I have been discussing the issue of the objectification of heroines in popular culture with a friend on my Facebook wall, in reply to an image I posted that states, “You don’t need bigger boobs; you just need to read better books”. It occurred to me over the course of the conversation that that my favorite literary heroines either don’t even have boobs, or else their ownership of breasts is simply implied by their age, and never mentioned at all.
So, in the spirit of supporting the idea that girls need to read better books in order to understand the meaning of the terms “self-esteem” and “self-worth”, I give you my top five literary heroines of all time, with a few runners-up for good measure. If you have any to add, please do so in the comments, so we can support strong, independent heroines everywhere!
#1: Alice (Liddell)
Book(s): Alice in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
Age: Around 12
Heroic Traits: Curiosity, Courage, Intellect
Greatest Heroic Deed: Taught all of Wonderland what it means to think for themselves.
Summary: Though Alice (modeled after the real 12-year-old Alice Liddell), does not technically defeat the Queen of Hearts at the end of Alice in Wonderland, she does show the people of Wonderland that their silly, card-house-builder of a queen can be defeated. Alice leads by being a beacon of hope, logic, and sanity in a world that has lost all of those things. Like a true hero, she reminds the people of their own power, and then leaves the uprising for those whom it effects the most.
#2: Dorothy Gale
Book(s): The Wizard of Oz, and many subsequent titles by L. Frank Baum
Age: Somewhere between 5 and 7 (unspecified; guesses have been made by the original illustrations)
Heroic Traits: Curiosity, Kindness, Compassion, Selflessness
Greatest Heroic Deed: Helped her friends make their dreams come true.
Summary: In Oz, everything is happy (mostly), and peaceful (except when the witches are around, of course). Other than defeating the witches (which, to be fair, her house took out the first one and she didn’t mean to take out the second), Dorothy doesn’t have a whole lot she needs to do in Oz, besides have wonderful adventures. Baum did this on purpose, having been quoted as saying he wanted to give children something that wasn’t scary, something to just be happy about (I can provide sources on this if need-be). That said, Dorothy did do something that I certainly call heroic, especially in this day and age: she led her friends in finding and securing their greatest dreams: the Cowardly Lion’s courage, the Tin Man’s heart, and the Scarecrow’s brain. She could have just left them there to rust and cower and be picked apart by crows, but she didn’t. Instead, she picked them up, dusted them off, took them with her on her quest, and told them they could do anything they wanted to. She believed in her friends and supported them. And sometimes, that’s all a heroine needs to do.
#3: Lucy Pevnsie
Book(s): The lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, and subsequent titles by C.S. Lewis
Age: Around 8, at the beginning of the series
Heroic Traits: Valor, Courage, Trust, Compassion, Loyalty
Greatest Heroic Deed: Healing the wounded over the course of many battles
Summary: C.S. Lewis believed that girls should not do battle (a belief that I do not share with that esteemed author), and so Lucy and her sister Susan never did fight the bad guys. However, Lucy was always the first to rush in to help and heal those who had been hurt fighting the good fight, using the healing elixir given to her by Santa Claus, who saw her compassionate spirit. Also, unlike Susan, she never flinched from anything she was called to do, and kept her faith in Aslan and in goodness right up to the very end. Lucy was my first favorite heroine, and while her story is a bit more stringently pious than I like, still her character has many wonderful traits for girls to emulate.
#4: Matilda Wormwood
Book(s): Matilda, by Roald Dahl
Heroic Traits: Justice, Power, Wisdom, Compassion
Greatest Heroic Deed: Defeating bullies, both in and out of her home.
Summary: Matilda has always been one of my favorites. She is at once meek and mighty. She doesn’t talk back, she isn’t rude, and she respects her elders. That said, she only respects those elders who deserve it. The ultimate kickbutt heroine against parental and authority figure abuse, tiny little Matilda uses the powers she finds within herself to teach some hilarious lessons to the horrendous head mistress at her school and her abusive parents, while at the same time underlying SUCH an important fact: abuse is NOT okay. Period, To say Matilda is a heroine is almost an understatement; she is, in fact, a superhero.
#5: Meg Murry
Book(s): A Wrinkle in Time and subsequent titles by Madeline L’Engle
Age: 14 at the start of the series
Heroic Traits: Compassion, Drive, Courage, Tenacity, Uniqueness
Greatest Heroic Deed: Saving her brother and her father from annihilation just by being her unique self.
Summary: Meg is the only teenager on my list, but she has earned the spot! Dorky, clumsy, and the only one in her family without PhD-level grades, she is the ultimate anti-heroine at first. She is also highly relatable for that same reason. Like any teenage girl, she hates herself at first, but once she learns to embrace her uniqueness and love herself for who she is, then and only then, does she become a true heroine. And in the end, her previously hated differences are what saves her family — the whole world, even — from darkness. In my opinion, if anyone was to be called the ultimate role model to teenage girls everywhere, it would be Meg Murry.
In no particular order, I also would like to give a shout-out to the following kickbutt literary heroines:
Katniss Everdeen from the “Hunger Games” trilogy by Suzanne Collins.
Violet Baudelaire from the “Series of Unfortunate Events” series by Lemony Snickett
Coraline Jones from Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Mary Lennox from The Secret Garden by Francis Hogson Burnett
Anne Shirley from the “Anne of Green Gables” series by Lucy Maude Montgomery
Harriet M. Welsch from Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
Karana from Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
Miyax / Julie from Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
There are tons more; add your own!
Yes, our girls might be inundated by society to be sexy and stupid and weak and selfish, but there ARE good role-models out there. They just need to read better books! 🙂