Katniss Everdeen, Eden Newman, Bella Swan—if it weren’t for some of these strong female protagonists in young adult novels, teenage girls may still be looking for that fairy tale ending of being rescued by their knight in shining armor—on a white horse, of course.
Beautiful as those fairy tales may be, there’s nothing like having a strong female role model to look up to. Even though protagonists in paranormal romance novels may have supernatural powers to help them out, or the heroine in one of the many popular dystopian novels was born with survival instincts that would have made even a cave man look weak, the strong women portrayed give us all something to aspire to and be inspired by.
While it may seem something new to readers of young adult novels, strong female characters have been around for ages. While Scarlett O’Hara may not have exuded physical strength, she had the survival instincts of a mother lion protecting her cubs from an onslaught of bloodthirsty wolves. In Little Women, Jo helped her sisters mentally survive the war and even cut and sold her beautiful hair off in a moment of strength and selflessness. In The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood humanizes her female characters by giving them agency against their subjugation. Even in Memoirs of a Geisha, Sakamoto Chiyo, a poverty-stricken girl from s fishing village rises to the top ranks as a geisha, surviving through war and emotional despair to achieve the life she always dreamt of.
Now the strength of women in books is more surface and all encompassing. All of the new dystopian novels and end of the world books seem to have female heroines who are young, sexy and capable of killing off their enemies with the ease of a warrior. No longer does a woman in these books have to depend on the physical strength of a man to save her—she may even be able to do it better than they can.
In paranormal romance novels of recent years, the female protagonists may be blessed with magical or supernatural traits that make them stronger, or as with Bella, they grow physically stronger due to a transformation or character arc.
What’s integral, however, and what will hopefully not be lost with this trend towards kick a&% heroines is that they don’t lose that inner strength that made female characters so compelling throughout the history of literature. Perhaps these characters need to be created in a more realistic vein, with some powers but maybe not all the prowess of her male counterpart. Or maybe if they’re that physically strong, we can witness their emotional arcs of becoming strong in other ways as well.
In reality, women are complex, with strengths evolving from all aspects of their physical, mental and emotional well-being. We have flaws and weaknesses, likes and dislikes. Let’s hope authors remember this and create female heroines who we’ll still be able to believe in, relate to and be inspired by.
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