Wow, I haven’t updated this much this week… Between sewing cosplay, trying out some Latin American food recipes for a presentation next week, finishing up projects (because next week is the last week), and getting ready for graduation, I haven’t done much in the writing department.
My presentation in American Literature next week is on non-feminist characters in “feminist” literature (aka Edna Pontellier from The Awakening). While I’m not a major feminist (I pretty much do what I want), this presentation got me thinking about changing gender roles in today’s literature.
My favorite female characters–Jane Eyre, Yellena from Poison Study–are all kick-ass women. They’re not out actively trying to prove that they are just as good as men. They’re just living their lives. But they know how to defend themselves and they know where and how to draw the line.
Contemporary characters that get a lot of flack are Bella from Twilight and (I have heard quite a bit on) Katniss Everdeen. Bella is completely dependent on the men around her. When one leaves, she shuts down. She encourages his abusive and stalker-ish behavior. Katniss uses both of the two boys for anything she wants. Granted, yes, she’s in a survival competition, but she barely treats them like they’re actual humans. She just goes for whoever is most convenient.
There’s a pretty strong line between these two different types of characters. I like far more about the first two than just that they’re kick-ass. The thing is, junior high and high school girls, the biggest venue for all of the characters mentioned here, are very impressionable. They find something they like, they want to be just like it.
What are we teaching our kids? Do we want them to know that it’s good for them to know how to protect themselves, that they should stand up for themselves and what they believe in no matter who they’re standing up against? Or do we want to teach them that the most important thing in their lives is getting a boyfriend and giving up anything to please and keep him?
Subtle (or sometimes not-so subtle) distinctions in writing change what sort of message we are putting across. Take it on yourself to show contemporary girls that it is not enough to be a doormat any more. If you’re going to have a wimpy female character, then at least show realistic consequences for that character so that the young girls who may read your story won’t have a burning desire to be like that.
Because as writers, it’s our responsibility to change the world.