Protagonist: 1 the principal character in a literary work (as a drama or story); 2 a leader, proponent, or supporter of a cause.
Where are all our female protagonists?
I went to a TED Talk on female empowerment about a year ago. One segment featured a youth theater teacher who talked about the challenges she faced in getting students to write screenplays featuring female protagonists. “Before puberty, girls wrote all kinds of stories with heroines that saved their families, princes, and even turned into spaceships to fly to the moon.”
But after their young adolescents, things changed. She said female characters became passive characters, and seldom became protagonists for these young authors’ stories. Girls in the program were so focused on how others viewed women and themselves, and the conviction their female protagonists once had was nowhere to be found. This story really resonated with me. And not just in my creative writing, but with the way I grew up and view myself in the world.
Who wants to be President?
I once asked my husband what his dream job would be, and he said, “President of the United States.” When he asked me in return, I replied, “A great middle-manager in a respected organization; known by those above and below her for making things happen.”
Why don’t I want to be President?
Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with either of those ambitions. But I couldn’t help but think, “Why don’t I want to be President?” I realized I couldn’t picture myself as President, either of a small non-profit or the United States. While I’ve always been passionate about my career, I couldn’t view myself as a leader of my industry, or even my company. Honestly telling me I could someday be a horse or unicorn seemed just as fitting.
But why did it seemed so far-fetched? Was it because I care too much about work/life balance? No, I love working. Was it because I didn’t like being in charge? No, I love being in charge. Is it because DC is too muggy in the summer? Maybe; I do have sweating issues.
Even after all my hard work, I still thought of myself as a passive player. I assumed that if I was smart and capable, other people would notice, and then I could support other people create the change and success I hoped to achieve. Taking a lead in such things didn’t occur to me before.
Allow yourself to think bigger.
I resolved to make myself consider more of everything and anything; whether it is entering a job industry I am afraid won’t have me, or speaking up in big meetings. When I feel stuck, ignored or insignificant in my work, I try and remind myself (sometimes even out loud) that I am the protagonist of this story. And maybe that story will be about becoming a middle-manager at a great organization (if I’m lucky) because it suits me, but not because I didn’t have the confidence to dream of something bigger.