It’s summer break, and that means time to read. I just read an action-adventure novel in which the love interest was blond, curvy, beautiful, and absolutely devoid of personality. But hey, she could drive a motorcycle and shoot a gun, so she was a “strong female character,” right?
(The answer is no.)
I started thinking about how the concept of a “strong female character” is so often misunderstood. It doesn’t mean that a woman is brash, callous, or particularly athletic. She might not even wear pants.
A strong female character is one whose actions and decisions affect the outcome of the story. She might be thrust into a situation beyond her control (you don’t have much of a story otherwise), but by the end, she’s changed the situation and the people around her.
Since I’ve got four kids who can always use good heroes—heck, Darren and I can use inspiration sometimes ourselves—I asked my Facebook friends for examples of strong female characters.
FIFTY COMMENTS LATER…
…I have way too many to list for one blog post. Or even three blog posts. Besides, I bet you already know many of them, and have introduced them to your children already.
Or have you?
I’ve pared my list down to 21 inspirational girls and women, fictional and real. For the next three blog posts, I’ll give a short description of seven of them without revealing their names. See if you recognize who I’m talking about.
1. Genre: Adult Fiction; Published: 1813. The second of a family of five daughters, this witty woman stood her ground against conceit, arrogance, and wealthy bullies—but had to admit her own errors. She overheard a man call her “Tolerable, I suppose, but not handsome enough to tempt me,” but in the end her spirit and sparkle made him eat his own words.
2. Genre: Young Adult Fiction; Published: 1868. The second of a family of four daughters, raised by their mother while their father is off at war—this somewhat gauche young woman made the best of their hard circumstances. She made her writing dreams a reality, and courageously turned down a proposal from a man she liked but knew wasn’t suited to (some readers still struggle to forgive the author for this decision). Her “one great beauty” was her hair, and turns out, there’s money in that…
3. Actual person, lived 1864-1922. In a society where women still struggled to be accepted into most professions, this plucky young woman became a reporter for the New York paper The World. Her first big story was an undercover expose of Blackwell’s Women’s Asylum, where she pretended to be insane in order to get in. She reached real fame in 1890 when she declared that she could travel around the world in fewer than 80 days (challenging the hero of Jules Verne’s popular novel, Around the World in Eighty Days). She did it, too—returned to New York in 72 days. She went by her pen name, taken from a Stephen Foster song.
4. Genre: Children’s Fiction; Published: 1905. The only daughter of a very rich man, this girl was sent to a boarding school under a hard, mercenary headmistress. When her father died, leaving her penniless, the headmistress used her as a servant in the school. Despite her hardships, she treated everyone with justice and compassion—leading to her storybook happy ending. Even while wearing rags, she never forgot to behave like she thought princesses should.
5. Genre: Children’s Mystery; Originally published:1948 (periodic re-issues). This spirited young teenager, along with her brothers and best friend, solved mysteries from her home on Crabapple Farm in New York. Although less well-known, these books were written with more life than the formulaic Nancy Drew of the same era. Plus, she often exclaimed “Jeepers!” which one reader admitted always won her over.
6. Actual person, lived 1902-1970. Even more daring than #3, this woman felt called of God to go to China. She wanted to share the gospel, but in the course of that mission ended up facing down a prison riot (and recommending more humane measures to the warden); traveling throughout rural China to enforce the new ban on the painful fashion practice of binding girls’ feet; and escaping with Chinese orphans across the mountain to escape invading Japanese.
7. Actual person and writer, lived 1896-1953. This woman settled in rural Florida, where she dauntlessly withstood whatever life threw at her. She found success as a writer with her book The Yearling; but it was her autobiography, Cross Creek, that invited readers into the hard-scrabble life of a woman who weathered poverty, disasters, the death of her husband—even while she formed strong bonds of friendship and ties to the land. She’s one of my mother’s favorite writers.
How do you think you did? I’ll include the answers in my next post.
Photo Credit: Graphic design by Charity Klicka.