Good Books With ‘Bad’ Little Girls

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This Feministing post on Anne of Green Gables at Feministing got me all nostalgic-like for my own girlhood days of reading subtly feminist books. From the post:

While Anne is indeed a feminist, she isn’t born one. When we first meet her, she has a rather traditional view of the world. She has firm ideas about what is appropriately feminine and what isn’t, and she tries her best to adhere to that feminine ideal. As she gets older, those ideas start to change. Her ideal of womanhood is no longer the romantic heroine trapped away in a castle, waiting to be rescued by a handsome knight. She stops worrying about the colour of her hair and starts worrying instead about being top of her class at school. She develops a strong sense of justice – something she has had from a young age – and is committed throughout the series to treating people with compassion and empathy. Anne Shirley is what I like to call a stealth feminist. On the surface, she adheres to all the requirements of turn early twentieth century Canadian womanhood. She’s domestic, as is expected. She’s feminine and elegant, as is expected. She’s polite and courteous, as is expected, except for those occasions on which her temper gets the better of her. But underneath all that, she’s quite a rebellious young woman.

Rebellious girls are dear to my heart, having been one once myself. Anne Shirley was a favorite, and so was Lucy from the Narnia series, Sophie from Roald Dahl’s BFG, and the ever-curious Alice from Alice in Wonderland. More recently, I’ve been besotten with the sharp-tongued Lyra in His Dark Materials and brainy Hermoine from Harry Potter.

While I’m usually able to find fiesty female protagonists in children’s books, it’s harder in children’s movies. Sure, there’s been Mulan and Coraline and a handful of others, but girls make up half of all children. Shouldn’t there be more? Pixar, for example, has been around for nearly 30 years now and will release its first film with a female lead next year. Maybe it’s an American thing. Across the Pacific from Pixar, Hayao Miyazaki has been making female-led films like Kiki’s Delivery Service and Spirited Away for decades, it hasn’t hurt his box office appeal one bit.


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