What Makes A Heroine “Kick-Ass” ? — Some Really Complicated Saturday Thoughts

I was writing up my list for next weeks Top Ten Tuesday which we are to list our favorite kickass heroines and I started to have a little bit of a bookish existential crisis by the time I finished. I mean, I came up with the topic for TTT and all but I guess I didn’t realize how incredibly hard it would be for me once I started pen to paper…err fingers to keyboard (but that doesn’t sounds as cool).

I think initially when you think of kickass heroines you tend to think of the literal variety– the ones from fantasy and paranormal novels that go to battle, give an ass kicking to some baddie, is cunning and courageous. We see a lot of those types in movies and tvs. They compete with the boys in terms of being able to render an ass kicking or taking baddies down; they would die fighting for what they feel is right. Most of the time they fight for what’s right whether it be because of ideals or morals or out of love for family, friend or lover. I don’t read a ton of those types of novels (though I’ve been working on it this past year or two!) but I did come up with a few for my post.

But then I kept thinking about really amazing characters that maybe physically weren’t “kick-ass” in terms of maybe they didn’t go head to head with a baddie, fight off 16 strong men or save someone they loved but the ones who had such strength or courage in the way they lived their lives. What about the characters who fought against a disease and every day was a battle? What about the characters who knew who they were and went against the norms and were ostracized for it? What about the characters who experienced a devastating loss and despite the weighty pain of every day or every memory moved forward with great strength? What about the characters who experienced a rape and fought every day to heal and use their strength not to let being a rape victim define who they were and speak out?  I think they are every bit as kick ass!

And then I thought about my musing in the early days of my blog about classic vs. modern heroines.

I think that the classic heroine and the modern heroine are different in some respect. I think the classic heroine wasn’t always facing some big evil entity but sometimes it could have been some weakness, like hubris, that they overcame or societal struggles. This isn’t saying that they didn’t face danger but I feel like this model is seen frequently in modern novels–in fantasy in particular. I think that Elizabeth (Pride & Prejudice) and Jo March are different types of characters than Katniss or Lisbeth Sanders but I think that they all display the same sort of characteristics–self sacrifice, intelligence, confidence, a will of their own, the desire for what is right, honor, etc. I think the modern heroine evolved from the classic heroine and may have the same basic characteristics but I do find them to be different.

Needless to say, I’m having a hard time putting in my mind what I deem to be a “kick-ass heroine”. I know they have a lot of the qualities and elements that I discussed above — despite their flaws. I don’t think they to have all of those qualities and characteristics but they have one or two of them and they show themselves in different ways. I think the thing that is really hard for me is sometimes when I’ll think that a character is a great heroine and I’ll read other people talk about how absolutely weak they are. It’s hard for me to reconcile sometimes. Maybe we have differing opinions of weakness and strength or how much of that a character’s weakness makes them actually weak or is something they can overcome.  I don’t know.

So this post doesn’t really accomplish anything. I just felt so confused and needed to ramble and ask what all you wise readers thinks! So tell me, what do you think makes a kick-ass heroine? Any examples? Any other thoughts on the heroine front in general?  Let me know what you think! I’m dying to have some sort of discussion to further think about this topic!

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About Jamie

Jamie is a 30 year old married lady who is in denial that she’s actually that old. When she’s not reading you can find her doing Pilates followed by eating ice cream, listening to music with oversized headphones and having adventures with her husband and dog.


  1. Lots to think about there. I think “heroine” in itself is a nebulous term. But, like any question we try to answer on our blog, its your opinion, and I think all of the types of heroines you mentioned would qualify. Looking forward to Tuesday…

  2. This is such an interesting topic & I love it! I totally agree about what you mean when people first think a ‘kick ass’ heroine means outwardly kicking ass but it’s so much more than that. I think it goes with the HBIC thing and its problematic uses, you don’t have to be physically strong to be a strong character. In fantasy and dystopian YA, it’s the characters who are active that gets the recognition for being kick ass like Katsa from Graceling Realms or Katniss. I think my favourite heroines are the ones who are quietly strong and brave. Even though Hermione Granger may never actually cut someone down, she’s still pretty great and strong too. So I guess what I mean is that for me, a character doesn’t have to actually kick ass to be a kick ass character. What I look most for is heart in the character and that’s what makes them kick ass to me.

  3. This is a great topic! I was thinking the same things as I planned my own TTT post. For me, kick-ass isn’t just about saving the world or being able to take out 15 guys in 15 seconds, it’s about being a “strong” character and being true to yourself (cheesy but there you go). I’m putting Hermione at number one because I think she does this, and a lot of my top ten are from contemporaries. And I’m not sure if this comment helps the discussion at all, as its fairly abstract and it’s all ultimately subjective, but in my mind “kick-ass” doesn’t just mean a heroine who’s good in a physical fight. Strength is more than that.

  4. I was having a similar conversation with myself when I was brainstorming for my TTT post the other day. And I found myself wanting to include those women who subtly change their world as well as those who obviously change their world. I think that ‘Kick-ass” really means those heroines who stick out to you, but who don’t necessarily literally “kick ass” in the story. And even though there are a lot of strong and powerful heroines being written lately, I still wouldn’t neglect those that make a different kind of impact on you. They are just as “kick-ass” in their own way, even if it’s not in physical strength. So do not worry, you are not the only one who has been thinking about these things this week! =)

  5. How funny…I was just writing up my list earlier this evening and thinking the same thing. I’m so excited to see how people interpret it! Lots of the TTT’s are pretty straightforward. It’s nice that we have this one that is so deceptive and allows for so much space!

  6. Great post! “Kick-ass” does tend to make us think of girls who sleep with katanas under their mattresses, but some of the best heroines aren’t even doing anything traditionally heroic. I read Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff not too long ago (and reviewed it) and I think the protagonist of that book is pretty darn heroic. She’s having a hard time keeping her own head above water, but she still tries to help others.

  7. What a great discussion post. I just put together my TTT post, and although I included heroines that more literally kick the butts of baddies, I also included Elizabeth Bennet, and some other heroines who do not kick baddies’ butts. I mean Elizabeth Bennet had to stand up to her mother (who wanted her to marry dim-witted Mr. Collins), Mr. Darcy when he was being snobbish, Lady Catherine De bourgh when she was being ridiculous. And all why trying to be a polite young lady that women were supposed to be in those days. I think she is totally kick ass.

    I think kick-ass heroines don’t have to be tough and out fighting the bad guy.

  8. I was having this same thought process during my own picking. I was thinking about all the “different” kick butt heroines. I was also thinking that very few of the books I choose to read didn’t contain a female character that could fit on the list. I even had a brief moment where I thought…I’ll pick only women who are different – not warriors or physically strong gals…then I got lazy! I ended up just scanning my goodreads list. And picking the top few that came to mind.

    I just think that why would we be reading a story about a woman if she isn’t strong – or if she didn’t gain strength? Really a case can be made for most heroines that in the end they find something strong within themselves. Even Bella has her own special talent that saves the day…and she’s one of the weakest, man-depending girls ever for most of the series (though I loved that series *No Shame*)

  9. I was actually thinking about this as well because of TTT. Of course, my initial response was to include my favorite paranormal/dystopian/fantasy heroines, all of whom are physically and mentally and emotionally kick-ass. But then I started to think about some of my favorite contemporary heroines, those who have faced bullying, injustice, prejudice or any form of oppression and TRIUMPHED, and concluded they were kick-ass too. I realized that I was falling into the pit of classifying kick-ass as ONLY the girls who were physically capable of doing just that… And that this was surprisingly disturbing concept to me.

    Obviously, I didn’t answer your question… or did I? I guess, to me, I should be more reflective when it comes to thinking about who I’d pick as a kick-ass heroine.


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