A Different Kind of Strength
I would like to start by thanking Batool for inviting me on her blog and for being patient while I struggled, wondering what to say. I am really honored that she asked me. Writing this post has proven more difficult than I would have thought as I feel I have no authority to throw my ideas out there. I will simply attempt to express my opinion as a reader and as someone who enjoys writing.
The subject of female empowerment in literature, as well as in society, is becoming more and more prominent these days – a topic that brings to light certain issues still encountered by women in the 21st Century.
It has also become a trend to expect female characters in YA to be strong, fierce and not to rely on any male character whatsoever.
As someone who believes in women, our strengths, our beauty, our rights, one might think that I completely accept this new tendency, but I, in fact, do not quite agree with it.
Young women have always been taught how to behave, what to look like, what to think, in order to fit the standards of our different societies. The most recent idea being that girls should be beautiful, skinny and smart. Girls should be willing to push their limits as much as possible to meet our society’s expectations. They are constantly told what to do to become a person worth being looked at or interacted with. Such expectations have forced many of us in a mold that we cannot fit, and in which we suffer in silence while suffocating.
Now, we are also expected to believe that young girls need to be strong, fierce, not to cry, not to show weakness, and more specifically, never to rely on a man for help.
I will put it very simply: I strongly disagree with this view point.
Though there is nothing wrong with creating such a female character, one should not expect for all writers to do so nor bring down those who don’t. As a reader, I personally privilege kindness as well as respect above all things. I want to see characters who are the epitome of what I wish to become as a human being: someone who is kind-hearted, open-minded and capable of unconditional love towards others. I have found such characters in series such as “Shatter Me” and “Sweet Evil,” where the strength of the main protagonists reside in their ability to remain kind in spite of all the hardship they have to face. Those characters also do not hesitate to rely on their male counterparts for support.
I do not believe a female character should face the odds on her own. Life is hard enough as is, we should learn how to rely on one another and help each other. I like for the main characters to be equals, to give each other strength, without one feeling the need to crush the other, or be better, or prove that they can deal without their fellow protagonist.
While reading, I’ve had issues with protagonists who put themselves in danger just to make a point, to prove their independence or strength. Such characters often need the male protagonist to eventually pull them out of the predicament they had willingly jumped into. Such actions seem futile and counter-active in my opinion. I prefer a heroine who will rely on her counterpart to overcome difficult situations together.
Another type of protagonist that doesn’t work for me is a female character who will not show respect toward her male partner. Treating a male protagonist with disregard does not make a female character strong. It only makes her unworthy of the boy willing to put his pride aside just to love a heroine treading all over him and his feelings. To me, mutual respect and requited feelings are the ingredients to making both characters strong while uniting them against adversity.
Do authors have a duty toward their readers? To provide role models? To guide them?
Yes and no. I believe it is the writer’s role to make their readers feel good about themselves or to give them someone to look up to, someone they could strive to become. However, I am against the idea of shoving strong female characters down young girls’ throats just because society tells us to. I do not believe in making girls feel like they shouldn’t be sad, weak, that they shouldn’t be individuals with the right to feel the full range of emotions bestowed upon us humans: love, fear, joy, sadness, heartache, sorrow, anger, rage.
It is the author’s role to raise their readers’ self-esteem, to provide them with characters they can relate to, but it is not the author’s role to preach or teach their readers what they should or should not do.
Everyone has different expectations when it comes to characters. Those expectations often stem from what they would themselves like to be as a person. Some readers want to see strong independent females, others prefer loving ones, some like a deeply-flawed heroine. The fact that a female character is a main protagonist in a novel is, in and of itself, an empowerment of women in general to begin with. The empowerment of female characters in YA relies on telling our girls to simply be themselves and to love themselves just the way they are.