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Get Ahead Kids - Vol. 6, No. 6 - November/December 2014

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The Importance of Strong Female Characters for Young Girls

By Lorraine Campbell

In an age of Social Media, the world is saturated with the cult of empty celebrities. 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. Girls are sexualised at such an early age now, 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. The strong message is 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 worshipped simply because they're famous.

Is this what we want our young girls to aim for?

It has never been more important that now 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, a character that inspired you in some way.

Our teenage years are 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, Tris - Divergent (I just wish she had kept the name, Beatrice!) and Tally - Uglies.

These girls live in a place where everything is bad - a world of the future. They take on the roles usually assigned to male characters. They're tough, powerful, and 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. They don't have brandish 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.
These are girls who are brave, resourceful and complex, without being ruthless killers. Whose depth of convictions 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 World War II. 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, collaborate or actively resist. She chooses to join the French Resistance.

I was interested in exploring what might motivate a young woman to live dangerously, rather than submit to a brutal and oppressive regime. She comes from a rather privileged background, is attractive, and 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, how they can become heroic. And how, when needed, we all have the potential for heroism in us. We must remember that inside every young girl there is a hero.

About Lorraine Campbell

Lorraine Campbell is the author of the new book, 'Resisting the Enemy' - a Young Adult historical fiction novel about the French Resistance during WWII.

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