You know those awesome Facebook memes where you get to talk uninterruptedly about yourself? (I’m convinced middle-class White women made them up because we’re socialized to relinquish our social and verbal space and these memes allow us to stake tiny claims in conversational territory.) I recently accepted the challenge of naming “fifteen fictional characters (television, films, plays, books) who've influenced you and that will always stick with you.” My soul-deep desire to talk about myself wasn’t what surprised me; it was the tenor of my answers.
My list of the literary and TV characters that have most inspired me includes, among several others, Beth March from Little Women; Willow Rosenberg from Buffy, the Vampire Slayer; Jane Eyre from, well, you know; and Spock from Star Trek.
My initial reaction: Geez, am I a nerd! Okay, not really a shock. My secondary reaction: As a friend, Pippa Jay, and I subsequently discussed, our favorite characters tend to be “betas.” I like betas. Alphas are rockin’. Alphas get crap done. Alphas kick booty and take names afterward.
Betas are the thinkers, the planners, the ones who would often rather paint a picture or prune a garden than shake down the villain. And you know what? I dig them.
Ever see that bumper sticker that says “Well-behaved women rarely make history”? I used to like to pretend it described me, but after several years, I finally admitted to myself that, no matter how often I proclaimed it to the contrary, I am a well-behaved woman. And you know what? I’m making history.
I love strong characters. Long live the alphas! But let’s never, ever forget the characters who make the cookies, ask the philosophical questions, type up the notes, and sweep up after the s/heroes have finished kicking ass. Brava to the betas out there whose strength lies not necessarily in their fists or their fierceness but in their compassion, intelligence, and generosity.
As Gabriel Marcus mulls in Hunted Past regarding Serena O’Donnell, his love interest: “It was his experience that the strong always put the needs of the weak before their own.” Serena is a physically powerful character, but the greatest source of her strength is her compassion, her desire to make a positive difference in others’ lives.
I honor the strength of gentleness.