I was talking with Ty Templeton earlier in the week and he explained to me that (while we were talking about gender roles in fiction) he had had real trouble coming up with a list of female protagonists who when introduced were not defined by an element of suffering or hardship. Every female romantic comedy protagonist ever, for example, is defined by their lack of a partner; that’s the entire point of romantic comedy. But this extends beyond just romcoms; female protagonists are almost always given a background of suffering or hardship which they must then overcome (as opposed to suffering or hardship within the story; that’s just dramatic conflict).
Ty explained that in previous conversations about this, he was able to identify only two female protagonists who didn’t enter the story defined by a hardship they would have to overcome as part of their narrative: Julia Child in Julie and Julia (her story is straightforward; she has a goal – to become a great cook – and she achieves it, and her past traumas suffered during the war and her inability to have a child are not relevant to her achievement) and Erin Brockovich (where Erin Brockovich may be poor/lower-class, but her narrative does not present that as something to overcome; her goal is achieve success in a class-action lawsuit and does so).
I gave it some thought afterwards and added two more: Baby in Dirty Dancing and Marge Gunderson in Fargo. But after that, I’m stuck. So what others are there? Surely there must be others!