She sighs. She huffs. She mumbles. She does everything except depend on herself. In the background, there is always a knight on a white horse just waiting to come to her rescue. Even if she pushes him away (usually for his own good, or so she tells herself), in the end she can’t be saved without his help.
In recent years, books have relied on the damsel-in-distress as the main female protagonist. It made me wonder if today’s teens are so blinded by the hero’s stunning abs that they don’t realize the heroine could’ve saved herself if she was a bit more plucky and a lot less sucky. But the times, they are a changin’, and none too soon, if you ask me.
With blockbusters like The Hunger Games dominating screens, bestseller lists, and even news sites, books with strong female leads are popping up on reading lists all over the blogosphere. Everyone wants to root for the girl who can kick butt, and readers are demanding more books with strong females in lead roles, but does that mean that’s all she can do? It seems that many people equate “strong female lead” with traits usually associated with masculinity, such as being a good fighter and ruthlessness.
Giving a female character mostly male characteristics simply reinforces the idea that the stereotypes associated with girls are undesirable. There are a lot of traits girls can be proud of, such as our compassion, being fiercely protective of those in our care, and we should definitely be proud of our superior communicative abilities. That’s right — we may talk too much for some people’s tastes, but we know how to make a point and that is a good thing.
When I was growing up, I was enthralled by Anne Shirley, the heroine of Anne of Green Gables. She has spunk, she’s upbeat, clever, and she’s determined. Once she set her mind on something, she made it happen. When her friendship is forbidden by Diana Barry’s mother after she mistakenly gives Diana three glasses of wine instead of the raspberry cordial Diana was expecting, Anne becomes determined to win over Diana’s mother so that they may once again be friends. By the end of the book, Mrs. Barry and the entire town are enamored with Anne and the incident is forgotten.
Anne is a strong female lead and although she probably couldn’t punch her way out of a paper bag, she sure could talk you into letting her out. What makes Anne such a strong lead is not that she has masculine traits (because she doesn’t), but that she is written so vividly and convincingly as someone who doesn’t take no for an answer and who uses her guile and wits to her advantage. And really, that’s what being strong boils down to — deciding for yourself what happens next in your life and making it happen.
I’m glad to see warrior-like characters such as Katniss (The Hunger Games) get their due. It’s time for strong female leads to once again dominate the bookshelves and cinemas. But when writing our own badass female characters, let’s not forget that sometimes a feminine touch can go just as far as a punch.
Bio: Jean-Paul Bass recently decided to quit her job to focus on writing full-time and she swears she doesn’t miss having a regular paycheck at all. She is currently working on her M.F.A. in fiction at The New School and is writing a memoir about growing up in Cleveland, Ohio.
Photo credit: Flickr – manan0410