One thing that I really love about young adult fiction is the huge variety of female characters we get here. Hermione Granger from Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games, Tris Prior from Divergent, Tally Youngblood from the Uglies… the list goes on. The truth is that young adult novel’s are way ahead of the curve in terms of the Bechdel’s test (a test in which the main requirement is that in a piece of fictional work ,two named female characters talk about something other than men) as compared to adult fiction or movies. In young adult there are no (or very few) token female characters. You know what I mean by token female characters. This pretty girls who hang around looking awkward and probably feeling awkward because they have no real role. Movie directors hire them to prove a point. They hire them so they can say something like : “What do you mean we discriminate between genders. Jane (or Elizabeth or Lind or any female name can be inserted here) here has a role in the movie.” But the awesome thing about young adult novels is that the female characters do actually have a role
But that’s not saying that they’re perfect. Sometimes even in young adult novels, it seems like the author is trying too hard. She’s pretty, she fights, she has badass weapon skills, she’s the face of a rebellion, she’s definitely as good as a boy. In the process they stamp out all of the other female traits. The girls are not allowed to like dresses (unless they’re sidekicks) or hair or makeup. I’m not saying that all girls love fancy dresses, makeup and messing with their hair but sometimes it seems like author’s are trying way too hard to make it clear that their main character is above all that shallow frivolousness. But seriously if James Bond can take a break and have his masculine ‘martini shaken, not stirred’ then why can’t a female character enjoy something feminine without criticism.
Another pet peeve (for me) is the fact that the best compliment a female character in a young adult novel is strong. If someone’s asked to describe Katniss they’ll probably use the word strong. If someone has to describe Tris, they’ll use the word strong. When it comes to describing female characters, why has everyone’s vocabulary suddenly become so limited? More importantly, when we describe male characters why do we never use the word strong. Take Sherlock Holmes. He’s arguably the most complex and interesting fictional character. Is he strong? Not physically;that’s what sidekicks like Watson are for. But Sherlock Holmes doesn’t need to be strong. What we remember him most for is him mental acumen, his cleverness and observational skills. And for his witty dialogue, of course. He’s like an onion. Layered and good enough to make you cry. On the other hand. take Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. Again, she’s arguably the best female fictional character. But I guarantee that if you look at any character sketch of Elizabeth Bennet, you’ll find the word strong somewhere in there. And is she strong? Yeah, I guess she is . But that’s not the point here. The point is male characters don’t need to be strong. We automatically assume they are. Female characters on the other hand go around doing crazy things like picking fights for the sake of it, ticking off their loved one, throwing punches to prove that they are ‘just as good as the boys’. Why is having anger management issues automatically assumed to be equal to being ‘strong’ for female characters? The whole point is that just because they are female, characters shouldn’t have to prove that they are strong! Take a look at Sophia McDougal’s article I hate strong female characters. She’s written the same idea pretty beautifully.
So while having angry, badass female characters who replace their emotions with weapons is better than having weepy, damsels in distress who wait for Prince Charming to come and save them, it’s not ideal. We need more realistic, holistic female characters. Ones who don’t have the pressure of being strong thrust on them but still don’t let that be an excuse to be weak themselves.