Where My Girls At? Finding Strong and Empowered Women in Media and Literature

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If only “Women” was a one syllable word.

I guess this all started for me in early December. I went on a weekend trip to Boston with my sister and decided after a day of walking miles in the cold, to stay in, relax, and spend the night reading in the hotel. Despite my best efforts not to, with my book in hand, I gave in to temptation and hopped on Facebook one last time for the night. Lo and behold, rising to the top of my newsfeed begging to be watched, was a video titled “How the Media Failed Women in 2013,” and just like that, reading took a back seat. Within the first 5 seconds I was hypnotized by what I was watching. What began as a montage of celebratory moments for women slowly gave way to the crushing onslaught of misogynistic talking heads and gag-worthy marketing campaigns. By the end, I found myself with tears in my eyes, feeling slightly embarrassed that a 3 minute video could make me so clearly see things I had passively accepted all year round. The only thing I could do was repost. So repost I did.

A few days later, Beyonce dropped her surprise self-titled album (which you know I immediately purchased the second I heard it dropped… at 7:20 AM that morning, thank you very much). And there they were again. Messages of female empowerment soulfully being sung over the beats that were making me dance wildly around my house (at what was now 8AM). Come time for the track “Flawless,” in which Beyonce used a sample from Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk, I was a goner. Standing on my couch waving the flag of female pride to an audience of my dog, I felt a movement was beginning, and I wanted to be a part of it.

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Sisters are doin’ it for themselves….
Disney’s latest princesses, Anna and Elsa from Frozen, continue Disney’s newest trend of allowing females to take charge and be the hero.

It all got me thinking about how females were portrayed on the shows I watch. Strong female characters like Anna Gunn’s incredible Skyler White from Breaking Bad, and Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones came to mind. Sure, both characters were flawed, but they fought against forces that were out of their control, and slowly were able to build lives for themselves (hell, one even built an army). In the movies, there was a lot to celebrate too. Disney’s Frozen is completely driven by two powerful, sarcastic, intelligent, and funny women. And spoiler alert, the prince doesn’t get to save the day in this one. The women come together, and save each other. These are the images that are coming out of the best quality work in television and film right now, and I believe it’s because this is what we are starting to finally crave.

For so long, our stories have been dominated by male heros. Superman, Batman, Thor—all of the women in these stories were mere accessories. And our Disney princess stories? Although I love them all dearly, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty literally sleep through the climaxes of their stories, as a their respective princes come to save the day! I can’t possibly be the only one who thinks it’s time for a change.

For those who have been participating in the Not So Book Club Book Club, I’m sure you’ve begun to notice that quite a few of the books were stories that were driven by powerful females. This was not done by mistake. “Blood, Bones, and Butter” by Gabrielle Hamilton and “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern were stories of women defying traditional gender stereotypes and not only succeeding, but becoming some of the most celebrated women in their respected fields. Eli Brown’s “Cinnamon and Gunpowder” took that a step further by making his anti-hero Hannah Mabbot the strong leader and captain of a pirate ship in which every person working for her was male! With every page I read, these characters made me feel proud to be a woman, and motivated me to further find my voice in regards to gender equality.

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From left to right: Gabrielle Hamilton, chef owner of NYC’s Prune and writer of “Blood, Bones, and Butter.” Celia Bowen, the fictional heroine and sorceress from Erin Morgenstern’s “The Night Circus.” Hannah Mabbot, Eli Brown’s female pirate and captain extraodinaire from “Cinnamon and Gunpowder.”

I have chosen to make sure that when I have a child one day, my daughter or son will hear stories like these. Their lives will be filled with stories of girls and boys (and men and women!) defying the odds and challenging the world if the world is unjust. But I can’t wait until whenever that will be to start making a difference. So I must start now by celebrating the strong female today and by defying the gender roles that have been keeping us in our little boxes for years.

I encourage you to further educate yourself about these issues, as I myself will be doing the same. Seek books and films that promote powerful women, share stories of women breaking boundaries, and support those who attempt to make positive change.

– Nina Sclafani

To see what inspired me, visit: http://therepresentationproject.org/miss-rep-videos, and http://film.missrepresentation.org/

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