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Sunday, May 3, 2015

5 Strong Literary Female Characters

A little while back, I did a post titled "20 Times Stories Have Made Me Cry". This post is in the same vein, though perhaps a bit deeper than the first.

Ever since I was a little girl, I have absolutely despised sexism. I've been blessed to have been homeschooled, but even then (perhaps more so than if I had gone to school), there is sexism. The patriarchy cult was especially popular. I would find myself growing angry when people tried to force me into their standard of "modest clothing". I became irrationally irritated at my guy friends because they were always picked to pray or lead in worship. I actually grew to despise Proverbs 31 because, in Bible group (the only girl Bible group, I might add), the meaning was twisted to imply that the only aspiration women ought to have is to marry and have kids. I was angry about a lot of things when I was younger, but this is certainly the issue that rankled me the most.

Anger won't solve anything. Thoughtful discussion and civil explanation will. Thankfully, I've learned the true meaning of Proverbs 31, so I am not angry at God anymore over this issue. My current church encourages and pushes women to be leaders and warriors for Christ. I'm slowly getting over my aversion to words that- over the period of time their ideologies were being shoved down my throat- became repulsive to me. Words like "modesty", "godly humility" and, yes, even "purity". Was I right to be angry? Yes, I think it was a righteous anger. The idea of inequality for anyone still angers me, but now I know how to channel the anger into something substantive and helpful.

So! Without further ado (well, maybe one more tiny sentence of ado), here are 5 Strong Female Characters that have shaped, not just my life, but the lives of people everywhere! They are in no particular order, and I could make a list MUCH longer than this, but I feel like 5 is a good place to start.

Final ado: My family was NEVER patriarchal. My dad didn't think it was biblical, and my mom is far too stubborn to have ever bought into it. They have always treated me exactly the same as they have treated my brother. There is no gender bias in my home. However, the same could not be said for many other people I knew.

1. Jane Eyre from Jane Eyre 




Who else could have possibly started this list? Jane Eyre is considered by many to be one of the strongest literary heroines of all time, and is often considered the very first strong heroine. Charlotte Bronte, the author of Jane Eyre, was an incredibly strong woman herself- pursuing feminism objectively and logically. Bronte showed both Jane Eyre and the main male character, Edward Rochester, as humans. Neither were stereotyped or romanticized. They are both flawed individuals searching for meaning, as are we all. However, it takes more than this to create a strong female. Jane is in touch with both her life and her feelings, understanding herself with a quiet and thoughtful knowledge. She knows when she feels love, despair, sadness, and joy; yet she never lets those emotions stand in the way of her principals, though she is tempted to. She stands by her morals, despite what anyone tries to tell her.

2. Vin from Mistborn




Brandon Sanderson is a master at crafting strong female characters. I could fill up this list with characters from Sanderson novels: Marasi, Shallan, Jasnah, Sarene, Tindwyl, Siri, Vivenna... but I decided to simply focus on Vin since she is the heroine of his most popular books, the Mistborn trilogy. Vin begins the story acting and behaving like a boy- it's the only way to avoid getting killed. As her situation improves, and she becomes involved in a political scheme she can't- and perhaps doesn't want to- escape, she balances her femininity and her practicality. Sanderson has her beautifully come to terms with who she is as a person while never once stereotyping or flattening her. Her character grows as her opportunities grow. It's genius and beautiful, and such a nice addition to an epic trilogy.

3. Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird




To Kill a Mockingbird has never been a particular favorite of mine. I don't dislike it, I just never had very strong feelings either way for it. However, having the book written through the point-of-view of a child, a girl, was an incredible literary choice. Firstly, it's poignant because children see the world differently than adults. To children, everything is black and white, while adults become prejudiced based on rumors and experiences and upbringings. Scout doesn't see the convicted man as a black or a white man, but as a person, because she is a child and children often have more clarity on issues of morality than adults do. This is wonderful, but why add Scout to this list? Because she is a person. She is treated as simply a person, a child, in To Kill a Mockingbird. If the novel had been written through the POV of a young boy, I doubt there would be much difference in the telling, and that is brilliant, because it is true to the nature of children.

4. Eowyn from The Lord of the Rings




How could anyone write a post on strong female characters and NOT mention Eowyn? In my opinion, Eowyn is one of the deepest and most complex characters in the LOTR trilogy. She is a woman of paradoxes: small but strong, cold yet warm, steelhearted and passionate. Paradoxes are the symbols of a fascinating person, and Eowyn certainly is that. She is practical, thoughtful, and insightful. She is also proud, cold, and ambitious. She has her strengths and her flaws, and a combination of both lead her to defeat one of the darkest enemies Middle-Earth faced- The Witch King. She did not charge into battle because it was the noble thing to do. She also didn't charge into battle because she wanted to snub her superiors. She sought glory, and she sought to help her people. She felt like both would be best served by joining the battle, where she confronted the wraith and was able to destroy him because those seen as "lesser"- women, Hobbits, and the small things of the earth- were forgotten. She is a person whose mistakes and triumphs shaped her future, like all human beings.

I could go on and on about Eowyn, but I need to wrap this up, soo...

5. Hermione Granger from Harry Potter




I wish I had read Harry Potter in middle-school. I wish I could have read about a girl with bushy brown hair and an obsession with books back when I felt self-conscious about both of those things. I wish I could have read about a girl who proved it was okay, it was right, for a girl to be as smart as she could be. I wish I could have read about a girl who excelled beyond her friends and was never willing to compromise her education for something as petty as a crush. Hermione Granger is such an excellent role model, and is perhaps one of the reasons Harry Potter is as famous as it is. Children need to read book with characters and situations they can relate to. Girls don't need to watch servants become princesses because of a shoe, a guy, and the fact that said servant encompassed society's standard of beauty. Girls need to read about women who pursue their dreams despite the naysayers, who stand by their friends despite the danger, and who fight evil despite the personal cost.

Essentially, to create a strong female character you simply create a human being. Imagine that? I'm glad that many writers are grasping this concept, but unfortunately, there is still quite a long way to go. I was at the theater today, and three out of five of the pre-movie trailers had scenes of women taking their clothes off, not wearing any clothes, or involved in an inappropriate romantic scene. Care to guess how many men were shown provocatively removing their clothes? None.

However, dwelling on the negative won't change anything. The best thing writers can do is to simply work hard at our craft, striving to make all of our characters as realistic and human as possible, while also showing proper respect to all people no matter their race, beliefs, or gender. Hopefully, audiences will begin to notice the difference between good writing and bad writing. Hopefully, audiences will begin to prefer stories with good, interesting characters rather than stereotypes and fantasies. Hopefully... well, hopefully the hope is not unfounded. I think the culture's view of women, especially on the screen and in novels, can change. I hope I'm not wrong.

Who are your favorite strong female characters? Do you think female characters in modern literature are getting stronger or weaker?

Thanks for reading!

P.S. Age of Ultron? Beyond epic. I'll be writing a post about it soon! ^_^

15 comments:

  1. I love Eowyn!! She was an amazing character. :) And Hermione, she was pretty awesome too!

    You got to see Age of Ultron!! My jealousy is growing by the day. Every one is going to see if except us. :P

    btw, What church do you go too? I am just curious. :)

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    1. Eowyn and Hermione are two of my favorite characters of all time! ^_^

      Age of Ultron was AWESOME! You gotta see it soon, and don't read any spoilers! :D

      I go to The Summit Church. :)

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  2. I love Eowyn and Hermione, as well. I still haven't read Mistborn (grrr), but, interestingly enough, I am talking about a Sanderson book tomorrow on the blog :)

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    1. Ohh, which book??? I know you read Steelheart, which is actually my least favorite of all of his books. It's way below his usual standard, in my opinion, though I still plan to read Firefight at some point. And now I'm rambling.... :P

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    2. LOL Steelheart :)

      I still haven't read anything else by him except his Wheel of Time contributions. I keep meaning to get my hands on Mistborn, but I think the part of me that goes, "Ugh, way too popular book" is knee-jerk reacting away from it still, even though I already know I like his style. Yes, I'm a bit odd.

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    3. No, I totally get that. I was the same way about The Hunger Games, Percy Jackson, and Harry Potter, and I disliked 2 of the 3 series I just listed. I think the knee-jerk reaction thing writers have is usually right, but Mistborn truly is amazing. It reminded me of King's Warrior, actually. I can let you borrow my copy when I come babysit, if you'd like! :)

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    4. That would be awesome! I also dislike standing in lines (even imaginary, cyber-space ones). haha

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  3. Thanks for mentioning Scout- that book was awesome!

    I agree with you on making female characters real, with paradoxes and growth, and all those human things. The 'pink princess' and the 'warrior woman' both drive me crazy because they are rarely written with realism. Extremes can ruin a character. Find a balance.

    As for favourite female characters, some are: Narnia's faithful Lucy and clever Aravis; Tales of Goldstone Wood's brave Rose Red and her awesome guardian, Beana; and WIngfeather Saga's regal Nia and spunky Leeli.

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    1. Exactly! Extremes ruin any character- be it a male, female, villain, or hero.

      Aravis was always one of my favorite Narnia characters. And YAY! Someone else who has read the Wingfeather Saga! Nia and Leeli are AMAZING! ^_^

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  4. Have you seen Pacific Rim? Mako Mori is the female protagonist in that movie and she is amazing!
    -
    Ruth Newton

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    1. I have not seen Pacific Rim, but I might need to now! :D

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  5. This is an amazing list! I love that Scout made it!! That made me happy.

    Age of Ultron, yes. I need to do a review but I'm still trying to take it all in.

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    1. Scout is a totally underrated classic character. I love her blunt spunkiness!

      OHMIGOSH AGE OF ULTRON!!!! I'm STILL trying to process it!

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  6. God has different roles for men and women. It's not about inequality, it's about fulfilling the different roles He has. So many women nowadays want to feel liberated and do whatever they want, so they "reject sexism" and try to do men's jobs. That's not God's plan. The way to serve God best is by doing what He asks. And both men and women can serve Him beautifully in their different ways as they obey Him. Read Genesis, and what God's roles are for men and women.

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    1. True, God does have some different roles for men and women. He has different roles in marriage and in the church.

      However, as individuals, I do not believe there are any differences in God's plan simply because of gender. God gives the same purposes and spiritual gifts to both men and women: leadership (Deborah and Peter), extreme sacrifice (Esther and Daniel), redemption (Mary Magdalene and Paul), courage (Ruth and Moses) etc. By 'sexist', I am referring to the blatant preference of boys over girls some families in my acquaintance showed. I am referring to the objectification and degradation of women, especially in the movie and book industry. I am referring to the patriarchal cult that insists women are "stumbling blocks" to men, that women should neither date nor leave their father's home until they are married, and that women are not to hold jobs while they are wives and/or mothers... or at all, in some cases.

      In the end, we're -men and women -all just human beings. Christ respected both genders equally, Christ loved both genders equally, and Christ died for both genders equally. We should be willing to do the same. :)

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