Monday, January 27, 2014

Best And Worst Literary Role Models For Girls

A few days ago, I posted on Alan Bradley's Flavia DeLuce series and how Flavia is a superb role model for girls.  But that post got me thinking about other books, including some I loved as a child which really send girls awful messages.  Thus, I decided to put together lists of good and bad role models for girls in fiction.
However, this is a work in progress.  I'd love to hear your suggestions and thoughts in the comments section.

Here are my lists so far:

  1. Flavia DeLuce from The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie series by Alan Bradley.  Intelligence, self-motivation, determination, bravery, willingness to go alone, carefulness not to trust too many people
  2. Jane from Devilish by Maureen Johnson. Loyalty, bravery, saving your friend is more important than winning the guy.
  3. Annabelle in Freaky Friday by Mary Rogers.  Your relationship with your mom is important. Intelligence, humor, spunk.  And when you’re mature enough, you’ll see that doing well in school is very important; it’s only immature girls who think it’s not.
  4. Sophronia in the Etiquette and Espionage series by Gail Carriger.  Intelligence, spunk, resourcefulness, courage, doing your job is more important than getting the guy.
  5. Deryn in the Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld.  Courage, self-dependence, intelligence, not just waiting around being sweet, believing in who you are.
  6. Elisa in the Girl of Fire and Thorns series by Rae Carson.  Courage, intelligence, not every man is worthy of you, independence, don’t leave making babies to chance, leadership.  Unfortunately, there is also the very strong message of “lose weight to get a man.”
  7. DJ in Dairy Queen by Catherine Murdock.  It’s okay if you’re not feminine and pretty.  Being true to yourself is more important.
  8. Puck in the Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvator.  Independence, courage, family, feminism.  Life isn’t just about getting the hot guy.
  9. Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.  Don’t take just anybody.  Oh, and wait until you both grow up first.
  10. Kivrin in The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. Intelligence, courage, self-motivation.  Yes, she gets “saved” by a man at the end, but 1) he’s a father-figure, not a boyfriend, and 2) it’s clear she’d survive in the past just fine if she had to stay there on her own.
  11. Laura Ingalls Wilder, writing about herself.  Yes, she marries at 18.  But she doesn’t spend the whole of her young years focusing just on Almanzo.  She’s intelligent, brave, and independent - teaching school at 16.
  12. Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare.  Intelligent, funny, independent, loyal.  She won’t tolerate a man who doesn’t treat her decently.
  13. Viola in 12th Night by William Shakespeare.  Solve your own problems; don’t wait for men to solve them for you.
  14. Robin in The Velvet Room by Zilpha Keatley Snyder.  Girls can be active and solve mysteries.  Plus, reading is good.
  15. April and Melanie in The Eqypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder.  Friendship knows no skin color.  Imagination is good.  Read!  Be brave and solve your own problems.
  16. Ramona in the Ramona books by Beverley Cleary.  Little girls don’t have to be sweet and quiet to be likable and good at heart.
  17. Cinder in Cinder by Marissa Meyer.  Smart, clever, loyal.  It’s NOT just about marrying the prince.
  18. UPDATE: 11/2/14  I just read Harriet, The Spy by Louise Fitzhugh for the first time.  Harriet is superb.  Bright, honest, and, best of all, she is NOT portrayed as "learning to be nice" as some kind of moral for little girls.  No, she is allowed to continue to be her snarky little self.  Plus, she gets even with the bullies.  Yes!

  1. Wendy in Peter Pan by JM Barrie.  Mothering is everything.  Expect men to hurt you and cheat on you.  Growing up means leaving freedom behind
  2. Beauty in Beauty and the Beast from Grimm’s Tales.  Girls, if you’re good and sweet, you can tame a beast into a man.  If you fail, it’s because you’re not loving enough.
  3. The March sisters in Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.  Yes, we all know that Jo shows spunk in the first half, but in the second half, she gives up the man she loves, then takes the only man who pays attention to her, bending herself to meet his wishes by giving up her independence and writing career.  Meg is taught to do whatever her husband wants, that she can’t control her own son because he’s a boy, and that her job is to make her husband happy because he knows better about everything -- even when he’s an inconsiderate dolt who brings home unexpected guests for dinner and complains when she’s not perfectly ready for this.
  4. Sara Crewe in A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  Yes, she is kind.  But the message is to be sweet and demure, and then -- eventually -- a man will save you.  Just wait until that happens.
  5. Bella Swan in Twilight, etc. by Stephenie Meyer.  Wimpy, passive, dependent, victim.  The whole series glorifies abusive relationships.  Plus, it’s all about catching the right guy and making babies that almost kill you -- but that’s so “glorious.”  gag.
  6. Fanny in Mansfield Park by Jane Austen.  Passive and feeble.  The whole point is that if a girl is “good” enough and patient, the good man will eventually come to select her.  Lies.
  7. Juliet in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare.  Impetuous, drama queen, kills herself after her inability to think before acting on hormonal urges has caused the deaths of 5 other people.
  8. Hero in Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare.  She forgives and marries Claudio in spite of the fact that he values her for nothing other than her money and her virginity, and after he throws a tantrum and shames her in public.  Clearly, she deserves the misery she’ll get with this guy, but that’s no reason for a modern girl to find this romantic.
  9. Both Catherines and Isabella in Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.  They all fall in love with jerks, two of them the same jerk.  Isabella is stupid and passive.  The two Catherines are spoiled little divas.
  10. Lucy Manette in A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.  Beauty and passivity are all that matters in life.
  11. Cassia in the Matched series by Ally Condie.  Sure, you can have adventures, but remember that the whole point is to marry the “right” guy.
  12. Scarlet in Scarlet by Marissa Meyer.  Glorifies abusive relationships.

What do you think?  Have anything to add?  What have I forgotten?  (I'm thinking about Pippi Longstocking, but I need to reread the books first to be sure.  I ought to consider Katniss, but I disliked Hunger Games so much that I quit reading after about 70 pages of it, so I can't be sure of her messages to girls after that.)


  1. Wow, Lisa this is a great book source! You also gave me a great idea, for a post for Alphabe-Thursday, about one of my favorite childhood books!

  2. I just wanted to let you know, some unknown bloggers may stop by. This post inspired what I posted today, and once you read it you'll understand why. I also included a mention about you with your link here. Here's my link

  3. I remember just after its initial publication, you posted a positive review of Divergent by Veronica Roth. I'm wondering how you feel about Beatrice/Tris now that the story is complete, and the series is about to become ridiculously popular after the movie opens in 7ish weeks?