If you ask a man to name his boyhood heroes, he will tell you.

If you ask a woman to name her girlhood heroines, her eyes will glaze.The world has been short on heroines. At the very least, historians have been short on accreditation. If there were heroines out there, their reputations were well-protected.

Most of us enjoyed a brief infatuation with the few traditionally recognized heroines - Clara Barton, Joan of Arc, Pocahontas. But these were mythical figures of the distant past. Each age needs its own hero, someone fair-minded and courageous to fight adversity and make the world a better place.

Perhaps by definition men and boys are more likely to have heroes than are women and girls. For by definition, the hero is a man of strength and nobility, a man favored by the gods and noted for his exploits, especially in war. In Western culture, women are admired not for strength and courage but for demureness and passivity.

My own childhood, which began in 1951, was rich in heroes - Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, George Patton. World wars can be counted on to produce bumper crops of noble, courageous men.

But heroines? If memory serves me, there were none. I was aware only of the astonishing feats of men, not of women. The women of my age, the mirrors of my time were, more or less, Barbie, Marilyn Monroe and Jacqueline Kennedy.

Marilyn Monroe was sexy and adored by men. Barbie, as my mother used to say, had the best figure in town. Jacqueline Kennedy was admired for her poise and charm but mostly for her wardrobe.

While the little boys in my neighborhood emulated men of courage, power and extraordinary accomplishments, the girls were learning to admire beauty, embodied in a plastic toy; sex, objectified in a breathy, helpless woman who ultimately found life too painful to live; and good breeding, personified by a woman whose stature was measured in relation to her man.

Baby Boomers were born to a time of heroes and their women, not heroes and heroines.

Heroes tell much about a culture. They are, in the words of author Marshall Fishwick, the knothole through which we can view the whole ballpark. Looking through the knothole of the late 20th century, what do we see? Who are our modern-day heroes?

Alas, there are none, only celebrities - Madonna, Cher, Bruce Springsteen, He-Man - celluloid projections, persona-bits created for cassette-length consumption.

We live in a society where the old heroic myths have lost their power. We no longer believe in strength. Remember Vietnam. We no longer admire leadership. Remember Nixon. We no longer worship valor. Remember Jim and Tammy Bakker.

But societies, as history has proved, need heroes. And our time - barren of beliefs and myths and leaders - is ripe. We are in the perhaps unique position to remytholo-gize our world, to create new molds for heroes, and heroines, too.

It is nice to think that men and women of the mid-21st century will recall childhood heroes and heroines - courageous men of tender compassion and tender women of unflappable courage. Men and women who lifted us from the mundane and pressed us into the realm of creation.

Who knows what rough beast slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?


Distributed by the Associated Press