Almost an entire decade ago, a young girl of thirteen years was struck by the conscious realization that she wanted to be a writer. She had always known she was attracted to the art; she wrote her first story at the age of five, devoured every book within sight, and at the age of six won a contest at her local library that resulted in her book report being printed in the town newspaper. Finding an American Girl notepad, this young writer placed the pen to the page, and paused.
She had already written a poem that day about a blueberry muffin. What other material could she entangle within the poetic form?
Putting the notepad down, she found an empty composition notebook and opened to the first page. Its blank lines taunted her, telling her that she was too young to write anything substantial.
Until a story idea came to her.
Returning the pen to the paper, she wrote an outline. A group of girls with strong magical powers. All friends in middle school, of course. There would be…two, three…no, eight of them.
The outline continued in this fashion, and the characters soon had names and likes and dislikes. Until the young writer asked herself the core question: where did these magical girls get their powers from? The answer came to her like a doodled lightning bolt.
Necklaces! Each magical girl would have a magical necklace with which they could fight evil! In a flurry of excitement, the young writer detailed what the eight necklaces looked like, and which magical girl would wear them. But then a second question stopped her in her tracks. Where would the magical girls get their necklaces?
Another doodled lightning bolt struck the corner of the notebook page. Aha! Their boyfriends would give the girls their necklaces! It was the perfect solution. Eight magical girls, eight necklaces, and eight boyfriends that presented them.
Fast forward ten or so years later, and the only written proof that this story ever existed at all is detailed in a blog post. You have probably guessed by now that the young writer in this story is me at thirteen. This particular story idea was abandoned later that day for an adventure to catch more pocket monsters, but the memory of my first brainstorming session remained, and as time passed, the memory became a reflection.
As a child, I had no shortage of books with strong female characters. My mom made sure that I read all kinds of books with all kinds of protagonists, and I was not lacking in imagination. But now, ten years later, I couldn’t help but pose the question to myself, “Why did the magical girls in my story need their powers provided to them by their boyfriends?”
I reflected on the majority of mainstream media that I consumed as a child, and found that most of the television shows and books I read consisted of the male perspective. Many narratives from other stories took the form of male, male, female. Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger. Jared, Simon, and Mallory from The Spiderwick Chronicles. Verne, Gus, and Cassy from The Ultimate Book of Spells. Sarah, James, and Henri from Liberty’s Kids. Ash, Brock, and Misty from Pokemon. Even Recess had four boys and two girls, continuing the same fraction (reminding me of the notion that if a room consists of 33% women, (most) men will perceive that there are more women in the room than men). These stories were intriguing and in no way bad because of the dominant male narrative, but I can remember thinking at the time that the main character must be male by default. The boys went on the adventures, and the girls were more often than not, the sidekicks (although in the examples listed above, Sarah from Liberty’s Kids was the main character).
Looking back, I realize how silly that notion seems. But it’s not silly—it’s sad—to think that a young female writer ten years ago genuinely thought that to write a story about girls, the power central to the story was still given to them by boys.
There would be no “magical” in my magical girls if the boys of my idea did not exist.
I am glad now to see that there is a diverse collection of media for young girls today, who may themselves become writers. Hermione, Katniss, and Tris and many other strong young women are everywhere in popular YA lit, and their positive messages join them.
And I just hope that there is no young writer somewhere out there thinking at this moment that her characters, male or female, get their strength from anyone but themselves.