How Should Females be Represented in Literature?

How Should Females be Represented in Literature?

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Olivia-Savannah Roach, Guest Writer


I’m Olivia from Olivia’s Catastrophe – a book blogger who loves to read and review books, as well as discuss bookish culture. And today I wanted to discuss female representation in books.

In young adult (YA) literature, we see females represented differently all the time. We get those amazing, kick-butt female characters who are off saving the world like Cinder from the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer. We have females who are caught in a love triangle and can’t seem to choose which guy they really want, like Tessa in the Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare.

© Olivia-Savannah Roach

We have smart and independent and don’t need to rely on anyone else characters, like Annabeth in the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. And… then we also get those girls who will be saved every 10 pages of the book and can’t seem to do anything without being clumsy, helpless, or needy.

… sigh.

However, the larger question I want to ask here is whether we need to remove all the damsels from YA literature and replace them with sassy, no nonsense teenage girls who know what’s what, or whether we kind of need a bit of both.

I love seeing girls and women represented as characters who know what they are doing, and who are strong, independent, fierce and won’t let anyone look down on them because of their gender. I think it is so important for females to see themselves as confident.

But as much as I do love seeing this representation, I love it even better when those characters have moments of weakness and doubt. No one is amazing without worrying that they are going about things in the wrong way sometimes. You can still be independent and take advice from other people. You can still be strong and at times just need a good cry.

So that clears things up – we’re all for kick-butt, smart strong characters. We love their little moments of weakness because it’s impossible to be unbreakable all the time. But what about those damsels in distress?

Well, we need them too. It’s very important that females aren’t portrayed as weak, as unable to do anything for themselves, or unable to even think for themselves. Because let’s be real – that’s not us. We can think, and we can help ourselves. We might need a little saving now and again, but not all the time.

© Olivia-Savannah Roach

But we also need to see female characters who might need a little help every now and again. There’s something about being able to save someone else, but also to know when you’ve been helped and know how to appreciate the other person for that. I think the wrong kind of representation is when a female character gets support and they snap back in spite and say, ‘I could have done it myself.’ ‘Thank you’s are always in order.

Yet as I am saying this, I do want to mention it doesn’t work that way for every scenario. If I’m busy saving the world, and I take a bullet to my shoulder and need you to help me off the battlefield so I can recover and later get back to fighting in an epic fantasy novel? Sure, help me out! Thanks. But if I’m facing a difficult choice in my life and then you go ahead and make it for me so that I am saved from independent thinking? Err, no thanks.

In the end, I feel like female representation can be hard to get right sometimes.

© Olivia-Savannah Roach

I highly recommend the Lunar Chronicles for the depiction of various female characters. We have Cinder who needs motivation, but once she gets going she can do anything. Scarlet, who is incredible strong and doesn’t need anyone to do her fighting for her, but has her moments of doubt too. Then there is also Cress, who is nervous, shy and gets into a lot of accidents, but is incredibly smart and knows how to make her own choices. There are even more characters – but you get the picture. A strong female character appears in different forms.

If I could choose the way I could be represented, I would want it to be as someone who is strong, but humble too. Fierce, but knows how to be kind and gentle. Someone who will always make her own choices, but knows when to take advice too.

Olivia’s Question: How would you want to be represented in literature?

Olivia-Savannah Roach

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10 thoughts on “How Should Females be Represented in Literature?

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  1. This was a great blog post! Personally, I like balanced female characters, and the kick butt, sassy teenager is getting overdone for me. For my stories, I try to find balance with can be strong, but has their weak moments. In my newest story, I have the kick butt heroine, but she also has attachment issues.

    Again, awesome post!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think a move toward more balanced characters is a really good thing! I love my sassy characters but I’ve been seeing them left, right and center. I’m liking the sound of your heroine!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve literally just filmed a video about the exact same topic and I completely agree with you. Women are not a monolith and we need to see different types of strength. I’d also like to add that weakness is a very real thing too. There are areas of my life in which I come across as very strong (i.e. ambitious and similar), but there are others in which I’m extremely insecure and rely on others a lot. And that’s ok. Saying that every woman has to be super strong can be stressful for women like me who just don’t have bucketloads of disposable strength XD

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ooh I am looking forward to seeing your video when you post it! We must be in sync. Yes, you’re right, there are many different kinds of strength 😉 And there s nothing wrong with weakness as well – we all have some weakness and it would be good to see that in books for those who can relate.


  3. Awesome post Olivia! I think characters with flaws are beautiful and better than “perfect” characters. I totally agree, all characters will have their times of weakness. I would like to be represented as smart, confident and creative but also shy and uncomfortable, always looking for support from others.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post, Olivia! I enjoy kick-ass female characters so much more than the clumsy damsels in distress it’s not even funny. But I do enjoy characters who aren’t perfect, and truly love it when strong characters realize they might need help, and aren’t afraid to ask for it.
    I totally agree about the giving help part of your post, too. If she’s bleeding to death, please put her back together. But personal choices – no matter how hard they might be – should be made by her.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s fair enough as well! Everyone has types of characters that they prefer more than others! But you’re right, no one is perfect and there is strength in knowing when to ask for help too. I agree, she should be in charge of her personal choices.


    1. Yes! No person regardless of gender is a simple, straightforward personality. People are complex and it’s best when those complexities are represented in all their glory 🙂


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