Rebellious Women of Literature


Rebellious female main characters have found their way into young adult literature over the past few decades, and their influence has been felt across genres. The trend toward these leading ladies isn’t completely unprecedented; strong female leaders in rebellion have influenced the media since the day Princess Leia first appeared in the Star Wars franchise. Still, readers clamored for more female-led narratives, and authors delivered. From Katniss Everdeen taking down the Capitol in The Hunger Games to Clary Fray fighting various forces of evil in Shadowhunters, the media has quickly transformed its definition of a strong female character.     

The definition of a strong, rebellious female character in literature has changed over time. Older heroines, such as the women of Jane Austen’s novels, were markedly independent and witty. But they almost always worked to achieve the goals all women of the era were anticipated to have—marriage and family were their priority, not saving societies and fighting gruesome battles. As women began to protest and explore more opportunities in their own lives, they wanted to see more variation in their literary depictions as well. They wanted to see women who fight or hold careers, who are leaders or change the world. This has led to the more modern ideal of the rebellious female main character.

The newer version of these strong female characters often exhibit their rebelliousness and boldness in similar ways. They often begin with nothing or have everything taken away from them. They must be physically strong in order to fight against whatever villain or regime plots to defeat them. And, coinciding with their physicality, a certain amount of emotional aloofness equates strength. There are no hysterical or hyperventilating female characters here; they can control their emotions, sometimes to such a degree that any potential love interest must break down those barriers.

In a bid to create more powerful female role models, literature quickly created this new stereotypical main character with little variation. Thankfully over the past few years, as more diverse narratives have continued to enter the industry, these rebellious female characters have become more diverse as well. Women with different races, orientations, and abilities have shifted into focus. While there is still room for improving the number and presentation of these stories, this shift in diversity is a markedly positive development in the past few years in publishing.

Through this diversity and the inclusion of more female-led narratives, both rebellious women who show their strength in smaller, quieter ways and the women whose strength is more obvious could share the spotlight. Women who rebel in small ways as they fight for rights and for their families can exist alongside the women who save entire galaxies as both types fight for justice.

With the growing popularity of female-led media, it seems inevitable that the trend will only increase the number of stories involving rebellious women. More nuanced female main characters will be introduced in all facets of literature, not only young adult. There will always be room for the Katniss Everdeens, just as there should be room for the quieter strength of a princess. One of the most important things to come from the movement is its ability to show that all women are capable of the strength of a rebellion.

Kayla is a book blogger at Caught Between the Pages. She can also be found on Twitter (@caughtbtthepage).