I realised last week that when I was little, I read fantasy books that were rich with strong, interesting and capable heroes and where female characters were one dimensional caricatures.
As I said in my sweet romance blog post, it didn’t bother me at the time. Ever since I wrote that, I’ve wondering why. I think I’ve come up with the answer and curiously, it has a lot to do with my therapy work.
I grew up in Amsterdam in the late 1960s and early 1970s (yes, I’m THAT old!). The Netherlands has been an egalitarian society for a very long time, and all the adults around me were solidly supportive.
When I didn’t do great on my schoolwork, my teachers didn’t scold. I was told, “If you’re trying, that’s good enough. It will come.”
My ambitions to be a pilot, or maybe a vet, elicited an, “Awesome!”
No matter what, it was dinned into me, “You can do it.”
When we moved to Scotland in the late 1970s, that support was spotty. My parents were rocks as were some of their friends and some of our teachers, but there were a lot of others who, frankly, were absolutely toxic.
For the first year, the bullying was stellar. In the school I attended, the teachers encouraged the kids to throw stones at me because I didn’t speak the language or share their religious beliefs.
After I switched schools, the bullying disappeared. However, sexism was rife. One moment that really crystallized that attitude for me was the deputy headmaster who advised me that I should be a shop girl “because careers are for boys.”
So, what does this to do with my enjoying fantasy novels that have great male characters and few or no females? Just this: because of my early experience, I never associated strong and capable with being male.
From my earliest days I was taught that anyone could be a hero.
So, when I read Lord of the Rings, I was Frodo, Gandalf and Aragorn as easily as I was Galadriel. Reading the Rift War saga, I was Pug and Arutha as happily as I was Anita (although TBH I preferred the Valheru over all of them!)
And this leads me to my therapy work. I’m aware that my early training gave me the confidence and resilience I needed to reach for my happiness. It’s not always easy but that foundation has been a tremendous help.
Not everyone is as lucky. There are those who aren’t treated well by their parents, their families, their bosses, or their communities.
When they have a personal crisis, they feel they can’t open up because they would be judged.
“I’m supposed to be stronger than this.”
“If they knew, I’d lose respect.”
“I just need to talk through this, without being lectured.”
“It’s embarrassing, I don’t want anyone to know, but I need a second opinion.”
Back when I first signed up to do my Masters, I thought practice would be all about helping clients work through and manage issues. But over time I’m beginning to learn that for some people, it’s about needing temporary support, a personal cheerleader, if you like. Someone whose professional code means she will never tell.
I’m okay with that. I think we all need to hear it, “You can do it. You are also a hero.”