It’s rare in literary and popular culture to be confronted with female protagonists you simply just want to be. Even though I loved Jane Eyre when I read the 19th Century classic by Charlotte Bronte back when I was 15, I never wanted to be her nor the tragic Tess or the French Lieutenant’s Wife. Two heroines came closest to personifying the kind of woman whose spirit I sought to embody: Shakespeare’s Rosalind (As You Like It), and, of course, Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennett (Pride and Prejudice).
Miss Fisher (from Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries) carries a stunning golden revolver and knows how to use it, and is both feminist and liberal, despite the conservative society she lives in
It wasn’t that I was looking for role models. By the time I hit my twenties, I had learned to assimilate commendable qualities from the women I was surrounded by to create a vague gist of what I wanted to be as I aged: strong, confident, uncensored, even obscene if the situation required it, yet morally irreproachable. What I was looking for was the form and mould of a possibly imperfect fictional non-conformist woman who had the courage to be independent, who was not alarmed by the tick-tocking of her imaginary biological clock, who made a vocation out a career, but had enough of a sense of humour to not take herself too seriously. A “woman of the world” so to speak, who wasn’t afraid to travel, was sexually experienced and never ashamed to exude that air of having been-there-done-that. In short, a woman who not only saw herself as equal to men but who also had the power to intimidate them, if she so desired.
If you are 30 and happily unmarried, the whole world seems to conspire against you. Your family thinks of you as defective; a disappointment. Your heteronormative siblings resent the fact that you can gallivant across the world while pursuing what you love without having to worry about mouths to feed, mortgages to pay. Your relatives hone in to remind your mother that you are a “problem” that has to be “settled”, because a 30-year-old unmarried woman is a dangerous threat to society. Domestic wisdom is tossed in your face, “Who will take care of you when you’re old?” as if the sole purpose of fostering progeny is for them to serve as a guarantee against the vicissitudes of old age. “You will regret not having children and it’ll be too late then,” is another rabidly popular piece of cautionary spiel, though the most potent is the warning that you will die alone among your seventy thousand cats and no one will discover your body until its decomposing odor hits the streets. So powerful is this myth, it became the plot of the hit series, Sex and the City.
None of your successes are celebrated with enthusiasm, for they have all come at the cost of your refusing to go the family way. You watch your friends concede to participate in the institution of marriage. You are happy for them and rejoice in their unions. You stand by as your friends who had once reluctantly acquiesced now file for divorce. You welcome them into your stigmatic fold.
But you are not lonely, you want to tell the world. In fact, you’re happier than you ever imagined, and certainly more than the people around you who chose (or didn’t) to conform. You have found for yourself a family of friends that cares for you, nurtures you, celebrates you and compels you to excel.
The trouble is we are brought up to imagine “what we want to be when we grow up” as a professional or institutional category. So at 30, all I have as reference points are other women like me who are not afraid to be alone, who enjoy the company of men but don’t necessarily seek commitment, who are in fact too strong-willed and progressive for men to dare to want to marry, who live and let live but kick ass every work day, who keep beautiful homes and cook delicious food and travel on their own dime to wherever their whimsy takes them.
So, if you’re a 30-something reading this and find yourself in the same boat, looking for anchors, I present to you The Honourable Miss Fisher. Adapted from Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher mystery series, the three-seasons old Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is available for pleasurable viewing on Netflix. Miss Fisher represents exactly the kind of heroine I’ve been waiting for all my life. The 40-something is a delectably dapper flapper who doubles as a private detective in 1920s Melbourne. She feels no disposition towards marriage, no maternal longing, has a wardrobe so fashionable it could make even Olivia Pope (Scandal) envious, runs faster than the average male cop, carries a stunning golden revolver and knows how to use it, and is both feminist and liberal, despite the conservative society she lives in.
In the very first episode (spoiler alert) she meets her lesbian best friend, does the tango with a sexy French dancer who she later hooks up with, impersonates a hooker, and solves a murder mystery, all while looking impeccable.
She’s what I want to embody when I turn 40.
Rosalyn D’Mello, a reputed art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover, deliberates on the life and times of the Everywoman. She tweets @RosaParx. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org