I am the proud mom of two daughters. One is out of the nest and in college, and the other is a tweenager. I’ve been both a working mom and a stay home mom, so I have lived on both sides of the fence. Raising girls in today’s world is a challenging and fulfilling craft. I learn something new all the time from my experiences with my daughters and want the best for them in their adult lives. I want them to feel loved and nurtured, yet I also want them to know what challenge and struggle feel like so they can know the sense of pride and accomplishment that comes with facing adversity and rising up out of figurative ashes. When it’s their turn to be mothers, I want them to have happy memories of their childhoods and a strong sense of themselves so they can shine as individuals as well as give their utmost love and devotion to their families. There is no “handbook” for raising daughters, but I love this list of rules for mothers with daughters: It actually brought tears to my eyes as I read it.
Today, I braided my ponytail since it’s in style, and I couldn’t help but think of Katniss, the heroine from the latest movie and book craze, the Hunger Games. Her character is introduced as a hunter in the woods in a post apocolyptic world. She is from a coal mining district, wears modest clothing, and sports braids in many scenes throughout the movie. To me the braids make her seem stronger, perhaps it’s the idea of weaving three sections of hair together to make a stronger mane. Three is the magic number, the holy trinity, faith hope and charity, tripods stand strong, tricycles are sturdy. I braided my hair and thought of the qualities of a strong woman. In today’s society where technology is ubiquitous, girls have so many heroines in the media. When I was a little girl, we only had one tv in the house, and classic princess stories and Barbies were my main female role models. I’ve seen heroines change over the years and have been happy to see the emergence of strong, confident, smart female roles.
Katniss from the Hunger Games is the most contemporary heroine I admire. She volunteers to take her little sister’s place in a fight to the death even though she is scared for her own life. She is smart, humble, and true to herself. She doesn’t get involved with the initial bloodbath. She takes her mentor’s advice and finds high ground and seeks water. She uses her intelligence to outwit her competitors and plays to her strength, which is shooting with a bow and arrow. Ironically, it’s her willingness to risk the ultimate sacrifice and stand up to the rules of the game that changes the ending of the story. She shows solidarity with the final competitor and saves his life. She is strong and beautiful and smart, trifecta!
Hermione Granger is my next favorite heroine. She is also one smart cookie. Her character in the Harry Potter series is frequently studying and always knows the answers, both in class and to help solve whatever problem they find themselves facing. She shows that education pays off and that knowledge is power. She also shows that young ladies can be intelligent and beautiful and that it is possible for a boy and a girl to have a quality friendship. She is daring and confident and keeps her cool in the most precarious situations.
Disney started branching away from the stereotypical princess-waiting-for-a-prince theme first with Pocahontas and then with Mulan. Both heroines struggle with family honor and loyalty. Both heroines risk their lives to be true to themselves. Both heroines trust their intuition even when it’s a different path than what is expected of them. The Disney version of Pocahontas wasn’t historically correct, but it adopted the story of saving her man’s life (John Smith in the movie, John Rolfe in history). Her father was the chief and John was captured and was going to be killed, so she put herself in between John. She was one of the original activists, and I’m proud to note that my great grandmother was a geneologist and traced our family tree, finding that we are descendents of her only son Thomas Rolfe. She shows us that we should take a stand for what we know is right. She also shows us a deep connection with nature. Mulan doesn’t want her father to go off to war, so she pretends she is a boy and becomes a soldier to bring honor to her family. She shows how to be respectful and loyal to your family. She shows how to be brave, take risks, and to face her fears. She shows how sometimes, it’s important to put the welfare of others above that of your own.
Cut to some of my least favorites, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. Cinderella goes from an unhappy, overworked, girl of little means to a lavish lifestyle as a princess. Why? Is it because she went to school and worked hard to earn all of her possessions? Was it because she made goals and took steps to reach them? No, it was because she snuck out, went to a ball, and caught the eye of Prince Charming. He fits the lost shoe on her foot and presto, he wisks her off her feet into happily ever after land. Sleeping Beauty and Snow White are pretty much the same story, minus the ball and the glass slipper. They are both put under spells by evil characters and lay in repose for eternity until kissed by Prince Charming. The magic kiss brings her back to consciousness and they ride off into the sunset to live happily ever after. However, no kiss, no man, no happily ever after. They are basically dead without a man. What kind of lesson does that teach our daughters?
Speaking of dead without a man, Bella Swan from the Twilight series. She is the most do-nothing heroine I have ever met. She seriously does nothing other than fantasize and hallucinate about Edward and stare out the window in a deep depression when he leaves her. Her whole life is wrapped up in a dead, cold vampire. Very much alive Jacob is her best friend and is the opposite of Edward. He is in her life day to day. Edward leaves her broken hearted. He’s a werewolf, and naturally there is a rivalry between the boys for Bella’s affections. She is too lost in Edward to see the value of what is right in front of her, and she eschews Jacob in pursuit of becoming a vampire wife and mom. She zones out at school and in life and in the end, she gives up her life for a male character. Her life is worth nothing without a boy. That’s not the lesson I want to teach my girls.