When I was in college, one professor asked us in an introductory questionnaire to, “Describe your heroes.” I wrote, “I don’t have heroes” and left it at that. The whole concept of having a personal hero or idol is anathema me. I hate saying that “such-and-such person taught me something.” However, I’ve been reading about female “role models” or conspicuous lack thereof. In the interest of celebrating my fellow females, here are the four women who helped influence the person I became in adulthood.
I’ve been watching “I Love Lucy” for as long as I’ve possessed conscious memory. I was still tiny when I saw the chocolate factory scene from “Job Switching,” and it was the funniest thing I’d ever seen. If I had to distinguish the two, I’d say Lucy Ricardo had more of an influence on me than Lucille Ball. I didn’t know anything about Ball’s life until I was older. Ball was a savvy businesswoman in real life, a far cry from the scatterbrained Mrs. Ricardo. Either way, I’m glad to have seen that show as early as I did. If I took anything away from “I Love Lucy” it was that you shouldn’t take yourself too seriously because you are a woman.
One of the first female authors I remember reading was Agatha Christie. While I would certainly want to credit J.K. Rowling for giving me my first series to read, Christie was the first author I picked up off of my mother’s shelf and read of my own volition. Finishing a Christie mystery and finding out who the killer was offered a heady thrill like nothing I’d ever experienced. I can safely blame the “Queen of Crime” for getting me hooked on mysteries.
Of course, if we’re talking about female authors, I have to give the crown of laurels to Jane Austen. I started reading her books when I was about 17, and getting her particular brand of sly, sarcastic humor was no small milestone in my development as a reader. I’m not part of any community of Janeites; however, it was enough for me to enjoy the books without having to try to understand the baffling fondness other readers have for Mr. Darcy (I’m more of a Mr. Tilney person myself).
Finally, I found Dorothy Parker when I was about 19. Interestingly her style, which I would describe as “sardonically dark wit,” was much darker than anyone I read who tried to be deliberately macabre. I tried reading Anais Nin, but all of her attempts at swirling my darker impulses like a cocktail just didn’t have the punch of post-abortion Parker saying “That’s what I get for putting all my eggs in one bastard.” If Austen “taught” me that women can be funny, Parker “taught” me that they could be so cuttingly witty that it hurts to read sometimes.
These four women are the ones who had the biggest influence on me in my formative years. While I loathe the whole idea of personal heroes (and none of these women are without their flaws), I can honestly say that I have no idea who I’d be if I hadn’t encountered these women when I did.