Sunday, March 11, 2012

Strong Girls need Strong Women in Fiction

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I'm attempting to write every day as part of the Slice of Life March challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Stop on by!

“So, why do you write these strong female characters?
Because you're still asking me that question.”
– Joss Whedon  (Creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Dollhouse, and wonderful writer on the X-Men comics.)


(The image of the spark that led me down this rabbit hole today. I was out shopping with my god-daughter yesterday and bought myself this awesome bag.)

Yes, I am a woman. One who loves superheroes, science fiction, and Slayers. One who loves hobbits, dwarves, and elves. One who loves knights, castles, and dragons.

What do I want most in my stories? I want great stories, of course - stories that are well crafted and filled with action. What I do I want second most? Female characters who are vibrant, powerful, and inspiring. I want them in the books that I read. I want them in the movies I watch. I want them in the comics I adore. I’ll admit; I view almost everything I read now with a more critical eye. Will this book fill my need for a strong role model? Will it give the students I teach – boys and girls alike – an example of the best that we can be? We need to teach students to be conscious of the messages the media they ingest is feeding them, too.

I admire heroines like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Batgirl who are powerful, caring, and team players.  Yes, they also kick some serious butt, but they are also capable of making mistakes, having regrets, and learning from the obstacles they face. I read and reviewed a fabulous nonfiction book by Jennifer K. Stuller that chronicles the history of “Ink-Stained Amazons”. Anyone curious about the ups and downs of feminism in heroic figures should check out that book.

Yet I continue to find new strong girls and women in fiction to adore. (Yes, there are also plenty of real life women. I’ll save those for another post.) Some live in the world of fantasy and science fiction, and some in realistic or historical times. I’m thankful to live in a time when it’s relatively easy to find a recommendation for any age group or taste in literature.

Deza Malone from The Mighty Miss Malone springs to mind as a wonderful example of a realistic girl who stays strong despite all the obstacles in her path. She’s perfect for all age groups.

The incredible team from the Birds of Prey comic is a great one for the young adult audience. Led by Oracle, the former Batgirl Barbara Gordon, this team is comprised of female superheroes. Sometimes the art can lend itself to “cheesecake”, but the team dynamic and strength of the individual characters is awesome.

I’ve also been pleased with the rise of the “co-protagonists”. These books tend to have brother-sister leads. Both children are showcased as strong and intelligent, but dependent on one another. The best part of the sibling team up is the lack of any romantic tension between the leads. While I’m absolutely in favor of romantic tension (I’m a Han and Leia fan, myself), I think the sibling team allows for both characters to develop without worrying about how a potential romantic partner may view them. This is especially helpful when recommending books to the middle grade reader. Examples of this kind of book include the Kane Chronicles and the Genius Files. It makes me think of “Wonder Twin Powers – Activate!” from when I was a girl. Yeah, if you remember that you’re “of an age” with me.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe that boys need to see strong women, too. They need strong female role models in the real world and in text. I wrote about my personal reflections on being a strong woman for my sons in “Little Boys Need Strong Women Too”.  Joss Whedon is a wonderful example of this. He credits his mother and his father for helping him fight for “equality now”, and self-identifies as a feminist.

After all, you can’t change the world if you only change the girls.

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