Girls, Girls, Girls: How an All-Girls School Helped Me Appreciate Heroines
This is a guest post from Namera Tanjeem. Namera is an English Lit student and book blogger from London. She loves romance novels, Harry Potter, true crime, and cats; you can generally find her searching feverishly for her next read when she ought to be studying.
I’m screaming. It’s August 2018, and I’ve just gotten an ARC from a popular author, one I never expected to get. Yet here it is! I dive right in.
And…I’m turned off. The hero’s been with literally hundreds of girls. Okay, fine. But his reason for falling in love with our heroine? She’s not like other girls. She’s…”strong.” A “fighter.” “Not interested in clothes and shiny things.” We’re legitimately expected to believe that out of hundreds of girls, this one’s the only non-girly-girl of the bunch. Everyone else apparently ran straight for the jewellery.
But this travesty isn’t solely the author’s fault. Of course, considering the magnitude of the hero’s prowess, there has to be SOMETHING to differentiate our heroine from all the other girls. Otherwise, why are we reading the story of Hero X and Heroine Y instead of Hero X and Heroine Z? The entire point of romance is that there’s something special about the heroine and that’s why he’s falling in love with her.
That “something special” has to actually be special, though. I know a hell of a lot of girls: I went to an all-girls school from ages 11 to 18, one with well over 100 pupils in each year group. If there’s one thing this has taught me, it’s that the stereotypes are true…and not. Yes, there were girls who’d kill for clothes and makeup. There was also way more than one girl in a hundred who didn’t give a damn if her hair wasn’t brushed and her skin was dry.
We had mean girls, party girls, nice girls, art girls, goth girls. At some point they’d all live up to, then subvert, their stereotype in one form another. This has helped me realise how way too many books (especially YA) keep the same old tropes going: the slutty bitch who’s trying to steal the heroine’s boyfriend is a cliche so old it’s covered in cobwebs. But book after book, we STILL get it, and every time I see it I roll my eyes so hard they nearly fall out of my head. Authors need to stop – if for no other reason than to prevent me getting eye strain.
It’s far too easy to fall into the trap of trying to make heroines unique in all the wrong ways; the ways that aren’t really unique at all. We need romance that celebrates all kinds of girls, not promoting one type as better than the other.