Monday, May 20, 2013

In Defense of the Weak Girl

When the discussion turns to common annoyances in YA books (or any books, probably) one common complaint is the weak female character. I won't say her name, but she loves a sparkly vampire and has become the poster girl for the kind of character nobody wants. She lets things happen. She is obsessed with a boy. She whines. 

And before I go further let me clarify, I don't love a weak character. My favorite books feature characters who make things happen, who are intelligent and problem-solving. Who save themselves and don't wait for someone else to do it for them.

But I got to thinking as I was listening to an audiobook this afternoon (and I won't mention the title right now. I will just say it is making me uncomfortable, but not in a bad way. But we'll see.). You know, sometimes I am a weak character in my own life. Sometimes I've let people save me. Sometimes I've needed them to save me. Sometimes I'm stupid. Sometimes I care too much about trivial things and crave praise to make me feel valued. 

Does that make me one of those girls? What does that even mean, anyway? Is there a list of qualities which you must achieve in life to become a "real" woman? Because sometimes I feel like there is. A complicated algebraic equation of amount you're allowed to care about fashion over the time spent reading times which boys you swoon over to the power of which indie bands you listen to. (I am clearly a math genius). 

And if the numbers add up right and you take a few kickboxing classes then you qualify as a "strong" female. Or in the case of books, a strong female character. 

But what if my numbers don't add up? Can my story still be valuable? What if the girl waits for the prince to save her? What if she doesn't know how to save herself? Can she still be an interesting character? Can her story still be worth telling? 


Because a real girl can sometimes be a damsel-in-distress and still be intelligent and complex and have hidden depths. Because I can care too much about what number the scale says and what other people think of me. Because when I was a teenager I just wanted a boyfriend because it made me feel like I had value. And not a single one of those facts tells the whole story about me or defines my strength, then or now. In fact, some of my strength now comes from feeling that way then. I learned things. I grew. And yeah, some of it I still struggle with. 

I'm rewriting my WIP (again. I know.). And I'm thinking about my two female characters. I love them both. And I hope they don't get plunked in a category (Strong. Weak. Mid-weight!) because they fit some checklist. 

A weak character can be complex and worthy too. And a strong character can kick butt but lack depth. Women come in all shapes and sizes and personalities. There's room in my library for a weak character. What about yours?

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