Feminism has had a big year. In the media, in the government, in pop culture, the movement has been making big strides. Feminist visibility and the idea of intersectional feminism have been more popular topics of discussion than ever. It’s amazing to see feminism everywhere and anywhere, and seeing it in literature is no less exciting. Reading novels with awesome fictional feminist characters has just as much of an impact as reading about real life feminist heroes. Literature shapes the way people think, and protagonists set the bar and get society thinking, even in fiction — especially in fiction.
Personally, I’ve learned some of my biggest lessons by reading. Schools use To Kill A Mockingbird to raise questions about race and class, and instil a sense of morality in their students. Parents use picture books to to teach their children everything from table manners to sharing. Using literature to expand and teach the importance of feminism and strong female characters is no difference. Whether you’re into young adult fiction, mystery, romance, or historical fiction, there’s a feminist character available in every genre. Consider reading these books that feature strong feminist characters to your bookshelf, so you’re never lacking in feminist friends — even if they’re fictional.
1. Ifemelu From 'Americanah'
Americanah's main character is Ifemelu a Nigerian blogger who has lived in the United States for 15 years and has reached prestigious academic heights. When her fellowship ends, she returns to Nigeria where her strength and knowledge is put to the test.
2. Ella From 'Ella Enchanted'
A retelling of Cinderella, Ella Enchanted presents readers with a teenage protagonist who is born with the gift of obedience. Throughout the story, she finds her own strength, paves her own path, and refuses to settle for anything less than she deserves.
3. Dinah From 'The Red Tent'
Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent weaves the untold tale of Dinah, the daughter of Leah and Jacob. Diamant presents Dinah as a woman on a journey, in search of happiness, and in search of herself. Through The Red Tent, where women bonded during menstruation and childbirth, Dinah's story is told as a story of perseverance, success, and womanhood.
4. Jane Eyre From 'Jane Eyre'
Jane Eyre is one of the most complex, independent, strong, and self-aware women presented in classic literature. Through familiar themes like social class, love, and sexuality, Jane is a decidedly feminist protagonist, well ahead of her time.
5. Jo March From 'Little Women'
A novel with a main character that promoted independence in women, creativity, and having ideas of your own? Sounds feminist to me. Even when she second guessed herself, Jo March remained the feminist badass in Little Women, even when she second guessed herself.
6. Karana From 'Island Of Blue Dolphins'
So many coming of age in the wilderness stories revolve around boys, and this one is completely female driven. In Island of the Blue Dolphins, Karana literally jumps ship in order to search for her brother, and winds up having to fend for herself on an island for 18 years. Karana survives and thrives on her own, creating an important dialogue about what it means to be able to survive on one's own.
7. Anne Shirley From 'Anne Of Green Gables'
Bright, independent, curious, and a wee bit precocious, Anne Shirley is a feminist dream. In Anne of Green Gables, Anne begins her journey to womanhood, tackling themes like friendship, family, community, and independence on her way.
8. Harriet Welsch From 'Harriet The Spy'
A young girl who's a spy? Harriet M. Welsch paved the way for outcasts everywhere. Whether she's climbing out of a window to get the scoop, or mending burned bridges, Harriet's story defies gender stereotypes left and right. Curious, independent, smart, and finding herself in a world of trouble, Harriet the Spy remains a classic.
9. Katniss Everdeen From 'The Hunger Games'
Defying stereotypes is Katniss Everdeen's specialty. In The Hunger Games, Katniss i sacrifices herself for her sister, weaving a tale of sisterhood in a society that places little value on such relationships. She surprises everyone by being able to take care of herself, outwitting the competition, and surviving. Through Katniss, we find a story not just about the fabric of society, but about human relationships, and what it means to be a young woman in a challenging world.
10. Lisbeth Salander From 'The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo'
In The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Lisbeth Salander challenges more than gender stereotypes. Although her harsh brand of feminism and her revenge laden agenda might not make her the greatest role model on the shelf, you have to give her credit for not falling prey to becoming a victim, even after all that she's been through.
11. Hester Prynne From 'The Scarlet Letter'
The novel put topics like adultery, conscience, revenge, and a woman's worth at the forefront. Prynne prevails as a feminist hero, surviving the wrath of society in The Scarlet Letter, and proving that women can in fact grow and live beyond the means of what society thinks of her.
Images: Columbia Pictures