This is a continuation from a post I wrote last year about Gender Stereotypes: “Like a Girl”. If you haven’t already read it, or if you need a refresher, you can click the link to read it.
Coincidentally, just as I have been thinking about this topic and how we should teach our boys about “the strength of a girl”, the following study appeared in my science news feed:
How Preschoolers Associate Power with Gender
As early as 4 years old, children associate power and masculinity, even in countries considered to be more egalitarian like Norway. This is what scientists at the Institut des Sciences Cognitives Marc Jeannerod (CNRS/Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1) report, in collaboration with the Universities of Oslo (Norway), Lausanne and Neuchâtel (Switzerland), in a study published on 7 January 2020 in Sex Roles. They also show that in some situations the power-masculinity association does not manifest in girls.Science Daily
This is in keeping with what we discovered from Nurture Shock on the inherent racial biases that children form even without external influence. I guess it reaffirms that if you say nothing and leave it to the kids, they won’t necessarily come to the conclusion that you want them to. So talk it out – raise those sensitive topics and examine your child’s line of thinking. Understand the biases they are already forming and provide them with food for thought.
In addition to talking, what else can we do? During a conversation with G2’s teacher, he suggested reading books with strong female protagonists. This gives our boys more opportunities to see how girls can also be strong and someone they can look up to.
Strong Female Protagonists
Looking at almost 6,000 children’s books published between 1900 and 2000, the study, led by Janice McCabe, a professor of sociology at Florida State University, found that males are central characters in 57% of children’s books published each year, with just 31% having female central characters. Male animals are central characters in 23% of books per year, the study found, while female animals star in only 7.5%.The Guardian
One of the difficulties in exposing boys to more books with strong female protagonists is that the literature is against us. Most of the books written feature more main male characters than female characters. As I tried to think about the books with strong female characters, I realised that they either shared their story with the main boy character or they were a lesser character.
- The Land of Stories – is a series about a brother and sister. The book is written from the point of view of both brother and sister.
- Beyonders – another series with a male and female lead characters who share the telling of the story.
- Harry Potter – features a strong female lead character, although the story is never told from her point of view.
- Percy Jackson’s Greek Heroes – technically told from Percy’s perspective, but it includes several stories featuring strong female protagonists. In fact, a number of other books by Rick Riordan offers point-of-views from strong female protagonists.
- Wings of Fire – a series about dragons, of which some of the books are told from the point of view of strong female dragons.
- The Wizards of Once – the latest series by Cressida Cowell tells the story from the point of view of Xar and Wish (a boy wizard and a warrior girl). Unfortunately, the series is still incomplete so we’ve had to hang on for each book to be released.
- Fablehaven Series – another brother and sister adventure.
- Septimus Heap Series – although the main protagonist, Septimus Heap, is a boy, the story also shares the point-of-view with his sister, Jenna. Jenna is a strong female character who has gotten herself out of a few scrapes on her own. She’s definitely no damsel in distress; she takes matters into her own hands.
I don’t know if the following books qualify as stories with strong female protagonists, but they are stories where part of the story was told from the point-of-view of main female characters:
- Origami Yoda Files – a middle school series that is also partly told from the point-of-view of some of the main female characters.
If you’re looking for books with strong female protagonists, here are some that we have read and enjoyed:
- The Edge of Extinction – an adventure story, set among dinosaurs, told from the point of view of our heroine, Sky Mundy.
- The Hunger Games – only G1 has read this but he really enjoyed it.
- Red Queen Series – a story about a common girl with red blood rising to the status of the elites with silver blood who have superpowers.
- The Looking Glass Wars – a different re-telling of the Alice and Wonderland story.
- The Sisters Grimm – an adventure series about two orphaned sisters who are descendants of the famous Brothers Grimm.
- Matilda – a story about an exceptional young girl who has to stand up to the school’s kid-hating headmistress.
The following are books that I can recall reading as a child that featured strong female protagonists:
That’s about all I can think of currently. I will add to the list if any more should come to mind. Feel free to add the ones you can think of in the comments section.
Strong Female Protagonists in the Real World
While we’re discussing strong female protagonists… I couldn’t resist adding this one. Here’s a real-world example of a strong female protagonist: the Mum.