What is a new heroine?
A new heroine is a modern take on the hero/heroine. Someone who is an ordinary person that does something extraordinary or is brought into a world that is anything but ordinary. However, “new heroine” does not always have to be someone who does something profoundly extraordinary. The concept of the new heroine allows room for those people that embrace heroism in a humble and non-extravagant way. Those whose heroism comes from doing the things they do best, sticking to their true selves, and quietly changing the lives of those around them.
Why is Fiona Gallagher a heroine?
Fiona Gallagher, played by Emmy Rossum, is one of the main characters on the Showtime hit series Shameless. Fiona grew up in the ghetto of Chicago with a drug addict, bipolar mother, deadbeat, alcoholic father, and five younger siblings. She is forced to care for her five siblings at a young age after her mother leaves, and her father, Frank, is hardly there. Throughout the show, Fiona puts her siblings before herself in order to ensure that they grow up in the most normal way that they can. In the area where the Gallaghers grow up, they do not have much. They live in a bad neighborhood, and constantly have to find new ways to come up with money for their bills. Even though Fiona is the head of the house, and the one who manages all of the kids, they would not be able to make it if they didn’t all pitch in.
According to Barry, structuralism boiled down into one sentence is the idea that “things cannot be understood in isolation – they have to be seen in the context of the larger structures they are part of” (810). This directly relates to Fiona as a heroine. Even though she is the head of the house, she wouldn’t be able to make it without the help of her siblings, and her neighbors Kevin and Veronica. The Gallagher house, and the neighborhood that live in, is very much interdependent. Each sibling plays an important role in the family, however Fiona is the glue that keeps them together. While trying to live her own life, and dealing with their neglectful, alcoholic father, Fiona essentially raises her younger siblings. She keeps the family afloat, and always puts their needs ahead of her own. In season three, episode two, Frank gets mad and calls the department of family services on the kids. In episode six of season three, Fiona’s siblings are taken from the house. As soon as they are taken, Fiona steps up and does everything in her power to try to get them back. After talking to the social worker, she finds out that the only way that she can get the kids back quickly is if she legally becomes their guardian. Because the youngest child is two, this would mean that Fiona would have to dedicate the next sixteen years of her life to raising her siblings. Because keeping the family together is the most important thing to her, she accepts the responsibility and becomes their legal guardian. Fiona would not be the strong, hard working, mature woman that she is if she wasn’t forced into the position of taking care of her siblings, and keeping the house together at such a young age. It is because of the environment that she is in that Fiona is a hero to her family and those around her. Their family dynamic is extremely important throughout the show. There is a constant theme throughout the series that being a Gallagher means something greater than just who your family is, it means that you do things a certain way. They don’t give up on anything, they always accept a challenge, and they know how to have a good time. In the last episode of season three, the oldest brother, Lip, becomes the first to graduate high school. All of the siblings are in a funk because their father has a failing liver, but Fiona still wants to celebrate Lip graduating high school, because it is such a significant accomplishment in their family. She says to her younger sister, who is not in the mood to party, “sometimes life throws a couple swings at ya, but we’re Gallaghers, okay? And there’s two things that we’re really good at: knowing how to get back up, and knowing how to party” (S3E12). She wants to set a good example for her younger siblings, and make sure that they have the chances that she didn’t. Keeping them motivated and sticking to the ‘Gallagher way’ of not giving up on anything, keeps the younger siblings on the right path. In season seven, Fiona tells her brother when he second guesses going to military school, “Gallaghers are a lot of things, but no one says we back down from a challenge” (S7E6). Even though all of the children are extremely independent, they all rely on each other, and most importantly, rely on Fiona. Without her siblings, Fiona would not be a hero, and without Fiona, her siblings would be lost.
Barry claims that, “The representation of women in literature, then, was felt to be one of the most important forms of ‘socialisation’, since it provided the role models which indicated to women, and men, what constituted acceptable versions of the ‘feminine’ and legitimate feminine goals and aspirations” (2181). Women are frequently portrayed as sex symbols in television, and although it is getting a lot better, there isn’t an abundance of strong women as protagonists on TV shows. In Shameless, Fiona is a gritty go-getter who doesn’t care if her hair’s a mess and there are holes in her clothes. In the first episode, she meets a man named Steve, who has to convince her to go out with him because she is so focused on her younger siblings. He calls her on the phone and says “your life’s not simple, Fiona, and you can’t stop it from showing because you’re no fake. You’re not lost. You don’t need finding” (S1E1). She is not someone who needs a man in her life, because she knows who she is and how to get it on her own. In the first five seasons of the show, Fiona is strictly focused on doing what is best for her siblings and their house. She sacrifices a lot of personal opportunities, such as going to live with her boyfriend, in order to keep the family together. It would be easy enough for Fiona, who is over eighteen, to go off on her own and leave her siblings to be put in foster homes. However, she makes the decision to step up and maintain the house to keep them together, because in the area where they grow up, family is the most important thing. Throughout the entire show, Fiona does things for everyone in the family, except herself. In the seventh season, Fiona decides to start business ventures on her own. After dabbling in club management in earlier seasons, she is promoted to manager of the diner she works at in season six. Fiona finds herself struggling to balance taking care of her siblings and running a business. Since they are all older at this point and can take care of themselves, she decides to place more responsibility on her siblings. In season seven episode four, she gets backlash from the oldest brother for doing things for herself. She defends herself in her decision by telling him, “In the past 10 years, I’ve taken care of every single Gallagher in this family except one. I’m done” (S7E4). Despite doing things on her own, she still lives in the Gallagher house, and continues to raise her siblings in the best way that she can.
Throughout the show, Fiona’s character develops from the mother figure who always has a boyfriend, to an independent business woman. Fiona never makes a grand gesture in her small world, she never does anything majorly significant, and she certainly doesn’t always get everything right. However, she is the constant rock to her siblings, and always tries to do what is best for her family. She learns and grows from her mistakes and steps up when her parents are absent. Fiona is a hero to her siblings and those who know her, and she is an example of a strong woman that any young girl can look up to. She proves that you don’t need to have nice clothes and major sex appeal to be successful and loved by those around you, and that is something that is refreshing for young people to be exposed to.
Fiona is not a heroine in the traditional sense that she saves the world, or does something hugely significant for humankind. Rather, she is a hero in the way that she lives her life. By stepping up to take care of her siblings, and becoming a businesswoman on her own, she exemplifies someone who is strong, independent, and resilient. The thing about life is that it is never perfect, and it never will be. There are many heroic figures who seem to be invincible, and always manage to get everything right. That is not the type of heroine Fiona is. Her life is oftentimes a mess, she is raising a family of six in a bad neighborhood with a deadbeat dad, and she definitely makes her fair share of mistakes. However it is through all of these struggles, that we see the raw, honest reality of their life, and see Fiona remain the rock of their family. She makes their house in a rough neighborhood into a home where her siblings are able to grow up in a loving environment. She is a perfect example of someone who is real, and who is a hero in the way that she lives her daily life, rather than by doing grand things for the world. She may not have it all together, but she is someone that we can look up to as an inspiration for when times are difficult. Fiona shows us that it is possible to make the best out of a bad situation.