Bites

Or . . . why I need to read more (or any) Tamora Pierce.

After reading this interview with Tamora Pierce I added a shit-ton of her books to my list I got thinking about feminism in today’s YA and whether or not we really have enough strong female characters to go around. In that article she talks about a variety of other things, from birth control to TWILIGHT to families but the underlying tone is about women as heroines and the inequality they face in the reading world, even now.
I could probably point out ten female characters that I think are weak little ninnies and someone else could turn around and point out qualities in them that are anything but weak. In the same vein, what I would consider a strong female character could prove ingratiating or repugnant for someone else. The question is, what makes a female character strong?
Does giving birth to a vampire monster that eats its way through her uterus make her strong? Does kicking ass from one side of an arena to another make her strong? Does escaping an abusive relationship make her strong? But what about the external elements that seem to
counteract that strength? The bipolar boyfriend that pushes and pulls at her yet she sticks around. The love interest that weakens her heart and nearly costs her her life. Her inability to see the problem from the beginning. How many dimensions of a character must we evaluate to determine whether a female character is strong enough?
Irrespective of societal gender conditioning and other intensive psychological meanderings, is strength something that can be staunchly defined or, like scents, does it vary based on the person witnessing it? Personally I like my female characters strong but realistic. They can tell it like it is but they cave to basic human frailties like everyone else. But where I see strength, others can see weakness (Lena from DELIRIUM) and equally the same with the adverse (Bella from TWILIGHT).
The woman that stays in a loveless, mildly verbally abusive relationship in order to maintain order for her children, is she weak because she stays or strong because she holds her head high and flings the crap right back?
The woman that can nail anyone’s ass to a wall, is she strong because she can defend herself or weak because she won’t let anyone get close enough to really see her?
The woman that rules as a content queen next to a content king, is she weak for staying by her husband’s side to maintain the status quo for the good of the kingdom or strong because she overthrows him because her ideas might be better?
Is there a right way and a wrong way to interpret strength? Is it possible for everyone to see the the same woman as strong and another woman as weak or will the crowd split?
I think when we try to faction out feminism, it gets rather convoluted. I don’t consider myself a feminist of the bra-burning type but I’m willing to stand up for myself when I need to. Am I weak because I’m not out there picketing for equal salary on a daily basis? Or am I strong because I go to my bosses and demand more money for myself? And get it? I’d consider myself strong with faults, mainly because I’m human. It happens. But I think we need to evaluate a much broader picture when it comes to evaluating a female character’s strength. I’m not exempt. I’ve definitely been guilty of going the black or white route when it comes to pegging a female character as strong or weak.
The reality is even in weak characters there’s strength and even in strong characters there’s weakness. So is it fair to call Bella weak? Sure she exhibits some great weaknesses but I’d be lying if I said she didn’t exhibit any strength at all. I’d be lying again if I said Katniss from THE HUNGER GAMES was nothing but pure strength. But isn’t that what makes them human and relatable? Their ability to be both strong and weak? So why are we so eager to shove them into one box or another?
What do you think? Can strength be finitely defined or can its definition depend on the person? Do you think we need more strong female characters in YA or are there plenty out there, we just need to take our blinders off? Why do you think it looks like we’re unwilling to accept a weaker definition of strength for female characters, that it’s an all or nothing deal?

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