This is a guest post from Mirah Bolender, the debut author of City of Broken Magic, a fantasy novel about specially-trained operatives known as Sweepers trying to prevent creatures from devouring all magic. #FearlessWomen is an ongoing campaign from Tor Books highlighting women authors and the worlds they create.
There are a huge number of women I’ve met or glimpsed in my life that can be described as fearless, so I’ll focus on one I’ve recently learned more about. You’ve probably heard of Amy Poehler—award winning comedian and actress, member of the Upright Citizens Brigade, Saturday Night Live star, and of course the iconic Leslie Knope in Parks and Recreation. She has an amazing combination of humor and determination that I honestly wish I had.
One of the most important, fearless aspects of Amy Poehler is that she puts in the work. The road to success is a long one. Success isn’t just dumped in your lap, but something grueling and time consuming. Poehler started her road to comedy success in her college years… but you could also argue that it started much earlier.
In her book, Yes Please, Poehler elaborates on a realization she had on stage during an elementary school play: how she had total control over what would happen next and how she could make the audience laugh. Those small roots can’t be discounted, because that’s so often where success gets derailed. If enough people tell you that you can’t do something, or if you can’t believe that you can, then you may not allow yourself to do the essential steps of wanting and working for it.
Women are so often taught to take a step back, away from the spotlight, and keep their truths to themselves. We “um” and “ah” and “sorry” to filter our speech to be pleasant and friendly to the point we hardly realize it sometimes. To unapologetically recognize yourself and your value, to consider that you have the grit and talent to get there, feels a little revolutionary.
What would’ve happened if Poehler decided to go with the flow instead, or allowed discouragement to stick? We’d be without a lot of material, jokes, roles, and otherwise, and frankly, I think that would be a crime. What would happen if all the women who let themselves be talked over resolved instead to push back, or take a chance? If even a few more people find their voice, I think we’ll have a much brighter future.
To quote Poehler: “What else are we going to do, say no? Say no to an opportunity that may be slightly out of our comfort zone? Quiet our voice, because we’re worried it’s not perfect? I believe great people do things before they are ready.”
A second fearless aspect: her career itself. Being a comedian requires ego, wit, drama, and a host of traits that form an independent person without being inherently tied to babies or breasts. Girls aren’t funny,some people say, but that’s bullshit. Women can be hilarious. But there’s another point: humor is power. A well-timed joke can instantly warm people to you. An ill-timed joke can make someone resent you for eternity. It can break the tension hanging heavy over your head, and make it easier to breathe. It makes life so much easier, and so much more positive. People who can wield that kind of power are a formidable bunch. The ones who practice humor on the spot, in front of audiences and outside their comfort zone, are even more so.
Thirdly, and very importantly, attitude. Fearless women come in all shapes, sizes, and personalities, but hand in hand with the power of humor, Poehler is intensely positive. She is humble, sees her own flaws, and has constructed a vast network of support.
Did you know that, when Tina Fey left SNL, Poheler gave her a memento, and during a rough time Fey exchanged it with her again for support? A section in her book was dedicated to singing the praises of her fellow actors on Parks and Recreation. She runs the digital series SmartGirls, aimed at supporting girls who are “changing the world by being themselves,” and sharing information she wished she had when she was younger. She serves as an ambassador for the Worldwide Orphans Foundation.
Amy Poehler isn’t the kind of fearless woman so popular in genre fiction. She’s fearless in a modern, more overlooked way, but a way that’s also easier for an everyday person to embody. Work hard, enjoy what you do, and don’t hold yourself back. Be fearless!
Mirah Bolender graduated from college with majors in creative writing and art in May 2014. A lifelong traveler, she has traveled and studied overseas, most notably in Japan, and these experiences are reflected in her work. City of Broken Magic is her debut fantasy novel. Mirah is a member of the SFWA.