Female characters are getting stronger, wiser, and braver in young adult literature and while many are picking up weapons and symbolically wearing pants to counter the male characters’ image, elements of femininity remain in these evolved female heroines. This is a shift from strong female characters cutting their hair, changing their wardrobe, or going by a less feminine name.
A female can maintain aspects of femininity and still be seen as a strong and important major character. This redefines the stereotypical “strong female character” by offering female characters that are fearless, intelligent, flawed, and courageous – all while wearing dresses and exhibiting female pride. Wardrobe may not seem an important literary element, but it is important for authors to show not only a range of femininity in characters, but to show the struggles and strength of the protagonists. The topic of the variety of ways to be a “strong” female characters has been discussed before here at The Hub, and it certainly is related to other topics such as gendered booklists. March is Women’s History Month – let’s celebrate the strong and diverse females in our literary world!
Strength sometimes comes after a struggle. The phrase “rising from the ashes” exists to show that after a fall or hardship, we can survive and rise, whether in pants, a dress, with special powers, scarred, or rising to simply get out of bed the next morning. Strength means something different to everyone and we should encourage teens to read about strong female characters just as they read about strong male characters. People vary in personalities and society is motley. Let’s support authors who portray a full range of strong characters, a variety of femininity, and encourage readers to look outside of their world. Let’s enjoy the freedoms reading allows to see past definitions, stereotypes, and expected character development. Female protagonists exhibit a variety of traits, such as authenticity, accepting responsibility, helpfulness, and courage. By showing honest emotions, these characters help portray empathy, that one can be brave, and that there is pride in all aspects of femininity.
A Variety of Strong Female Characters from Recent Young Adult Fiction
Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas (series 2012-present) Celaena is a fighter who must battle for a King she knows to be evil. She does his bidding to earn her own freedom and must eventually decide what is more important: her life or doing what is right. She is a strong assassin who also loves to buy dresses – a killer fashionista with intense fighting skills!
The Rose Society by Marie Lu (2015)
In this second novel of the Young Elite series (2014-present), many different people are fighting for power and two of the strongest contenders are Adelina and Maeve who both try to survive as Malfettos (people with special powers who the Queen and Inquisitor are trying to assassinate) and claim power. Important topics like discrimination, disappointments in life, and heartache are addressed. Not a sappy teen romance, but more mature heartaches from being responsible for a friend’s death to overcoming such obvious hatred and abandonment from a parent. I often recommend this series for bold characters like Lady MacBeth (William Shakespeare) or power hungry characters like in Game of Thrones (R.R. Martin). Lu covers loss, greed, and power struggles very well with the added maturity of the negative side of love and how a sense of revenge can lead to isolation and possibly madness. Continue reading Booklist: “Strong” Female Characters Who Also Embrace Aspects of Femininity