Cara Hadden is a high school freshman just outside of Fredericksburg, Virginia. An avid reader, at 15-years-old she’s also already an accomplished writer, having won several writing contests and is Secretary of the Riverside Young Writers club. I’m thrilled to have her share her unique and insightful perspective on female characters in literature in this guest blog.
To learn more about Cara, see her profile on pages 18 and 19 in the March edition of Bella Magazine.
The Evolution of Strong Female Characters: From the Classics to Today’s Young Adult Fiction
It has been said that literature reflects the culture of the time. This phrase is true in many ways. Common themes, plotlines, and character stereotypes tend to reoccur in certain periods of history. However, one theme that has remained popular until very recently has been the underdevelopment of female characters in literature.
Since the beginning of time, women have been viewed as “the weaker sex” and were only useful for bearing children and keeping house. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of strong females in Greek and Classical Mythology, but more often than not they are depicted as conniving, jealous, unreasonable beings that prey on male misfortune. According to Chaucer in The Canterbury Tales, most women were only useful when it came to the desire of men.
…there are a lot of strong females in Greek and Classical Mythology, but more often than not they are depicted as conniving, jealous, unreasonable beings that prey on male misfortune.
From the invention of the written word up until the 18th or 19th centuries, most women were portrayed as being total idiots who couldn’t think for themselves without the help of a man. In classic fairy tales, for example, every single heroine (who lives to see the end of the story, that is), must get the prince, get married, and live happily ever after. While it is an admittedly sweet ending, we writers cannot let young girls who read these stories be deluded into thinking that they need a “prince” to be happy.
While it is an admittedly sweet ending, we writers cannot let young girls who read these stories be deluded into thinking that they need a “prince” to be happy.
It is for this reason that writers like Jane Austen and the Brönte sisters were such trailblazers in their era. It was already uncommon for girls to be novelists, and for them to defy the usual gender constraints in their works was incredible. Through their stories, they inspired the idea that girls should marry for love, rather than convenience or security. Also, that if a girl did not wish to be married, she should not be forced to do so.
It was these stories that formed the foundation for many of today’s modern writers. Over time, girls started doing more than just sitting around. They won athletic competitions, or engaged men in a battle of wits. They became successful in business, or became influential social activists. They were scientists, and they were politicians. With the start of Women’s Rights and the Feminist Movement, more stories surfaced of amazing women accomplishing amazing things.
Of course, there were a few writers who still believed, despite the changing times, that women should know their place. Writers like O. Henry and Kurt Vonnegut, who almost never seemed to be able to incorporate a single intelligent woman into their stories.
Regardless, lots of women have taken up the habit, especially in recent decades, of writing, and have become very successful from their female characters. J. K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins, and Veronica Roth are all successful female writers with strong female characters who aren’t afraid to risk everything to do what is right. But, without our Founding Writer Mothers, there would be no Hermione Granger, no Katniss Everdeen, and no Tris Pryor.
But, without our Founding Writer Mothers, there would be no Hermione Granger, no Katniss Everdeen, and no Tris Pryor.
There is a scene in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice at Netherfield Manor where Miss Bingley is describing the attributes of an “accomplished” woman. “’A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half deserved.’” At the time, this was supposed to be a nearly unattainable goal for most women. Now, when we look at a woman’s greatest ambition of that time, it is sad, for those dreams are so small.
Because we have grown as an equal society of humans, girls can be so much more than just house ornaments.
Because of writers like Jane Austen, who put herself out there despite what other people thought of her, girls today are able to accomplish their dreams. Because females have grown stronger over time, we can inspire young girls to be whatever they want. Because we have grown as an equal society of humans, girls can be so much more than just house ornaments.