Saturday, July 26, 2008

Good Feminist Characters?

Well, I've asked Feminocracy readers, and no one seems to have any ideas yet - so I'm bringing my questions to you:
I'm in the process of writing a children's novel. Of course, I want a strong female protagonist with whom the kids will want to identify, but... the story is based on legends from the 8th century - not the most liberated time for women in most parts of the world. Naturally, I'm fictionalizing the world a bit to get around the 'she couldn't have done that!' moments - but I'm feeling conflicted about how to balance creating a world that feels real, and creating a character with whom modern children can easily identify. Oh, and the story spans three continents, so she's going to have to be kick-ass in several different cultures. I need advice - do I point out the challenges that faced women at the time? I don't want the character to be cool 'even though' she's a girl - I just want her to be an interesting character who is female. Dose anyone have any recommendations of children's books that do this well? Anyone care to recommend some favorite childhood characters from books or films? Can anyone recommend some children's fiction that did a good job of presenting diverse cultures to readers without falling into the trap of reveling in the 'exotic'?
Seriously... there have to be some good female characters that inspired us as kids... Who did you love growing up? What characters made you think, 'yeah - people like me do fascinating things'?

13 comments:

TheNerd said...

Well, this isn't an old story, but I loved the book Persepolis. If you haven't heard of it, it's the story of a girl who grew up in Iran, without being all "look, it's Iran!". It's not specifically about feminism, but the themes are very heavy toward it.

But if you're looking for fairy tale heroines, you won't be able to find one that doesn't need a man to save her. There just aren't any out there.

Habladora said...

Oh... we love Persepolis - the books and the movie! That is a great suggestion, actually, because I do NOT want a fairy tale - no magic. Unless, of course, a Disney executive is reading this and wants to buy the script... in that case, I can add magic - but it will cost extra.

Kris-Stella said...

When I was little, I loved Astrid Lindgren's "Ronia, the Robber's Daughter". I think this story isn't that well known in Anglosaxon countries (though it's available on Amazon), so in short it is about Ronia, whose father is the leader of a robber's gang. She befriends the son of the leader of a rival robber's gang and has lots of adventures complete with mythical creatures who live in the forest that surrounds the old castle where they live.

Ronia herself is a great character, but when it comes to strong females, I also recall the book painting this amazing portrait of Ronia's mother. She is the wife of a robber king, which, in terms of women's rights, is a setting somewhat similar to the 8th century tales you are working with. She is responsible for the children, and the cooking and the home, which is just very realistic in this setting. At the same time, she is definitely not downtrodden. She has a strong mind, an iron hand in organising the robber household, and she is never afraid to speak up against her husband (who respects her, which is clearly due to her incredibly strong mind). She is perfectly capable of telling off a whole gang of robbers when they get the living space too dirty or squander resources. In other words, I recall her as a woman who lived the traditional female role in a very strong and independent-minded way. Something like this could maybe work for your heroine? You could put them in the social situation in which most women of the time would have lived, but give them a strong mind and personality nonetheless...

Mächtige Maus said...

LaPH, you know my answer for you is Harriet the Spy. :)

NewsCat said...

When I complained that even in the movie Enchanted, which was supposed to be a send-up of the Princess story, still ended with a woman needing a man, my friend commented that I should "The Lesbian Princess Who Needs No External Validation."

I still think about doing it someday. :-)

Catopillar said...

Hey, and speaking of Astrid Lindgren, Pippi Longstocking is great, too! There's also Michael Ende's "Momo", and the empress in "The Neverending Story". And there's the girl in "The Golden Compass" trilogy, not very old at all. And here's some links: http://childrensbooks.about.com/cs/strongfemales/a/strongfemales.htm

daedalus2u said...

Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz isn’t too bad, as I remember but I haven’t looked at it in a long time. But Oz was pretty much a sexless place, so gender stereotypes couldn’t be a part of it.

frau sally benz said...

Not exactly characters, but I love the story of Las Hermanas Mirabal (from In the Time of the Butterflies). For fictional characters, I loved Pippi Longstocking.

I think you're particularly interested in those who break the mold, so I may need to think a little bit more.

Have you read Woman Warrior?

lindabeth said...

I loved the Bobsey Twins, but for the life of me, I couldn't remember why or if they're even all that feminist. And Choose your Own Adventure because I was the protagonist!

professorwhatif said...

How about Ramona the Brave? Dated, but a strong, spunky female. Laura from the Little House series. Hermione. The girl in The Secret Garden. Alice. The Paperbag Princess.

There's a great collection you should check out to with tales/legends from around the globe with female heroines -- it's called Not One Damsel in Distress.

I echo commenters above in my approval of Pippi. Golden Compass trilogy does have a strong female lead, but has problems in the area of race. (that said, so do many of those mentioned above -- far to much children's lit acts as if the world was white).

You might also want to check out Who Cooked the Last Supper: Women's History of the World for some background on the historical aspects of your work.

DJ Dual Core said...

Buffy Summers, Willow Rosenberg, Dawn Summers, Tara (forgot her last name).

Tracey said...

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind:
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0087544/

Habladora said...

Wow - thanks! It looks like I need to head down to the local library...