by Shaz Kahng
Today more than ever women are not only ready for but are starving for a new kind of hero. In real life many women have been victimized, harassed, and discriminated against. Despite how hard so many women work and the great results they deliver, many of these women are getting trampled, marginalized, or forgotten in the workplace. But this isn’t only happening to women in the real world…it’s also happening to women in the world of fiction, which is even more surprising.
For example, have you ever wondered why smart female business leaders in novels are always portrayed as evil or intent on crushing the careers of other women? Or why in some stories the female executive is allowed to be successful at work, but in her personal life she’s a basket case where she’s desperate for a man, or obsessed with shoes, or has way too many skittish cats crammed into her apartment.
Yet, a double standard exists in fiction. Male lead characters are expected to have it all. If a man is a business leader in a novel or the big screen he is portrayed as unapologetically successful: talented and respected as a business leader, revered by the community, and adored by his many friends. And in his personal life this male chief executive is either surrounded by the perfect loving wife, two obedient kids, and an adorable dog or he’s single and happily dating a supermodel neurosurgeon who’s also a former gymnast.
The notion that male characters can be universally successful while a female character can only achieve success in one part of her life is simply not fair. And more than unfair, it is completely inaccurate. The reality is there are many talented female business leaders out there who are doing amazing things and are acting as positive role models for others- women and men. Why is it that no one has been offering up stories that reflect this reality? Why isn’t anyone interested in letting these strong women’s voices be heard? Why isn’t anyone publishing novels or making movies about these women and for these women?
The answer is that most of the power to green light creative projects rests with men. For some reason many of these men mistakenly believe that women (and men) aren’t interested in stories about smart, strong, positive female leaders. They believe that a story about a woman overcoming challenges to succeed with smarts, scruples, and style is of no interest to people. I’m here to tell you that they’re wrong.
The new hero that women are starving to see is long overdue…and it’s a strong woman. What’s different about this type of hero? First of all she uses her brain to solve problems creatively. She has integrity and strength of character. She is determined and doesn’t give up regardless of the obstacles put in front of her. She knows when to be tough and when to show emotion. And she’s not made in the typical mold. She might even be ethnically diverse. Imagine that!
The great news is that now this hero does exist in the world of fiction. In my new novel, The Closer, the protagonist is an Asian American woman named Vivien Lee who becomes the first female CEO of a sports company. The icing on the cake is that the other key women in the story are part of the Ceiling Smashers society, a secret society of professional women who help each other succeed. These women are accomplished, diverse, and achieve their goals with honor. I’ve had numerous female and male readers say they’ve never read anything like The Closer before and their main question is, “Where has this book been?”
So I have a few requests: For the people making the green light decisions, please try to offer a fresher, truer take on strong, smart women. For actors like Reese Witherspoon, Eva Longoria, and Elizabeth Banks who are utilizing their talent and brains to bring new material to audiences- why not push for projects with more positive, aspirational female characters? And for you, the readers and filmgoers, the next time you see the same old characters and same old plots being offered up, vote with your pocketbook and pass up these stories until you see something worth reading or worth watching. And please check out my book The Closer as it was written to fill a need- to offer up the heroes that women are craving.