Have you ever imagined your favorite literary heroine and suddenly felt a surge in your blood as if their hands are on your shoulders, their power and strength and compassion pooling through every part of your body, lighting you up from within?
Perhaps you're on the cusp of something great like a new adventure or passionate love. Maybe you're preparing for something you've dreaded like finals or a new job. It's in these moments that we dig deep and think of women we've idolized in literature, both fiction and non.
We may seek the sharp wit and sharper tongue of Elizabeth Bennett when we must say what we feel. We look for Anne Shirley when the world is new and exciting and we want to feel the very vibrations of life under our skin. We find Hermione Grainger when our courage requires us to stand for what is right and good, never losing our love of intelligence and empathy. Jo March has taught us to be true to our loves and our passions. Luna Lovegood to embrace our uniqueness. Jane Eyre to encourage us to keep moving forward. The list is forever growing and changing as each new decade and generation adds their own heroines to the world.
Currently, my greatest idol is Lila Bard from The Shades of Magic Trilogy by V.E. Schwab. There's something about her kickassery and no-nonsense attitude that has given me a much needed boost to my confidence. Here is a girl, a young woman, who comes from little in a place where magic is just a fairy tale and she's suddenly thrust into world where anything is possible and she must find her sureness of foot to keep her and her friends alive. She doesn't let anyone or anything change who she is. She doesn't care what others think of her clothing, her attitude, or her personality. But that doesn't mean she is without heart. She is loyal and kind, bullheaded and full of fire. She is a perfect example of a problematic fave. I love her and yet I find myself yelling at her. I wish to be both her and her friend.
What I find most fascinating is how magical the power of books is to allow us to look inwardly at ourselves while experiencing something so beyond our own lives. Will I ever live in a world where a stone can grant me the ability to fly? I'm gonna say probably not. But can I live in a world where there is magic? I do. Every day. Books have this amazing ability to turn their words towards us and make us look at ourselves. They act as mirrors, literary heroines our reflections—what we were, what we are, and what we can be.
I may idolize characters for their strengths, but I can also use that admiration to recognize strengths of my own.
Sometimes what it takes for us to see the best in ourselves is to see those characteristics in others. We might undersell our courage or kindness or intelligence, but when we suddenly find ourselves connecting with literary charterers and whispering, “She sounds like me,” we can realize that what we admire in someone else (fictional or otherwise) is exactly what we are.
There is no greater time that right now, twenty-eighteen, to emphasize the contributions and necessities of having empowering female role models. That doesn’t mean that they have to be overbearing and unfeeling. No, in fact, I rather think that now is the time to show the shades of womanhood from soft and passionate to fierce and loyal. There is no “right” combination that makes a woman who she is and I think it’s incredibly obvious in the works being produced now that writers, female writers especially, aren’t sitting this one out. The cliches are being tossed aside—no more soft spoken and delicate only or tough and masculine only—we are being shown the complex and messy pieces that make up woman in an infinite combination.