Chatty Cathys

Talk Amongst Yourselves: Realistic or Idealistic

Whew! I am on a roll with discussion posts! Okay, 2 in one month doesn’t actually count, but still…

I’m currently in the middle of reading Fire by Kristen Cashore and, like Graceling, it’s starting to make me think about female protagonists in today’s young adult literature. However, unlike Graceling, I’m not thinking about the subject of sex in young adult literature, which is good because that was a whole other discussion topic.

A while back I read something on YA Indie called Why your Female Protagonist Doesn’t Have to Kick-Butt to be Liked and it got me thinking about the truth in this. But then I thought “But I PREFER kick-butt female protagonists!” Because to be quite honest, I really do.

When it comes to my favorite female characters, I often find myself listing women (and girls) of who I think embody what we need to teach younger generations to be: smart, savvy, independent, witty, honest, understanding. Women that, despite flaws, are the heroes in their own lives, who know how to live WITH men, not FOR them, knowing that they don’t need to be rescued in order to be happy. For me, this is the woman that I have striven to be and, for the most part, am.

But then I look at 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 year old me. I look at who I was, before I found my inner girl power. I was awkward and weird, shy, stumbling, floundering. I yearned for a boy to pay half a second’s worth of attention to me and when he did, my heart leaped and I thought all would be right in my world. Okay, that was seriously lame, but it’s true; I was, in short, kind of a loser protagonist in my own world.

I know I’m not alone when I admit that I wasn’t always the fabulous woman I am today, so I wonder: why are we so quick to negatively judge characters who AREN’T kick-butt?

The post mentioned above brings up Bella Swan, who has often become the stereotypical “lame” main character. She complains, she whines, she’s annoying – have you ever spent time with a teenager? They’re all these things and more. (No offense to any teens reading this…) Although the plot is generally unrealistic, I think so many teenage girls ARE like Bella Swan. They’re shy and awkward, but then meet a guy and maybe he becomes their whole life. Do I think something is wrong with this? Of course I do – girls shouldn’t make boys the center of their lives and it be okay – but sadly, it does happen.

Sometimes I think it’s easy to say we hate characters because they don’t fit our idealistic notions of what a main character should be. One example for me is Hannah from Thirteen Reasons Why. I honestly didn’t like her – no, I think I kind of hated her for how weak she was, how she put the blame on everyone but herself, how she wasn’t strong enough to survive. My ideal character would have noticed these problems, sought help, looked at herself, survived. But Hannah is a real character. She’s realistic in that people go through these problems every day and some are like her, not strong enough to hold on.

As an adult reader I think I’m past the age where I need a hero-figure from my books, an example of who I want to be more like, so I’m a little iffy on what I’m about to say. Should younger readers be pushed, encouraged, to read books with idealistic female protagonists – those who are strong, brave, developed, etc. in the face of problems or situations- or should they be encouraged to read books that have more realistic female protagonists – those who are whiney, mean, weak, etc. when faced with problems or situations?

Please note that I’m not really talking about books where the entire premise is for the girl to “catch” a boy or date a boy. That’s a whole other discussion…

I’m interested to know some books that you would recommend to younger readers that you feel would encourage them to become more developed women. Are there any books that contain both a realistic AND idealistic female protagonists that you would suggest? Are there any books you would avoid suggesting?

8 thoughts on “Talk Amongst Yourselves: Realistic or Idealistic”

  1. Should younger readers be pushed, encouraged, to read books with idealistic female protagonists – those who are strong, brave, developed, etc. in the face of problems or situations- or should they be encouraged to read books that have more realistic female protagonists – those who are whiney, mean, weak, etc. when faced with problems or situations?

    I don’t think you can split these types of female characters into idealistic and realistic. Not all young women are whiney, mean, and weak. And I think this is kind of the problem with society’s view on women. We’re EXPECTED to be that way, so many girls are. We’re taught that if we are kind of clumsy and dumb then guys will like us because they want to protect us. We are raising our girls to be the “realistic” female character.

    I do think, however, you make a good point that we grow as we age. I am definitely more confident now than I was as a teenager, though I’m still shy and awkward ^_~

    I think it’s pretty obvious where I stand on this. Girls should be encouraged to read about strong women. One of the reasons I loved Fire so much is because it showed a realistic woman. Fire is brave but she also can be scared. She’s strong but she also has her moments of weakness. Nobody is perfect. I don’t want to read about ideal woman: I want to read about real woman. And real woman don’t have to be whiney or weak.


    1. EXCELLENT response! I haven’t gotten too into Fire so I didn’t point out anything about her as an example, although I’m totally loving her! I agree that not all women are whiney, mean, weak, etc. I think these were just the first adjectives that came to mind. I think I’m more referring to – and why I didn’t put this in there I don’t know – the girls who cry and are unsure what to do and can’t handle things, the ones who may hide from problems without facing them head on. I personally don’t like reading about these kinds of women/girls because I want to yell “snap out of it!” Again, great response; I always like seeing your opinions, even if they differ from mine 🙂


  2. I love kickass female heroes. I love that they say femininity is something more than finding a boy or buying shoes or something. I love that they are the sorts of character boys and girls can relate to and aspire to emulate.

    That said, I also understand why people relate to the Bella Swans of the world. I, too, was an nerdy teenager who was so boy crazy that my adult self wants to set my teenage diaries on fire because they only contain statements of my undying love for guys I barely remember. It is nice to know that there are characters out there like you, that get what you’re going through, etc. And I’m guessing most teens will never be tested by Hunger Games like scenarios.

    I think there is room for both types of characters– sometimes we want someone relatable, sometimes we want something to aspire to. And far be it from me to tell anyone what they should read or what type of woman they should be.


  3. I keep thinking of something I read a while back. Maybe from those New York Times YA editorials? Adults read YA books because adult lives are boring. That’s partly why teens read YA books. We want to read about awesome people! Why would I want to read about some girl who’s insecure and horribly shy? I (like many other teens) lived that life. Sure I might be able to relate to that character but that’s not fun. I’d much rather live thorugh another character’s experiences.


  4. I’m guilty of finding more “realistic” characters (male or female) annoying. Whiny people are irritating! But whiny people who turn into confidant, non-whiny people through the course of the story? Are awesome! I actually like that kind of character best, really.

    For example! Haint Misbehavin’ by Maureen Hardegree stars a teen girl who goes through a lot of problems that teen girls go through– unrequited crushes, mean siblings, ghosts that won’t stop bugging them. (Okay, maybe that last one isn’t a usual thing among teenage girls…) And she’s definitely NOT a kick-ass kind of person. However! By the end of the book she gets a little bit more confidant about herself and she manages to solve her problems reasonably well! Yay!


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