Be it books, movies, video games or otherwise, I have often found that the female lead characters are far more engaging than their male counterparts. This question of hero vs heroine got me thinking and led me to several conclusions as to why it’s the women of the fictional world who are often the most compelling.
Firstly there is the simple reason that for so long, women were only ever damsels in distress or poorly constructed love interests. More and more we see examples of women on screen and in literature that now rely on their own strength and complexities of character to drive the story and who don’t require a man to give them purpose. Society played so heavily for such a long time on the idea that men overpower women that to see such admiral examples of strong, fictional female characters is a welcome change.
I do however think that a female character’s inherent feminine vulnerability is another important aspect to their appeal with audiences. Take a fight or chase scene for example; most of us – myself included – find it far easier to feel concerned for and invested in the safety of a woman in physical danger than we would a man as socially it is rightly accepted that violence against women is never tolerable. A famous example I would offer up is this: Would you have felt quite as angry and empathetic if Bellatrix Lestrange had tortured Ron instead of Hermione in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows? We all know that Hermione is a brave, talented, intelligent and resourceful character but when she finds herself in potentially mortal peril, we can’t help but fear for her safety, and this is only amplified by the fact that she is a young woman. I certainly don’t think it is a coincidence that JK Rowling chose Hermione as Bellatrix’s victim over her male friends and equally not a coincidence why from the fictional point of view, Bellatrix made the same choice; both writer and character knew it would enrage onlookers.
All in all, it is this combination of characteristics that makes heroines so appealing to me. A woman such as Ellen Ripley in the Alien franchise can be portrayed as being equally strong and independent as she is vulnerable and maternal without it ever feeling forced. Of course there are fantastic examples of heroes whom I like but I would much sooner read about or watch a multi-dimensional female character that defies stereotypes than an all guns blazing, invincibly tough macho-man any day of the week.
What about you? Do you engage more with male or female lead characters?