It’s not a new topic: strong female protagonists. We want ‘em, we love ‘em. Give us your Buffys and Xenas, your Katnisses and Katsas, your Scarlets and your Trises! We want to see action, weaponry, fighting for her life and the lives of her loved ones or to stand up to the Old Order and take it all down in flames! And while I’m as much a fan of these books as anyone, (Buffy and Nell being high on my Personal Best list), is this a requirement for strong female characters in YA lit? Because I’m worried that “armed with sharp pointy objects” could become shorthand for “strong heroine” and, for me, that just isn’t good enough.
The shelves are full of danger and magic and sharp, pointy objects and it reminded me when everyone and their auntie on TV was suddenly well-versed in martial arts across time and space. (When did the Greek g-ds, the newly undead, and swarthy space cowboys start doing flying side-kicks, anyway??) Suddenly EVERYBODY’S doing it to prove how strong they are and that gets cliche very fast. So I started thinking about female main characters who are seriously strong but *don’t* need to prove it with literal fisticuffs, swordplay and/or massive explosions.
Frankie Landau-Banks was the first gal to spring to mind: a strong undeniably female character who is undeniably awesome. Everyone underestimates Frankie because she’s a girl and she uses that to her advantage to out-smart, out-plan, out-wit and plain out-maneuver everyone who’s ever doubted her. I cheered the whole book through. Another smart chick who also put herself on the line was Tally Youngblood. You want action? You want adventure? You want to see the world and all its wrongs fall into a burning heap of rubble and revenge? Tally does all this and more, both inside and out, without lifting a fist. Need more? How about being locked in space where no one can hear you (let alone understand why) you scream? Amy is the only one who is “awake” on board the spaceship Godspeed, surrounded by people outside her time and world who label her “insane” as she swims against the current of institutionalized insanity. Too far out for you? There’s plenty of contemporaries from Hazel to Cass to the entire cast of girls who share one pair of pants, to name a few.
And what is it that makes these ladies so damned admirable? Brains and the guts to use them.
So while I’m a huge fan of kicking tush and taking names, being a Black Belt sort of gal m’self, I have to say that I’m a MUCH bigger fan of mind-bendy brilliance. I am floored by those who stay a step ahead of the pack and take down their enemies by use of wit and savvy and a great one-liner. As Irene Adler (Lara Pulver) said in BBC’s Sherlock, “Smart is the new sexy.” And I think that’s true for truly strong heroines as well–you don’t have to wield a sword, shoot a bow, know martial arts or punch a guy in the face, you just have the confidence to stand up and be yourself.
The status quo can’t stand that!