Strong Women: Love or Loathe?

Though See Jane Publish steers clear of politics, the other day I found myself in a line up (Portland is famous for long lines – from donuts to dive bars, there’s ALWAYS a line) discussing strong women in history. The usual suspects came up first: Maangela2rgaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel (Chancellor of Germany)angela, and Hillary Clinton.

angela3Blame it on the election year. The conversation with strangers made me think about other types of female empowerment… and realize a trend that’s been gaining ground in publishing:

THE ANTI-HEROINE.

Ever since Gone Girl and the Amazing Amy (capable of appalling feats that make readers love to hate her, and prompted almost 43,000 reader reviews on Amazon) publishers have been chasing those resilient bad girls. Is a new definition of a STRONG WOMAN emerging?

Fast forward to 2016. I just finished Maestra. A 27-year old art house assistant, Judith Rashleigh, wears an aspirational tweed suit as she plays by the rules in the art world she lives and breathes. When she takes on a second job in a champagne bar entertaining older men, her darker side emerges, and is later ignited when she is fired from her job.

Rage becomes her full time job as she plots her revenge. She becomes dangerous and glamorous. Manipulative and lonely. She is decades of complicated with an alcoholic mother and an obsession with 17th century artist Artemsia Gentileshci. I couldn’t help but like her (and Googled all the references to Gentileshci as I read). ArtemisiaGentileschi-Judith-Beheading-Holofernes-I-1612-13

Even as her scheming ramps up to murder, and she brutally slices the Achilles tendon of her victim before brutally butchering him to a slow death, I mentally cheered “Go Judith!”

Okay, so this is just fiction, not real life. Yet I have to wonder if the popularity of these heroines—or rather, anti-heroines—is a reflection of the strength many women seek?

I mean, we can’t all be serial killers, but we might occasionally play one in our imaginations, yes?

Or perhaps the conversation I had in line offered a glimpse of the future? Are we reverting back to Lizzy Borden, Lucrezia Borgia, and Marquise de Merteuil (Dangerous Liaisons)? If we are seeing a resurgence of the manipulative bad girl, we may want to take a very close look at who we’re voting for in the upcoming elections.

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About Jamie Brazil

Humor writer, romance novelist, Bloodhound enthusiast.

Posted on May 9, 2016, in Auth: Jamie Brazil, General and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I think there has been an anger simmering among women for a long time. An anger that stems from the fact that decades and decades after women fought so hard to be taken seriously, we’re still being paid less and disrespected in the media. Lately, I’ve seen that anger ignite as increased rapes on colleges campuses are dismissed and as political candidates disrespect not only their female opponents, but the entire population of women.

    I’m pretty sure that anger will soon become a firestorm as that simmering brings to a boil. I know my anger is way past the slow burn stage and almost all consuming at times.

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  2. You really are a provocateur. 🙂 I do think there is an attribution of strength with “bad behavior” that, unfortunately, too many people think it is actual strength of character. I’m not sure if the “bad” part is representative of the ability to let go and not care what others think OR the actual belief that the only way to get ahead is to be a mean fighting machine. To me, the latter represents a jaded view of our world. It represents the feeling that one has NO power, therefore let’s blow everything up.

    I personally believe that bringing peace and finding compromise takes a much stronger person than the “bad” strength required for immediate satisfaction. I’ve always been bemused by the desire of women to equate strength with a traditional male strength idea of muscle, power, and vengeance. That is the “bad girl” image IMO. But why not choose a different way to be strong–a way that makes changes in the long term instead of the short term. The world has tried the way of war and vengeance and “might makes right.”

    Strong women to me are the women of Liberia who stood against their civil war. Malala Yousafzai who came back from near death and instead of taking vengeance, her goal is to make sure that young women are educated and have a sense of power. Obiageli Ezekwesili the founder of Transparency International, dedicated to eliminating corporate and political corruption. Even Taylor Swift would be on my list. Whether you like her music or not, she has remained someone who doesn’t care what the critics say or what other people think about her personal and political choices. She is a “girl power” advocate and an icon for young women around the world.

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    • Maggie, great points, all. T-Swift a favorite among my family. My fascination with defining strong women (and it is an ever evolving definition) is in the peaks of valleys of the journey– the very bad and the very good. Along the way, publishers are coat-tailing trends, from Malala’s memoir to Gone Girl!

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