Tuesday, March 2, 2010

We Love Chicks Who Can Kick Our Asses

I recently read this roundtable on strong heroines in YA literature from writers Tessa Graton, Maggie Stiefvater and Brenna Yovanoff. (If you have time - go read it - it's worth it!) Basically, the women discuss what it means to be a strong female character in literature, and this mainly includes a more cerebral, rather than physical, type of strength.

I'm fascinated by this partly because my unfinished thesis for my MA is actually on strong female characters (Look! I'm doing "research"), but also because I feel that a female character's strength is no longer measured only by her mental or emotional capacity. She has to have some element of bad-assedness to go along with her inner strength.

What I'm trying to get to in my long-winded fashion, is that while I agree with the three Merry Sisters of Fate on their ideas of strength - I also really enjoy a character that can kick some ass and save the day. Granted, it's asking a lot of my heroines for them to be strong-hearted and also be able to fight like Chuck Norris, but many times those are my favorite characters in YA lit.

I definitely agree that I prefer reading about a woman who can hold her own in a fight. This may stem from the fact that I was suspended for fighting in middle school. (I was just defending myself! Apparently school bullies don't like it when their fake authority is questioned.) It proves a very important point, though: if you're going to put your main character in dangerous situation, she better be able to defend herself. Especially since most of the lit I read has a fantasy/sci-fi bent. If you're going to face down demons at the Hellmouth (Buffy forever!), you better know how to wield some legendary weapons.

We expect our male heroes to be both resourceful and strong (emotionally and physically.) Now that women and men are seen in a much more equal light in the real world, I don't think we should expect any less from our literary heroines.

Buffy is a great example of the kind of young woman I'm talking about. I think her character actually started, or was a big part of starting, this trend of emotionally and physically strong women.

One of my favorite female characters who embodies this is Katsa, the protaganist in Graceling by Kristin Cashore. If you haven't read this book, I definitely recommend it. Katsa is such a great character and the story is really well done. I also love Katniss from The Hunger Games, and Isabelle from The Mortal Instruments series, just to name a few.

I think Clary from Mortal Instruments would also fit the description. She had to be emotionally strong, sure, but she also had to face very physical dangers. Maybe she didn't know how to strangle an enemy in their sleep, but she did stand her ground when faced with a real danger.

I agree completely. Clary definitely grows into her role as a strong character. I love the moment when she puts on the Shadowhunter clothing, you can almost feel her changing into something more.

Who are we forgetting? What do you prefer to read: physical strength, emotional strength, or both? Tell us!


  1. I agree with both of you on many points. I think, though, that there is a place for soft strength in our young role models. It's ok to NOT be outwardly strong and unflappable. Strengths come in a variety of forms, and each one is important to life. Katniss starts out with her own form of strength, even though it's not outwardly apparent. She's a survivor at first. She definitely grows into her strength undies as the story progresses, but she always had it in her. I think all girls should know that they have that in them, whether it's apparent to themselves or not.

    To answer your question, I like a well rounded heroine. One who still seems a bit girly, but enhances that softness with badassness.

  2. @Gwen - that is a great point. And I loved how the Merry Sisters discussed the inner strength - it's so important to young female characters.

  3. Your book pictures are awesome!

    I LOVE your blog, and I am passing on a blog award! meme Details here: http://www.theunreadreader.com/

  4. Great topic, ladies! I love a strong female protagonist. (Sydney from Alias? Yes, please!) Emotional strength goes a long way (and is HUGE for female teen readers), but I would be lying if I said I don't girl crush on the women who can kick some ass. And let's face it, not all of us can do a roundhouse kick like Buffy, but I appreciate the women who at least TRY to fight their own fights.

  5. Excellent topic!! Love it. Clary is certainly one of those heroines who is discovering both her gift (i.e. Shadowhunter nature) as well as her inner strength. I love character arcs that follow that theme.

    Meaghan in The Iron King is also one such heroine. I just love her. Janie from the Dreamcatcher series (WAKE/FADE/GONE) is another. Ah, too many right now to think of...blame the Mommy Brain. LOL.


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