Happy International Women Day!
To me, IWD is not just about women, it’s about equality between genders All genders. Historically, there has been a wide gap between the genders which tends to be quite obvious in older fiction. As time has gone by the gap has become smaller and smaller, and again this is evident in the literature. There are a lot of powerful female characters in books, and I won’t have time to list them all. You would probably get bored after a few anyway. So in this blog, I will only talk about female characters which have had an effect on me as a woman both growing up and today.
Usually, these characters provoke some sort of “Aha!” moment in me. Like, have you ever read a book where there is a moment when you stop and think “Yes!” or something of that fashion? I have a few times. Every now and then there are those female characters that challenge the norm, that challenges sexism, or equality. Someone that stands up and says “of course I can do that.” Maybe a character that shows you what you can become? I didn’t always recognise these characters growing up, but looking back they set a standard for what I read now.
This is my list of top 5 favourite women in literature who shaped me and what I read now.
#5 Nora Helmer – A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen
We read (and tore apart) this play in school, and it was a fascinating read. Though, while in school I didn’t think so. It was boring. I didn’t like the play very much. I’m still not the biggest fan, but I won’t deny that the character of Nora has had a big impact on me growing up. It’s not until recent years I recognised how much the story affected me.
When the play originally came out in 1879, it was very controversial and criticised marriage norms in Norway and Denmark (we were still under Danish rule) at the time.
The play follows Nora and her husband throughout Nora’s journey of finding herself. Nora would have done anything for her husband, and she does. She fakes her fathers signature on some documents saving her husband’s life. Someone starts blackmailing her about the fake signature and threatens to tell her husband. To hide it she puts on a show for her husband and their friends during a dinner at theirs (this is the most memorable event of the book to me). However, he finds out and he wants to send her away from society so his reputation is safe. It opens her eyes to her husbands and she starts seeing things a new. He is not the man Nora expected him to be. He is not grateful. He only thinks of his reputation. She proclaims their marriage is like a doll’s house; all fake and all a play.
The entire play (spoiler) ends with Nora leaving her husband to figure herself out. At the time of the premiere, this behaviour was unheard of. Divorces just didn’t happen. Neither did leaving your husband and him accepting it, thinking its for the best.
At the time when I read the play, I thought “of course she would leave and divorce him”, but it wasn’t so easy back then. Ignorant much? This book and Nora have really shown me what females can do, and she represents a type of woman I have respected ever since.
PS the author, Henrik Ibsen, is male…
#4 Nancy Drew – Nancy Drew Series by Carolyn Keen
I believe she is still going strong in these books with a smartphone and everything, but when I grew up I read my mum’s editions of Nancy Drew which was a bit out of date, but tremendously trilling!
This is girl-power though and through, with Nancy and Bess fighting criminals with their intelligence! There is hardly any indication of beauty being important. Though there might be, it’s a while since I read these.
I absolutely loved these book as a child and teen, and they formed a base of what I expected female characters to be like in literature. Ever since I found Nancy Drew I can’t really handle reading about weak, dum/simple-minded, and the way females are often portrayed in “older” literature.
#3 Lisbeth Salander – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
The Swedish film is really good (never saw the American one out of principle), but to get a proper understanding of this female’s power you have to read the book. Not only does she fight the system her way, she does it with a very high intellect and by her own rules. She doesn’t speak out when something is wrong, she doesn’t show off, she silently deals with the problem. Yes, she has several issues and very likely suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, but her logic is sound, to me anyway.
Lisbeth taught me one simple thing; always fight for what you believe in, even though the system doesn’t agree with you, and you have to fight it your way, not anybody else’s way. I’m not a big rebel, but when I believe the system is wrong I speak out.
She an immensely complicated character, and incredibly fascinating. I found myself admiring the way she dealt with certain things, and how she acted and paid them back. She bad-ass and she was my first ever truly bad-ass character.
#2 Valerie – Valiant by Holly Black
This is a relatively new favourite of mine and my most recent “Yes!” moment in literature. Valiant is book number 2 in the Modern Faerie Tales Trilogy by Holly Black which I recently read and wrote a review of here.
Val is everything I could wish for in a character! Strong, independent, doesn’t give a shit what she looks like type character. And that is exactly where my “Yes!” moment occurred. Spoiler! Val finds her mum having sex with Val’s boyfriend on the sofa, and she runs away from home. She takes the train to New York and on that train, she locks herself in the train bathroom and SHAVES HER HEAD!! YES!! Haha! I absolutely loved this scene beyond anything. Like, who cares what you look like? I don’t.
#1 Stephen Gordon – The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall
Ehm surely Stephen is a male name? Yes, but the character is a female! Let me explain. The entire book starts with a newlywed couple expecting a baby. The father is sure they are having a son and starts naming the unborn baby Stephen. When a girl is born, they decide to keep the name Stephen as that have already customised to it. Hence a female character with a male name.
The Well of Loneliness is a book I’ve gushed about before (in Best Reads of 2017) and for good reason. It’s a beautifully written semi-biographical story about a woman growing up wanting to be masculine, falling in love with women before it was legal and fighting on the front during WW1. It came out in 1920’s and was originally banned until the 1950s due to its lesbian content, which compared to today’s books is nothing! But it was a big deal back then and ended up in court. It almost ruined Radclyffe Halls (pictured above) reputation as a writer (not the lesbianism, but going to court).
My “Yes!” moment from this book is the most powerful moment I have ever had to a book, which is why it’s on top of my list. It was around the time when she tried to join the army and wanting to fight at the front. There are a few pages written so beautifully about female power and our abilities to do what everyone else is doing, and get the credit for it. She talks about who women fighting on the front during the war was just forgotten and dismissed after the war. It was so good that when I originally read it I got up from my comfy sofa and started to pace around the room while reading with a massive grin on my face and fist in the air. Yes!
If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it before it goes out of print.
I could have made this list extremely long because there are so many powerful female characters out there, and I haven’t met them all. Who inspires you? Which female character did you grow up with? Did they change who you are today? Have you ever had that “Yes!” or “Aha!” moment yourself?
Until next time. I’ll speak to you in the comments.