In an age of Social Media, the world is awash with the cult of empty celebrity.
Young girls are encouraged to be self-obsessed, materialistic and egotistical.
Young teens are pressured into becoming obsessed with their looks, into believing that having a boyfriend is the most important thing a girl can have, and girls are sexualised at such an early age now that they’re no longer allowed to be just kids.
The Internet, TV and Magazines constantly send out the message that physical appearance is more important than character. That it’s better to be famous than smart. Reality Television gives socialites like Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton the opportunity to become icons. They’re not famous for a particular talent or achievement. They’re worshiped simply because they’re famous. Is this what we want our young girls to aim for?
It has never been more important for young girls to have strong female characters in fiction. To show them what they are really capable of. Young readers are particularly impressionable. Something about a particular character you’ve loved as a child will have rubbed off on you.
Inspired you in some way. And our teenage years is when we experience everything on a much higher emotional level. When we experience our most intense emotions. A time when we are most open to be influenced by what we read in books and see in the movies.
It’s great that a lot of popular fiction today features characters like Katniss – The Hunger Games – and Tris – Divergent (I just wish she had kept the name, Beatrice!) and Tally – Uglies. These girls live in a dystopian world of the future. They take on the roles usually assigned to male characters. They’re tough, powerful, proactive. They fight and they even kill. I love that they are defined by their personality rather than their looks, or their relationships with the male characters.
But when I talk about “strong” female characters, I don’t mean strong in sense of physical prowess or power. She doesn’t have wield a weapon, or engage in death-defying feats, or be every bit as good as a male. I mean strong as in interesting, or complex, or well-written. I’m talking about characters who exhibit great resilience and courage in the face of adversity.
Girls who are brave, resourceful and complex, without being ruthless killers. Whose depth of conviction is never allowed to be undermined by any romantic involvement. In narrative terms, the capacity of someone to act independently, to make their own free choices, is far more important than “strength.” It’s what determines whether a character is truly believable.
The setting for my novel Resisting the Enemy is one of recent history. A time when the whole world was at war. The main protagonist, Valli, is a young woman who finds herself living in chaotic and dangerous times. Like all those living in German-occupied France, she has three choices. To do nothing and try to stay safe; to collaborate; or to actively resist. She chooses to join the Resistance.
I was interested in exploring what might motivate a young woman to live dangerously, rather than submit to a brutal, oppressive régime. A young woman who comes from a rather privileged background, who is attractive, intelligent – why would such a person choose to live dangerously? To risk her life every day by doing what she does. And how far would she be willing to go for her beliefs?
Above all, I wanted to show young people being put into difficult circumstances and how they become heroic. And how, when needed, we all have the potential for that in us. We must remember that inside every young girl there is a hero.