The OED suggests we have Rolling Stone to thank for the first appearances of both "to kick ass" and "kick-ass" in print; two different 1977 articles describe the playing of male jazz and rock musicians as "kick-ass." Four years later, in her novel Tar Baby, Toni Morrison used the phrase to describe the black women of New York City, "Snapping whips behind the tellers' windows, kicking ass at Con Edison offices, barking orders in the record companies, hospitals, public schools.... The manifesto was simple: 'Talk shit. Take none'." The above usages suggest the term originated in African-American culture, but don't say much about the origins of the hybrid term "kick-ass heroine" in the current-day sense of the phrase.
I'm guessing, though, that there must be many examples of the term in magazines or in scholarship produced between 1981 and 1996, works that Google has not yet got its digitalizing hands on. And I'm eager to find out when the term was first applied to heroines in romance fiction. If anyone out there knows of in-print examples of the term "kick-ass heroine" that date from this period, I'd love to hear from you. Especially if the author of the phrase turns out to be a woman...
Do you think the "kick-ass heroine" has changed since her first appearances in the 1980s? Who are your favorite kick-ass romance novel heroines?
Sigourney Weaver in Aliens: Allstar/Cinetext/20th Century Fox, via The Guardian web site
Buffy and crossbow: SciFi, Fantasy, and Historical Writing