I love Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making and its sequels more than I can reasonably express in words. (Throw in some doodles, interpretive dance, and a mix CD and I’d probably come closer.) I haven’t read the most recent book, The Boy Who Lost Fairyland, yet (it’s waiting for me on the hold shelf at my library, but I’m trying to finish at least one of the other books I’m currently reading before checking it out), but I just read her essay on writing it and she damn near brought tears in my eyes with this:
“There is more to feminism than turning the focus from boys to girls. We’ve presented so many new literary roles and places for women in the last few decades, and that’s been a huge part of my whole mission statement as an author. But boys need new roles and new places, too. We encourage girls to take on the mantle of the male hero—and I wanted to encourage boys to take on the mantle of the female hero, as well. A boy hero can be gentle and artistic and bookish and afraid of the world—and still be a hero while staying gentle and artistic and bookish and afraid of the world. He can be friends with girls without it being weird. He can wear weird clothes and his mother’s jewelry, he can have beautiful penmanship and talk to his stuffed animals well into middle school, and those can be heroic attributes just as much as punching and running and yelling and swinging a sword.”
I was a boy who was gentle and artistic and bookish and afraid of the world. I’ve always had friends who were girls. I talked to my stuffed animals well into junior high (and beyond). I had male heroes I was inspired by in fiction–mostly superheroes who were more mythic archetypes than people. Beyond that, there were very few male characters that I identified with when I was a kid. And yes, I’ve been inspired by female characters while growing up, especially when they were more like how I felt insde than male characters were.
Now she’s got me thinking about my own fiction and the protagonists I create. I want to have stories with strong women and strong men, but not “strong” in the traditional, patriarchal sense of being able to kick ass in fighting and intimidate people with fierce words (although that can be entertaining and exciting, too). There are other ways to be strong. There is strength and heroism in being gentle and artistic, and I want to help encourage that