Who doesn’t love a red-blooded, shoot from the hip badass woman? One who’ll entice you with sweet words and bedroom eyes, only to pull a gun on you as soon as you turn your back. Men love them because there’s something so sexy about a woman who takes control into her own hands, and women love them because they want to be them.
Badass women are more fun
You may not want to marry a BAW or have one as your best friend, but they are certainly a lot of fun to invite into your imagination as a reader or writer. I much prefer to read stories where the protagonist is a BAW, and as an author I find they are much more fun to write than a mousy heroine whose main flaw is a lack of self-esteem, and whose worst vice is eating an entire bucket of caramel pecan ice-cream in one sitting.
‘There’s nothing a man can do that I can’t do better, and in heels.’ Ginger Rogers.
Although there are BAW in every genre of fiction, many of them hang out in noir and crime books. As I mention in my previous blog post, Three Reasons To Love Noir, where I describe noir fiction in detail, there’s a crossover between crime and noir, as many noir novels contain an element of crime.
Noir evolved from hardboiled crime fiction from the 1930s onwards and in its early days was very male oriented. Female characters usually played a supporting role, like the femme fatale, the distraught victim or the forbearing wife, and if they were the perpetrators of crime, it was often because they’d been led astray or forced into it by the controlling male protagonist.
However, after the Great Literary Uprising of the 21st century, when thousands of subjugated female characters held a rally in the New York Public Library, marched out of the pages of their books and demanded equal rights to be the nasty, violent antiheroes of their own stories, fictional BAW have been springing up like mushrooms.
Famous badass women
One of the most famous modern BAW is Lisbeth Salander in the Millenium series (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). A brilliant computer hacker, she is also volatile, anti-social and frequently violent. However she also engenders empathy in the reader because of her horrific childhood with a violent father, adolescence in a psychiatric institution and sexual abuse by her guardian. You can understand her dislike of authority and her inability to trust people, and you sense a kernel of vulnerability underneath her tough exterior.
It’s often the case with many fictional BAW – they act the way they do because of their earlier experiences – poverty, neglect, abusive relationships. But instead of staying in the victim role they take control and fight for what they consider is their rightful place in the world, regardless of the price, which may be anything from broken hearts and deceit to violence and murder.
Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth is the quintessential badass woman and others include Cruella de Vil from 101 Dalmations, Annie Wilkes from Stephen King’s Misery and Carrie from the book of the same name, Nurse Ratched from One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Mrs Danvers, the housekeeper from Rebecca and Cathy Ames from East of Eden.
More badass women at a bookstore near you!
Badass women are frequently unlikable, but always fascinating. The best ones are a complex mix of attractive and nasty traits. Acclaimed noir author Megan Abbott, who has written a number of novels set in the 1940s and 50s, full of gangsters and Hollywood glamour, frequently writes of ‘good girls’ who are seduced into the seamy side of life and have to dig down to their inner BAW woman to survive.
There’s a new generation of female noir authors writing a wide variety of badass women and if you want more badass women in your fantasy life, you need look no further than Gillian Flynn, Vicki Hendricks, Christa Faust, Cathi Unsworth and Sara Gran.
My own BAW
I’m having fun writing my own BAW, Eva Dennehy, in my current work in progress, A Time for Penance. Eva is given the opportunity to travel back in time to undo a crime she committed 20 years ago, but needless to say, things don’t go according to plan. This book will be published in early 2017.
What are your thoughts on BAW in fiction? Have you met any lately? I’d love to know. Put your comments in the comments box below.
Robin Storey is an Australian author from the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. She is a certified book nerd and has no weird hobbies or unusual pets.