Lost Girl and the rise of the empowered heroine in romance and erotic fiction
Meet Bo Dennis. She’s the kick ass paranormal heroine of the action adventure series Lost Girl, now entering its fourth season on the Syfy channel. With killer fighting techniques and clever one liners reminiscent of Xena and Buffy, this all-powerful female fae dispatches everyone from evil dark fae adversaries to would be date rapists with ferocity, grace and feminist aplomb.
One other thing about Bo, portrayed on Lost Girl by Canadian TV and theatrical actress Anna Silk. She likes sex. A lot. She claims male and female lovers, and has used her amazing sexual prowess to do everything from destroy nefarious villains to get out of paying for a milkshake at a restaurant.
Bo is a succubus fae; a paranormal creature who consumes and thrives on primal sexual energy. She relishes her sexuality (splitting her time between Dyson, a gorgeous, wolfish warrior, Lauren, a strong, glamorous doctor, and others), while at the same time fighting to control her own prowess—which has the capacity to most literally drain her lovers dry.
Throughout the history of sci-fi and paranormal, the female succubus has been portrayed as characters with job titles like stripper and femdom (i.e., the character of Lorna Green in the 1968 Jess Franco film Succubus). And while the heroines of these pieces had their own strength and presence, Bo stands alone as a well-rounded, witty, and intelligent heroine who also happens to be sexually active—and empowered.
Slut-shaming, also known as slut-bashing, is the idea of shaming and/or attacking a woman or a girl for being sexual, having one or more sexual partners, acknowledging sexual feelings, and/or acting on sexual feelings. Furthermore, it’s “about the implication that if a woman has sex that traditional society disapproves of, she should feel guilty and inferior.” – more.
– Finally Feminism 101
In a 2011 interview with The Watercooler website, Lost Girl creator Michelle Lovretta discussed the importance of portraying Bo as a sex positive heroine. In advising show producers she set forth several edicts, asking in particular that there be “no slut shaming” on the show.
“We are clearly at a point where a main character’s orientation not only doesn’t have to be swept under the rug, but also doesn’t have to be a big damn deal,” Lovretta told The Watercooler. “Bo has lots of sex, with men, women, humans, Fae, threesomes… and she’s still our hero, still a good person worthy (and capable) of love, and that’s a rare portrayal of female sexuality.”
Rare—and popular. A Google search of Lost Girl uncovers message boards, fan groups, articles (well, like this one!), tribute vids, and—natch—oodles of fan art and fiction devoted to Bo and friends. One YouTuber thanks a Lost Girl character for enabling her to accept her bisexuality. And for those who create their own brand of woman positive, sex positive paranormal fiction, Lost Girl is an endless source of creative inspiration.
Barbara Donlon Bradley, a multi-published author with Phaze, Melange and Hardshell publishing, is the creator of the erotic paranormal series The Vespian Way; a futuristic tale centering around Heather, an intergalactic security officer. She’s also an avid Lost Girl fan.
“I love watching Lost Girl. She is such a kick-ass heroine!” says Bradley. “She is a great inspiration for that strong heroine. I’ve always felt heroines need to be strong. An alpha male needs a woman to keep them in line, make them think. I kept that in mind when I wrote my newest series The Vespian Way. Heather is one of those heroines.”
Much like Bo, who at first fails to realize and accept her status as a succubus, the orphan Heather is persecuted for her differences.[adrotate group=”9″]“Heather has strong beliefs and she’s driven to do the right thing, even if it goes against her current assignment… Heather also needed to be able to handle the truth about her true lineage. Throughout the series she has learned she could speak the ancient language of Vespia, that she was part of that race and had been sent to Earth for her protection. How would you handle thinking you were from one planet all your life then to learn you were part of an ancient race from another planet?” asks Bradley. “A lesser character would have curled into a little ball and cried, ‘Why me?’. She faces each twist with grace and her own style. The way she was raised and her military training made her strong. Being able to stand up to her mate keeps her strong.”
“I see a lot of parallels between my character and Lost Girl,” Bradley reveals. “Both strong heroines who refuse to follow the rules just because that is what is expected and both had to learn to deal with not being quite human. I can’t wait for the new season to start.”
And it’s not just female authors who have found a muse in Lost Girl. SS Hampton, Sr., another multi-published sci fi author who has works available through Melange and Musa books, has enjoyed the show since its Syfy Channel premiere in 2011.
“I was an instant fan of the Canadian-produced series about the world of the Fae, and Bo Dennis (Anna Silk), a succubus, and her human sidekick, Kenzi (Ksenia Solo),” he said. “Of course…who wouldn’t be an instant fan of the beautiful Bo, who is also a sexy, strong-willed, confident, and dominant fae who enjoys sex with men and women, and threesomes with a married couple? And especially, when she is in the throes of taking someone’s life force, she physically takes charge?”
Hampton writes his own share of take charge, personally and sexually empowered heroines; including Venetian gondolier Patrizia Celentano in The Gates of Moses (Melange Books) and lesbian werewolf Patricia Renner in Second Saturday (Musa Publishing). And in his Melange short story collection Intimate Journeys, his heroines include a female Air Force officer and a legendary succubus.
“I believe ‘Lost Girl,’ fantasy show that it is, does provide an example of a strong female, one who can make things happen because she is not timid and will not cower while waiting for someone to come to her rescue, or to do things for her,” he said. “As for me, I like to include such females in my writings.…And, perhaps my female characters aren’t exactly like Bo Dennis, but if she and one of my characters met, they would recognize a little of themselves in the other.”
Of course, strong, sexually empowered heroines are nothing new to paranormal romance and erotica. Award-winning author Laurell K. Hamilton has been lauded for her Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series from the Penguin Group, which concerns a tough, no nonsense heroine who has both heated battles and scorching sexual encounters with gorgeous, exotic male vamps; and Hamilton offers her own tough, sexually empowered Faerie in Random House’s Merry Gentry series. And Carina Press author PJ Schnyder, who received the Golden Leaf award for Bite Me, Book 1, of the London Undead series, and has also won honors from the Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal RWA PRISM awards for her novella, Hunting Kat, Book 1, of the Triton Experiment series, counts a physically challenged female zombie hunter and a fighting female mercenary among her heroines.
“Personally, I feel there are many different kinds of strengths out there. Not every heroine needs to be a bad-ass fighter to be strong. Some overcome incredible emotional or psychological trauma. Others constantly test their limits and live outside their comfort zone,” she said. “I admire these traits, the complexity of such characters, and strive to create heroines that my readers can relate to and be encouraged by. I also strive to create heroes that respect and admire those traits in my heroines. These are the characters I fall in love with, and so I try to share them with my readers.”
And as these brave heroines fight for the good of themselves and the world, they get to have a little fun in the process.
“All of these women are strong in different ways and they deserve to be loved,” said Schnyder. “That’s why I write romance, rather saucy romance.”
In creating heroines that are assertive in and out of the bedroom, today’s paranormal romance authors avoid the stereotypes that tend to frustrate today’s empowered female readers.
“There is a fair amount of commercial genre fiction today that so emphasizes the characters’ sexual experiences (in detail and ad infinitum) that the sexual experience actually becomes the main character or the point of the story. The ‘him’ or the ‘her’ (or the him and him or her and her) are simply vehicles through which the reader shares a sexual episode,” said Linnea Sinclair, an award-winning Bantam Dell author of science fiction romance whose story COURTING TROUBLE soon will appear in the Simon & Schuster anthology SONGS OF LOVE & DEATH (edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois). “The characters are often flat and, yes, may come across as weak or submissive because they’re not truly characters. They’re not causing the action or influencing the action, they’re simply receptacles of the action, and the action pushes them this way and that, often without much logic.”
In crafting her novels and their starship captain heroines, Sinclair prefers to write strong-willed women who still know how to have fun. The heroine Trilby in the novel Finders Keepers refers to her hero Rhis as ” ‘Insolent, arrogant, insufferable, Imperial bastard!’….She could have added ‘brilliant’ and ‘too damned good-looking for his own good’ but she was still working herself into a frenzy over his negatives.” And her Games of Command heroine Tasha Sebastian “could handle ‘come hither.’ Hell, she was actually looking forward to ‘come hither’ if they could ever get around to it. Hot sex was such a great stress-reliever. But love…she couldn’t risk that. Especially not with Branden Kel-Paten. She liked him too much.”
“For the most part, science fiction romance (the genre I write), and its ‘sister’ genres of romantic science fiction and futuristic romance…seem to favor the stronger, capable female protagonist. Geeky and gutsy, if you will,” she said. “This doesn’t mean the central character doesn’t make mistakes or do the wrong thing (hopefully for the right reason). It means the character takes responsibility and solves the problems she encounters or that she creates, and/or the plot problems. If the protagonist wimps out then that character is not the protagonist (hero or heroine) or is a badly written protagonist.”
Also in the interest of fighting stereotypes along with aliens and zombies, RWA RITA Award finalist Sharon Lynn Fisher has sought to fill her Tor Books novels Ghost Planet (2012), The Ophelia Prophecy (2014), and Echo 8 (2015) with powerful heroines who still manage to be refreshingly human.
“It’s important to write these types of characters because, in my opinion, most readers in the romance genre won’t accept anything less. In a romance novel, the heroine is the star. No one wants to read a story where the star is always having to be saved by other people,” said Fisher. “With that said, I think it is critical to write heroines who are realistically empowered. For example, the heroine of my novel GHOST PLANET is a scientist. She thinks her way out of problems. She only takes a physical approach (fighting, or threatening with a weapon) as a last resort. Also a character needs at least one weakness or fear to overcome in the course of the story.”
At the same time, today’s paranormal erotic heroines are anything but “lost”—either in or out of the boudoir.
“I like to know that (my heroines) can put a bad guy or two in place,” said author Charmaine Pauls, who presents heroines such as magical healers and paranormal visionaries in the Melange novels Between Fire & Ice and The Winemaker. “I love heroines in paranormal stories who can give their alluring male counterparts a go for their money.”
- Buffy laid a foundation on which Lost Girl‘s building a somewhat more sexually progressive and more diverse universe.
- Lost Girl represents, in television terms, a generation of forward progress from Buffy when it comes to sex.
- Unlike Buffy, whose on-screen partners have, alternately, lost their souls, ignored her afterwards (college boys can be jerks, too), turned to vampire hookers out of a sense of inadequacy, and tried to rape her, Bo doesn’t get punished for sleeping around.
- Unlike how Buffy handled Willow’s coming-out as bisexual, having her transition from attractions only to men to (on-screen, at least) attractions only to women, Lost Girl is confident enough to have Bo’s sex life reflect her stated sexual orientation. She’s capable of loving and desiring both (men and women).
– ‘Lost Girl’ Isn’t ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’—And That’s Okay, Allysa Rosenberg, Think Progress