Someone asked me the other day whether girls really think that books about boys don’t apply to them.
It was an honest question, respectfully asked. I’m glad they asked, too, because the intensity and passion of my answer surprised me, so much so that I felt it important to share it more widely.
This is why I will never stop asking for and writing more female protagonists:
I remember the first time I read A Paper Bag Princess. Even at that age, I knew enough of the general storyline of boys/men rescuing girls/women that I recognized how that story turned the trope on its head. And I loved it. After reading it, I felt like I could do anything in a way that no story about a boy being a hero ever made me feel. The same with Jennifer Murdley’s Toad and A Wrinkle in Time.
There are two levels at which a story can apply to someone: General and specific. Another way of putting it could be abstract or personal. Stories about boys doing important things spoke to me in a general, abstract fashion. They said “yes, people can do things like this. Yes, people are important and do important things.” They spoke to me most deeply on a rational, intellectual level when it came to my own ability and worth.
Stories about girls doing important things spoke to me in a specific, personal fashion. They said “yes, you can do things like this. Yes, you are important and do important things.” They spoke to me most deeply on an emotional, intuitive level when it came to my own ability and worth.
I’ve struggled with self-worth my whole life, and part and parcel of that struggle is my negative self-talk finding all kinds of ways to disqualify me from who God says I am. God says I am worthy, that he has given me everything, that he loves me with his whole heart, that I am more than a conqueror. Low self-worth tells me that that can’t be true. Even if it’s true about other people, it can’t be true about me because I’m different from them in some way. I’m too ugly. I’m too short. I’m too quiet. I’m a girl.
If the vast majority of books are about boys and men doing important things, then the girls and women struggling with self-worth (and, guess what, it’s all of us. We all struggle to different extents with different aspects, but we all have lies about ourselves we believe), have evidence for those lies. They have an excuse to believe them.
“No one values me doing things like that,” we say, and cut out a piece of our heart, sacrificing it so others will love us.
What books with girls and women doing important things do (and “important things” can range anywhere from saving the world to lovingly telling the truth when it’s hard) is they provide an antidote to those lies. They do not let us be comfortable being less than who we are. They take away our excuse to live as if God doesn’t love us.
There have been many times when I didn’t need a story with a female protagonist to tell me I’m valuable. But for the times when my deepest wounds tried to get me to forget who I am, those stories grab me by the hand and pull me to my feet again. They remind me that “For God so loved the world” means “For God so loved me.”