Skip to content

Tag: “The Hunger Games”

Fictional Future Girls

 

My first experience with dystopian fiction, with a genre of novels that explore a future that is bleak, corrupt and almost without hope, was in High School when we read Z For Zachariah. I recall finding the main character Ann introspective and indecisive; there was much contemplating on loneliness and praying (as I attended a Catholic girl’s school I wondered at times whether they had chosen this novel as yet another way of attempting to convince us that talking to God would indeed come in handy one day – particularly if we found ourselves in a post nuclear wasteland).

How different the introspective Ann seems in comparison to today’s post-apocalyptic action heroines.

Perhaps as a backlash to our seemingly insatiable thirst for paranormal romance fiction which tended to feature beautiful and often passive damsels in distress in need of a charming Vamp to save them, we are now being bombarded with kick-butt, clad in-black, hair-tied back warrior girls ready to literally fight for freedom. The Hunger Game’s Katniss, Divergent’s “Tris”, Disruption’s Maggie and The Maze Runner Trilogy’s Brenda all out-kick, out-shoot and outsmart not only the boys around them, but society itself. Bam! Girl Power!

Or is it? Writer and Feminist Emily Maguire in her thoughtful “Letter to the Girls I misjudged”, published in Sincerely, an anthology of letters derived from the Women of Letters events, laments the fact that as a young girl she associated all things traditionally girly with weakness and took great pride in being seen as “one of the blokes”; “It was the most wonderful compliment I had ever received and [it was] reinforced every single day when I heard the things people said about girls … the simple, contemptuous way that almost everybody – kids, teachers, even members of my own family – used that word, ‘girl’, as the ultimate insult.”

Clementine Ford extends on this idea it in her post “Betraying Our Girlhood”; “Taking up arms against the demonisation of girlhood isn’t about reclaiming our right to love lipstick or dresses or have the occasional conversation about Ryan Gosling’s bottom – although those things are all perfectly fine. The fierce determination to distance ourselves from anything perceptibly “girlie” only furthers the stereotype that women who like “girlie” things are stupid and one-dimensional – and indeed that girlieness itself is stupid and one-dimensional. Some girls – like me – rejected boys’ toys entirely as children, loved pink and watched movies about high-school girls falling in love, yet they still grew up to be strident feminists. We’re all different.”

The Bechdel test was first introduced by Alison Bechdel’s in a comic strip titled “The Rule.” It is a guide that can be applied to works of fiction such as films and books to assess gender bias. It asks whether at least two women talk to each other about anything other than a man. This new era of female protagonists would pass this with flying (suitably dark and masculine) colours as they are rightly too busy in survival mode to gossip about boys. But it struck me that it would be also a speedy test to administer in many cases as these females tend to only really befriend boys and rarely confide in the few other female characters that appear. Apart from having males as their love interests, these girls also only have males as their “besties”; Katniss has Peeta, Tris has Will, Maggie has Gus, Brenda has Jorge. In perhaps the ultimate rejection of their gender, the female action figures seem to also only be able to relate to the fellers.

So despite the fact that I have devoured all of the books above as they are fabulously addictive reads, it is this seeming rejection of the feminine and of females that has begun to trouble me. I am troubled too that the power the future female fighters we’re presented with possess is very much a traditional male version of power. It’s all kick-boxing, weapons, sensible black pants, and fearlessness. Not that there’s anything wrong with this when one is in survival mode– but nor is there anything necessarily wrong with power that presents itself in other more traditional feminine ways – such as through the capacity to form social connections and form and nurture alliances.

There are many ways to be not only to be a girl, but to be a powerful person. Fiction that depicts this would indeed be truly futuristic and visionary.

PicMonkey Collage.jpg

 

Let’s get reading: The power of fiction to shape girls’ lives

The books we read have an incredible power to shape our thoughts, and our view of the world and our place in it. Fiction delights, enthralls, infuriates, inspires. It transports us to other realities. Sometimes we escape into it for entertainment and relaxation; other times we seek out books that stretch our minds beyond our boundaries. A few simple words on a page can bring us to tears — or provide the deepest kind of solace. Books raise questions that only we can answer for ourselves; they pose dilemmas that nudge us to reconsider our own beliefs and attitudes.

All of this is especially true for children, who are still forming their identities, still getting to know who they are — and most importantly, everything they can become.

That’s why I love the picture book Ruby Who?, which is the brainchild of a talented Queensland woman, Hailey Bartholomew. She came up with a creative way of explaining to her two daughters that “wishing to be like others, or have what other people have, can be a trap and will not make you happy”. She got together with her friend Natala Stuetz and made a short film, which has since been made into a primary-school-age picture book illustrated by Alarna Zinn.

Ruby is a little girl who “wishes for so many things and dreams of being like others”. That is, until she goes on an adventure and rediscovers her own identity, and the joy of just being herself. Hailey says:

Ruby Who? was created as a way to explain to children that having more ‘stuff’ doesn’t make life better; looking like the other kids won’t make you happy; it’s who you are when you’re being yourself that counts.

What makes Ruby Who? such a special book is that not only does it have an awesome message, it’s very cute and colourful, filled with playful rhymes, and kids love it. I asked Francesca Kaoutal, Enlighten’s co-founder, to read it with her 5-year-old daughter Bianca. This is Bianca’s review (which is also very cute!).

I like Ruby. She has lots of colours like me. She is funny with her rolly shoes. You can’t jump in rolly shoes. It’s a good idea that she took them off. She goes on swings and I love swings and jumps and playing outside with the birds in my rainbow and sparkle clothes. I love the picture of the sausage dog because it is so silly. Sausage dogs don’t have hats and balloons! That is so funny. It is a good picture for laughing.
Five-year-old Bianca, daughter of Enlighten's co-founder Francesca Kaoutal, with her drawing inspired by Ruby Who?

There are a host of great books for tween and teen girls, too, and I am looking forward to reading two that were just highly commended by the judges of the Barbara Jefferis Award: Kelly Gardiner’s Act of Faith, and Meg Mundell’s Black Glass. The Barbara Jefferis Award is worth looking out for each year, as it bestows a prize for “the best novel written by an Australian author that depicts women and girls in a positive way or otherwise empowers the status of women and girls in society”. (This year’s winner was Anna Funder’s All That I Am.) Act of Faith will especially be embraced by girls who love history and books. Set in 1640, its heroine, Isabella, flees Oliver Cromwell’s England and discovers a whole new world of possibility in the publishing world of Venice, “where women work alongside men as equal partners, and where books and beliefs are treasured”.

Black Glass is more for the girls in your life who love science fiction or gritty fantasy. A work of speculative fiction, it follows two resourceful sisters, Tally and Grace, as they make their way through a dystopic future urban landscape.

Some people dismiss the books that are the most popular amongst teen girls at the moment, picking apart the literary value of series such as The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins) and Twilight (Stephenie Meyer), not to mention the slew of vampire-themed books that the latter has inspired. But is it really our job to be the arbiters of taste? As I’ve discussed on this blog before (in relation to Twilight and The Hunger Games), I think that no matter what our own taste in books may be, we should try to celebrate the books the teen girls in our lives decide to read. Rather than being judgmental of their reading choices, let’s just get them reading! I find it heartening to see so many young women reading these series passionately — and deconstructing not just the books, but their worlds, as they go. And let’s not forget that girls have wide-ranging tastes.

When I was a teen girl, I became obsessed with the Sweet Dreams series of novels, which were like Mills and Boon for teen girls. My favourite was P.S. I Love You. I thought the author’s play on words (the P.S. also stood for Palm Springs, where the book was set, and for the name of the main character’s love interest, Paul Strobe) was literary genius! And oh, how I howled at the end when Paul died of cancer.

Yet during the same period, I also devoured Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, a speculative fiction that was a chilling social critique of totalitarianism and the backlash against feminism that was gathering force in the 1980s. It was a complex, thought-provoking book that was, and still is, considered a literary masterpiece.

Today your girl might be devouring a bodice-ripping vampire romance. Fight any urge you may have to roll your eyes, because it really is okay — and anyway, tomorrow she might be deep into Jane Eyre. There is a book for every mood: sometimes we read primarily for a momentary escape, other times because we want to engage in the world of ideas. But no matter what, let’s keep reading!

Subscribe By Email

Get every new post delivered right to your inbox.

Please prove that you are not a robot.

Skip to toolbar