“Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words.” – Ursula Le Guin
We have the words; we have the power.
We have the power; we can transform.
The artist produces the idea, the idea is consumed, and then the idea seeps into our reality.
They can make a difference.
Girl Power vs. Rock Head Boy
Last month, we hosted a youth baseball clinic as a fundraiser for our high school baseball program. It was a beautiful Saturday morning and there were around twenty 5-8 year-old-boys on the green grass of the outfield warming up with a little catch. Out of the check-in table in the first base dugout, ran a first-grade girl, her glove in one hand, her ponytail bouncing in the morning sun, and wearing a pink T-shirt with a big flower emblem on the front.
Baseballs hit the ground in mass. The boys all stared at the newest kid to join the clinic until the inevitable occurred and a half-dozen boys yelled, “She’s a girl. She can’t play baseball.”
Now, a younger version of me would have probably agreed with these young boys. But the evolved me said, “Girls can play baseball. Girls can do just about anything they want to.”
Not another word. The young lady played as hard and had as much fun as any of the boys on the field. After the initial incident, no boy said another word or even raised an eyebrow. It was wonderful.
I was not only impressed with the effort of the girl, but also impressed with the almost immediate acceptance of a girl baseball player by the other kids.
Where does this come from?
When I was a kid, we would rather have not played and spent the summer afternoon in the library rather than let girls play. What has changed the attitudes and why? I thought of Ursula Le Guin’s quote from the National Book Award last fall.
Art and words make a difference.
These modern kids have been exposed to more equality and empowerment in their literature than we were. Their attitudes have shifted for the positive. No, things aren’t perfect, but things are getting better.
Art and words change minds.
Take Wonder Woman for example.
Wonder Woman was created to show young girls in the 1940’s that women could be strong and empowered while still being women. Strong Girl, huh? Changing the perception of women and girls as the “fairer” or “weaker” sex.
“Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power. Not wanting to be girls, they don’t want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.” – Dr. William Marston, Psychologist, and co-creator, with his wife Elizabeth, of Wonder Woman (1943)
Literature and art showing what is possible.
Girls were alien to me growing up. I grew up kid #4 in a house of six kids and only one of the six was female. My only sister is still known as “that poor Hays girl” even after all these years. Our neighborhood was also young male dominant.
Needless to say, a girl POV was sorely lacking in my young life.
So I turned to books. And in the climate of 1970’s Kansas City parochial school life, this may not be the best resource for an academic study on the sociology and behavioral patterns of girls. The “Boy Meets Girl” romantic book section? What could be learned from googly-eyed, pink, monogrammed sweater-wearing, paper doll characters? The take home message seemed to say that girls were indeed the “fairer” or “weaker” sex. Nothing worth learning.
So, I was clueless. I gave up trying to define what girls were all about. I put my male head in the sand and stayed safely in the dark.
LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS was very good. But, why did they have to move to the Kansas prairie? I liked the woods. I lived in Kansas; I didn’t dream about living on the prairie, I dreamed about living in the Big Woods and building log cabins. Sorry Laura, Mary and bulldog Jack. You were strong, but I abandoned you on the dry, arid flatlands before you had a chance to transform my way of thinking.
LITTLE WOMEN. Nope. Couldn’t relate, refused to read … almost flunked 8th grade English. My mother threw a fit and still gets a twitch in her eye at even the mention of LITTLE WOMEN. Enough said?
What I failed to realize was strong girls were all around me. In real life, I only needed to observe the strong girls in my life. My sister, mother, classmates, and even the athlete girl, the cheerleader girl, the artist girl, the intellectual girl who were all examples of strong girls right there in front of my nose my whole life. Strong girls were in books I didn’t take the time or the effort to invest in reading.
But, this is not a sad story; it’s a happy story of enlightenment and redemption. No matter how much of a chauvinist, male-centered, and close minded an individual can be, there is always hope. I am lucky enough to have the gifts of a wonderful wife and amazing daughters to help redeem me. These Strong Girls opened my eyes to the world of strong girls in life and in literature.
There is so much good art out there now. Words to change minds. Words I wish I would have had back in the day. Here are some of the Strong Girl characters which have helped bring me out of the dark ages.
- Hermione (The Harry Potter series is chock-full of strong girls!)
- Penny, Turtle, Ellie or any female character written by Jennifer Holm
- Coraline Jones
- May B
- Tabitha-Ruth “Alice” ‘Turtle’ Wexler
I invite you to leave a comment on what “Strong Girl” books or characters influenced you growing up. Also please suggest books representing strong female characters to help enlighten today’s young rock head boys. Help us out … we need all the help we can get.
And never forget that words have power.
Wield your words wisely.
Make the world a better place.