The Importance Of Strong Female Characters
When I finished reading The Hunger Games series a little over a year ago, I signed up for an archery course so that I could experience a little of the badassery that lead character Katniss Everdeen displays throughout the novels. After spending the first session involuntarily flinching every time I let go of the string, and the second and third sessions accidentally shooting the ceiling, I began to think that it wasn’t something I was naturally talented at. I completed the short course, but decided it would be safer for humanity if I wasn’t let loose with a bow and arrow in the future.
However, my actions suggested something more than a desire to shoot stuff. The influence Katniss had on my decision to take up archery has become clear to me in hindsight, and it’s an interesting thought on the effects protagonists of fiction can have on their readers. Who else tried learning books off by heart so that you could quote them and sound like Hermione Granger? Or tried to get away with telling ludicrous lies like Lyra Belaqua in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials?
It seems I wasn’t the only one to be affected by Katniss’s skills with a bow and arrow: the archery ranges in New York have been hit by a 75% increase in traffic since Hunger Games hype began. In addition, during the first few days of Olympics coverage this year, archery was the most viewed sport on NBC – perhaps aided by the fact that Jennifer Lawrence’s (the actress who plays Katniss) archery trainer was competing. Here is proof that the actions of a fictional character can have a profound effect upon the audience.
Even if you haven’t read The Hunger Games, something of a character you’ve loved will have rubbed off on you in some way, and to me this seems to place great importance on having strong female characters in fiction.
Young readers in particular can be very impressionable, and when a girl in a book is shown to be acting in a certain way, chances are the reader might want to imitate this. When the character is Hermione Granger, imitation can be a good thing. However, what if the character was a submissive girl who had little belief in herself and demoans for over 300 pages about the difficulties of having a “perfect” vampire boyfriend? What message is that going to send to a thirteen-year-old girl? At worst it’ll be that constantly degrading yourself by dismissing your attributes and submitting to the will of an over-protective boy is a good thing; at best, that having a boyfriend is the most important thing a girl can have. Not exactly inspiring messages.
Fortunately, a lot of popular fiction today features female characters that are strong and increasingly defined by their personality rather than their looks or relationships with male characters. However, there is also the recent rise in books like Fifty Shades of Grey, which threaten to sweep away the intelligence and resourcefulness exhibited in characters like Hermione and Katniss. The frankly misogynistic attitude displayed by the eponymous character in Fifty Shades is being consumed by millions of women globally, and the affect this might have upon more impressionable readers is troubling.
I desire a female character whom I can look up to and be inspired by, but until I am able to write one myself, I must hope that someone somewhere will break through the waves of negative portrayals of females and show everyone what women are really capable of.
Who are your favorite (and least favorite) female characters in fiction? Share with us in the comments below!
Reader submission by Helena Sheffield