What Our Favorite Fictional Heroines Can Teach Us About Resistance
So. Here we are, world. Last weekend we witnessed the largest protest in U.S. history, as millions across the nation (and the globe) took to the streets to demand equal rights. But it's going to be a long four years. We can't afford to lose momentum, because the fight against Trump's administration has only just begun. So here are some very real lessons we can learn from our favorite literary heroines, because we're going to need all the inspiration we can get.
There are, of course, many real life heroines out there writing, fighting, and organizing, and we can learn a lot from all of them. We need to listen to the true stories of real, diverse women if we're going to move forward. We need to amplify the voices of marginalized women in every way we can, and we need to read all the political essays we can get our hands on. But we need fiction, too.
We need stories about women who resist, who defeat impossible odds, who slay (or ride) the dragons and save the day. After all, as the paraphrased G.K. Chesterton quote goes, the story is not true because it tells us that dragons exist, but because it tells us that dragons can be defeated.
So here are a few things we can learn from the literary heroines we love:
Hermione is not here to mess around. She reads voraciously and she turns all that knowledge into action. She started S.P.E.W. to fight for worker's rights and Dumbledore's Army to undermine a fascist regime while still in high school. When the wizard government was in shambles, she rolled up her sleeves and became Minister of Magic herself. When Malfoy called her a racial slur, she straight up punched him in the face. Let us all be as well-researched, organized, and utterly ruthless as Hermione Granger in our pursuit of justice.
Katniss didn't set out to be the figurehead for a revolution. She set out to save her little sister's life (SPOILER ALERT: it didn't work). But I think the most important lesson we can learn from Katniss is that there is strength in numbers. The distracts far outnumber the capital, but it wasn't until Katniss that they were able to unite against their oppressive government. And, as Katniss realizes throughout the series, we must try to dismantle oppressive power structures, not just turn them to our own personal advantage (i.e. destroy the hunger games, don't start your own hunger games).
I mean, the real lesson that Mare teaches us is "shoot lightening at the ruling class." But, since some of us lack the electricity powers of Mare from Red Queen, another lesson we can learn from her is to always question authority. Mare is told that, because she is a common "Red," she can't possibly have the otherworldly powers of the noble "Silvers"... but it turns out that she has more power than anyone could have guessed.
The Wicked Witch of the West from L. Frank Baum's original Oz books seems... well, pretty wicked. But Elphaba from Wicked by Gregory Maguire is a much different story. In Wicked, we learn that she's actually a fierce political protester, fighting for the rights of the talking Animals, who the Wizards wants to treat as second class citizens. Elphaba is a complex character, but she makes it clear that those in power define "wickedness" as anyone who defies them or deviates from the norm.
I will forever be annoyed that the American title of the book is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and not a direct translation of the original Swedish title, Men Who Hate Women. Lisbeth Salander has been surrounded by men who hate women her entire life. She's not just a damaged heroine with a sexy tattoo, she's a women who has worked incredibly hard for her own survival. Lisbeth might have more than her fair share of character flaws, but she reminds us all to keep fighting, even when the world seems to hate you.
...is it fair to say that Janie Crawford teaches us that men are irrelevant? Their Eyes Were Watching God is, in many ways, a story of Janie finding love. She has three husbands over the course of the book, but ends up on her own. Janie doesn't despair, though—instead, she reminds us all that self love is just as important as any other kind.
The Handmaid's Tale is becoming disturbingly relevant these days. Offred is the handmaid in question, a woman who is enslaved to a high-ranking man for the sole purpose of providing him offspring. Offred never forgets that she once had a normal life, however, with bodily autonomy and a family of her own. She reminds us to never, ever normalize the loss of civil rights under a new government.
We could really use that lasso of truth right about now. Wonder Woman has been around for 75 years, with dozens of different incarnations. But no matter what, Wonder Woman always reminds us to value truth, justice, Nazi-punching, and equality. And also that creating an island society of only women is probably a good idea.
No list of literary heroines is complete without Celie from The Color Purple. Celie endures years of injustice and abuse by men, but over the course of the novel she begins to value herself. She starts fighting back against prejudice and violence. And it is her relationships with other women that sustain her. Celie is a forceful lesson in the healing power of sisterhood.
10Brienne of Tarth
Yeah, I know that we all love Daenerys... but Brienne has way less of that whole "white savior" colonial thing going on. Brienne is all about serving justice, protecting the innocent, and ignoring gender norms. She's one of the most talented warriors in A Song of Ice and Fire, and she is perhaps the only warrior in the books who values kindness over glory.
Let everyone fear well-read little girls and their unstoppable telekinetic powers. Matilda from Matilda reminds us that the people in charge don't automatically deserve our respect, that young people can enact lasting change, and that there's nothing more dangerous than a girl with a book.