Hi all! First, a big thank you to Faith and Raquel for having me on their lovely blog. It’s a pleasure to be here! Today, I’ll be
talking about the importance of female heroines in literature. When I first contemplated this topic, I’ll admit, I was a little stuck. Of course female heroines are of the utmost importance in literature. Would anyone dare doubt that? As much as I want to answer no, the reality is likely more frustrating. The more I thought about it, the more imperative I found to address this topic. Strong, complex, independent, real women do no populate the pages of literature in the way they should. However, over the past ten years, YA has done something remarkable. Perhaps more than any other single genre, YA has sought to correct the imbalance—to bring to life countless vivid and varied women—and in so doing, it has shown just how valuable the female heroine truly is.
When I was growing up, I loved English and literature. I loved reading. I loved talking and writing about books. I didn’t think about what I as a teenage girl had or didn’t have in common with the characters I was following. I read Lord of the Flies, Oedipus Rex, Paradise Lost, Hamlet, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Great Gatsby—all books I adored, books I still adore, and yet, not a single one features a fully-rendered woman with real agency. I can’t say if that has changed in recent years or not, but I can say that a quick appraisal of what is commonly referred to as “great” literature will turn up few examples of what I would call a true female heroine. The classics have women, don’t get me wrong. But when they take they stage, too often do they swing between the wicked villain and the virtuous ideal, never settling in the middle, never exhibiting the same psychological complexity as their male counterparts. There are exceptions, of course. Hawthorne gave us a curiously contradictory Hester Prynne, and of course, Austen gave us the quick-witted, lovable and flawed Elizabeth Bennet (among others). Female heroines exist in great literature’s pages—they’re just hidden and outnumbered.
But it didn’t matter to me when I was a student. I didn’t need to be a man to relate to Hamlet’s doubts, to Gatsby’s blind determination. Whenever I came upon a female heroine, it was like a nice bonus, a little something extra to enjoy. I can identify with every character I read, no matter how different he and I are—that’s the gift of literature. It puts you into another person’s head and allows you to experience the same world, the same feelings, from a different point of view. The problem, however, is that I haven’t found the opposite to be true. I haven’t heard many boys and men speak about how they relate to Lizzie Bennet or Jane Eyre. I don’t blame anyone for this, not really. Boys haven’t been in the position of reading hundreds of books without a strong central male hero. They don’t need to seek identification with someone unlike them because there simply aren’t many instances that would necessitate it. The answer, it seems, is deceptively simple: have more books with female heroines.
I still remember the unique feeling I had when I first read a book with a heroine truly like myself. I was in eighth grade, and Twilight had just been released. Now, we can save a discussion of Twilight’s merits and drawbacks for another time, but for the purposes of this post, I knew I had more in common with Bella Swan than I’d ever before had with a character. She was a teenager, a girl, and she thought and acted in ways that were uncommonly familiar to me. I hadn’t experienced anything like it before. It didn’t stop with Bella. Over the next couple years, more and more of these types of books came out. I found myself swept up in the words and worlds of girls who empowered me—girls who were me and weren’t. Who were kind and brave and selfish and smart and flawed and so much more. YA had been born, and with it had come a host of female heroines. Over the past ten years the genre has already grown and evolved, the female heroine has changed. We’ve moved from Bella Swan to Clary Fray to Katniss Everdeen. I, along with the rest of the world, drank them all up. Today, the YA heroine is more varied than ever before. They can still kick butt like Celaena Sardothien, but they can grieve and live like Hazel Grace Lancaster, fall in love like Eleanor Douglas, and discover the world like Madeline Whittier. In no other genre is the scope of the female heroine so broadly explored. I can only hope that as the genre continues to grow, it will show girls that heroes don’t come in any one shape—and show the world that you don’t have to be a girl to want to be like a heroine.
Emily grew up in the South Bay where she spent her formative years battling zombies on her Xbox, watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and voraciously reading everything from The Hunger Games to Jane Austen, where her love for feisty young heroines was born
After graduating from Princeton University Magna Cum Laude in 2014, she began writing. Her debut novel,Sacrificed, was named a finalist in the Young Adult category of the 2015 International Book Awards, the Young Adult category of the 2015 Beverly Hills Book Awards, and in the Young Author category of the 2015 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Since its release, Sacrificed has spent more than a year as a Kindle Top Ten Teen and Young Adult Bestseller.
When she isn’t reading the latest YA book, Emily enjoys watching kick-butt action movies with her two rescue German Shepherds, Hudson and Bishop, named after characters from James Cameron’s Aliens.
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Check out Emily's latest release...
The Divined (The Last Oracle, Book 3)