Women’s History Month: My Literary Take

March is a pretty cool month. Not just in temperature, or in holidays like Saint Paddy’s. Or awesome numerical coincidences, like “March fourth/forth,” or Pi Day. Or my personal favorite, the Ides of March.

It’s also Women’s History Month.

Many of my friends have been posting about various real, historical women throughout the month. I had planned to do the same, when I realized that I wanted to write about the role models who have influenced me throughout history. Around the time that I realized that, I also realized…

Many of my role models, female or otherwise, just so happen to be fictional.

So I thought about posting about those every day. And I made a list of the characters who have been my influences and ideals throughout childhood, and up until today.

I ended up with too many to write about.

I don’t know if it’s a testament to the number of books that I’ve read, or if those books just happen to contain some downright awesome female characters. But I know there are many of them, some of whom I would like to take some time to think about this month.

I’m not capable of naming them all. But I am capable of categorizing them.

I came up with two fairly fluid, somewhat overpopulated categories.

The dreamers:

This is the group of role models who include but are not limited to creative, writers, intellectuals. I have followed the paths of so many on this direction that I can’t even count them, but they include Miss Rumpheus, Anne Shirley, Jo March, Sara Crewe, and Petra Andalee. I could also talk about Turtle Wexler, Gooney Bird Greene, or Filomela (also known as FXC). Auri is in this category, as is Clarisse McClellan, and Hollis Woods. I could continue listing characters, but I don’t think I need to. Each of these women has influenced something in me at some point in my life. Maybe they aren’t revolutionaries; they aren’t going to be leaders in a war. But they are strong, and independent, and they don’t just have brains, they have the ability to use them.

The other category is the fighters, the ones with the skills to command an army, and the power to manage more than they ever dreamed. The dreamers have the intellectualism to think of whatever it takes, but the fighters are willing to do whatever it takes. This does not make one group stronger or weaker than the other, it just is.

I did end up creating another category for the ones who are revolutionaries, who could ride into battle. Then, I subdivided that into two more categories.

Up-Front: These are the female heroines everyone can envision, the ones wearing armor and running into battle, swords afire. These are the Arya Drottningüs and the Nasuadas of the world, the Candy Quackenbushes, the Rose Hathaways. These are the Tsukikos, and the Celia Bowens, and the Hermione Grangers. Virginia Au Augustus is in this category as well, and Kirsten Raymonde is as well. That said, there is a smaller subcategory here within the subcategory. The ones who do not enter the battle with weapons and muscle, but who talk their way in and out of situations, and in some cases even throw a bit of magic into the bargain. They do not need to be Ce’Nedra or Princess Blue, who each led an army to victory and claimed a royal title that should have been hers to begin with. They do not need to be Maddie, or Julie, piloting planes and spying behind enemy lines. There are many, many different kinds of strength in the world, and I think that the most immediate examples of this are Phedré no Delaunay, and Melisande Shahrizai. Meggie and Resa Folchart, and Violante of Ombra also fall into this category, as do many others, like Blue Sargent. These are the women who might not walk into battle, but who will withstand the violence and horror of their time. The women who can manipulate the people at war until their side is victorious. Their strength resembles that of the dreamers, but this is it applied to war.

And then there is the other category of the “fighters.” The ones who do fight, not in war, but in their hearts. Despite some overlap with the “dreamers,” I felt the need to give them their own category. These are the women who fight for the right to be themselves, the right to live their lives as they wish. Their struggle is perhaps more relatable to a teenager in today’s world, and many of these figures do come from more contemporary stories. This is Sophia the Philosopher, this is Eleanor Douglas. Cath Avery and Liesel Meminger. Piper McCloud and Ruby Lu. Dinah, of Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent, and Bradbury’s Constance Rattigan. Gregory Maguires’s Ruth and Iris and Clara and Elphaba, and Roald Dahl’s Matilda Wormwood. These characters are sparks, candles, who blaze no matter how dark their surroundings. Their revolutions and challenges turn inwards, and they emerge victorious.

This is a gross oversimplification, and the names I have listed here barely begin to scratch the surface of tthe longer list that sits hidden in tomes on my own shelves.

My point is, there are many, many different sorts of strength. And every one of them is as valid as any other.

Are you a dreamer? A fighter? At the front of the line, or orchestrating from the back?

The number of strong women in literature and in the real world today is still growing. I believe that we, as people in that world, have a responsibility to draw inspiration, and to give inspiration. We have a responsibility to join those numbers, and to help others to join those numbers. It is not a question of strength. It is a question of will and of want. And we have a responsibility to answer that question, if nothing else.


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