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It’s a Man’s World: Questioning Female Leads in Literature

As a teenager new to the writing community, I was asked if used my initials because I was afraid I wouldn’t be respected as a female author. While I don’t like being referred to as an “authoress,” my common answer is that my 18 year-old mind was just not that sophisticated. I had always split my identity between the person in school and the writer at home. It felt only natural to continue that tradition outside of school.

The next female issue arose at the proclamation that today’s works are filled with male protagonists. I like to think this tradition is shifting. A few television series have female leads…but accompanied by a male. This leads the question, are female characters strong enough to stand alone? I thought it would be interesting to look at some of my favorite female leads to answer this.

The strongest character I could think of was Antigone from Sophocles’ play by the same name. She is locked in prison by a brother because she buried a rival brother. I read a short monologue as a teen in drama and was captivated by her strength. She stood in jail proclaiming the importance of humanity, ready to die for this proclamation.

The next is Josephine “Jo” in Little Women. I must admit that I have never read the book, but have seen the movie. I was captured by Jo probably because she is a writer. But, more importantly, writing was a man’s profession at the time. I remember when she got her first work published under a boyish name. Her love interest chastised her for hiding behind the veil. Jo stood as the pillar of her family. She was strong willed, which got her in trouble at times, but ultimately her ambition drove her success in a society that insisted women stay at home.

In recent works, Katniss Everdeen is another example. What I like most about the Hunger Games series is that she dominates. Sure, an argument can be made for Peeta, but he is not what I call “strong.” Katniss enters a game of death to protect her sister. Before that, she risked her life leaving the district boundaries to search for food. She was the rock of her family and eventually the revolution. More importantly, she didn’t want fame and glory. So respectable.

Finally, I thought of Hester Prynne. The woman lived with a letter “A” on her shoulder because she would not give up the father of her illegitimate baby. She raised a child on her own being chastised the entire book. But never did she cave to the pressures or give up her dignity.

These books are still held today as strong fiction. I believe they are even stronger because of the women in them. Can there be more strong female leads in fiction today? Always. But a woman character will never weaken a story. No more than a male character. After all, women have a different way of thinking and interacting. They provide their own twists and options. What author wouldn’t want to explore that?