I would like to first address the Bella Phenomenon, as she is being called out in the title of this post.
Bella Swan is everything that I despise in a teenage girl role-model. She is literally weak (really what girl is that clumsy?) and by the 4th book I wanted to literally punch her in the kidney--just to help her toughen up. I do not like that she can't live--give me a break--without Edward and literally does dangerous antics trying to kill herself until Edwards' voice in her head tells her to stop *gag*. I have spent my whole entire teaching career telling my students that they don't have to get married right after high school, I've even told a few that sex doesn't bind you to someone else for life, especially if that someone is abusive and controlling, and, yet, it seems that Bella wants to get married at a young age to have sex. Know that I do not believe that Edward is controlling. I do believe his obsession with her gets annoying after book #2 and I do believe her obsession with him is unhealthy and his need for it is insane.
However, Peggy Orenstein, in her book Cinderella Ate My Daughter, has a point when she talks about the fact that Bella is "neither smart, interesting, kind, graceful or even pretty" (110) and yet, this is the reason she is so popular and powerful and perfect for a certain type of girl. Orenstein says,
"Think about it: what a relief that must be for girls who feel constant pressure to be physically, socially and academically perfect! Bella does not spend two hours with a flatiron, ace her calculus test, score the winning goal in her lacrosse match, then record a hit song. Bella does not spout acidly witty dialogue. Bella does not wear $200 jeans on her effortlessly slim hips. Even in the Hollywood incarnation, as played by Kristen Stewart, she is relatively plain, modestly attired, and excruciatingly awkward. Yet Edward, the most desirable dude in the room, loves her--now that is a fairy tale. The fact that he refuses to consummate their relationship may make him all the more attractive to post-pubescent girls weary of the mandate to be sexy and please boys. Twilight may have given girls something they needed: a way to explore their nascent sexuality on their own terms, to feel desire rather than perform it."And, it is because this is, in fact, true (just ask my friend who read the first book--pre-movie--in one sitting and then gushed on about how gallant Edward was until I read the book myself) that I just can't discount Bella, even if I do think she is 'horrid'. Do I pick Katniss Everdeen over Bella? Sure. But, I don't really like Katniss as a positive role-model for girls either (I'm sure I can and will talk about this at a later date).
So, below you will find a list of books that I believe encompass the traits that I want my tiny person to have. You will not find a Jane Austen heroine, although I do love Jane, (hmm...and, if I was going to pick one to emulate I'd probably lean towards Fanny Price over Elinor Dashwood, Marianne Dashwood or Elizabeth Bennett), a Katniss, Herimone or Bella in the bunch, and you may be surprised at some of my choices! There are 15 of them, I can definitely find more if asked...
1. The Book of Ruth (in the Bible)
Traits to emulate: faith in God, loyalty to family, good-natured, willingness to try new things
Young Adult Novels
2. Ten Things We Did (And, Probably Shouldn't Have)
Traits to emulate: willing to admit when wrong, strong-willed, owns up to mistakes, has sex (not that I want my kid to have sex at 16, I'm just sick of books that try to teach lessons about this by demonizing sex) and doesn't die or get pregnant or have to learn some sort of life lesson from it (you can read more about how I feel about this book here)
3. Class of '88 Series
Traits to emulate: three different female characters that all possess a trait or two that are awesome...Meg is brave and head-strong and smart, at first appearance Cecilia seems like the typical California blonde, but when it comes down to it, she will do anything for her friends and Allie is artistic, shy, and true to herself
4. Jacob Have I Loved
Traits to emulate: shows that even the quiet girl gets to have what she wants, also shows that you can leave your hometown and still have roots there
5. The Emily of New Moon and Anne of Green Gables books
Traits to emulate: I love both Emily and Anne and grew up with these lovely girls who became perfect women who loved and were loved, who could be silly and laugh at themselves
Traits to emulate: passionate, willing to share opinions, willing to change opinions, willing to fight for justice and to stamp out inequality
Traits to emulate: being yourself is the most important thing you can be, nobody belongs in a vacuum even if everyone thinks said vacuum is a good idea, strength in adversity and...kicks butt even though she's small
8. The Cat Ate My Gymsuit
Traits to emulate: you should feel good about yourself no matter how short, or overweight, or unathletic you are, you have something to say even if people think you are too young and even if you lose as long as you joined the fight you haven't lost anything at all
9. A Wrinkle in Time
Traits to emulate: risk life for little brother and father, does what she knows is right, gets annoyed at her family, realizes that she has her own power outside of her smart and athletic brothers
Traits to emulate: love your family, love who you are, take pride in yourself, ignore those that try to belittle you...there are others like you and there are others who want to be with just as you are
11. A Little Princess
Traits to emulate: even in the darkest time imagination can make you brave, never give up, even when others say you are wrong, be a friend and be friendly to everyone no matter how different
12. The Secret Garden
Traits to emulate: Mary helps all of those around her, Mary's two best friends are boys and she doesn't care, she makes her own way all by herself, the boys just follow...
13. Little Women
Traits to emulate: I love, love, love, love Meg, Jo, Beth and, even Amy, but I especially love, love, love Jo in a way that I've only began to understand. When I was a kid I loved her strong will and strength, now I still love those things, but I also love her mind
14. Charlotte's Web
Traits to emulate: Fran was my first book best friend, she saves a pig, and it's so cool to watch her mature into a young adult, it's ok that she's shy and then hangs out with Henry, she will always love Wilbur
Traits to emulate: this is the best book in terms of racial and cultural duality, Kim does not give up either of her identities for the sake of the other and that's pretty darned cool, I love that she, on her own researches her Japanese heritage
And, here's some great lists if you want to get lost in ranking some top-notch books by and about females.
Hmmm...look like I need to find some ethnically diverse role-models...can anybody help me with that? Thanks, ever so!