In real life, sometimes you have to turn to fiction for inspiration. Counterintuitive though it may sound, it is often our solitary time with books—parked on the patio or splayed out on the sofa when we truly find ourselves—who we are, who we aren’t and who we aspire to be. By delving into the fictional minds and stories of inspirational characters, (not cardboard cut-outs or wafer-thin ingenues, but real, recognizable women, warts and all), we learn to be something just a little bit better than ourselves.
Speaking of warts (though she’s far from a typical witch)… my personal heroine has always been Hermione Granger. The girl who inspired my generation to fight for equality, to never dull our own brightness and proved that friendship, bravery and cleverness were more important than Quidditch results. She and her creator will always be one of my greatest role models.
If you don’t know who she is, that may be because her friend Harry Potter has always had top billing. But Hermione taught me that girls who raise their hand are a force to be reckoned with. Harry Potter’s precocious protagonist punched the school bully in the face, fought off murderers, started a not-for-profit organisation to end slavery, founded a secret society to learn self defence AND maintained an A+ Grade average. I mean, come on!
We readers are so influenced by the worlds we find ourselves immersed in. The women we read are the ones who shape us. They leave a mark, showing us what we’re capable of and providing us with better-selves to emulate
This International Women’s Day, I’m taking the opportunity to recognise the powerful women in fiction who mean so much to us (although this respect should rage year round). As we endure a world that is still fighting for equality, there is much to learn from our lionhearted ladies of literature.
Take Lisbeth Salander, Stieg Larson’s antihero of the century - “Don't ever fight with Lisbeth Salander. Her attitude towards the rest of the world is that if someone threatens her with a gun, she'll get a bigger gun.” A woman who brutally showed us that we don’t need to play the victim even when we are victimised. Or a woman straight from the classics; Margaret Atwood’s Penelope – finally given a chance to tell her own story in The Penelopiad. Penelope is no longer defined as Odysseus’ wife - she holds the cards of her own destiny in an archaic world dominated by men squandering her leftovers. I imagine her with a Macbook at a local café listing her Facebook status as “It’s complicated” before deleting the profile entirely and tossing back a double shot vanilla latte.
Of course I cannot write this without mentioning our universally adored Lizzie Bennet who said: "Do not consider me now as an elegant female intending to plague you, but as a rational creature speaking the truth from her heart." – showing why we will always put her at the top of our favorite fictional ladies list. I honestly would pay big money to be able to throw shade the way she does.
In the violent and terrifying world created by George RR Martin in the Song of Ice and Fire series, Arya Stark is one of the ladies defying her abusive narrative. We cling to Arya because there just aren’t enough pre-pubescent girls duelling with men in fantastical sword fights. We were written as damsels for so long (I’m looking at you Snow White) that our empowered female characters are now more important than ever.
Reimagined fairy tales like Ella Enchanted (DO NOT WATCH THE MOVIE, I BEG YOU) by Gail Carson Levine, have helped us to reshape the familiar female tropes so that our previously submissive heroines can save themselves. Characters like Offred, Elphaba, Scout & Ms Marple would have marched alongside us in the women’s march held around the world in January earlier this year. We need these characters to inspire us, join us and show a new generation of readers that women are totally badass.
So raise your butterbeers, this one’s for the ladies.