[Ms. Feminist]

7:30 AM

No doubt about it: American women are unique. They’re strong, they’re intelligent, they’re active. They are the momentum behind the pendulum. Every American woman ought to be proud of the distinct American femininity passed down from the founding foremothers. It was our energy and passion that helped create America as we know it.

In literature, we find heavy emphasis on the female movers and shakers of modern reform—social, familial, cultural. And the way it appears now, feminists have cornered the market on modern literary heroines in children’s fiction.

There’s a stock character feminist-in-training that never ceases to delight the intelligentsia of literature. Watch for her: she’s easy to spot. Spunk is a word often associated with her. Pride is another. She hates sewing—she hates cooking—she hates housekeeping. Her passions and pursuits lie always in the male domain: and she’s up front about that—that’s her glory. Did I mention she more often than not hates dresses and looking nice? That she quarrels with her mother on feminine issues? That said mother’s usual reaction is a sigh and her daughter’s an exasperated eye roll? The plot of her life, by the way, centers on her breaking glass ceilings, normally portrayed by exaggerated authority figures and adults. Only when Ms. Feminist disobeys her parents and thrusts herself in the spotlight does the story fully come round.

Don’t confuse her with the New Child or the Precocious Child or even the Unconventional one. No, Ms. Feminist is distinct in her rebellion against traditional womanhood. Even more subtle are those Ms. Feminists who attempt to “have it all” and promote girlhood as superior to boyhood in that girls can like dolls and dump trucks, dirt and dishwashing: an androgynous empowerment easily passed along to younger girls. Ever heard the elementary school chant “girls rule and boys drool”? It’s the elevation of girls over boys, the downplaying of complementary male and female roles, that provide easy foothold for feminism.

Historical fiction is the feminist’s best friend in this regard, for she can repaint history to fit her slant. She accomplishes this by emphasizing the louder, stronger, more unconventional qualities in her character and by setting our heroine at odds with prudish, puritannical personas of tradition. Ladies and gentlemen, this young lady has infiltrated everywhere—she’s a staple in modern girls’ reading diets. She is America to these girls, but more importantly, she is womanhood to our daughters. There are precious few heroines who are strong, smart and ground-shaking through their embracing of Biblical femininity—many who are through their rejection of it.

Besides being a rather fizzled out stock character, Ms. Feminist is at odds with Biblical womanhood. I propose she vanish from Christian writers’ and readers’ inspirations or at least express herself in a way that doesn’t involve disgust of sewing. Authors must strive to recreate their feministic characters in more nonstereotypical ways if they wish to avoid being called propaganda; and Miss Womanhood? Step front and center, please.

Some books containing Ms. Feminist and/or her attitude:

Catherine, Called Birdy
American Girl series
Caddie Woodlawn
Ella Enchanted

Note: Caddie Woodlawn? you may cry. She’s a classic! I love her. And I too. There’s no reason she can’t be read; it will not harm you daughter to make note of some feministic strains, however.

Some books containing Miss Womanhood:

Stepping Heavenward
• Almost anything Victorian Era
The Chronicles of Narnia
The Princess Adelina
• Books by Isabella Alden
Elsie Dinsmore series

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17 impressions

  1. Amen and amen! This decline of American literature is so sad, but true. Come to think of it, I can hardly remember a good feminine character from historical fiction. Even my beloved Little Women has a main character who's very boyish, though the supporting sisters are feminine.

    Is this a call for Christian women to write with the purpose of honoring God's design for males and females? I, for one, will take it to be such.


  2. Hmm.. I think I'll read a few of these books this summer.

    I think it's so important for kids/teens to read good, moral, literature. Story characters can be BIG influences. (Said by the voice of experience.)

  3. Feminism in literature is something that drives me nuts. I love stories with girls that have a strong yet sweet-spirited character, girls that cultivate an elegance of manner and appearance that is not ostentatious but charming.

    You're right. Victorian novels are some of the best books ever for showing true womanhood. I love reading books by Dickens and Austen and Gaskell to learn things from the heroines.

    I love The Chronicles of Narnia so much!!! Lucy is definitely a model of Christian womanhood. She's smart and brave but she's also ladylike and well-mannered. And of course, her relationship with Aslan is an inspiration to me about my walk with Christ.

    A lovely post! I always enjoy seeing how other girls like the same books I do. (I'm a new follower of your blog, but have been really blessed by some of your posts and your honesty about your walk with Christ. He has used for my sanctification. Thank you.)

  4. Bravo! I used to love the American Girl series, but now, looking back, I can think of many subtle feminist tones even in the earlier books. I picked up a book out of the Julie series not long ago and was shocked to read them coming right out and calling men 'chauvinist pigs.' Wow. Definitely not something I would want any future daughters reading.

    I had to smile at the part about fictional girls having a disgust for sewing. I've never stopped to think of it until now, but that is so common in 'literature.' Rarely does the plucky heroine in such books take an interest in such a boring activity. Blech. ;)

    Wonderful post!

  5. Yes! Ms. Feminist is a sadly overused stock character these days. The Mandie books fall in this category, too, I think.

    There are still a few good books/series left where Miss Womanhood appears, though. A few in my mind are:

    - Grandma's Attic series by Arleta Richardson
    - Sarah's Journey series by Wanda Luttrell
    - Whispering Brook Farm series by Carrie Bender
    - Ellie's People series by Mary Borntrager
    - Most books by Janette Oke
    - Any books from:
    * Christian Light Publications
    * Rod & Staff Publishers
    * JourneyForth Books/Bob Jones University Press

    There are others ... but anyway, don't despair, because Miss Womanhood will never completely go away. And we Christian writers can make sure to preserve her legacy, too. ;-)

    Love in Christ,

  6. I cannot stand those girls. Truly, I know plenty of people who enjoy sewing. *looks at Bailey* Um, then again, perhaps not - but anyhoo...

    So the high-up-stuffy-hate-girly-stuff characters are no better than do-not-sit-on-my-dress-and-oh-papa-*tears*-*sob*.

    And then the ones (guys included) that swoon all the time. *glares at Robinson Crusoe* Who actually faints just because they're scared?

  7. Interesting. I would not include Caddie Woodlawn as a Ms. Feminist, not just because she is a classic and I love the book (though I do), but because she learns through the course of the book that she does NOT want to be an imitation boy after all. I always remember the conversation Caddie has with her father when he says, "How about it Caddie? Have you run with the colts long enough?"
    I am wondering where you put the Little House books? The young Laura Ingalls is tomboyish in some ways and she does dislike sewing, but I certainly would not call her feminist. However, if she is too much, have you read the Little House in Brookfield series about Laura's mother Caroline as a girl? The books are quite good and when I read them I remember how refreshing it was to have a strong, interesting female character who *liked* to cook and who *wanted* to take care of her clothes and look nice and feminine, and who had no interest in being a tomboy at all.


  8. Your apparent definition of feminism is as trite as the manifestations of it that you decry.

    'the louder, stronger, more unconventional qualities...'

    Spunk? Pride? Pride is not a virtue, but I don't see it as a solely feministic prerogative.

    'She hates sewing—she hates cooking—she hates housekeeping. Her passions and pursuits lie always in the male domain: and she’s up front about that—that’s her glory. Did I mention she more often than not hates dresses and looking nice?'

    Is THIS your definition of feminism? It can't be, and yet...it's so similar to every patriarchal definition that I've ever heard.

    Can I be a feminist if I enjoy cooking, but hate sewing? I enjoy looking nice, but I don't like dresses for everyday wear: on which side of the line do I fall? My passions lay almost entirely in the female domain [also, who decides what, exactly, IS the domain of one sex or the other?] for the first 14 years of my life, and now I enjoy school subjects which we KNOW are ones at which boys excel [math, science and engineering]. You can't put me into a box that way.

    I know you aren't trying to put ME, per se, into a box. But when you define 'feminism' as consisting of the traits I mentioned above, your superficiality is evident.

    'It’s the elevation of girls over boys, the downplaying of complementary male and female roles...'
    Now THIS is what we can agree on. I have this vague idea that some people think that feminism is 'women hating men' and thinking that they are better than men. That is rather horrible, and something I disagree with. And I don't actually know anybody who is like that.

    But I can barely believe that: almost all of my acquaintance with the word 'feminism' is of the borderline, arbitrarily-defined, 'I don't like dresses or sewing', appearance-based sort. When you [and I am not referring only to you, Bailey] include every harmless activity which does not characterize Elsie Dinsmore's picture-perfect inanity, you cheapen the word which you seek to wield as the ultimate insult.

    When you and others like you have called enough things 'feminism', people won't shiver in their boots when they hear the horrible word they used to associate with the radicals of the 70s; instead they will laugh, or become angry, and eventually they won't pay you any attention at all. You'll be left slinging your most dangerous word around at the patriarchalists who remain, until your glass house is riddled with holes. We 'feminists' will still be around. I hope we [more specially I] show mercy and forgiveness.

  9. Melody Joy -- I feel obligated to offer a caveat: I don't think Victorian era books have the best ideas about womanhood, either, necessarily. (I wasn't real clear on that -- sorry.) They offer a stark opposite from hear-me-roar girls of modern fiction, which is good especially for younger girls still forming ideas about womanhood, but Bethany Grace is right: the scream-at-spiders, fainting-every-twenty-seconds type has none of the strength and wisdom of a true woman, either. It's all about balance.

    Which is why I rant about stereotypes.

    Love your little blurb about Lucy! She's my favorite. :o)))

    Adele -- *sheepish grin* I wrote this a million years ago and read Caddie Woodlawn a million years before that. Thank you for pointing that out.

    Regarding Laura Ingalls Wilder, I haven't read that since the second grade. What I recall, though, excuses her from this stereotype. She may like running around barefoot and sunburned (the best way to tackle summer, IMHO), but she also sewed a quilt at age four.

    But seriously, I don't think I mind so much that some literary heroines don't like sewing and can't sit still during long, boring parlor conversations. It's just that so many fictional girls literally despise homemaking skills -- and not only do they despise them, but traditionally feminine arts are portrayed as weak, pathetic, dull. The hospitality is always tedious and sequestered in a parlor. The dresses are always stiff and frilly and ridiculous. Those who like girly things and womanly arts are pathetic, weak and disdainful of their tomboy cousins.

    I take no offense at a girl balking at a sewing lesson. I do have an issue with constant degradation of that and other skills...and the upholding of tomboyish behavior as The Epitome of strong womanhood.

  10. Bethany --

    There are polite ways of accusing someone of being inane and superficial. It's known as tact. But I admire your honesty and I'm used to being thought stupid, so I'll put that behind us and address your main concerns:

    I wrote this several years ago when I hadn't fully researched feminism. Perhaps in revising I should have erred on the side of caution and substituted "androgyny" instead of feminism. However, Second-Wave feminism is the thing most people think of when they hear the word, no matter how unfortunate it is for their more idealistic sisters who hold to the tenets of their early 20th-century foremothers. Man-hating, stay-at-home-mother discouraging, hear-me-roaring. That's the trite definition infiltrated into, say, American Girl books. The gender feminism of the Second Wave is very superficial and inflammatory and does not do justice to the more respectable equity feminists -- but it does exist, and it exists in stereotypes in modern day children's books.

    This was not meant to be an exhaustive treatise on gender feminism, equity feminism and everything in between. It was merely pointing out the effects that some tenets of Second Wave feminism and its proponents in the children's literary realm. What you are accusing me of is exactly what I'm accusing modern fiction of: stereotyping feminist ideals into a worn-out diatribe against sewing, baking and skirts. It's trite, it's superficial, it's unliterary and it's dangerous.

    You seem to think that my "patriarchal" beliefs are all about sewing, baking and skirts, too. That's a poor representation of my view, and that's why the extreme of Victorian flower girls is a trite depiction of what I strive to be.

    And for what it's worth, Elsie Dinsmore generally is not worth emulating as ideal womanhood and I can assure you that I'm not so stupid as to think that the egalitarian/complementarian debate centers on sewing.

  11. Oh sooo true.. And anybody who has not read Stepping Heavenward please please read it (but no pressure).

  12. I think Ms. Feminism is not breaking glass ceilings in an ascent; not elevating herself over Mr. Man. Instead she is lowering herself by stepping down from the pedestal built by Sir Gentleman to brawl with Mr. Man on his level.

    In books Mr. Man and Ms. Feminism are equals. In old books like Anne of Green Gables: Gilbert Blithe cannot strike Anne Shirley for breaking a tablet over his head. In fact he is not allowed to yell at her.

    This is the difference:

    Ms. Feminism has yelling matches and trades blows with Mr. Man.

    Miss Womanhood is above such things. Sir Gentleman is suppose to take care of Mr. Man in such matters for her.

  13. I agree that I don't care for the screaming, fainting type either. Many of the girls in the Victorian novels also seem to have no faults whatsoever and are just discouraging rather than encouraging. The Victorian novels that I was speaking of were mostly books by the classic writers I mentioned. These books portray girls that have faults they must learn to overcome. Their heroines have a depth and personality that is feminine and strong and wise. This kind of girl can give her opinion, but she can also hold her tongue. I agree with you that Victorian novels aren't always the best portrayals of true womanhood, but some of the old classics often give me encouragement and good role models.

  14. Thank you for your response. To clarify, I would not consider myself an idealistic feminist: rather, one somewhat forced into that mold as a reaction against long-time branding of my traits with that name. But that's more an etymological quibble than anything.

    Where do you draw the line between depiction of 'feminism' and of tomboyishness [which is inarguably very popular in the fiction of the last 50 years or so]? Most of the traits you mentioned are ones which I would classify as the latter. If most people think of feminism in terms of man-hating, I fail to think of any flagrant examples of that in three out of the four 'feministic' books you mentioned [those being the only ones I've read].

    'Ms. Feminist is at odds with Biblical womanhood.' On the basis of the shallow traits you mentioned...how can you declare this? Are you going to next declare it 'against Biblical womanhood' to refuse to sew? Obviously not, you've already stated that such is by no means your intent and that the debate is far larger than stitchery. Yet, the majority of this post leads to the conclusion that the list of Ms. Feminist's characteristics are, each and every one of them, unbiblical.

  15. I just wanted to leave a note about "girls rule and boys drool"--maybe you haven't noticed, but that saying is just as often reversed to "boys rule and girls drool." Not that that makes it right, of course, but I think the statement is less of a feminist thing and more that children that age simply prefer their own sex over the opposite. I probably wouldn't have bothered to say that except I've read it on here before in other posts and I just wanted to make it clear. Kids that age like to pit boys against girls, for some reason.

  16. Bethany -- I can understand the feeling of being forced into a "feministic" mold simply because you don't necessarily fit in the stereotypical "Biblical woman" mold. Your dialogue with me (which I do appreciate, by the way) has continually reminded me that the feminist/Biblical woman debate is more nuanced than I'd sometimes wish. I apologize for perhaps glossing over terms and not appreciating the depth of controversy over some of them. Again, this post isn't an in-depth review of feminism in fiction, so I stand by what I write, but I realize I may have left impressions that are ridiculous at best and dangerous at worst (like the idea of feminism being the rejection of sewing and Biblical womanhood the embracing of it ;o)).

    Where do you draw the line between depiction of 'feminism' and of tomboyishness [which is inarguably very popular in the fiction of the last 50 years or so]?

    To clarify, these attitudes (which do border on tomboyishness sometimes) are not, in themselves, feminism. This post was more of an examination of why the tomboyish attitudes and interests have become so rampant in children's fiction, especially in defining how strong girls act.

    Before, we had Elsie Dinsmore and her type, but starting in the fifties, her demureness, submission, gentleness (and naivete) are no longer to be found in popular fiction for girls. (And I'm longing for more depth than Elsie, by the way.) But as I explained to Adele, I'm not against tomboyishness, which frankly is just part of childhood.

    It's the tomboyish attitude turned against everything traditionally feminine. Even if one disagrees with the category of "traditional" or not, other people do not. And so this stock character is a cheap shot at traditional (and sometimes Biblical -- I don't think that's always interchangeable) womanhood. The strong, admirable heroine is self-assured, independent and looking for adventure and fulfillment in roles outside of marriage, family and cultural norms about what women and girls ought to do. The weak girls who miss out on the fun are often prissy, girly, dependent and fearful of disobeying authority. Ms. Feminist often goes hand-in-hand with the New Child because they're both all about shattering glass ceilings set in place by authority figures or imagined restraints.

    Again, I have no problem with examining and exposing traditional/cultural expectations of women. But children's fiction often doesn't really go into the stickiness of feminism, back and forth, and thus the author's presuppositions leak through in these easier-to-grasp ways.

    Will a child become a feminist simply because she reads American Girl books? That's not my argument, though perhaps that was not as clear as it should have been. What I am saying is that this girl is so rampant in books specifically marketed to preteen girls (like the AG books), and this is the presentation of strong womanhood. If one is steeped long enough in this kind of stereotype at a young age (like I was), it's easy to come to think that being submissive, gentle and interested in sewing are marks of a prissy, boring girl no one wants to be. That desiring to be a wife and mother is second-rate to being an engineer or president of the United States. That being more "boyish" and less "girlish" is the mark of strength.

    That's a feminist influence, and that's what I take issue with. Hopefully that clears up my position a bit...though this comment could have been a million words longer. :o)

  17. Bethany...I totally agree with you . I can't stand the girls that are all gushy and mushy over boys when they see one...And, I can't stand the kind of girls that think boys are germs :)

    And then there's Elsie...No offense, but I couldn't stand the books and Elsie ! Elsie was just too perfect:) She didn't (or couldn't) do anything wrong ! LOL ! I mean where's the excitement ? :o)

    But, then I can see how many books show an attitude of Ms.Feminist ...For instance Felicity, the American Girl . Couldn't stand her ! LOL ! And Ella Enchanted...

    Concerning the Miss Womanhood books...I can't wait to read Stepping Heavenward ! My mother is reading it now, and I am in impatient antisapation(I think I spelled that wrong...Oops:) to read :) And all the others are wonderful books,too...Except Elsie Dinsmore ( Just not a fan of her... LOL )

    Great post !!!! Love you~Sarah


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