Female heroism


One of the big “secrets” of literature and films is that they feature dramatic representations of what ordinary people experience every day.  They thus seem relatable: on some level, we identify with the conflicts on display.  For example, giant, Earth-adopted robots fighting invaders from another galaxy–well, that’s not so very different from defending one’s property against flood, decay, vandalism, and theft.  The difference is one of degree, not kind.

Typically in western culture, these conflicts are represented in a male mode: quest for a missing father figure, or sacred object, or a rite of initiation, or a war in a foreign land that eventually comes home.  In composing the alternate chapters of this novel, I asked myself: what sorts of conflicts do women endure, as opposed to men, that might yet be analogous?  This naturally gave rise to the added complication of child-rearing.  What if, in addition to protecting the City from the scourge of thieves, murderers, madmen, and thugs, all while maintaining a playboy alter ego, Batman instead had to nurse a baby–tending to its every need, come what may, whether battling super-villains or the measles?


6 thoughts on “Female heroism

  1. Karen Savella says:

    What a keen question–and one I never asked myself. Something tells me Batman would be a mess, but then he does have Robin to help. Huh. Now I’m wondering about Robin’s androgynous name; perhaps every hero, regardless of gender, needs a wife-figure for the quotidien burdens that would otherwise hamper their heroic interventions. Your reflection also brought to mind the heroines who have chosen to cope with injustice by killing their own children (Medea and Morrison’s Margaret in Beloved are two that come to mind). I’m looking forward to reading your whole novel, but am particularly curious about these “alternate chapters.”


    • shawnst says:

      Thanks, Karen S. Not being a woman myself, I’ve had to borrow many, many ideas for those chapters from women and cultural representations of them–hopefully they were done adequate justice, overall.

      Critics have proposed all manner of explanations for why Robin “needed” to be invented over the decades. Bruce Wayne has Alfred the butler to act in place of his own mother, who died, and for Batman to marry, like James Bond, would amount to an act of sadism. Eventually, when flamboyant surrogate son/wife Robin “became a man,” he had to “divorce” Batman and strike out as the dark-clad Nightwing.

      I think the whole mythology functions as a pretty good western-cultural barometer: currently, with the state of manhood in jeopardy (failing economy, no “good” win-able wars,) mainstream genre movies and comics have very little tolerance for anything smacking of the effeminate or non-heterosexual. I don’t think Euripides would say we’ve come very far.


  2. Karen says:

    Did NPR read your blog today?:
    NPR is working on a story about military moms and breastfeeding, related to a controversial photo depicting two Moms breastfeeding in uniform that has gone viral. If you’re a military mom or spouse who breastfed your kids and would like to share your thoughts, please e-mail us at tellmemore@npr.org. Thanks!

    Think maybe I’ll link your blog to the “tellmemore@npr.org” address…okay?


    • shawnst says:

      Thanks Karen–please do. Like everyone else, I could not escape the media saturation of that photo. To me, it’s another example of garden-variety media hypocrisy: condemning behavior that it simultaneously exploits for self-hype. This one has the added dimension of displaying motherhood in a pornographic context: therefore reinforcing the age-old dictum that women should “keep it in the house.” Finally, we had a big to-do about women in the military a decade ago, so this is some people’s greatest fears come to light. But the fact that the women are in the Air Force is only relevant to the extent that it reflects the greater patriarchal authority of the culture: Get Daddy’s permission first, before you do anything out-of-the-ordinary.


  3. Karen says:

    P.S.–love the photo you found for this entry…


    • shawnst says:

      The image is a capture from the defunct TV series “Birds of Prey” which features the Huntress (shown), Oracle, and Black Canary–all women protecting Gotham City form threats Batman apparently hasn’t time for.


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