I believe that we are incredibly lucky as young people to grow up in a society that celebrates rather than condemns strong female leads.
Upon studying my A-level literature guide, I realise that it has not been normal to have strong female leads, much less a female lead in popular books. We have come accustomed to bold strong females, and occasionally roll our eyes at the ever growing pile of books/films/tv shows that have been piling up, often bought because the media has been praising ‘brilliant young, bold, female leads’. I am guilty of this, and I’m sure you are too – see it as a grand blessing and try not to feel bad about it.
There are several reasons for the exclusion of female narratives in the media, however specifically in this case: literature. An article suggests that Women were unable to get formal educations in the UK until the Victorian era (1800s), and by 1860, 40% of women were illiterate. Before then, women were taught at home, and only by 1880 was the Education Act ratified, making school for children (of both genders) between 5-10 in age compulsory, regardless of a parent’s income, through government funding. Therefore, it is no coincidence that there was a surgence of renown female writers (the likes of Austen and the Brontë sisters) providing their fresh, unique perspectives in the literary world. Stories displaying a range of women from a true woman’s perspective, not altered through a man’s lens. Women are typically presented in literature as the seducer, helpless or as an “eternally dissatisfied shrew”, as I quote my AQA A level English Literature B booklet. Gender roles in place in 1800s literature allows women to be constantly portrayed by men as weak, yielding individuals. If women were to be introduced at all, they would be minor, flat characters serving the plot very little in terms of worth.
I find it intriguing to see how this image still prevails in the modern era, however slowly being replaced by strong, courageous women forming an entirely new archetype of character only typically seen before in a man’s portrayal in media.
The impact of strong female women in media is profound, and I feel that it is amazing that we can feel that it is natural instead of abnormal to have women in the spotlight. They plant the seeds for growth in young girls, and inspires them to be the kickass woman they are capable of. It shows them not to be content with the mild, lesser status that they may hold in society. Not only that, but it challenges the old fashioned view of traditional gender roles that still permeates society. The dictionary states that to be feminine “is having qualities traditionally ascribed to women, as sensitivity or gentleness“
I believe that femininity should be an optional adjective rather than a mandatory women’s size 6 shoe to fill on a daily basis.
Another benefit to the mainstream, steadily overflowing positive portrayals of strong, female leads, other than the empowerment of young girls is that young boys and men will believe that reading/watching content with female protagonists is no big deal. Boys will also learn to “empathise with female leads the way girls have long been expected to empathise with male ones” as Caroline Siede puts quite neatly on her article on Quartz.
A few of my favourite female role models for me have been Hermione Granger and Annabeth Chase; both of literary nature. Wonder woman and Black Widow (as well as Felicity Smoak from the CW TV show Arrow) make common entrances on my laptop screen when I settle for a night in. However, Lilly Singh, Emma Watson, JK Rowling and many, many more women that have permeated mainstream media for the correct reasons have continued to inspire me; to form the woman I am today.
Do not underestimate the power a woman can have in impacting a girls life. Whilst there are many more reasons to the beautiful importance of female leads, I am looking, very much forward to the wonderful future ahead where we praise strong women in protagonist roles, and recognise that it is truly a record of how far as a society we have come for gender equality.