Strong Female Characters in Dystopian Worlds
“Soft” Strength & Dystopian Heroines
I want to talk about strong female characters in dystopian worlds, but right off the bat, I’m going to be difficult and say, “Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. What do we mean by strong exactly?”
There are many ways to be strong, and some of them are more obvious than others. Or maybe some kinds of strong are just more glamorous than others.
If you demonstrate your strength by wielding a sword, blaster, or a bow and arrow, it’s easy for readers to fist pump for you. (Case in point, everyone’s favorite snark-wielding princess who really knows how to stick it to the Empire.)
But mere survival in a world that is designed to grind you beneath its wheels is the kind of strength that doesn’t always elicit cheering, and it’s a hard thing to portray in an exciting way.
Resilience, resourcefulness, venturing to hope in a world that crushes those hopes—these are the strengths I admire in heroines caught inside a dystopian society.
Above all, though, is the strength to extend kindness when brutality is the norm.
Dystopian governments rely upon two things in order to maintain the status quo: fear and the careful control of information. In this bleak form of society, kindness becomes a threat because kindness breeds understanding, partnership, a shared sense of purpose, hope—all the things that are the building blocks of community.
Within a tightly-controlled environment geared toward the advantage of few at the expense of many, kindness is a dangerous virtue because it can fuel the subversive urge to disobey. The crowds watching the Hunger Games are wowed by Katniss’s prowess with a bow and arrow, yes, but it’s her kindness toward Rue that wins the people over. She’s not simply a mighty gladiator, unbeaten in the arena. Her strength is her humanity in a world that has lost its ability to be humane. Through her empathy, she exposes the cruelty of the Capitol’s lust for bloody entertainment.
The strength of her kindness leads to revolution, which is why her message must be suppressed. People must fear reaching out to one another or else the Capitol’s iron-fisted rule will falter.
Just as important, strength is thinking for yourself in a world that wants to tell you what to think. It’s realizing that The System doesn’t have your best interests at heart. Not even close. In fact, the system’s machinery depends on your submission to the narrow roles that exist for your gender.
In some sense, dystopian literature is tailor-made for female heroines because preserving yourself within an overwhelming system of oppression on which you also depend has been the lot of women for millennia. What’s new is the way in which the fight is portrayed. Women are now warrior figures who take up the physical tasks of rebellion—fighting, punching, shooting, and so on.
But something would be lost if that’s all they did.
In my debut novel, TABULA RASA, my MC manages some spectacular physical feats, but what I think is her true strength is that she finds a way to believe in herself, to trust herself, when all evidence seems to indicate that she shouldn’t. Despite being led to believe that she’s a bad person, perhaps the worst of the worst, she finds a way to trust herself and move forward.
To imagine that you are capable of more and then act of on that self-belief—this is the inspiration that true heroines offer us.
OK, and yes, the occasional, deeply satisfying butt-kicking inspires us, too. I’d be lying if I said otherwise.
About the Author
Kristen Lippert-Martin has an MFA from Columbia University. She’s worked atTime, the world-renowned Brookings Institution, and even had a stint as a stand-up comic before turning to writing full-time. She was awarded the SCBWI’s Work-in-Progress grant in 2010. She lives in Arlington, Virginia, with her husband and four children. Tabula Rasa is her first novel.
By Kristen Lippert-Martin
The Bourne Identity meets Divergent in this action-packed debut thriller with a Katniss-esque heroine fighting to regain her memories and stay alive, set against a dystopian hospital background.
Sarah starts a crazy battle for her life within the walls of her hospital-turned-prison when a procedure to eliminate her memory goes awry and she starts to remember snatches of her past. Was she an urban terrorist or vigilante? Has the procedure been her salvation or her destruction?
The answers lie trapped within her mind. To access them, she’ll need the help of the teen computer hacker who’s trying to bring the hospital down for his own reasons, and a pill that’s blocked by an army of mercenary soldiers poised to eliminate her for good. If only she knew why . . .
Ages 12+ | Publisher: EgmontUSA | Sep. 23, 2014 | ISBN-13: 978-1606845189
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