I freely admit that I am not as well read as a lot of people when it comes to popular literature, nor have I been widely exposed to foreign literature to any appreciable degree. But I suspect it’s not my lack of exposure that has had me sitting here for more than two hours trying to think of all the female anti-heroines I have enjoyed reading about or watching on film.
In point of fact, my list is, as of this very moment, a sorry four females long and most of them I can argue myself out of with little effort. Surely there have to be more that I’m missing, but I’m just not coming up with much. Even the very public lists on Wikipedia come up with precious few names that are female. Male names? Not a problem. I can list scads that I love dearly (Han Solo, please expect my call soon). But females? Not even enough to fill one hand’s worth of fingers. Why is that? I think it’s just that popular American literature has little love for the anti-heroine.
Is it a classification problem?
Anti-heroines, when they even appear at all, largely display their imperfections for everyone to see. That’s not far off from the heroes and heroines in most of the romances we all read though, so let’s expand. Most anti-heroines also include ignorance and selfishness among their notable characteristics. Both of these are quite forgivable and rarely damming as character flaws because of how easily corrected they are. And again, the heroines of the literature world sometimes even include a measure of these characteristics as well.. So let’s explore a bit further.
Anti-heroines also possess qualities typically associated with the villains, like a tendency toward violence, usually at the least provocation, and greed. On those rare occasions when we see anti-heroines popping up, especially in romance novels, their less-than-stellar qualities are nearly always justified by horrific occurrences in their past. Usually this justification is abuse related. But anti-heroes? They have a whole gamut of reasons applied to their less than stellar qualities, or simply none at all (Ferris Bueller, I’m looking at you).
So what’s the key difference?
I think when it comes down to it, anti-heroes possess a decided amorality. They believe that the ends justify the means. Amorality is the very stuff that makes an anti-hero the perfect proto-hero. What’s more, I think it’s increasingly become the core of the alpha hero’s raison d’être in romance today.
It’s so appealing because when “love conquers all” with these anti-heroes, it really does conquer all. Assuming the author has managed to pull it off, the anti-hero turned hero is irrevocably changed from all that has come before, usually through the love of a single person not giving up on them. Heady stuff for the partner who manages to woo and win them into the hero camp and change their wicked ways. Except for one problem: that’s heroes.
What about heroines? Oh no, they rarely are afforded such luxury as redemption through love. It is almost a forgone conclusion that these ladies will simply continue down their paths to eventually become the villainesses of the world without any hope of ever finding love or happiness like their heroine counterparts. Worse still, to a woman, they nearly always experience a an horrific death once they reach the villainess stage and not a tear is shed for them as a result. So, pretty much any Disney villainess ever.
Can we come up with more examples?
So back to my original problem. Who are the anti-heroines of the literature world? I’m using the blanket of literature in general because frankly I didn’t come up with any in the romance world off the top of my head. Here are the few I’ve managed to come up with and even these are arguable:
- Rebecca Buck from Tank Girl
- Pippi Longstocking from the popular children’s stories
- Mathilda Lando from Léon: The Professional
- Lisbeth Sanders from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
I’m drawing a blank in the romance world. Who else is out there in any genre, my friends? Do they have the chance to become the proto-heroines of future romances?