Heroes… or call them ‘sheroes’ or heroines, I suppose. Personally I would like to have a female version of the word, but neither of these choices works for me. Heroines have generally been seen as part of a pair: “hero and heroine” and she is the lesser actor, the one who gets saved. Heroes are the characters who do, who overcome. Sheroes I see as a laudable attempt to claim or reclaim language, along the lines of ‘wymin’ and other words coined in the 1970’s. But it simply won’t roll off my tongue or my pen. I think instead of the book by Joseph Campbell that had such a profound effect on me, decades ago, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Although I don’t remember whether Campbell spoke specifically about female heroes, in my mind five hundred of those faces are female.
What is a hero and why am I writing about them today? Well, not surprisingly, when I look for a definition of hero, it pisses me off. But I am mollified when I check on the definition given for heroine, because it is word for word, the same: “[person] admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements or noble qualities.” Okay, that does work as a definition of heroes of both genders as they are represented in history or herstory. (Now, that is a ‘new’ word that I happily embrace and it has even made it into the dictionary!) Here is a note on the word, from the 1976 book by Casey Miller and Kate Swift, Words & Women:
“When women in the movement use herstory, their purpose is to emphasize that women’s lives, deeds and participation in human affairs have been neglected or undervalued in standard histories.”
Well, there I go, getting lost in the world of words, wordsmithing and meaning. It is a common detour for me, when I start exploring a topic. There is so much more to say about heroes and I guess I’ll do that tomorrow. Right now I am off to hear Gloria Steinem, one of the heroes of the women’s movement and for me also a hero/role model for how one can choose to live at eighty-one years of age.
NOTE: I’ve provided links to both books that are mentioned, but neither link is totally satisfying to me. So I hope you will explore further, if so inclined.