Looking to Heroines

Whenever students–usually men but sometimes women–tell me that having a U.S. Congress that is 80% men offers an adequate representation of the population and that our government actions and law making do not reflect a distinctly masculine bias, I respond this way: If Congress were 80% women, our nation would still have problems, but they would be really, really different problems than we have now.

I have yet to have a single student argue that this statement is untrue.

Added to that, Congress is also 80% white, privileging white individuals and communities in government; racial equity in representation would transform our law making processes and outcomes. While Congress still wouldn’t be perfect, it would almost certainly would be more just and equitable.


I don’t accept that men are innately violent or less empathetic toward the suffering of others than women are, and research conclusively confirms that much of what is assumed to be innate gendered behavior is actually attributable to language, culture, and socialization. For example, toxic forms of (learned) masculinity clearly contribute to the rash of heart-breaking mass shootings in the U.S., which are perpetuated almost exclusively by men.

I have been drawn to heroines my whole life, and I am looking to them now to bolster my spirit during tough times. I don’t discount male heroes; I just don’t seek them out.

The picture above is of two of my current favorite heroines, real life law professor turned Senator, Elizabeth Warren, and fictional female warrior from Game of Thrones, Brienne of Tarth. I keep both of these action figures in my office, and I have been turning to them for a lift when I feel discouraged.

Whether the challenge is coping with huge political turmoil or struggling to get my prosthetic socket on properly in the bleary-eyed early morning, I need symbols that resonate with me. Strong women lend me strength, women leaders help me to imagine ways to act as a leader, canny women model creative approaches to problem solving.

Elizabeth Warren is super smart and eloquent and above all she is persistent as she works to improve our nation. Brienne uses her tremendous physical strength and unswerving loyalty to serve first her king and later her lady and the lady’s daughters. Both of these women defy traditional norms of feminine deportment, crusading for what they believe in.

Symbols cannot substitute for meaningful action, but they can be a very powerful impetus to (and support for) individual and collective action. These two quirky action figures sit alongside photos of friends, family, and cats, making me smile and reminding me of my own strength and courage.


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