Rereading my latest blog posts, it occurs to me I’ve never explained my word choice for the protagonists populating my literary worlds. I write hetero romance (for now, at least), which means there’s a girl main character and a boy main character. In most of my stories, the girl protagonist is pretty clearly the main-er character, but in some of them, like Hunted Dreams, my scenes are divided pretty equally between the sexes. When speaking about these two character staples, most folks I know use the terms “main characters” or, if they’re, like me, a fan of melodrama, heroes and heroines.
I won’t use the term “heroine,” and not just because it sounds like a narcotic substance. (Creepy, right?) Words ending with “ine,” “ina,” “ita,” “ette,” and “ess” annoy the heck outta me. See, these words have one thing in common: added at the end of a word, they all represent it in a feminine and/or diminutive form. “Señorita” means “little señora,” “waitress” means “female waiter,” and “bachelorette” means “female bachelor.” As my old friend, dictionary.com, says of “ette,” “English nouns in which the suffix ETTE designates a feminine role or identity have been perceived by many people as implying inferiority or insignificance.” Word, dictionary.com.
My women main characters are neither illegal substances nor inferior. Thus, I will not use “heroine.” I’m fine with calling her a hero; what’s good for the gander, and all that. But a few years ago, I heard someone – I think it might have been the indomitable fat lib activist, Marilyn Wann – use the term “shero,” and I was hooked. See, I’m not against specifying sex via words; I’m opposed to using suffixes that imply smallness and insignificance.
My partner’s ex once grumped that “shero” shouldn’t exist because “hero” isn’t an inherently gendered term. She thought I was using it in the same way some feminists change “his-story” to “her-story.” Don’t get me wrong – I think such wordplay is thought-provoking and useful. However, while my decision is mired in gender politics, my goal is a slightly different one. I don’t hate “hero” for having the dreaded “he” in it; I simply don’t want to use a diminutive form of any word to describe the greatness of my women characters.