Teresa Mathew
July 15, 2015 11:42 am

There is no one singular way to be anything: no perfect way to be a friend, a lover, a feminist, or a woman. But that that’s rarely the information we’re given. When it comes to the kind of women that young girls are taught to be, there are enough mixed messages to drown in.

I’ve been fortunate to have wonderful women to look up to, but two of my greatest role models in the world of feminism are fictional redheads.

Anne of Green Gables came into my life first. I grew up on a lot of didactic children’s books—the kind that mistake “being prim and tidy” for being morally good, and have characters that I found alienating. Anne, on the other hand, inspired me to be like her.

She taught me that women could be considered good without being faultless; there was no reason to pretend to be perfect. Anne certainly wasn’t and people loved her anyway—she had a temper, couldn’t turn down a dare, and aggravated everyone by holding a grudge against Gilbert Blythe (clearly her one true love) for almost a decade. By any modern test, she isn’t a “Strong Female Character.” She’s praised most for her feminine qualities (she keeps a good breadbox!), and, in the later books of the series, essentially sets her writing career aside to be a wife and mother of six.

But none of that makes her weak. She is a loyal and devoted friend, an intelligent and dedicated student, and a loving daughter. Seeing Anne so happy in a domestic sphere made me realize there’s nothing wrong with women wanting to be there. Not everyone needs to have an ambitious career; she showed me that women don’t all have to follow the same life path in order to be happy or fulfilled. I’ve met young women whose main goals for the future are having a family and being stay-at-home moms. And most of them have seemed half-ashamed of this, telling me that they know it isn’t “feminist” enough.

But I don’t believe that feminists are fighting to make every woman a CEO. Instead, they’re trying to ensure that every woman has the opportunity to be one if she so chooses. If anyone wants to move to Prince Edward Island, be a stay-at-home parent, and host the Ladies’ Aid quilting sessions, I will be the first to support her (or him).

I think Anne is an incredible role model. And yes, the girl is old-fashioned (she was written in the early 1900s). But she’s smart, empathetic, and nonjudgmental. Those qualities don’t go out of style.

My second redheaded role model is a little more modern. Ever since I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, I’ve loved Ginny Weasley. Which is a little weird, since she only shows up twice in the first book. But she was a little sister and I was a little sister, so I felt as though we had some kind of connection. Yes, she’s pretty awkward through book four, but that hardly bothered me—so was I! And no matter how shy she was around Harry, her true character always managed to shine through. She stuck up for Harry against Malfoy in the second book and turned down the chance to go to the Yule Ball with him in the fourth because she had already promised to go with Neville.

In the fifth book, Ginny started to grow into herself. She named Harry’s resistance group, she proved herself an adept Quidditch player, she was the only one willing to stand up to Harry when he sunk into an angsty stupor over potentially being possessed by Voldemort. And she said one of my favorite lines in the entire series: “anything’s possible if you’ve got the nerve.”

But it seemed as if no one shared my love for her. Fansites said she was a “Mary-Sue” (a disparaging term for a female character written without any flaws), and my friends were up in arms after the sixth book about her “promiscuity” (she made out with her boyfriend in an empty hallway! She dated two boys in two years!).

Maybe she could have been written better, but that’s something detractors will have to take up with JK Rowling. To me, Ginny embodies the bravery of Gryffindor. After being possessed by the most powerful dark wizard in history, she found the courage to continue at Hogwarts. Not being allowed to play Quidditch with her brothers, she broke into the broom closet and practiced on her own. And faced with the fact that the boy she loved would probably never love her back, she tried her hardest to move on.

I read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince when I was twelve. At the time, I was going to Catholic school and being raised in a conservative Indian-American household. I had never given sexuality much consideration, but I knew that “good girls” weren’t supposed to date around or be sexually active.

But I loved Ginny, so I decided that was nonsense. I can chart the exact moment in time when I decided never again to judge a girl for her sexual choices, and it was that year, as I defended one of my favorite redheads against a close friend who said she didn’t like Ginny because she was too promiscuous. It didn’t seem fair or right to me that courage and patience and fortitude could be cancelled out by sexual desire.

Anne and Ginny don’t have a lot in common besides being fictional, redheaded, and hailing from nations which have the Queen of England as their figurehead. But they both taught me that there is no one way to be a woman, no one way to be happy or fulfilled.

All you have to do is live the life you want to; after all, anything’s possible if you’ve got the nerve.

Related:

There’s a café that’s just for young women in science. Brilliant.
Kristen Stewart hit the nail on the head with this quote about feminism

[Illustration by author]

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