Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Growing up, my role models were Anne Shirley, Pippi Longstocking, and Elizabeth Bennet. I wanted to be like them — bold, ahead of their time, perhaps a bit eccentric, but strong. This image was constantly at odds with the other women I was reading about. I had to wade through a sea of damsels in distress who seemed to just let the world happen around them while they waited for Prince Charming to come sweeping in.

What makes someone strong?

Lately, we’ve seen a lot of the painfully shy, self-loathing martyr. Or the callused, takes-no-prisoners warrior. But sometimes tenacity isn’t so obvious or extreme.

Strength comes in many different forms — bravery, conviction, self-sacrifice, loyalty, audacity, compassion, endurance. It can be knowing who you are, or having a willingness to change. It can be the ability to see the bigger picture. Sometimes strength is something as simple as being aware of your own faults.

Cathy Earnshaw has never been my favorite protagonist. But even she isn’t without her merits. While her brother Hindley saw only a homeless gypsy boy that didn’t belong, Cathy was able to look past that and love Heathcliff. She saw him for who he was, not where he came from. That’s a strength, isn’t it?

When I say strong female character, who comes to mind? What do you think entails strength?


Ps. I just started my own blog. Take a look.


Unknown said...

Strength to me right now is PATIENCE and tolerance. Also, very much the confidence thing.
Anne Shirley and Katniss Everdeen are the ones that come to mind right now. xx

Ashley @ Book Labyrinth said...

When I think of strong characters I do automatically think of characters who are strong physically like Katniss, Katsa, and Tris. But I think all those girls are also very strong emotionally. Katniss is very loyal and will do anything to protect those she loves, and Tris is very brave much for the same reasons.

For a strong character who isn't kick ass tough I think of Frankie Landau-Banks. Frankie is such a feminist hero. She believes in gender equality and is incredible tough and smart.

I think you're right, there are a lot of different ways to be strong, which is awesome. =)

Sarah said...

I think strength can be apparent in quieter characters and books, like Caitlyn in Hold Still or, even though she's a secondary character, Rachel in Barry Lyga's Boy Toy. They don't have special powers or great physical strength, but they have a certain grace and strength of character that draws the reader in.

Kristan said...

Yes, Caitlyn in Hold Still was definitely strong, in my opinion. It's a quiet strength compared to Katniss from Hunger Games (who I also love and adore) but that doesn't make it any less valuable or compelling.

Love this discussion about strength -- its various forms and degrees.

Anne of Green Gables was definitely a childhood idol of mine. Katniss is a modern-day one. I also love Rapunzel in the new Tangled (who never ONCE gets rescued by Flynn, and in fact rescues HIM!) along with a few other Disney "princesses" like Pocahontas and Ariel. Girls who definitely make mistakes, but are brave enough to try and fix them.

Oh! And Sailor Moon and the Sailor Scouts!! They were a huge model of strength and self-sacrifice for me.

I think my own personal brand of strength is more about character -- standing up for what I believe in, supporting and protecting my friends, etc. I do admire the guts and physicality of some of these characters, but most of the time in your day to day life, you don't need that.

Stephanie Mooney said...

Sarah W, I think we could all use a bit of patience and tolerance. I know I could. ;)

Ashley, I forgot about Katsa. But I definitely thought about Katniss. I think I admire the quieter strengths better overall, the one's that surprise you. Frankie is a good example.

Sarah, loved Caitlyn in Hold Still!

Kristan, I agree. Strength to me is more about character. In fact, the warrior-type girls without some kind of inner strength feel empty to me.

Natalie said...

I agree! YA has been seeing a lot of the self-loathing martyr and take-no-prisoners type lately. I think I like my characters with a bit more balance. I find the extremes a bit hard to connect with at times.

Stephanie Mooney said...

Natalie, you're right. Balance is absolutely important. I don't always mind extremes, but there has to be a good reason for it. If an author is just trying to shock me, I find it off-putting.

nicole said...

i guess it depends on how you see yourself; what you believe your weaknesses are. i think people search out heriones who display something they believe they lack.

it's kind of nice, because any character in any book can be a herione to someone.

sonje said...

I read two novels by this guy named John Casey. The first was called SPARTINA and it was quite a beautiful book with two strong women in it, although they were strong in different ways. One was a strong wife and the other was a strong single woman. Each knew what they wanted, and ultimately, I think each of them got that. This book won the National Book Award in 1989, deservedly.

In 2010, Mr. Casey decided to cash in on the success of SPARTINA (I think he hadn't had much since) by writing a sequel, COMPASS ROSE. I could not make it through that book. The women that I had admired in SPARTINA were now just pathetic creatures, one clinging to her man and the other bemoaning the fact that her "true love" didn't want her. WHAT HAPPENED? I guess John Casey.

So I don't know if that answers your question, but that's what came to mind when I thought about the topic of "strong women" in books.

Courtney Koschel said...

Great post. I was just reading an article in Writer's Digest about character status. Readers don't often trust a character with a low status (arrogance as opposed to confidence, loss of control as opposed to self control, etc.) I think this fits well with your blog post.

I love Kristin Cashore's female characters in Fire and Graceling. I think one of my favorite strong female characters is Evangelyn in Finnikin of the Rock. They do what needs to be done in a situation even when it's not easy or could possibly hurt them.

P.E. said...

Strength to me is freedom. People that don't think like everyone else, that make hard but right choices. I don't like characters that let people walk over them. It's why I really love Katniss and Tris. Those girls are fighters.

Other girls like Claire from Morganville Series by Rachel Caine and Issie and Zara from Need series by Carrie who don't necessarily like to fight aren't warriors but I still consider them strong. Zara hates fighting but she stands up for what she believes in and realizes somethings are worth fighting for. She doesn't take pleasure in it but does it because it needs to be done. That is also strength to me.

Stephanie Mooney said...

Nicole, great point. I guess we can learn a lot about ourselves by looking at our heroes.

Sonje, I hate it when sequels don't live up to the original. I always wonder if the first one was beginner's luck, or if the author just had a loss of passion when they wrote the second.

Courtney, never heard of Finnikin of the Rock. I looked it up and it sounds good, so I'll have to read it. :)

P.E., freedom is a huge strength! And I think the characters that only fight because it's the right thing to do are the ones I admire the most.

Small Review said...

One of the strongest characters I've read recently is Kate from Erin Bow's book Plain Kate. She isn't outwardly strong or fierce, but she is still incredibly strong. She's constantly bombarded with hardship and heartache, yet she keeps persevering.

Michelle Santiago said...

when i think strong character my mind does immediately go to the kick-butt types like katniss. i agree with the others though about different kind of strengths like in the 2 protagonists in malinda lo's huntress--love the difference in strenght between Kaede and Taisin.

Kat said...

Great call with this post! I have also grown tired of the 'self-hating martyrs' ala Bella Swan.

I think Hermione in the Harry Potter series is definitely a strong heroine. She's intelligent and tough in so many ways. Perhaps it's the fact that having magic puts everyone on a similar level, but the women in Harry Potter totally kick ass. It is never even questioned in the books whether witches are the equals of wizards-- it is assumed.

Katniss comes to mind for me, also, as does Eowyn from the Lord of the Rings. The world of LOTR is not exactly a feminist kind of place, but I love how she defied 'a woman's place' by riding into battle to protect those she loved and defend her country.

We Heart YA said...

Yes, Eowyn is a great example!

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Stephanie, Ingrid, Sarah & Kristan — we read, write, discuss and celebrate Young Adult lit.



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