A Tribute To The Finest Women Of The Written Word
Knowing about The Bechdel Test can really ruin a seemingly decent film. “Bah” I mutter, stomping out of the cinema after seeing The Avengers. “Strong token female doesn’t even talk to other strong token female! The Goddamn Patriarchy sure is ruling this old town!” Thankfully there’s always a trusty book waiting for me at home, with a gutsy female protagonist who is willing to take me into her arms and pat me on the head until I stop gibbering like a cowboy.
The world of literature isn’t perfect, and it never will as long as Katie Price continues to ‘write’ crap novels. Nevertheless, books are a fine place to find a bit of female-friendly inspiration. I would much prefer to spend time with my favourite fictional heroines than with my real, bog-standard friends. Sometimes I draw pictures of what I think they look like (the heroines, I mean, I already know what my friends look like) and then stick the pictures onto twigs and carry them around with me on outings. One of my favourite stick buddies comes from a little known Swedish franchise which tends to feature dragons in the cover art. That’s right, you clever thing, I’m talking about Lisbeth Salander!
Larsson’s bestselling trilogy is titled Men who Hate Women in Sweden, but fear not, this book was not written as a manual for the MRAs. In fact, protagonist Blomkvist loves women so much that he sleeps with every one he meets. Fair enough, he is James Bond… No wait, we’re getting muddled! That’s just an actor! Let’s get back to Lisbeth, shall we?
Now, for some crazy reason I’m not hugely keen on seeing/reading about gratuitous sexual violence against women (take note, Brett Easton Ellis), so the early rape scene between Lisbeth and her Guardian left me disheartened. But then Lisbeth returns to the scene of the crime, where she proceeds to taser her Guardian and tattoo “I am a sadistic pig, a pervert, and a rapist” across his stomach. This made feel a lot better.
Lisbeth does plenty of other cool stuff throughout the trilogy, such as hacking computers and nailing criminals to the floor. She also digs herself out of a grave using just her little finger. I’d swap my cat to have such a talent.
One of the nicest things about this trilogy is the relationship between Blomkvist and Salander. Sometimes she’ll save his life, and sometimes he’ll save hers. It’s hardly a conventional love story, but who needs to read any more of those?
Onto a more intellectual novel now (by which I mean less action, more description). Bear with me as we take a trip down memory lane to my second year of A levels, a time where I had just discovered feminism. Keen to incorporate my newly found interests with my education, I proposed an extended project titled Why the Patriarchy exists to my head of year. He suggested narrowing down my subject matter into something more specific. “Bah,” I spat at him, “You’re just another oppressor, afraid of the truth!”
I took my feminist concerns into my English Literature class, and proceeded to write a fabulous essay on John Steinbeck, Langston Hughes and Arthur Miller. A careful deconstruction of their texts showed them all to be filthy misogynists at heart. My English Teacher, who loves The Grapes of Wrath more than the Pope loves The Bible, looked as if he was going to cry after reading my condemnation of all the female characters in the novel.
So, for his sake, I would now like to say that Ma Joad is a wonderful character. She brings strength and leadership to her family when her husband can’t, and does a fine job of representing the Matriarchy. She also raises some fine children, who engage in metaphors that help illustrate some fundamental Marxist concerns.
I apologise, Mr Davies, for not seeing this when you taught me. Thanks for giving me full marks anyway.
The next character on my somewhat rambling list is from Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White. This is a brick heavy novel about prostitutes in Victorian England, but don’t let that put you off. This is no costume-drama erotica. Sugar has been a hooker for as long as she can remember, and hopes to get out of the miserable profession by writing a gritty book which describes the gruesome murders of many men. I’m fond her because of her stripy skin and humane fallibility: she almost falls for her floppy haired saviour until she realises what a dingbat he is. She’s oppressed in every possible way, but still strives for a better life. I do like to see that in my Victorian prostitutes.
Time now to fly from London to America, as my next heroine is from Walker’s critically acclaimed The Colour Purple. Great book, but not exactly filled with chuckles. Celie is at a huge disadvantage in life, what with being a poor black female who was robbed of a childhood by her rapist father. Upon reaching adulthood, she marries a man so unpleasant that he is never named. Mr __ wallops Celie and allows her to live under the cruel illusion that her dear sister is dead.
Wait, don’t run off crying just yet! I have some happy tidbits to feed you! Celie is sexually awakened by her husband’s lover Shug Avery, who also teaches her a few sensible life lessons. It’s like Jerry Springer, only more socially acceptable. Celie ends up happy and thriving. You will end up weeping and smiling.
I get the feeling that I’m waffling on like my grandfather after a bottle of wine, so I’ll hastily round this all up with a few well selected words on Simone De Beauvoir. De Beauvoir taught me that I was not born a woman, but instead became one. That’s right, ladies, you can redefine the word woman with your everyday actions! When facing a difficult decision, I used to ask myself “What would Dumbledore do?” Nowadays I ask “What would Simone do?”, which I feel is a real mark of my maturity. It’s also led to hard studying and wild sex with an ugly French existentialist. Don’t tell me you’re not even a little bit jealous.
Now, I know that Simone De Beauvoir isn’t technically a fictional character, but Anne Dubreuilh is. De Beauvoir was always immortalising her crew in novels thinly disguised as fiction. The Mandarins depicts the cool kids of the time (Camus, Sartre, etc) getting drunk and sleeping around and quarrelling about current affairs. De Beauvoir’s own character, Anne Dubreuilh, spends a lot of time thinking about the other characters (perhaps why she’s presented as a psychiatrist) but still manages to have an affair, experience unrequited love and to consider suicide. You’re up to your ears in existential angst. And that’s where I like my ears to be.
I’m sure many of you are now shaking your heads in suspended disbelief. What about Jane Eyre and Hermione and Madame Bovary and Mrs Dalloway and the rest of the bunch? It hurts to leave them out, but I’m a busy lady, always busily reading and busily pretending to be busy and all that sort of thing. Write your own tributes to them, you lazy sods. I wouldn’t mind having a nosy at them once you’re done.
Join this discussion by sharing with me your favorite female authors, favorite novels, and favorite female characters. I’ll see you in the comments.
Written by Phoebe Eccles