25 January 2011

How kickass are you?

There is a subject close to my heart, that I rant about often in real life, but which I have never blogged about. Don’t know why, but here it is.

It’s a question for the girls: How kickass are you? Really?

I mean really really. Physically.

I’m not talking about how you don’t take crap from anyone in your personal life or how gutsy you are in business, or how you manage your life. I’m talking serious, physical fighting. How strong are you?

Have you uncovered fightin’ skills you never knew you had, donned leather pants and gone out to take the world on?

How many times have you even been put in a situation where you had to discover how kickass you really are?

I have.

And that’s why I love urban fantasy, heck I write it, but I'm tired of reading about kickass women, and I doubt I will ever write one into a story.

Once upon a time, I was an environmental health officer. Probably not the best one out there by a very long way, but I cared a whole lot about the people whose problems the council employed me to solve. Neighbour making your life a misery with noise? I was your woman (if I had some evidence to prove it, which is a *whole* other story).

So, when I went out a-gathering evidence for noise nuisance and sat in someone’s flat listening to thumping bass downstairs, and read his diary of recent noise events and saw the exhaustion on his face and the anti-depressants on his table to match it, I was on the job. Go downstairs, talk to the budding home DJ, warn him that the music level had to come down or he’d be getting a piece of paper from me that said in flowery legal words, shut up or we’ll see you in court.

Rosie saves the day, right?

Except my budding DJ, who was oh so friendly at the door, had a little anger management problem as well as some other psychiatric issues. My budding DJ lost the plot when our friendly conversation didn’t lead to permission to play his music as loud as he wanted because his decks ‘are really important to him’.

And my budding DJ, who was about a head shorter than me and weighed a damn sight less, managed to overpower me, stop me leaving even though I was right next to the door, and lock me in while he threw his decks out of the window in a rage.

I, the council enforcer who was paid to take no crap and had received two days of self defence training from my employer a few years before, could do nothing but stand at the doorway and say, “Please let me out, you’re frightening me,” until he calmed down and opened the door.

Bad, bad day at work. He was prosecuted for false imprisonment. I quit the profession and went on to do something that doesn’t make me nauseous with stress in the mornings. All over. Happy ending.

But I occasionally get comments, friendly ones, about my female characters being weak. They hide instead of fight. They don’t come out slugging. That’s because I *know* that a lot of ordinary women just won’t have the strength, pound for pound, to physically take on an angry man, and won’t discover some secret reservoir of physical kick-assity to make up for it.

Discovering the reality led to a change in the way I look at life and people. To me, kickassity (if it isn't a word, it should be) is another impossible standard, like beauty, that makes me feel diminished in comparison.


  1. First of all, kickassity *should* be a word.

    You make an excellent point with regards to what readers/editors want to see ... and writing 'real'. Most ordinary women don't have the strength AND most ordinary women don't have the amount of raging testosterone necessary to turn 'fight or flight' into 'fight'. Unless someone/something has ahold of my kid, I'm 'flighting'. That's the SMART move and the real move. You go too far in the other direction and you have a too stupid to live heroine... and the editor will call you out for that!

    I've had the criticism that my heroine was more 'reactive' than 'proactive'. Since she was running for her life (reacting to someone who wants to abduct her) I'm going to have to assume that I failed in giving her instant military operative training or supplying her with a superpower. Dammit.

    I think in a lot of cases, editors like to wag the dog, have writers write to spec right down to the perfect--unreal--super-heroine. I'm like you; I don't want to play and I'd like to think my chracters are more real and relatable because of it. And let's be honest--you make a heroine too strong, too perfect, you have a nauseating Mary Sue. And no one likes those heroines.

    And dear God, your work experience gave me a panic attack. Glad you quit!

  2. I like to think I'd be kickass. But the truth is, I've never, ever, EVER been in any situation where any kind of kickassiness is required. And I suspect I'd probably curl into a ball on the floor and cry.

    But ya gotta love a tough, kickass heroine. They might not be very realistic, but then in fantasy, who wants realism?

    The one that comes to mind is Faith Hunter's Jane Yellowrock, half woman, half Beast. I wanna be her when I grow up.


  3. Maybe I've just read too many of them. I plan to read Jane Yellowrock anyway. Heard too many good things to dismiss her.


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