Okay I spend too much time on the internet. In the last few days I have seen all these reading lists: “Books for Strong Girls”. I’m serious there are so many reading lists titled around this. Now, I don’t like the word choice or the idea.I do not understand this obsession with controlling what little girls read. I realize that the people who made the lists and read the lists have the best of intentions. But... well, here is my counter argument. I'm not attacking anyone, I'm just explaining why I don't agree with this idea.
I would argue we should have both, examples of strong women and weak woman so they can evaluate the contrast. Anna Karenina was one of the best books I read (parts of, I plan to finish someday) for me to understand the importance of healthy relationships. Well, guess what, this is a book full of dysfunctional relationships. I didn’t read it and think “I want my life to be like that” I read it and thought “I love this character. But she has made horrible choices and is dragging people she loves with her. I will NEVER make choices like that.”
The idea that we have to choose books that are “strong girl” book suggests we don’t believe our girls will be strong unless they are force fed a steady diet of “strong girl food”. In other words I believe a strong girl can read a book where the protagonist makes a horrible, weak choice and see that it is a horrible weak choice. I don’t think she will read a book about a girl who makes a mistake and thinks to herself “I want to be just like this. I am just a stupid little girl and can’t see the difference between a plot point and something I am supposed to model my life after. I don’t know any better because I haven’t been shown enough strong girl examples.”
I think that there are different definitions of strength. I for one seriously don’t like the Bronte’s work. I think Jane Eyre is annoying and Mr. Rochester talks like a pedophile. But, if I ever had a little girl, I would be fine with her reading this book. Why? Because it still has a protagonist who makes her own choices—even if she is (in my opinion) stupid and her choices lead to worse and worse situations.
Furthermore the movement that we need to feed our little girls “strong girl stuff” insinuates that they are weak by nature and must be MADE strong. What this movement is essentially saying is “The feminist revolution never happened. Your little girl is by nature stupid and weak, you have to control her very carefully or she will fall back on this nature.”
We don’t know what books and stories will do for different people. I LOVE the story Ballet Shoes, which is technically a stupid story about three little girls whose dreams come true. But—when I was little and I read this I realized these girls got their dreams because they fought for them. Because they never stopped practicing. I also, as I got older realized the little girl that was most like me became very unpleasant. I realized it wasn’t acceptable to sacrifice your character for success. These were things I needed as child. But the story is simple and would probably be considered stupid by most critics.
I also have a deep love for Arthurian Legends. The traditional line is that these medieval stories are bad for little girls because the lead woman is manipulative and unfaithful. Okay. The more I read this legend the more I understood this woman; the more I appreciated that I was so grateful to be born in a time where I wasn’t the property of my dad and husband. I realized that, in my interpretation, Guinevere wasn’t weak. She was strong. She made brave, rash choices; even when everyone around her had tried to suffocate the ability to make her own choices out of her. I would never have sat and thought about these issues if someone had taken the story away from me.
What we read does influence us. I know this is true. But we are influenced on a personal level. Reading is such an introspective, soul searching process that I don’t think it’s really anyone else's business what we read.
*Naturally, there should be some control and consideration if you are a parent. You don’t want your kids reading anything strewn with sleaze. But I would say that if they are reading at all then nine times out of ten you are okay.