Research shows that women are reading more than men. On average women are reading nine books a year as opposed to men that are averaging 5 books a year. “Reading requires incredible patience, and the ability to ‘feel into’ the characters. That is something women are both more interested in and also better at than men,” says Louann Brizendine.
Women are reading more than men, especially fiction. There is a theory that women have more sensitive mirror neurons and this allows women to relate and empathize with the characters on a deeper level becoming more invested in the characters.  If this is true and women are relating more to characters, then shouldn’t we pay attention to how females are portrayed in the books we read?
An author was once asked, “How do you write female characters?” and their response was, “I think of a character and then I make them female.” If you are considering writing your own book, I encourage you to keep this in mind when creating your characters. Start with the character, not the gender. It might just help you to avoid all stereotypes and gender roles that tend to lead to females being portrayed as weak.  Create strong female characters.
A strong character makes things happen. They make choices, even if they are bad ones, and they move the story forward. They make a difference. They do not wait for the story to happen to them. They do not wait to be rescued. They do not let somebody else handle the hard stuff. If your character is sitting around the house gnawing their knuckles and hoping everything will work out okay, you have created a weak character.
Strong women in fiction:
1. Janie Crawford, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Janie is a biracial woman who returns to rural Florida during the late 1920’s as a strong and proud woman after gaining much experience away from home.  Janie’s quest for a strong sense of her identity is clear as she reveals her relationship with her true love, Tea Cake, to her lifelong friend, Pheoby.  Janie dealt with a miserable marriage, and her town looking down upon her, as she learned to find her voice and break free from their oppression.  She shows her strength by overcoming many obstacles including a hurricane, loss, and the views of others.

2. Hermione Granger, The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

Throughout the Harry Potter series Hermione grows from a strong girl into a strong woman.  She is unapologetic for her intelligence and it is proven throughout the series that her intelligence and foresight saved the lives of Harry, Ron, and herself (several times!).

3. Princess Elizabeth, The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch

The Paper Bag Princess is a charming children’s book about Princess Elizabeth and her love for the seemingly perfect Prince Ronald. Princess Elizabeth quickly shows her strength and wit by outsmarting a dragon that kidnapped Prince Ronald and coming to his rescue only to find out he is not worthy of her love.

Do you feel differently after reading a book with a strong female character?  When you are ready to pick up your next summer read think about the female characters. If we are going to develop a deep connection, why not have our neurons mirror strong characters!

Tara McElfresh is SWSG’s Administrative Intern in our Pittsburgh office. She was introduced to SWSG while searching for programs to bring to her daughter’s public school that empowered young women.