Strong female leads tend to get a bad rap. You’ve seen it before in reviews where the strong leading lady is accused of being hard to connect with because she is too headstrong, or maybe she is just overly negative, or perhaps it’s because she came off as whiny or, you know what, maybe she’s just downright unlikeable.
It always baffles me when I see these types of criticisms. It concerns me because while the girls in YA are targeted for their badass behavior as being hard to connect to, their male counterparts don’t suffer from any of the disconnect. Why?
What is the real reason strong leading ladies are so hard to connect to? Is it because they have a voice and they aren’t afraid to use it? It is because they’re not mousey and submissive? Is it because they aren’t cowering in a corner waiting for prince charming to save them, save the day, and think for them all in the same chapter?
I think the answer is ‘yes’. ‘Yes’ to all of the above.
I think the real reason why strong female leads in YA are so “hard to connect to” is because they challenge the cultural norms of what has traditionally been expected of females in literature.
So to all the Katniss Everdeen’s, Tris Prior’s, and Celaena Sardothien’s, to all my Clarke Griffin’s, Octavia Blake’s, and all my Willow Kent’s, I’m talking to you my June Iparis’s, Juliette Ferrars’s, and my Hermione Granger’s: I’m here to tell you why you’re important to YA literature, why it’s important that you’re a badass, and why it doesn’t matter if people “like” you or not. (As if you didn’t know all of this already!)
- You stood up for what you believed in
It’s important for readers, both girls and boys, to see that they have every right to stand up for themselves and what they believe in. Seeing your courage to do it first can inspire them to do something similar in their own lives. While they won’t be volunteering as tribute, maybe they’ll be telling the school bully to back off. Small acts of courage make a world of difference and do wonders for personal growth.
- You fought and were ready to sacrifice for what you wanted most
It’s important for readers to know that sometimes it’s not enough to simply take a stand, that action beyond that is required and there are tough decisions to make when you go down a road like that. Sometimes that road is lonely. Readers can relate to being different and not fitting into any one particular place and the need to push against those barriers. But, for example, as Tris learned, pushing against an established system has repercussions.
- You made mistakes
It’s important for readers to know that you’re not perfect, because neither are they. You made mistake as so do they. It makes you human, it makes you multifaceted and it definitely makes you interesting. You learn from your mistakes though and that’s the lesson they take from that.
- You got knocked down
It’s important for readers to see that victory isn’t always imminent, that you can work your ass off and still fail. That sometimes failing is okay, because there’s always a lesson and an opportunity to transcend.
- You got back up again
It’s also important for readers to see that regardless of failing, you brushed yourself off and kept going, you kept fighting. You didn’t give up and neither should they. You pushed through the blood and the tears and sometimes a morally questionable struggle. You worked and you grew and your scars are proof of that.
- You were vulnerable
It’s important for readers to see that despite how much of a badass you are, how many people you can take down single handedly, how strategic your mind is to plot the next move against the enemy, that beneath all of that you’re still a person. You’re still human and you still crack underneath the pressure. So it’s okay if they crack underneath the pressure too, because sometimes breaking down is the scariest part of all. Letting someone in, showing them those cracks takes more courage than kicking someone’s ass. It’s okay to be broken for as long as you need to be, so long as they get back up again at the end of it.
So regardless of whether or not people “like” you or find it hard to connect to you, you are important to YA literature. Your stories are important and what you had to say was important. You paved the way for more characters like you to take the stage, so more strong female leads, I’m talking real girls, could show the world their stories without fear and hopefully inspire more girls, more women and more people in general to live their own lives without fear, without shame and without pressure.
You don’t have to be likable, you just have to be you.
Because at the end of the day, your confidence and courage to break down the barriers and challenge societal norms are just what we need in this world. The more we challenge that which we think we know, the more we move towards forward progress and the more change we will see in our world.
Keep Reading and Keep Writing,