I’m doing the Connect Five Challenge this year, which is hosted over @The Book Date. If you want to join in, no sign up necessary, just head over to the monthly connect @The Book Date and tag your post!
What’s the Challenge
To look for connections between books you read. There will be many connections that just float over our awareness. Let’s see if we can raise that a bit!
My Connect Five
Connection: books with a strong female lead
I could have picked a bunch of different connects this month. I read five fantasy books, for sure, and five books with female authors. Five books with themes of death, loss, adventure, a journey, coming of age. Five books that are part of a series. Five books that are plot-driven. But I’ve decided my connection this month is going to be “books with a strong female lead”. It’s a theme that’s close to my heart.
We live in a world where women are simulataneously told that they should be strong and independent, break the glass ceiling, have a successful career, stand up for themselves, be ambitious… And, at the same time, are still measured against these unobtainable and unhealthy standards of beauty, subject to gender-based slurs if we stand up for ourselves a little too forcefully or fall outside of the accepted norm, and made to feel we’re inadequate if we don’t get married and produce a brood of perfect babies.
I’m in my 30s now and I’m watching my friends struggle with a whole new challenge, one which never even came up in our 20s: how do we “have it all”? What “should” our lives look like? Spoiler alert: the answer comes with a healthy dose of familial and societal pressure. And some of the women I know have taken some fairly desperate steps to conform to those ideals. If I’m entirely honest, part of me wants to condemn them for that. I want to shake those women who have desperately jumped on the first man to come along, and badgered or tricked them into commitment, “forgotten” to take their pill, thrown off their friends and their own hobbies and interests in pursuit of The White Picket Fence Dream. I do. I’m not proud of those feelings, but part of me despairs for them… I despair for us all… And I’m angry, because we live in a society that still makes us feel “less” if, past a certain age, we don’t have a man and we don’t have babies.
Don’t get me wrong. If you meet someone and fall in love, you want to get married and have children, I’m all for it! I could not be happier for you. I’m not anti-family or anti-marriage or anti-man. And I am talking about hetero-female values here. Whether or not the same is true in the LGBTQ community, I don’t know. But what I’m saying is, in my experience, the desperate struggle to become this idealised version of the female, to be who we’re told we “should” be, to “keep up” with everyone else, never results in a happy ending. It will not make you “whole” or “worthy”. It will inevitably end in unhappiness. And we’ve been lied to. We were fed fairytales, Cinderella gets her prince and lives happily ever after. We have conversations that start and end with “how’s your love life”, we’re told at weddings as a single woman “don’t worry, it’ll be your turn next”, and, if we say we don’t want children, we’re told “you’ll change your mind when you’re older”. We’re pitied if, in our 30s, we aren’t on the marriage track (“you’ll meet someone soon”, “it’ll happen for you too”, “I know someone that met their husband online, have you tried that?”).
And don’t even get me started on the ideals of beauty… Those perfect actress and models, with their perfect bodies? Yeeeh… That’s not healthy, fit, strong women you’re seeing, for the most part. That’s people slowly starving themselves. Search for people trying out celebrity diets on YouTube. Seriously. Why do we think starving is sexy? Why do we want to look like that? Bigger question: why does society push the idea that hungry is what’s attractive for women? I mean, why would you want women to be so hungry they can’t think or act rationally or get enough sleep…? So focused on what they look like that it makes them desperate to buy or do anything to make themselves fit a damaging ideal…? I wonder who benefits from that…
All of this, it causes a great deal of unhappiness, self-loathing, feelings of inadequacy, loneliness, and, in some cases, causes otherwise perfectly sensible women to resort to desperate measures to get what they think they “should” have. And it’s all completely unconscious, because it’s been bred into us in every conversation, in the bombardment of social media, news and marketing, and even tied into the conditional acceptance of our family and peers. It’s become the cornerstone on which our own self-acceptance and worth are based.
What does all this have to do with books? Books are more than entertainment. They reflect our society back at us, then creatively examine and re-form what they see. In this context, I think it’s crucial that they not only tell us the truth, but that they give us something better to aspire to. Strong female role models, women who refuse to fit the mold, who would laugh in your face if you told them they “should” get married and have some babies… That they are “less”, “different”, or “incomplete” without a man… Those books are important. And they personally make me feel better about making conscious, self-examined, reasoned, choices, which are right for me. Fuck “should”. I am not “less”. And it’s ok to be angry. You should be angry, because someone, everyone, has fed you a pack of lies. You should be angry because this shit has consequences, real life, real people, consequences.