I had a very interesting lunch today with an editor, who is in the relatively unusual circumstance of working on both adult and young adult (and in fact the crossover "new adult") fiction. We were talking, as we do at these lunches, about what each of us was reading, and what we were looking for from our submissions. This is a particularly useful exercize from my perspective as agent because I can (as I did) go through my list in my head and move projects up and down in priority to mention based on what I'm hearing. I didn't expect to mention a beauty and makeup nonfiction project I have because I thought she worked on fantasy novels. But that was precisely what she said she was looking for, and we spent some time in the until recently to me foreign world of blushes and lip colors.
Then we entered a different phase of the conversation, and I thought it was fascinating. The editor said that she's been seeing an awful lot of strong female characters whose strength was of a particularly physical type. They weren't admired or respected for the brains, she said, but because they could kick the boys' asses physically. That was a cop-out, she said. Why weren't they allowed to be smarter, or respected for their ingenuity or problem-solving ability, particularly in middle-grade and YA?
I thought about that (as I mentally moved one of my projects--with a teenage girl who protects the two geeky boys from physical harm--down on my list of possible pitches), and said that I figured that many of these girls were being written somewhat archtypically, as empowerment characters for the young girls reading the books. When I mentioned this conversation to my wife this evening, she took it even further. Girls, she said, are kind of allowed to be--supposed to be, at times--smarter than their male counterparts. But it is empowering for them to be admired for their physicality as well.
My badass female leads come in a number of shapes and sizes, and largely become less physcially deft as they are older, even in books with a lot of action. I think I end up on the side of approving of strength in female characters for any reason. I have two daughters, one of whom is very physically strong (as well as being sharp academically), and one less physical (if still very strong in other areas). When they read, I want the message to be that girls can keep up with--and occasionally surpass--the boys, whether in figuring out whodunit or on the basketball court or in science class or even on that rare occasion when defending themselves against vampires.