Jeannie Campbell

Jeannie Campbell is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in California. She is Head of Clinical Services for a large non-profit and enjoys working mainly with children and couples. She has a Masters of Divinity in Psychology and Counseling and bachelors degrees in both psychology and journalism. Jeannie started doing character therapy in March of 2009. Her Treatment Tuesdays feature assessments of fictional characters and plot feasibility while her Thursday Therapeutic Thoughts take a psychological topic and make it relevant to writers. She can be found at her blog, The Character Therapist, at, and website at, The Character Therapist, at

Is Your Heroine Too Dominant?

Simpering misses and damsels in distress seem to be out of fashion these days. Rarely do I pick up a book and read about a heroine who is sickly, pale, and teary-eyed all the time. Instead, we have strong female leads—some magical mixture of Lara Croft, Mother Teresa, and Maya Angelou—who populate our fiction.

While I’m all for strengthening our readers’ views of females, is there such a thing as overdoing it? Can you have a heroine is who is too dominant?

Dominance in the psychology world is on a continuum, low to high. Abraham Maslow did a lot of research in the 1930s and ’40s on human sexuality, and he concluded that this continuum exists because of similar batches of traits he found in the women he interviewed.

High Dominance Women
Less religious
Less tolerant of stereotypes
Sexually adventuresome
Less anxious
Less jealous
Less neurotic

Low Dominance Women
Conforming to stereotype
Sexually inhibited
More neurotic

His findings were that High Dominance women were attracted to High Dominance men—aggressive, self-confident, highly masculine, and self-assured. Low Dominance women were attracted to men who were kind, friendly, gentle, faithful, and showed a love for children.

Medium Dominance women fell in between, as you might conclude, but they made up Maslow’s largest group. These are your romantics. They want love to find them, and they want it coming from a white knight. Flowers, chocolates, moonlit walks—these are the things they live for. In short, they want Mr. Right.

But without fail, the women in all three groups were attracted to men more dominant than they were. A woman is rarely attracted to someone who seems to be her “equal.” She wants someone more than herself—someone to make her feel feminine. It doesn’t matter how dominant you make your heroine. She will just look for a man even more dominant than she is.

Why is this important for writers?

The more dominant your heroine is, your hero will have to be even more so.

This fact might cause you to pause and worry over the feasibility of the attraction between your main characters. Good. But don’t fret if you’ve got two firecrackers lighting up the pages, either.

While it’s true that most woman are not High Dominance (in reality, they make up the outlying five percent on the Bell Curve in Maslow’s research), most readers want to read about main characters who are more dominant than they are.

This dominance could take several manifestations, so you can be creative. We want to read about people who are smarter, faster, wittier, and stronger than we are. We like to imagine ourselves in their shoes and fantasize that we are taking down the bad guy or winning the lady over.

To close, I’ll leave you with two equations to keep in the back of your mine when writing:

Female Reader Dominance < Heroine Dominance < Hero Dominance

Male Reader Dominance < Hero Dominance


The Character Thrapist