Stories for Girls

During lunch yesterday, my husband and I happened to get on the subject of female protagonists in literature. He had recently listened to a repeat of a Fresh Air interview with Meryl Streep. She spoke of how, growing up, she identified more with male protagonists than female ones because she hadn’t read books with strong female protagonists other than Nancy Drew.

This intrigued me, so I looked up the interview online.  Here are her remarks in context:

GROSS: So I want to quote something else you said, and this was in the Barnard speech that you gave in 2010, that “The hardest thing in the world is to persuade a straight male audience to identify with a woman character. It’s easier for women because we were brought up identifying with male characters in literature. It’s hard for straight boys to identify with Juliet or Wendy in “Peter Pan,” whereas girls identify with Romeo and with Peter Pan.” What led you to that conclusion?

STREEP: Well, it seems like true.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GROSS: I will accept that as evidence.

STREEP: All right. All right. What led me to that? What led me to that was I have never – I mean I watch movies and I don’t care who is the protagonist, I feel what that guy is feeling. You know, if it’s Tom Cruise leaping over a building I, I want to make it, you know? And I’m going to, yes, I made it. And yeah, so I get that.

And I’ve grown up, well, partly because there weren’t great girls’ literature. Nancy Drew maybe. But there weren’t things. So there was Huck Finn and Spin and Marty. The boys’ characters were interesting and you lived through them when you’re watching it. You know, you’re not aware of it but you’re following the action of the film through the body of the protagonist.

This is pretty loaded stuff. Girls identify with boy protagonists because they are the action characters, particularly in the literature available when she grew up.

First, I have to say that as a girl, I never identified with Juliet, Romeo Wendy or Peter Pan. My favorite Shakespeare heroine was (and is) Beatrice from “Much Ado About Nothing.” As for Peter Pan, never read the book, but my favorite character in the play and the Disney movie was Tinker Bell. I can’t tell another person who they identified with, but did Ms. Streep really identify with Darcy rather than Lizzie when reading and/or watching “Pride and Prejudice”?

I wondered when Meryl Streep was born, so I Googled her and found her birthday, June 22, 1949. This means Ms. Streep had her formative reading years in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Were there really no books available at that time with strong girl protagonists aside from Nancy Drew? The answer is there were a number of book in print, probably available at the local library. These include:

  • “Island of the Blue Dolphins” by Scott O’Dell
  • “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” by Betty Smith
  • “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott
  • “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle
  • “The Secret Garden” and “A Little Princess” by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • “Anne of Green Gables” by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  • “Beezus and Ramona” by Beverly Cleary

I don’t fault Ms. Streep if she didn’t read these books. It’s possible she was unaware of them. This points to our responsibility as adults. If we want to grow girls into strong, independent, adventurous women, then we need to provide role models, both real life and fictional characters. Books with these characters have been and continue to be written. We need to help the girls in our lives become aware of female heroes and provide them with the books of their stories and lives. If we want boys to see girls and women as heroic and protagonist-worthy, we need to provide them with these books as well.

Looking for children and young adult books with strong female protagonists? Check out this WordPress blog, Amelia Bloomer Project. From their About page:

Welcome to the Amelia Bloomer Project blog! We create an annual booklist of the best feminist books for young readers, ages birth through 18. We are part of the Feminist Task Force of the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association!

The chosen books by year are listed here.

You can also check out this Goodreads list: Popular Strong Girl Characters Books.

The following books mentioned above are now in the public domain and can be downloaded for free. You can find them in a variety of formats on Manybooks.net

Cover image for   “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott
This popular novel concerns the lives and loves of four sisters growing up during the American Civil War, and was based on Alcott’s own experiences as a child in Concord, Massachusetts.

Cover image for   “Anne of Green Gables” by Lucy Maud Montgomery
A skinny, red-haired, and freckled orphan girl is mistakenly sent to live with a shy, elderly bachelor and his spinster sister on the north shore of Canada’s Prince Edward Island; The elderly siblings had asked to adopt a young boy who could work on the family farm, but the imaginitive and rambunctious Anne Shirley arrives instead, and becomes the center of a series of entertaining adventures.

Cover image for   “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett
When spoiled child Mary Lennox loses her family to a cholera outbreak, she moves to her uncle’s manor surrounded by a massive garden. Within, Mary discovers a whole new outlook on life thanks to a supportive household and the garden’s power of healing. (Description from Amazon.com)

Cover image for   “A Little Princess” by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Sara Crewe, a pupil at Miss Minchin’s London school, is left in poverty when her father dies, but is later rescued by a mysterious benefactor.

Convention Etiquette

I spent a fabulous weekend at Denver Comic and arrived home Sunday night a weary-to-the-bone but happy fan girl.

This was the convention’s second year and it seemed twice as large with twice as many in attendance. Initially, I was a little disappointed because I really enjoyed last year’s small, homey con. However, bigger did mean better, with great guests like George Takei, Wil Wheaton, Felicia Day and The Shat. The dealers’ room/artist alley space was huge and took hours to get through. There were some great panels on geek culture. I especially enjoyed the one on geek girls, which included a lively discussion on whether or not the label is still relevant.

I also enjoyed seeing lots of children. This was a kid friendly event and whole families turned out, some dressed in costume. One of my favorites was dad dressed as the fourth Doctor, mom dressed as his Time Lord companion, Romana, and their daughter costumed as a Dalek. Adorable!

Unfortunately, bigger also meant lengthy line for just about everything, particularly registration, where the lines were hours long.  Inside the convention center, lines to see the guests of honor and even some of the panels wound around the hallways. The dealers’ room/artist alley aisles were usually packed with people.

It was a saving grace that most people were polite. Since this is convention season, I thought this would be a good opportunity to go over a few basics of con etiquette.

Do Not Cut in Line
Yes, the line is very long and you really want to get in, and you really shouldn’t have to wait for two-three hours. Suck it up. It’s first come, first served, and the people at the front of the line probably arrived at 5 a.m. and deserve their spot. Holding a place in line for up to five people is acceptable. More than that should go to the back of the line.

Ask Permission Before Taking a Photo
It may be assumed that all cosplayers are exhibitionists who want their pictures taken at any time. False! For example, if cosplayers are sitting down at a table and eating lunch, they don’t want to be bothered by every fool with a camera. Those who want their pictures taken usually make themselves available in some way. Catch them when they’re strolling around the concourse, not otherwise engaged, and always ask permission. This gives the cosplayer(s) time to stop and pose, and give you an awesome shot.

I asked the zombie’s permission before entering his cage. He rewarded me by trying to eat my brains!

I asked the zombie’s permission before entering his cage. He rewarded me by trying to eat my brains!

If you like a popular fandom, such as “Game of Thrones” and “Doctor Who,” chances are there will be a group photo shoot. In this case, you don’t need to ask permission, but you should wait until the cosplayers are posed before you start photographing.

It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, you should ALWAYS ask a parent’s permission before photographing a young child. The one exception is a group photo shoot, when permission is implied.

Save a Reasonable Number of Seats
It is reasonable to save up to two seats on either side of you. Trying to save a whole row makes you a jackass and no one will respect that.

Respect the Artists and Dealers
You might not like all the art you see on Artist Alley. Keep those remarks to yourself until you are out of earshot of the artist. You might think a dealer booth is overpriced. Fair enough, but don’t haggle unless the vendor seems open to it. For example, you show an interest in a $20 item and the dealer offers to give you two for $30. Don’t place your stuff on their merchandise. Anything that damages their merchandise is their monetary loss and they are at the con to make money.

Last but Not Least: Hygiene!
You are going to be at close quarters with lots of people. It is a much more pleasant experience if everyone in the room bathed or showered and brushed their teeth that morning. Deodorant is a must, but lay off on the heavy scented colognes and perfumes.

In the end, at cons as well as regular life, it is always best to follow Wheaton’s Law: Don’t be a dick.