not a pretty girl, epilogue

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

And I REALLY love Xena and Hilary Clinton and Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman and Wonder Woman and Sandra Day O'Connor and Oprah...

Hey, thanks for sticking through all of that!

Because I’m only human and my thoughts on these kinds of identity politics are constantly evolving, and because I ended up covering several more topics than I originally intended to, and because I’ve only had one cup of coffee today (what???), I may have said stuff you disagree with, or stuff you want to discuss more, or stuff that’s just straight-up confusing. I love conversation and I always appreciate the chance to learn more and hear other viewpoints. In the interest of keeping any discussion streamlined, though, I’m restricting comments to just this post.

Thanks for reading!

Further recommended reading/viewing:

Got other stuff we should be reading? Drop it in the comments below!

11 thoughts on “not a pretty girl, epilogue

    1. Interesting to see the same dynamics playing out, with such different robings. What about Cordelia and her sisters? What about Psyche and her sisters? It seems to be an archetypal story. Your telling of it in today’s clothes is remarkable for its authority and vividness. Excellent work.

  1. Thank you so much for this beautiful series of articles. This is a trope I’d noticed but been unable to name, and one that’s made me uncomfortable for a long time–it’s really helping me organize my thoughts based on your analysis. As an aspiring screenwriter and sometimes-novelist, I have definitely felt myself struggling to write strong women outside of the nerdy “me” trope, and in my research have realized there aren’t a ton of great examples out there–which only makes it harder because the thing is, audiences LIKE having types that are easy to digest. It’s hard to make a character too far from a trop and still have it read, so that’s another consideration for this pattern.

    Some media I HAVE really enjoyed for variety includes Orange is the New Black, Once Upon a Time (other problems, but the character variety is great), and Heroes S1 (can’t vouch for later seasons–but Claire is an INCREDIBLE “other girl” character who is really likable and complex).

    1. Thanks so much for coming by and reading — I’m glad it was helpful! And best of luck with your writing.

      Examples of varied and interesting female characters are definitely out there, and I think a lot of if it is in changing our own perspective on how we read existing characters — like, not rejecting female characters just because they’re girly, and not rejecting female characters because they’re just written like men with boobs. (Noelle Stevenson started a great discussion a while back about the tendency to judge female characters more harshly than male ones, here:, There’s room in the world for catty cheerleaders and gentle bookworms and sweet housewives-to-be, but those shouldn’t be the only options we’re presented with.

      Oh, Heroes! WHAT a shame they never made more seasons of that show. Oh well, at least they ended on a high note!

  2. I actually got choked up a little at the end of Part 3. I have twin sisters who are 9th graders, and they read all of these books that you mentioned (mostly because their older sister passed them on heehee). But it breaks my heart to see how they struggle to just be themselves because school or friends or religion is telling them what they *should* be. I see the “Me vs. Other Girl” thing developing, and I can definitely relate to it because I was there too, even through college sometimes. So thank you for the breath of fresh air, I’m sharing this post with all of my Tamora Pierce-loving friends & family 🙂

    Also, if you want an amazing variety of girls in YA, check out the Jacky Faber series written by L.A. Meyer. I’ve been reading them for 11 years and still look forward to the new book when it comes out in the fall!

  3. Aw, Kelley! Thanks so much for reading, and for passing it on. I hope it’s helpful.

    I could — and might — talk at length about how our school in particular reinforced this trope, because at the School of Drama there was such an undercurrent of “You’re either ridiculously good-looking, or you’re smart.” One or the other. People rarely made mention of the fact that you could be both, or neither, or talented and valuable in other ways like being compassionate or being stubborn or being hard-working or being funny or being a really good knitter. Like the whole school got sorted into just Ravenclaw and Gryffindor, if the defining aspect of Gryffindor was that Gryffindors are gorgeous. When really all of us were, like, Slytherpuffs full of incredible ambition and dedication to hard work. Or something. This metaphor is getting away from me.

    Thanks for the YA rec! I’ll check them out.

  4. As Kelley’s best friend from home (she shared this with me on Facebook) I want to second her point about LA Meyer… the series is phenomenal.

    I think your posts are incredibly well thought-out and touch on a lot of very important topics. As someone who has always found a home in books (and often in the bookish heroine), I relate a lot to the things you’ve posted. Your points are all great… I would just encourage the masses to not just write female characters… but hunt them out in books too. If I had to pick a list of my ten favorite books I know that all of them would have a strong female character of some kind. But those range from Nurse Ratched to Ginny Weasley to Brienne of Tarth to David Copperfield’s Aunt Betsy. And consequently, my image of a female hero has a billion facets that make her relatable to almost every type of young woman that I can imagine… at least in some way or another.

    Ultimately, what I mean to encourage by that statement, is that I would never pass up the opportunity to read something because it pits girls against girls. I find it vitally important to recognize that adopting that mentality is unhealthy… but I enjoyed the Twilight books. I actually devoured them all on pre-order from Amazon before there was any talk of movies. Did I allow Twilight to teach me that being pretty and social is villainous? No. But I think every young adult should read everything they can get their hands on… if for no other reason than the exposure that would bring. I would hate to watch a generation get sucked up in the battle between who is which girl and why one is right and the other is wrong… but another way to combat that mentality is to enforce just how many different types of girls are out there.

    Thank you so much for a brilliant and thought-provoking read and best of luck as you enter into a world that could very much use your influence!

    1. I think you’ve hit on it exactly: having a plurality of girl characters means we can all find someone who speaks to us, or find elements in lots and lots of different characters that we connect with. Like, Twilight in and of itself isn’t going to make everyone assume that the Jessicas of the world are terrible and only the Bellas are worthy of love, forever and ever amen. The problem develops when book after book and movie after movie is saying that the only proper way to be is to be Bella — or when book after book and movie after movie says that the only proper way to be is Jessica, for that matter. And when Twilight was a smash success, a TON of YA publishers starting trying to recreate it, and so we end up with a market glutted with paranormal romances about tiny pale brunette bookworms, and not enough fat black athletes or tall olive-skinned marine biologists or butch Hispanic filmmakers or paraplegic Japanese writers … etc etc etc. (All of which could totally be paranormal romances. Vampire love story about a tall olive-skinned girl studying to be a marine biologist? Sign me up. Doubly so if the vampire is also a girl.)

      And, you know, you raise a good point. I can’t really come down 100% against girl vs. girl narratives, because the truth of the matter is that the Mean Girls experience is an experience that a lot of girls live in high school or junior high, and fiction should imitate life. And stories that have that girl vs. girl element may still have other good stuff to tell readers/watchers. (See: Buffy the Vampire Slayer.) But does girl vs. girl have to be the dominant narrative? Like, maybe teenagers would be less inclined to play out that kind of story over and over again if it hadn’t been so normalized in our culture.

      Anyway, I’m rambling to the choir. Like you say, the best bet by far is to expand our options. Thank you so much for coming by and reading and commenting, and thanks for the well-wishes!

  5. I think you make a really good point! Especially at the end of part 3. I actually really like how Suzanne Collins perfectly complimented Primrose and Katniss Everdeen. While you could say that Katniss is the more “tomboyish/Me” trope and Primrose the more “delicate feminine/other” trope, the author gave Primrose a strength that was a direct weakness for Katniss – her ability to take care of the wounded. In addition, you could say she was more patient and cool-headed than Katniss, hence her ability to work diligently in the medical field. In the last book, Katniss endearingly expresses that she believes Primrose had the better personality traits.

    I think the Me vs. Others dichotomy (something that also used to describe my mindset growing up) is just another factor where girls are taught they have no inherent value. You have to be gorgeous and/or fiercely intelligent and/or fiercely strong. You also have to dress exactly the right way so you’re not too high maintenance and you have to sleep with exactly the right amount of boys so that you aren’t too prudish/slutty. The standards get pretty ridiculous. Being pretty/”feminine” and intelligence are not two ends of a spectrum – that’s just an arbitrary construction.

    Anyway, sorry for the long comment. I really enjoyed your enlightening discussion of this trope. Thank you for writing them!

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