Weighing In On The KA Heroine
Much has been debated in Romancelandia lately about the so-called “kick ass” or KA heroine. Harlequin’s line dedicated to the KA, Bombshell, was recently discontinued, and it sparked a debate about whether or not the average romance reader really wanted to read about the KA woman.
Now, some of the books in that line didn’t have Wonder Woman, Xena, or even Sydney Bristow. Some of those heroines were KA brain trusts, but I think the perception of physical women endured. With a few notable exceptions, romances haven’t been as successful with KA’s as television shows have. I have to wonder why?
We’re all in favor of strong, independent, capable women, right? I like reading about a damsel who can slay her own dragon; and there’s a lot to admire about them. However, I think there are a couple of places where the KA romance heroine falls.
Certainly not her fashion sense. J.D. Robb’s Eve Dallas is the one I can think of who wasn’t necessarily confident in that area. The KA isn’t afraid to showcase her, er, assets in the latest leather ensemble. Even though it’s skin tight, she can still hide about fourteen weapons. That’s style, baby.
Of course to do that, she has to keep herself in shape. Our girl usually eats like an 8-yr-old and drinks like a fish, but she can perform physical feats no ordinary woman can. Who wouldn’t love reading about that? Finally, no fainting woman who reacts to stress by not being able to eat a single bite- but that’s a whole different rant. The KA can eat as much chocolate as she wants.
She can be a mentor to other women. Who wouldn’t want to inspire some insipid jellyfish waif to get a little backbone? Even if the waif is us? I mean, every woman secretly wants to be her, right? We’d all like to be powerful enough, just once, to knock the snot out of the salesman who automatically talks to the husband and only includes us when pointing out the color. To have the ability to grab the smarmy, lecherous co-worker by his Golden Globes and point out the advantages of singing in the Vienna Boy’s Choir. To…well, okay, I’m going there; hang on and promise you’ll still like me. TO BE A MAN.
I think one place that KA’s fail is their invincibility. No wonder they deserve an action figure. I have never seen a KA lose a fight. Never. If you know of one, clue me in. Oh, they may get caught at the end, through treachery or drugged chocolate, from which of course they’ll escape; but in the regular middle-of-the-book thug fights every action protag must have, they never wind up getting their clocks cleaned. Male KA’s? Get beaten up all the frigging time. Again, that’s another rant.
But IMO the big place romance KA’s trip is the hero. Steve Trevor was a war pilot, for goodness sake. Heartthrob gorgeous, with the sparkly teeth and everything. He was honorable, upright, polite to old ladies and children and had great hair. He fought Nazis, okay?? Who could get more heroic than that? But next to Wonder Woman, he was the biggest goober alive. He got caught or kidnapped or got the snot beaten out of him (see? I told you!) regularly, and Wonder Woman wound up having to save him every time.
I’m not saying the romance heroine can’t do the saving once in awhile; I love it when she steps up to the plate. And though I love hairy chest-thumping men I have liked beta and gamma heroes, too. But I think I’m a pretty typical romance reader, and I like it when Alpha Hero comes to the rescue. Part of the fun is seeing the Big Strong Man fall to pieces when faced with his feelings for the heroine. When he bends his knee, figuratively or literally, he acknowledges that this woman has power over him. He has to change how he’s always looked at the world and his place in it. I hate waifs, and I love a good strong heroine, but when the KA shows up, it is very difficult to portray equality with the hero. (Nora does it very well with Eve Dallas and Roarke.) Part of the appeal of the KA is her physical power in a world where physical strength is still where men outdo us; seeing her bend her knee doesn’t have the same satisfaction for me.
All that said, I’ll still love watching reruns of Xena and Buffy, and I’ll probably see the new Wonder Woman flick when it comes out. And I’ll still go to bed dreaming of kicking the crap out of that grocery clerk who focuses on my chest instead of my face.