I hope, I really hope, that we will soon, finally, see the end of the stupid heroine. You know the one I mean, the one who is Too Stupid To Live (TSTL) and needs rescuing at every turn. Usually she is rescued by the hero, occasionally by a good friend or relative. And the hero is attractive and capable, but if it’s a female friend/relative then she’s not nearly as attractive as the heroine because apparently being TSTL makes you sexy and desirable. Personally I think it makes her Too Stupid To Be Loved and I find it difficult to understand why the hero is attracted to her.
TSTL heroines were especially prominent in times past. Although Georgette Heyer has some excellent feisty heroines (the eponymous Venetia and Sophy) she also has some quite foolish ones (Horatia in The Convenient Marriage, Nell in April Lady). And I haven’t read any Barbara Cartland for decades, but as far as I can remember all her heroines were TSTL. In fact, some of them were too stupid to speak in complete sentences, but that’s a topic for another day. Almost all Mills and Boon heroines I read in my teens were TSTL – in fact the first time I came across a book with a female doctor as a heroine my teenage mind couldn’t compute it: if she was a doctor she must be bright, so how could she be the heroine??
I would like to think we have moved on from this mindset and that we don’t ever meet TSTL heroines these days. However, there is evidence to the contrary. Bella in the Twilight series is often TSTL and yet she is adored by the vampire hero, and by thousands of teenage readers. Why? Really? I haven’t managed to read any of E L James’ books to the end, but Anastasia strikes me as another TSTL heroine. Just by way of example, in the first chapter of Fifty Shades Of Grey she: is pushed into doing an interview she doesn’t want to do, dresses inappropriately, doesn’t know what Christian Grey looks like or his age despite him being a famous local, falls over her own feet, can’t work the recording device and just generally hasn’t done even the most basic preparation for the task at hand. So TSTLs are clearly (and unfortunately) not yet dead and gone.
But there is hope! Mills and Boon heroines these days occasionally do something silly, or make mistakes, but they are not unbelievably stupid. The heroines of all the women’s fiction books I have read in the last ten years have been either reasonably or exceptionally capable. As well as appearing in much crime fiction as the corpse (where she obviously was TSTL, but was not the heroine), women also often feature as the detective or sleuth. Erotica also often features a strong heroine, so E L James is not typical of the genre.
I don’t read much literary fiction, but I think in general there have been fewer TSTL heroines here, although there are often unattractive ones (and I don’t mean in appearance).
I would like to say to my fellow female writers: if you are a writer, you are probably not stupid. So please don’t portray women in your books as stupid. And to male writers: a stupid heroine is not a realistic heroine, so don’t go down that route. I’m pleased to say that having scanned the list of current best-selling romances (the genre that interests me most) I can’t see a stupid heroine among them. From Jill Mansell to Katie Fforde, from Trisha Ashley to Veronica Henry – the heroines may be wacky, they may be quirky, but they are not stupid! Progress has indeed been made. Compare this to the 1970s when books by Judith Krantz and Jacqueline Susann dominated the best-seller lists.
I’d be fascinated to know if anyone has adored a book with a stupid heroine – and, if so, why?