Four Badass Feminist Literary Heroes From My Childhood

4BadassLitHeroesChildhood

These four (actually, six characters from four authors) literary loves of mine played vital parts in my young feminist awakening. Plus, they are steeped in nostalgia. I haven’t read these books in years, but they’re all seared in my mind.

Note: these are four white women authors. While I adore all of them, it would be remiss of me as an intersectional blogger not to comment on this fact. I have four things to say about this.

1) This is a systemic failure. Why was it so difficult for me as a little girl of color to find books written by authors of color?

2) It just goes to show that kids of color have always related to white characters. Why isn’t it possible the other way around? (IT IS.)

3) One of these books has characters of color, written by a white author. And while I adored it as a kid, I wonder what it’d be like to re-read it again as an adult, through a more conscious lens? Non-marginalized writers CAN write beautifully about marginalized people. But we can’t ignore the power differentials.

4) Again, people can be critical AND celebratory. This is a post about books that made a difference in my life. Books I loved to my core. I’m not popping my own bubble by commenting on the lack of diversity—I’m complicating and elevating the dialogue.

So, introducing… Julie’s childhood feminist faves!


Jo March from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women

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Jo March was restless, fiery-tempered, and idealistic. She was too blunt. Too careless about some things—and about other things, cared so much that her heart nearly burned with the sense of it. She was selfish in the way that dreamers are. She loved literature. She dreamed of being a writer in a world that told her people like her couldn’t be writers. I was Jo March. I still am Jo March.

Alanna from Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness series

Alanna

Alanna, red-haired and sword-wielding, was probably a feminist awakening for many young lovers of fantasy literature. I followed her through her quartet and beyond, rooting for her as she fought for her knighthood and eventually became a legendary hero. I flipped the pages eagerly for Alanna’s cameos in Pierce’s other books.

Shaharazad and Marjan from Susan Fletcher’s Shadow Spinner

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Drawn by the gorgeous cover, I picked this book from the shelf of my library when I was ten, and thus ignited a lifetime of obsession with Scheherazade and the 1001 Nights. This middle grade novel is told from the perspective of Marjan, a disabled serving girl who is drawn into the lives of these legendary figures. As an adult, I breathe stacks and stacks of Scheherazade-based feminist literature, especially written by Muslim scholars. As a kid, I remember relating deeply to Marjan—a fierce but quiet girl who yearned to be a storyteller.

Addie and Meryl from Gail Carson Levine’s The Two Princesses of Bamarre

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Before Anna and Elsa, there was Meryl and Addie. These two were the bastions of how badass and feminist sisterly love could be. I always yearned to be a Princess Meryl type—a sword-wielding action hero. But it was Addie who truly taught me what courage meant. Cos being quiet and full of fears does not preclude you from being a BAMF.


 

Have you ever read any of these books? I’d love to know who are YOUR favorite literary feminists, both now and way back when!

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23 thoughts on “Four Badass Feminist Literary Heroes From My Childhood

  1. Recently I’d say Onyesonwu from Who Fears Death by Okorafor. Book explores both gender and racial/ethnic identity. And sadly I’m blanking on any favorite literary feminist characters from my childhood.

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  2. Claudia Kishi from The Babysitters Club, Nancy Drew, Lyra Belacqua from The Golden Compass, Mary Lennox from The Secret Garden, Jane Eyre, Jo March as well, Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables, and Tuppence from Agatha Christie mystery novels.

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  3. Great list! I only know Jo March, because I read the book a few years ago. It’s really interesting to see how faves from childhood are different in cultures and regions. In Germany everyone was reading Enid Blyton and Astrid Lindgren and so my favorite kick-ass heroine growing up was Ronia Robber’s Daughter (thankfully this one doesn’t have the racist colonial imagery of Pippi Longstocking), who just went into the woods, had to help a boy get stuff done and moved out in summers to live independently!

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  4. I love that little tidbit you added about how they’re all white characters – and I completely agree! I’m hoping for a future in literature where children find role models and kickass heroines that are POC and other diverse characteristics. I find that it’s easier to relate to when it’s their own culture as well, which is really nice.

    I really need to read the Song of the Lioness series! For real, I hear the greatest things but I haven’t really picked it up. Good thing it’s always sitting there in my library! (lol)

    I also adore all of Levine’s characters. I pretty much gobbled her books up in my youth.

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    1. Definitely. All children deserve to see themselves represented in literature, as well as explore perspectives outside of their own! We need mirrors AND windows.

      (And I think the Song of the Lioness would still hold up as an adult reader! It’s never too late to read MG/YA in my opinion!)

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  5. I didn’t read many feminists works when I was a child or teenager. I probably didn’t even know what feminism was! I was caught up in a world of insecurity, uncertainty, and self-loathing. :/ But thankfully I grew out of that funk and am now a functioning adult and feminist. 😀

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    1. We all have our own journeys! Even though I identified as a feminist from a very young age, I still engaged in a lot of problematic media/literature/behaviors. It was always a learning process. It still is! Feminism should be evolving and fluid and open. 🙂

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    1. That’s awesome! I adored it so much too. Sexism in literature has us thinking that only “strong” and “bold” female characters can be feminist, but The Two Princesses of Bamarre complicated that for sure. Girls are human beings with human complexities. Shy, quiet girls can also be heroes!

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  6. Scarlett from Gone With The Wind. As an adult, I get the issues with her and racism. As a kid, she was the first female character that had so much determination and didn’t have time for other people’s opinions.

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    1. Yeah, Scarlett is a great example of how multitudes can exist within one person or character or book. We can adore/admire something while acknowledging and criticizing the problematic aspects at the same time!

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