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Sunday, August 16, 2015

The End of Heroines: guest post from E.A. Haltom, author of Gwendolyn's Sword

In my discussions with E.A. Haltom about various things she'd like to talk about while she had a captive audience (ie. you) here on The Book Rat, she mentioned the word "heroine," and her general perturbation with the idea of having a feminized version of the word hero. This was something I wholeheartedly agreed with, especially as my literature-and-mythology-loving self has always found it very ironic (and if you were to ask 12 year old Misty, downright insulting) that the word 'hero' should now refer solely to males, when Hero herself was... well, a herself, with a name derived from another female, Hera.
Of course, this is only one small aspect of a very murky etymology, but all the same: when E.A. told me she wanted to write about her wish to "wish to eradicate the word "heroine" from our language, because a hero's a hero," needless to say, I was on board...

No More Heroines

I went to law school in the ‘90’s, became a prosecutor, and every now and then a (male) judge or fellow (male) lawyer or (male) acquaintance would refer to me as a “lady lawyer.” Because even twenty years ago “lawyers,” apparently, was a masculine word, intended for men only, so that it was necessary to add “lady” to signify “female” when discussing my profession. Even now sometimes people feel compelled to refer to me as an “author-ess” or a “lady author.”

At the time, it seemed quaint and a little ridiculous. Now I know better. It was meant to remind me that I wasn’t a “real” lawyer, because I had the wrong anatomy. I wasn’t the default, expected gender. It was meant to keep me in my place.

Think ingrained bias in the workplace against women and in favor of men has changed in the last twenty years? This article, concerning the tech industry, provides a list of studies by the likes of Yale and Harvard demonstrating that such bias is present and rampant. From an anecdotal angle, this post from an author who tested her rejected work by sending it out under a man’s name should make every author’s blood boil. Gender bias is alive and well.

When the word “heroine” came into being in Ancient Greece, Greek language included feminine and masculine words simply as a matter of form. Modern gender politics didn’t exist; politics and governance was a strictly male undertaking, period. But according to Merriam-Webster, the word “heroine” came about originally “from the Greek hērōinē, feminine of hērōs.” Merriam-Webster can’t help but describe “heroine” as the feminine derivative of “hero”, despite the fact that there is no historical evidence suggesting anything other than that the word came in two versions. But look up “hero”, and Merriam-Webster makes no mention of the existence of the sister “heroine.” Despite a dearth of evidence to support their position, Merriam-Webster again treat us to the biased assumption that “male” is the default and intended gender. M-W could just as well have described “hero” as the masculine derivative of “heroine”—but they didn’t. Even in modern linguistics, the experts make Eve out of Adam’s rib; the female version must always be the lesser derivative of the male original.

In today’s English, when we discuss people (plural) of tremendous courage and honor, they’re just “heroes.” Marvel doesn’t market their characters as “superheroes and superheroines.” They’re just superheroes. But if we talk specifically about a female character, the word “heroine” pops up. “Hero” is no longer gender neutral. A “hero” can only be a man so long as the word “heroine” sticks around. Therein lies the problem.

Why does this matter? It matters because all of this nonsense is still out there. Because gender bias permeates our world. Because there was a time when women were actually excluded from politics, from universities, from voting, from owning property, from having any recognized legal autonomy over their very bodies.

Because by dropping the word “heroine,” little girls can be heroes, too.

Gwendolyn's Sword by E.A. Haltom
Get It | Add It
251 pages
Published May 1st 2014 by E. A. Haltom
Cornwall, England, 1193. Eleanor of Aquitaine, the indomitable dowager queen, has ordered all of England onto a war footing while her son King Richard languishes in a German dungeon. When Gwendolyn de Cardinham happens upon mercenaries from Prince John's rebellion, she draws her sword and defends her home as well as any knight could have. But more of John's mercenaries are coming, her sister-in-law claims Gwendolyn’s husband has died on crusade, and the local prior has absurdly informed Gwendolyn that King Arthur’s fabled sword is destined to be hers. Self-educated and martially trained, Gwendolyn gave her husband her oath to guard and protect their estate of Penhallam while he fought in the crusade. Gwendolyn travels to London with her constable to present herself to the dowager queen. But Gwendolyn has a secret that could put all of Penhallam—and herself—at risk if the queen discovers it.

E. A. Haltom lives with her husband and kids in Texas, her native state. She has spent her life mentally changing the heroes in movies and books into women just to see what else changed. Now she writes books to save her daughter from the same mental gymnastics when she grows up. Her favorite guilty pleasure is binge reruns of BTVS.

1 comment:

  1. Well, I'm on board! Let's cut the tenderized out entirely (I recall the movement for this with actor/actress, but not anything about the original Greek root of the word). "She's a hero" rolls off the tongue more easily anyway (I can't be the only person that hears heroine/heroin as the same word).


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