is anti-feminist to create a world where our longings and desires are something we have to wrestle with, just like in the real world–we have to learn to manage the realities of our physical and emotional existence as women. Feminism comes into play with the way the character responds–does she find her own power, make her own choices, refuse to let herself be controlled by others, AND can she risk vulnerability, intimacy, and sometimes chose not to be in control?
That is the complexity of life as a woman, and a heroine that does those things is a worthy one!
Here’s how to enter. You can do just the one entry, but read on, and you’ll see that you can earn additional ones as well!
Answer this (or tell us you disagree with everything we said) in the comments for your first entry:
Who is your favorite Urban Fantasy or Paranormal Romance heroine?
For additional entries…
… do any or all of the following, and leave a comment for each thing, to count as the entry.
- Tweet this: Today on @ParaUnbound, @ajlarrieu and @AmberBelldene ask: What makes a heroine kick-ass? Stop by and win some great books! <– Click to tweet
- Follow us on Twitter leave your twitter handle in the comment
- Like us on Facebook
And here’s what you can win if we draw your name!
- ebook of Blood Vine (Amber Belldene)
- ebook (Kindle only) of Anchored (AJ Larrieu)
- and YOU PICK one ebook copy of any of the books mentioned in this post
This contest will run until tonight (12 AM Pacific) – Winner will be drawn and announced tomorrow!
Disclaimer: Winners can be US or International. Prize must be claimed within one week of the winning announcement.