Allow me to introduce myself. I’m your favorite literary heroine. I know I’m breaking the fourth wall here, by writing to you directly, but it’s come to my attention that there’s been a lot of chatter about me lately. Yes, I’ve seen those major media essays and tweets and blog posts questioning my character. I know you’ve been reading them, too. So you can’t blame me for worrying. I’ve begun to think you’ve lost faith in me. Because you think I’m… weak. So I ask you this…
Define the word ‘strong’?
Does it mean I’m good with a gun or a knife or a bow? Does it mean I can throw a good punch or read someone’s mind? Does it mean I can control the weather or kill with a touch? Given the right circumstances, of course these can definitely be measures of strength, but would you accept others as well?
I ask, because I’m not sure we should make this all about physical might or prowess. Or even surface level externals at all. I think there might be more at play, when it comes down to defining ‘strong.’ In fact, I’m going to stick my neck out and argue that any character–of any gender, of any orientation, of circumstance or station–can be strong. But let’s just go ahead and say ‘she,’ since lately, it seems my fictional sisters are the ones under fire.
Okay, okay. You got me. I’m the one who’s feeling maligned. So instead of ‘she,’ let’s put all pretense aside and say me. Are you ready for my best defense? Here goes:
I am strong because I am the agent of my own destiny. Whether I choose to save the world or kiss someone or both, it is my choice. I may even opt to stay at home and avoid those outcomes altogether. But that’s beside the point. Through agency, I am mighty.
What’s more, I am more than my actions. Circumstances be damned, I am strong. In the best of times, you’ll see me make the most of the choices given; you’ll watch me choose my own path and stumble. You’ll know me as a self-actualized being, flawed in my ascent. But even in the worst of times, when all other choices are denied, when I am shackled and pushed to my knees, I may be just as invincible. My mind is a guarded palace, lock-tight against every manipulation. My infinite heart; barred against cruelty and assault.
Debase me. Dismiss me. Defeat me. Do your worst. Yes, I may bleed or break or cry out. I may flinch or I may stay silent. But make no mistake; none of it means I am weak or signals you have won. No. I may capitulate in the flesh, but you will never have dominion over the kingdom of my inner life. I alone rule it.
My spirit will always rise.
So look carefully as you deliberate on your final definition. Because in strength, I have many names. I am Katniss Everdeen and Orleana Price. I am Jo March and Jane Eyre and Hermione Granger and Cameron Post. I am Naomi Leon, Alanna of Trebond and Celie Johnson. I am Scout Finch. Bridget Jones. She-Hulk. Jing-mei. Eleanor Douglas. Nhama. Kittyhawk and Verity.
Judge me as you will and curse my choices, but know that I made them of my own free will. And that, I contend, is the better part of strong.
Your (Much Maligned) Favorite Literary Heroine,