Though heroine is a legitimate word with an adequate pedigree,
1650s, from Latin heroine, heroina (plural heroinae) "a female hero, a demigoddess" (such as Medea), from Greek heroine, fem. of heros (see hero (n.1)). As "principal female character" in a drama or poem, from 1715.
the term hero originally applied to both male and female progeny resulting from the conjugal union of an immortal and a mortal. Such offspring were considered demigods, and their cult was one of the most distinctive features of ancient Greek religion.
In time, hero and heroine would come to refer to mere mortals who, in the face of danger and adversity, or from a position of weakness, displayed great courage and the willingness to sacrifice themselves for the greater good of humanity. This later definition, while originally referring to martial courage or excellence, also evolved, and was eventually extended to moral excellence in general.
My question, then, is this:
Given the fact that hero originally referred to 1) phylogenetic status (demigod-ness), and then 2) to personal characteristics (courage, bravery, self-sacrifice, etc.) without reference to gender (which had no bearing whatsoever), in this modern world of enlightened sensibilities, especially with respect to issues of gender equality (I’m getting to it!), should we continue to make a gender distinction between persons who possess heroic qualities? Does such a distinction retain any legitimacy?
(I’d like to include a “shout-out” to medica for supplying me with this, my first EL&U question.)