A lot of discussion has been flying around recently in both my writerly circles and the media about the lack of female role models in most of geek culture. There’s this great article by Tor railing against the classic female superhero pose–you know the one. Artist Michael Lee Lundford has created a series of drawings depicting female superheroes if they were fully clothed. Emmie Mears recently wrote a blog post about the appalling number of female superheroes compared to male superheroes. Spoiler–it’s way lower than you think it is.
And it got me thinking about female role models in the genres I read and write; namely, young adult fiction. In the past five years, there have been a ton of really strong and powerful female characters dominating the YA genre, which is as it should be. Young women like Katniss Everdeen and Tris Prior rise up to the challenges they face with tenacity and courage, sacrificing themselves for the things they believe in. They don’t need a man to protect them or marry them to feel complete. But Katniss and company are hardly the first strong women to leap from the pages of YA novels. So, I though I’d share my favorite fictional strong female role models from my childhood and teenaged years. They may not be superheroes, but they inspired me to be independent, forge my own destiny, and raise my voice against the world’s injustices.
1. Alanna of Trebond, from the Song of the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce
When her widowed father sends her to a convent to learn how to become a lady, Alanna decides to make her own plans. Disguising herself as a boy named Alan, Alanna travels to the Royal Palace in the city of Corus to become a knight, something no woman has done for hundreds of years. Although small of stature and weaker than the other boys in training, Alanna’s fierce character and stubbornness carries her through many trials and adventures, and she eventually learns that in addition to wielding a sword she also wields a kind of magic. She is incredibly loyal and steadfast when it comes to her friends, and a deadly opponent to her enemies. She is strong on the battlefield, clever with her magic, and tender with those she loves. Alanna is a warrior and a sorceress, but most of all she is a woman.
2. Hermione Granger, from the Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling
As a character, Hermione is incredibly complex. When we first meet her she is a nerdy bookworm with frizzy hair and buckteeth who is shunned by Harry and Ron until she proves to be of use to them. But over the course of the series Hermione blossoms into the kind of woman every young girl should strive to be; intelligent, competent, loyal, funny, self-assured. She is incredibly multi-faceted–she can be stubborn to the point of being obstinant, clever to the point of being a know-it-all, loving to the point of being mushy. But most importantly, Hermione stands up for the things she believes in and doesn’t let anyone tell her she can’t do what the wants. Also, the girl loves to read. I can get behind that any day of the week.
3. Meliara Astiar, from Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith
Although Meliara (known as Mel to her friends and family) promises her dying father than she will save the kingdom of Remalna from tyrannical King Galdran Melindar, she has no experience in battle or intrigue. But that doesn’t stop her from launching a rebellion with nothing but a few poorly armed villagers and her own wits and determination. Although essentially illiterate at the beginning of the novel, Mel has a thirst for knowledge and seeks out any opportunity to better herself as a scholar. She is often self-conscious about the way other people view her, but rarely lets that stop her from doing the right thing or saying what she means. Mel describes herself as “quick to laugh, quick to act, and much too quick to judge,” but she is also kind, brave, and selfless.
4. Meg Murray, from A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Like Katniss Everdeen, Meg is a reluctant hero. She doesn’t particularly fancy running around trying to save the world or making a stand against evil, but when situations conspire to throw her into the middle of a dangerous adventure, she rises to the occasion. When Meg and her younger brother Charles Wallace follow their scientist father through a “tesseract,” or a wrinkle in time, they find themselves on the dark planet Camazotz where everyone is controlled by IT, a giant evil brain. In the end, only Meg’s great love for her family and her strong will can protect her brother and Camazotz from the wicked machinations of the disembodied brain who seeks both the destruction of individuality and the end of free will.
5. Princess Eilonwy, from the Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander
Anyone who has read the Prydain Chronicles cannot help but love Eilonwy, the snarky, headstrong princess who accompanies Taran on his far-flung adventures. Eilonywy is descended from the Royal House of Llyr, a line of powerful enchantresses, but the princess has no interest in behaving as a “true lady” should. Rather, Princess Eilonwy is hot-tempered, stubborn, and sharp-tongued, and although she has no formal training in the usage of weapons she is a formidable opponent when it comes to battle, resorting to teeth and nails when she has no other weapons at her disposal. While she is often sarcastic and short-tempered, Eilonwy is also loyal and caring with regards to her friends and companions, and often uses her wits and determination to get them out of sticky situations.
Well, there you have it! It was actually a challenge for me to narrow down my favorite strong female role models from my childhood–they were more plentiful than I expected! While there is definitely a paucity of female superheroes in Hollywood, I think it’s great that there are so many strong young women dominating children’s literature and the young adult genre!
Do you have favorite strong female characters from your childhood or teenage years? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!