My younger brother and youngest sibling (and probably my parents) get a little tired of me pointing out the overwhelming number of male main characters in movies, and the lack of a realistic sample of female main characters in books.
I know my youngest sibling didn’t like it when, after we watched the trailers just before the Hobbit, I pointed out that not one of them portrayed a movie with a female main character. This wasn’t a comment on the apparent quality or creativity of the movies (because we were both pleasantly surprised with the apparent originality of Oblivion, and can’t wait to see it). This wasn’t to say that those movies were somehow evil for all having male leads. All I was saying was that every single one had a male lead.
You know what you say with the main character of your story? You show through who they are, the things they do, the values they hold, the change(s) they undergo, and the consequences at the end of it all what makes a person important, what makes them worth thinking about. And, whatever you say, if you say it often enough, without any notable challenge or alternative, people tend to believe it.
It’s become a thing for me lately to point this out. I go to the teen section to look for books with female main characters and discover romance novels where the girl’s life is entirely entwined around some guy who may or may not be good for her (or two guys, one for each category), and then I often satirize how all of these books are saying that the only way for a female to be worth anything is if their life revolves around a love interest.
Why am I doing this?
It’s easy to think that I’m just angry and I’m ranting about the evils of our society. Or that I think that any positive portrayal of men is bad because it’s not a woman in that role. Or that men are just evil, period, and should be denied any positive acknowledgement.
(Aside: Speaking of which, I recently finished reading a series that basically came to that conclusion. I was so mad that I wanted to throw that book across the room, and the only thing that kept me from doing so was the fact that it belongs to my dad, not me.
And that wasn’t the only point in which I wanted to throw that book. I really should have seen that ending coming, because the whole way through the series there was this extremely one-sided, anti-male argument going on that would have made steam come out of my ears if such a thing were physically possible.
This is also somehow the same series that introduces its major female character by having her get raped. That is literally the first scene she appears in. No, I don’t understand it, either.
I love stories. They are where I found my role models.
Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon.
Mulan and Pocahontas.
Sabriel and Meg Murray.
My favourite book in the Bible (after Revelation, because that is just too awesomely weird not to be my favourite) is Esther.
Joan of Arc.
And let’s not forget Princess Leia. Yes, she was in a metal bikini for a good portion of The Return of the Jedi, but that wasn’t because she liked wearing that kind of thing. Jabba the Hutt is responsible for that particularly trashy outfit, and Leia ended up strangling him with the very chain he had kept her trapped with.
I have had no lack of female role models. Women who do what’s right, regardless of how hard it might be. Flawed women who learn to accept themselves. Women who aspire to be greater than those around them have told them they could be. Women who do become great and who are worth paying attention to because of their character.
But why do I keep pointing out the lack of these women in movies? Why do I mention the relative weakness of the female leads in teen books?
It’s not for me.
It’s not really for the people around me, either.
It’s for my future daughter(s).
I want them to read books and watch movies that tell them that they are important, just as much as I want that for my future son(s).
I want my daughters to fall in love with story because of its honesty, not because it demands their artificiality.
I want to be able to introduce my daughters to women and girls who are worth looking up to, and who my daughters can relate to.
Even if my daughters hate pink and love action figures.
Even if my daughters love tiaras and playing princess.
Even if my daughters are obsessed with making music.
Even if my daughters are obsessed with making friends.
This isn’t to say that girls can only look up to and learn from female role models. I have learned from Ged and Arren, from the Count of Monte Cristo, and the men in A Tale of Two Cities. I’ve learned from Jonah and David. I’ve learned from my father.
Children learn like crazy from observation. If the only things they see girls and women being rewarded for in stories is having a boyfriend, being beautiful, and only making independent decisions when it doesn’t interfere with the hero, then they will learn very quickly that that’s how girls and women are supposed to be if they want to succeed.
And I don’t want my girls to accept that.
I want them to learn that girls like them are admirable, and that there are as many ways of being a woman as there are to be a human.
I want them to love their bodies, not hate them.
I want them to dream big and achieve big, not because they’re trying to prove something, but because that’s who they see themselves as.
I want them to know to their core the importance and value of character.
I want them to know that I love them exactly as they are, and that others will, too. That having enemies really isn’t the end of the world, or representative of it. That praise and criticism each have equal potential for both growth and destruction, depending on how they choose to react to it. And, most of all, that truly loving themselves is the first step to success in all areas in life, regardless of the people or situations around them.
I want that for all my children, but I know that it will be more difficult in many ways to find role models who can show that to my daughters because of our society, if it continues on its current path.
But, here’s the thing: I’m not interested in restructuring society, either. So many people see wrongs in the world around them and then decide that that world is the one who has to fix everything, rather than taking the future into their own hands. As far as I’m concerned, society can do whatever the crap it wants.
I’m too busy creating characters (of all genders) that are worth paying attention to.