Editorial: Heroines and Heroes

Heroes and heroines. These are words that graze the archaic. Words that suggest people with extraordinary super powers. Words that arouse forgotten childhoods. Words that provoke legends. Words that rouse jealousy. Words that arouse admiration. Words that stimulate our senses. Words that animate us. Words that stir our passions.

Our heroes and heroines span centuries and continents, proclaimed and lauded in literature, television, film and through the grape vine, now twitter, facebook, cell phone, YouTube and the internet.

There has been an eclectic myriad of heroes, both mythical and historical: knights in shining armour from the Crusades, kings who conquered realms, queens like Boudicca who led her army against Roman forces, saviours and religious figures performing miracles for their citizens, legendary characters like Hercules or Achilles, political dissidents such as Che Guevara, Nelson Mandela and Rosa Parks, the science heroes – Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of penicillin and the pioneer Madame Curie, political figures the likes of Tommy Douglas and René Levesque, altruistic women, evoking the icons Florence Nightingale, Mother Teresa, Joan of Arc and Elizabeth Fry, trailblazers like Neil Armstrong, Albert Einstein and Amelia Earhart, the visionaries, Sakamoto Ryōma and Bertrand Russell and inspirational heroes like Terry Fox.

There are also the unsung heroes and heroines: those who helped in the Underground Railroad, the tireless mother or father who unconditionally supports their children, the anonymous worker cranking the nuts and bolts on the assembly line, the handicapped person working out hard at the gym, the child weaving oriental rugs to be sold to the rich and ordinary people too numerous to count whose daily actions rank within the heroic.

I grew up on Cinderella, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty and similar Catholic moral stories that I rapaciously devoured as a child. I did not see those heroines as being punished or locked up, carrying the burden of her parents’ mistakes, to eventually be saved by a father or a future husband. I only saw the glitz. Combine those characters with the film icons from the 1950’s, Jane Mansfield, Marilyn Monroe and their counterparts, the result, gravely internalized by my generation in North America, made me yearn to be a blonde bombshell, to be discovered by a prince, a rich one and to be rescued by this prince into a safe and wonderful world. It also made me angry because I was not blonde and because I knew I could think and I was as smart, or smarter, than the boys who were my peers. The explosion of the 1960’s, in particular the sexual revolution and women’s rights, was just around the corner but my teenage years were drenched in a pink Hollywood-like haze of dual morality, confinement and cultural limitations. And if I throw into this personal mix that my parents were in the Communist Party in the fifties and my father a union organizer who supported working men’s rights and the fight for civil rights, I realize how deeply those female icons of the fifties were seared into my subconscious.

What has changed since then? In Hollywood we now have the woman as warrior. The most authentic and ground-breaking role was by Sigourney Weaver, in the 1979 film, Alien, where she was not a supernatural heroine nor a woman acting as a man. And note that our film industry has lagged appallingly in time behind Asian heroines who vanquished many a foe in Chinese martial art films decades before Weaver. Yet most of the iconic American heroines since Weaver are still wrapped in male characteristics and striving to do a man’s job. And even that construct has died. The 2012 blockbuster film, Hunger Games, geared for young women demographics, is frightful in its message. Katniss, the heroine, aids and abets the totalitarian system by manipulating the audience watching the games. She wins, in a battlefield of children killing each other, because she panders to their vision. It is a dangerous and alarming moral for our young generation.

So who were my heroes or heroines that did not derive from fairy or folk tales? I abashedly say Superman from the comic books, although I did not want to be him, but to be married (from hindsight even that is not a complete disclosure) to him, which is just as perturbingly revealing.

Our heroes and heroines should not have fantastical weapons and engage in war or save the world from alien invasion. The recent and newer ‘power of one’ heroes, started by television and now enhanced by the electronic media and the information pathways, exist in full force. I am somewhat irritated by that, not to discredit those achievements, but rather because praising only the power-of-one undermines the power of many.

Heroes and heroines should be supported by creative ideas and moral ideology, act with purpose and a belief in the rights of the individual and the society and move in an ethical bedrock that transcend the buck.

This issue includes evocative viewpoints of our contributors such as Richard Swift who concludes that in Canada, heroism is fast becoming the exclusive monopoly of the military and the police, Shubhobroto Ghosh who explores the inner duality of public heroes, an interview with a hiphop rapper trying to extricate himself from the lies and deceptions of society, an engaging story about a Mexican street hero by Tomás Ramírez and other funky prose and hard hitting poetry.

Susan Dubrofsky is a Montreal writer and artist.