Teenage Girls: Part 1 of 2
One of my favourite parts of reading and watching TV and film is getting to meet wonderful, brave women I can identify with, empathise with, sympathise with, cry for, admire, fear, and any combinations of those and more. Finding well written woman on screen or on the page can often be a hard task, but God, is it rewarding when I do.
In the first of a series on my favourite women in media, I’d like to focus on young heroines who have touched my heart and caught my imagination.
One of the reasons I think I’ve stuck with Young Adult fiction well into my adulthood is that it’s one of the few mediums that not only includes well drawn young women, but celebrates them.
There’s this strange attitude in both our media and society that teenage girls are The Worst™. We make fun of anything where teenage girls are the predominant fans: Young Adult fiction is dismissed as a lesser art form (unless it can also appeal to boys – imagine if Harry had been a girl… would the books have had the same level of success?), certain popstars are written off as untalented or sellouts, any girl who expresses interest in a ‘boy thing’ (video games, comics, a band that doesn’t feature a non-threatening young man or a woman with pink hair) are derided as not being ‘real fans.’ Never mind the fact that half the reason you’ve even heard of the Beatles is because those screaming teenage girls made up most of their album sales and followed them loudly around airports.
Girls. Wouldn’t know decent music if it wore a
bowl cut on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Similarly, teenage girls in popular media tend to be vapid, vindictive and annoying, while often simultaneously being eerily sexualised.
Lea Michele, then 25, portraying her then 16 year old
‘Glee’ character for GQ magazine.
These characters, some written terribly, some beautifully, receive a significant amount of vitriol from their audience: Dana Brody and Sansa Stark of Homeland and Game of Thrones respectively leap immediately to mind as the most recent examples, Kim Bauer of 24 as a slightly older one. Hell, the entire moral of Mindy Macready/Hit-Girl’s subplot in Kickass 2 (a character I enjoy portrayed by the super talented Chloe Grace Moretz) seems to be ‘teenage girls are irredeemably terrible, just don’t be one.’
‘You’ve got ten seconds to rewrite my storyline, asshole.
I know that’s double the time it took you in the first place.’
But whatever the mainstream, adult, and largely male reaction to them, we can take heart in the fact that there are many wonderful, brave, loyal, funny teenage girl characters on the page and on the screen just waiting for you to discover them, and there are more appearing all the time. Girls who are more than their flaws, who are figuring out who they are, and who remind me a little more of young women I’ve had the pleasure to know in the real world.
Here are just a few of my personal favourites, old and new. I’ve included links to the amazon pages for each book in case you’d like to check out plot details/invest in some new reads.
J. K. Rowling
Book/Film series: Harry Potter (1997 – 2007; 2001 – 2011)
Portrayed by Emma Watson
Insufferable know-it-all, equal rights activist, knitter, and the brightest witch of her age. No list about awesome teenage girls would be complete without Hermione ‘Her-My-Oh-Knee’ Granger.
While she was introduced as what felt like the token girl – ‘responsible’ i.e. boring, ‘smart’ i.e. annoying – Hermione quickly became a vital character in the main trio, second only in importance to Harry. Her knowledge of advanced spells and history saved their lives on multiple occasions. Her intelligence and commitment to learning is frequently portrayed as both heroic and humorous, with Hermione considering being expelled a fate worse than death and being horrified when final exams are cancelled as a treat for the school.
In later books, Hermione gets to put her know-how to practical use and participates in all of the major battles of the books and films. She’s an excellent dueler, and sustains several injuries without complaint. She also manages to lie under torture, proving once and for all who the biggest badass of the trio is.
But what really makes Hermione relatable is her courage, her vulnerability and her kindness. Hermione is a girl who has had to leave her entire world behind for the sake of a new one; whose fear of failure drives her need to be the best (Hermione isn’t naturally the smartest in her year, she works her butt off to achieve it) and who will never just stand by and let someone weaker than her be picked on – whether it’s the schoolyard bullying of Neville Longbottom or the institutionalised slavery of humanoid magical creatures.
Love Interest: Ronald Weasley, occasionally a bit of a tool, slightly useless, but funny, brave and completely lovable. No love triangle, very slow burn.
Honorable Mentions: Luna Lovegood and Ginny Weasley also kick ass in the Harry Potter series (Ginny, unfortunately, very much less so in the films).
Book series: The Obernewtyn Chronicles (1987 – unfinished)
Elspeth, a young teenager when we first meet her, is a survivor. She’s seen her parents burned alive for defying their dystopian government, and hides her superhuman mental abilities (telepathy, mind control, the ability to speak with animals) which have seen her brother murdered and would earn her the same fate.
Elspeth is an incredibly strong character. She’s self sufficient, brave, distrustful, quick-thinking and unyielding, characteristics she’s cultivated in order to stay alive and undetected. They’re also the characteristics she’ll need to complete her major quest: to save the world from a second and final nuclear holocaust – most likely a suicide mission.
But this is a quest she can’t begin for many years, and in between she finds herself in a safe place among others with her abilities, fighting a war against the government for a place in society. Suddenly, the traits that have kept her safe are keeping her back from what she truly wants: love, friendship, acceptance. She finds herself admired by many, but loved by very few. For those who do manage to get close to her, there’s a permanent wedge between them, forged by her secrecy and fear of intimacy and vulnerability.
Elspeth faces a constant struggle against herself, torn between wanting to belong and live as much as she can before her final quest kicks in, and afraid of the pain she’ll cause her loved ones and herself when it’s time to leave.
Love Interest: Rushton Seraphim, broody, snarky farm overseer turned turned leader of the misfits and the rebellion to overthrow the government. Bit dreamy. No love triangle, on again/off again.
To be continued in Teenage Girls: Part 2 of 2