In ninth grade, one of my teachers asked us to choose one living person who we would like to have lunch with. Looking back, I think a lot of people said Jesus Christ, which is fine, but, also, way to be generic.
Of course, my answer wasn’t any more interesting or surprising. Being a baby feminist and a recently passionate liberal, I chose Hillary Clinton. Every time we did an activity like this, she was my answer, because Hillary Clinton means a lot to me now, but at fifteen, when I was new to politics and looking for my place within that structure? My admiration for her and other progressive female politicians was bright, sunny and uncomplicated. It was also incredibly important.
Around this year, I started to be aware that I had lost some of my female heroes. Most of them, actually. Where I was once obsessed with Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters, I was now trying to find something to hold onto in William Faulkner, Thomas Hardy and other classic male authors.
Where I was once fervently listening to female-fronted pop and country acts, I will defend the Dixie Chicks until my dying day, I was now taking in as much angsty college indie rock as I could, almost all of it fronted by joyless white boys with issues.
There’s nothing wrong with any of these things. Joyless white boys with issues have the capacity to make some great music, and I am currently writing my thesis on Quentin Compson, the quintessential joyless white boy with issues from Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury.”
But where did all the women go? I was not aware of this happening until the change had already been made, but I would hazard that this is a normal phenomenon.
After all, we have a tendency to not take femininity seriously, shifting my focus towards parts of our culture deemed masculine and, thus, cooler, was just part of becoming a teenager.
Plus, if you want boys to pay attention to you in high school, all you have to do is pull out a dog-eared copy of “Fight Club.”
The loss of those female heroes is why I consider my early admiration for our maybe future president someday Hillary Clinton (if this was a speech, this is the part where I’d rip off my shirt to reveal another shirt beneath it, emblazoned with “Hillary 2016”) to be an important transition in my life, a significant shift that, for the sake of this article, I am terming a Heroine Renaissance. I tried to reclaim the women that I left behind and, in turn, find new ones, to listen to PJ Harvey and Tori Amos as much as I did Death Cab for Cutie or The Smiths, to rediscover how important female voices used to be to me.
Enough about me, though. What about you? Who are your female heroes? It is possible that you are trying to think of some and having a hard time.
This is probably especially true of men. After all, there are no expectations for men to have female heroes.
This doesn’t mean it never happens, but it is not something we necessarily anticipate or even encourage.
In my opinion, though, this is a necessary step forward out of a patriarchal society and into a brighter future.
Just imagine a world where it is the norm for boys to grow up wanting to be like their mother or their grandmother or another inspirational woman, a world where they feel comfortable expressing this level of admiration, where gender has no impact on the depth of influence an amazing person can have.
That’s a positive change for everyone, no matter what gender they identify with or if they identify with a gender at all.
Finding your own heroine might be the start to this. Who do you want to grow up to be like, Maryville College?
I’m currently admiring MSNBC’s telling it like it is powerhouse duo of Melissa Harris-Perry and Rachel Maddow, but there are so many women out there that deserve your hero worship. Try Wendy Davis, Audre Lorde, Laverne Cox or your favorite professor.
Try to start your own Heroine Renaissance, if you haven’t already.