Monday, February 21, 2011

Girls With Grit

Okay, so I know I kind of lambasted Entertainment Weekly the other day with their list of “New Classics” (but come on! Classics most of those books were not) but I was strolling around their website yesterday and happened upon this interesting article: Girls with Grit. It’s about the lack of women (young women) in literature nowadays that one can really look up to and see as a tough girl, the main character of the story and someone that maybe possibly could be seen as a role model for the younger girls reading these books. Although it does say that the few movies/books that now have a strong lead female character shows that we're heading in the right direction. I agree.

Now, I don’t really read a lot of YA (or any YA really, though I am getting a bit interested in The Hunger Games) but I have to agree with this article. And this isn’t a new phenomenon. Young women are not normally the central character of blockbuster books, especially ones that send out a good message to other young girls (Twilight anyone?). And yes, Lisbeth Salander of the Stieg Larsson books is a kick-ass female and a good feminist role model (not perfect by any stretch, but the best characters are flawed). But there is no way that those books could be described as for a younger audience. They’re very graphic in parts and disturbing. If I had a daughter, I wouldn’t want her reading that book until…well I don’t know the age requirement I’d put on it, but it’s not a YA book for sure!

But I think this just shows the normal attitudes present in pop culture in general. Women are good supporting players but they rarely take the reins by themselves. It’s upsetting.

So that article pointed out four books (that were/are being turned into films) where women were kicking butt and flawed yet good role models for other young women. They were The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, True Grit by Charles Portis, the Stieg Larsson books and Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell. But I think the only YA in there is The Hunger Games. And the author of the article was seemingly talking about recent books but True Grit is not at all recent, just recently turned into a movie (again). But I’m struggling, with all the books I’ve read recently to make a longer list. And, like I said, I don’t know YA books at all so I’m hoping there’s a few I’m just missing because I don’t even know they exist. But so let's just think of any and all books. Books in general with strong female lead characters that you would be happy to have your daughter (fictitious or not) look up to a little bit.

So come on people, help me out! There have to be other books out there, let’s go with old and new, that have a strong female protagonist. She doesn’t have to be perfect (as I said, flawed characters make for better stories) but just four books is not good enough.


Stephanie M. Hasty said...

I made a not comprehensive list about this in early January:

great topic!

llevinso said...

Haha, very similar!

I think To Kill a Mocking Bird is one we can put on the list too. I can't believe I forgot it, it's one of my faves. Scout is pretty awesome.

Jennifer O. said...

Tessa Gray from Infernal Devices series (by Cassandra Clare) is a kickass YA heroine, though it involves the ever present love triangle. How funny that we both mentioned twilight in our post. Hope all is well and many thanks for the introduction to shewrites. I wouldn't have found it otherwise:)

Jennifer O. said...

Oops wrong series. Tessa Gray from Mortal Instruments series.

vinobaby said...

I broke down and read the Hunger Games earlier this month after far too many friends insisted even though I don't usually read YA. I was very pleasantly surprised that I did like the book and Katniss. I also read the Twilights and I do have plenty of...issues... with Bella, though most adults I know don't understand.

I didn't read any YA style books when I was a teen/tween, but my strong female protagonist was Scarlett O'Hara.

Great post!

bookspersonally said...

What an interesting article - thanks for sharing it. Love Scout, better learn who the new generation of gritty gals are I suppose!

llevinso said...

@Jenny, I've never heard of that series but I'll have to look into it.

@vinobaby, yes I keep thinking I need to pick up The Hunger Games. Everyone is talking about it and while I usually don't like to be one of those bandwagon jumpers, if it has a strong female lead then I'm all for it!

@bookspersonally, you're welcome. And my thoughts exactly. I'd like popular culture and literature to not be moving backwards.

mary said...

Ahab's Wife
Or, The Star-Gazer
by Sena Jeter Naslund

Una is one of the best female protagonists ever.Forget gender, she is one of my favorite characters, period. I think its probably best for an older teen. This is a great work of historical fiction that follows Una from childhood through her golden years.

Kathmeista said...

When I was a kid I loved the Famous Five and Malory Towers series by Enid Blyton. I thought that Georgia in FF and Darrell in MT were the bees knees - something I'd like my future daughter to read (if I'm lucky enough to have one!)

Meryl Jaffe, PhD said...

As a parent/educator I spend most of my time reading young adult books - here are some I found with strong female protagonists:

HIS DARK MATERIEALS TRILOGY by Phillip Pulman (I know it begins with "his" but trust me it is great and there are some awefully strong females!)

I KILL GIANTS - a graphic novel by Joe Kelly - AWESOME and almost all female!


THE GAMMAGE CUP (forget the author...oooh_

BRIAR ROSE by Jane Yolen

Off the top of my head.

Cool post! Hope you visit me too!

All the best,

K. Syrah said...

I feel the same as you, there aren't a lot of good female role model books out there. I'm in the process of writing books and I want to write books that my daughter can look up to. I'm staying away from writing anything that would be considered a romance, or a family-style rape fantasy a la twilight, but it's tough. It's incredibly hard especially since I"ve seen what sells, and the placid little meek pretty girl is what's all over the web, TV and in books themselves. It's annoying.

llevinso said...

@mary, Kathmeista & Meryl, thanks for all the wonderful suggestions! I love that teh list is being built up because truth be told I was getting a bit depressed before.

@K Syrah, I hear ya. Especially with looking at what sells. It's sad.

Laurie said...

Thanks so much for this post and for the Bechtel Test meme: I'll try it too...
Say, I'll be posting later today or tomorrow about this recent spate of feminist and gender-related questions on book blogs I've been noticing this week: I intend to encourage others to visit your blog (and a few more) to keep these conversations going, rather than starting a new one on my blog. Hope that's OK with you.
I admire your blog and I'll drop by Shelfari to check out your book group.
Laurie @ (just in case you want to check out my post tomorrow...)

llevinso said...

Oh wow, thanks Laurie! I'll be sure to check out your blog too. That means so much to me, you don't even know!

Laurie said...

And, hey: My strong real-life young women (students!) love Maximum Ride of the James Patterson YA series. I've only read the first one, and it's your basic YA sci-fi dystopian suspense book, but a definite page-turner with a strong female protagonist.

Laurie said...

And - hey - yesterday I trundled on down to the library and to the used book store to pick up Briar Rose by Jane Yolen, at the suggestion of Meryl above (1/2 way through and admiring it very much), when I saw Libba Bray's A Great and Terrible Beauty on the shelf. Now there's a current YA fiction with strong female protagonist(s) that directly and indirectly addresses many feminist issues. Quite readable and quick-paced. (I wrote a review of it a couple of months ago:
Worth a read, and fun to boot!

llevinso said...

Wow, you're on a roll Laurie!