Here’s the thing.
I love nail polish. Make up. perfume. I am like… obsessed with beauty secrets, and skin care tips. I buy like… way too much make up and clothes. But the other day I was reading through some students work and I was like…
See I’m no feminist adamantly against deemed ‘girly girl’ things but I was genuinely startled by the stereotyping of the female leads within the stories that had been written.
You learn a lot when reading kids’ work, and this is because they sort of just write what they think. They aren’t pretentious, they don’t have secret agendas they just write what they think.
It was for this reason I was hugely shocked at the female characters in particular a ground of girls had created as it displayed an undertow of unhealthy behavior traits.
I had girls who were petrified of breaking nails, absolutely had to do their make up perfectly – and when they realized it wasn’t perfect they ran screaming into a toilet – they fainted, they were afraid of stuff and fought with their finger nails scratching at the enemy… the list goes on and on. And this wasn’t just ONE character. This was every single one of them.
As I read I grew more and more astounded. How could girls really think that these were how female characters ought to behave?
In one story a previously weird and awkward girl was super annoying through the entire book… until she got hit on the head and remembered that she was actually super attractive and awesome and then she married the Prince. In a way being suddenly attractive made her romance with a prince justified?
In saying this a year or so ago I had the same sort of realization when I read some more work by some slightly older students.
Their female leads were angry.
Violent. would slam doors, punch people, yell, swear, hate their parents – not to mention EVERYONE else – They were stoic, unemotional, and (to be entirely honest) hideous characters.
There was nothing about them that inspired me, connected with me, or invited me into the story.
In essence they were extreme versions of Katniss from the Hunger Games.
Here’s the thing. We need to inspire young people – and in particular girls – to craft female leads who are worth writing about.
Not super girly girls who prance about the storyline nattering about make up.
Not shouting, macho, archer-Katniss-Copy-Cats who have to earn their respect in the story by trying to act masculine.
The problem is that at the end of the day writers have this tendency to stereotype their female characters into one of the five female leads in High School Musical.
You have Gabriella: the beautiful, smart, talented all rounder who forms the generic centre piece of the story. Smart but also perfect. Usually gets the guy in the end and because she’s so perfect but also smart we feel as though she deserves him. You’ll find several of these characters, they are littered through Disney Movies and a half a dozen bargain bin novels.
You have Kelsie: The shy, alternative arty girl. She hides behind brilliance and stumbles about the place learning to embrace who she is. OH and she’ll get some shy awkward boy (Ryan) at the end who will open her heart and encourage her to be more confident.
Or perhaps Taylor?: The power hungry, I-Am-Just-As-Good-As-A-Boy smart girl who is all talk, all business and an over achiever. She will of course be tamed by some generic boy character who will bring the girly out of her.
Maybe you have a Sharpay!?: Nasty, up her self snobby girl who is super high maintenance and obviously has to learn her lesson through the story. Of course she eventually will once she realizes that while she wants to… she can’t have everything.
Lastly perhaps you have a Martha: Nice girl who is talented and an all rounder (sort of like Gabriella) but has one thing about her that makes her ‘not perfect’ in the case of Martha this is that she is slightly curvier than most of the other girls in the cast.
I am not trying to make huge social statements or anything. What I am saying is that perhaps we have to take a look at the ‘heroes’ or should I say, ‘heroines’ our girls are admiring? Encourage young writers to script goo strong female leads rather than fitting into one of these five High School Musical personalities.