Thursday, November 15, 2007

Amazing Female Characters Who Helped Me Grow to Be a Nerd:

Recent debate about what it takes to be a feminist role model has prompted me to reminisce about the female characters that I admired when I was young, and to consider what they might have had in common. These are some of the characters that made me feel like it was good to be intellectual and independent and outspoken:

Anne Edison from The Edison Twins:

As a third grader I was glued to the TV once a week, to watch The Edison Twins. I loved Anne, who, in the company of her twin brother, uses her wits and science savvy to solve mysteries and survive adventures. She is smart, pretty, and adventurous - and I planned to be just like her when I was a big high schooler. I still know all the words to the awesome theme song.

Meg Murry from Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time

Meg is by far the most complicated of my childhood favorite characters - daring but insecure, bright but not always right. She isn't always sweet or even-tempered, nor is she always likable. Although she isn't described as being stereotypically attractive, she gets a love story, but one that adds depth to the story rather than dominating it or defining her.

Eowyn from The Lord of the Rings

Unlike my other heroines, Eowyn herself isn't a nerd. But she was my favorite character in a book admired by nerds world-wide. Also unlike my other childhood heroes, she was described as being beautiful. Yet, I think I loved her for her stubbornness. Oh, and for the fact that she kills the lord of the Nazgul. "No living man am I! You look upon a woman." Is it any wonder I grew up to be a feminist?

Katie from The Girl With the Silver Eyes

What's not to love? Katie is an daring outsider looking for people who she can respect and love. And she has super powers. As a kid, I looked just like the girl on the cover. And I probably had telekinetic powers too. I'm sure they'll show up someday... perhaps with just a bit more practice.

The main similarity in these characters' personalities seems to have been that they were willful. Perhaps every kid likes to imagine a certain independence for themselves. I'd be interested to know what other people's favorite character were - I am the aunt of a couple of book-worms, you know, and future nerds need encouragement.


natalie said...

I liked Claudia, from The Baby Sitters Club. But I was probably more like Mary Anne.

Mächtige Maus said...

Harriet the Spy! Who knew that would portend my forensic science endeavors?!

La Pobre Habladora said...

Harriet the Spy is a great character! It is telling that you, a rabble-rouser in your youth, liked the trouble seeking (and resolving) Harriet while I, always a bit bookish and shy, liked bookish characters who found adventures by chance. It really is important to have a broad variety of female characters that appeal to a broad range of readers instead of presenting femininity as being monolithic.

Agincourt said...

I really loved Meg from L'Engle's novels.

I was very sad when she passed away this year.

It is funny how some of my favorite authors were so appealing to me as child, and still are today, despite the fact that they often had a 'spiritual/Christian' slant to things that I was all but oblivious to at the time (C.S. Lewis).

Cheers and a salute to Madeleine L'Engle.

La Pobre Habladora said...

Since posting this, I've spoken to some male friends about female characters with whom they identified as young readers. Meg from L'Engle's books is the only one that anyone has been able to name. This is very telling since I identified with male and female characters when I was young, Will from Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising, for example. Yet, books with female characters just aren't marketed to boys, for the most part. Books marketed to both sexes star male leads. Katie with the silver eyes, Claudia and Mary Anne, and Harriet the spy - these characters are unknown to boys. So while we might be doing something to broaden the definition of femininity for girls, boys are not getting as much exposure to diverse female characters. And that's a real bummer.

Anonymous said...

When I was little I had a old fashioned [but plastic] doctor's bag and instruments. I, for some unknown reason, wanted to be named Katie (I think it was to have an 'i' to dot with a heart), and so I wrote 'Dr. Katie' on the name plate. My mom still calls me that.

So I dreamed of being a doctor, but dotting my 'i' with hearts. I was a confused little feminist.

La Pobre Habladora said...

Huh... maybe you should be a cardiologist.

Anonymous said...

Because of the doctor kit or the love of hearts. I actually just loved the symbol, not the organ. The organ is gross and bloody. It looks a bit like placenta (but less smelly and smaller).

La Pobre Habladora said...

How romantic.

Anonymous said...

I heart the Paper Bag Princess.