Happy International Womxn’s Day*, humans! Today’s holiday focuses on celebrating womxn and their accomplishments, while simultaneously recognizing that equality & equity are ideals we’re working towards—not something we’ve already achieved. This year’s IWD theme is #BalanceforBetter, a call to action to create a gender-balanced world, with more equitably balanced representation in boardrooms, media coverage, government, literature…and more!
The publishing world has been undergoing some major representational shifts over the last several years, but main characters who are female—particularly in children’s and young adult literature, but also in fiction at large—are still significantly more rare than male main characters. In 2016, only 4 of the 69 Caldecott Medal & Honor Winners of the past two decades have featured clearly identified, female protagonists.
But of course, there are thousands upon thousands of brilliant female characters (and, of course, brilliant authors who are women!). Some of our favorite female characters, girls and women, model deep, rich relationships with others in their stories—friends, sisters, cousins—and this week, we want to highlight a few whose adventures between the pages we’ve read, loved, and looked towards as models for friendship and sisterhood:
Frances & Bobbi — Conversations with Friends, Sally Rooney
If you haven’t yet read our blog post on this fantastic book, what are you waiting for? Frances and Bobbi, two of the main characters in Sally Rooney’s second novel, are best friends, exes, and sometime-lovers. Much of their world happens together—they make friends together, almost as a pair, and go to the same university; they even perform Frances’ poetry together, spoken-word style. Their friendship is rooted in a deep intellectual and artistic connection and, even as the emotional events in the novel progress, there’s a sense that no one knows Frances or Bobbi better than the other woman; they get each other, and they’re present for each other even when it’s hard.
Anne & Diana — Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery
#1 — The whole text of Anne of Green Gables is on Project Gutenberg, available for anyone to read!
#2 — Anne Shirley of Green Gables has always been considered a bit of an outsider, someone who doesn’t belong or fit well into the established order of things (and/or doesn’t wish to). Her friendship with Diana—a well-to-do neighbor whose family clutches their proverbial pearls just because Anne is adopted—is a good reminder that friendship can be found or forged even between characters (or people) whose personalities, interests, or upbringing are quite disparate. Their friendship takes on a shape that works for them—Anne dreams up adventures with her marvelous imagination, and Diana goes gladly along for the ride. As different as the two girls are, they stick by each other through the years, and their friendship is perhaps one of the best-known of that era of children’s literature!
Frannie & Jet — The Rules of Magic, Alice Hoffman
Frannie and Jet are sisters whose ties run even deeper than friendship and family—they’re also witches. We first met them as the old aunts in Practical Magic, but this prequel/sequel by Hoffman show the two on their journal from young women discovering The Rules of Magic as into those two older, mysterious characters. It’s a special bond, exploring magic and their family’s history together, and while both Frannie and Jet are fiercely independent and often make their own headstrong decisions, each sister would clearly go to the ends of any earth for the other.
Charlie & Freya — The Wild Chicks (series), Cornelia Funke
Last but not least…could this list even be complete without Charlie and Freya? The friends who formed the Wild Chicks, and kick-started hundreds of girl gangs in Germany and around the world are a model of female friendship that feels relatable as an adult, thinking back on those formative years. One of the great things about middle-grades series and stories like the The Wild Chicks is that we as readers really get to see the characters and the relationships between them grow. They aren’t perfect, sometimes fighting, sometimes disagreeing, but it’s clear they care about each other in how quickly they make up, and in how fiercely they defend their friend—and the rest of the Wild Chicks!
Who’s in your favorite literary friendship?
*Just a head’s up: we’ve recently learned that ‘womxn’ is a more inclusive term than ‘'women’ or ‘womyn’, which can (sometime intentionally, sometimes unintentionally) exclude trans, nonbinary, genderfluid & femme folks. Since this day is about recognizing all womxn, we’re using the term that best recognizes that. :)