How reading Roald Dahl's books taught me about feminism
I don’t know about you, but for me, literature was such a massive part of my childhood, and Roald Dahl was my JAM. His books traveled around with me everywhere. I cherished them, and loved getting lost in his whimsical words and underdog themes. When I think about my core beliefs, my curiosity, and my passion for storytelling, it all started with reading those stories I loved so much.
Recently, I have been thinking quite a bit about Matilda, which made me realize how much Roald Dahl taught me about feminism. I had never really thought much into this until recently, because when I was younger, I didn’t know the word for feminism. I just accepted his stories at face value, as many of his other young readers did. Some of you might be thinking, “Roald Dahl and feminism?” But it’s actually a concept weaved into so many of his stories, so I did some reading about his personal life to see where it might’ve come from. When I found out he grew up with his mother, three sisters, and a nanny, it became easy to understand why he wrote about equality and strong female characters.
Here are four of the most important ways that Roald Dahl taught me about feminism:
He write about strong heroines.
Starting with the story about a 5-year-old genius with telekinetic powers, Matilda is about a very bright and ambitious girl who, despite her crooked parents and wicked headmistress, teaches herself to read and perseveres to find her place in the world. I once read an article where someone described Matilda as the 5-year-old version of Hermione Granger, and I absolutely love that. Through the character of Matilda, Dahl proves that girls can be adventurous, bright, and strong heroines. Reading Matilda’s story encouraged me to be strong, independent, trust my instincts, and to find MY place in the world.
He tells his readers that everyone has a chance.
Whether you are like Charlie (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), Matilda (Matilda), or Sophie (The BFG), everyone has the opportunity to make their place in this world. Dahl’s underdog themes promote equality for ALL, despite your gender, class, financial situation, or where you come from. This is an important lesson that frankly, we could all stand to see more of in the books and movies we consume these days. Roald Dahl teaches us this lesson over and over again, but doesn’t do so in a way that seems heavy-handed.
He challenges gender stereotypes.
If you haven’t read Tales of the Unexpected, then you should. Seriously, you should read it — like right now. In Tales, Dahl explores the gender stereotypes of the ’60s and sheds light on the ridiculous restrictions put on women at the time. In The Witches, Dahl highlights that women are expected to be beautiful in order to achieve success. In Matilda, Mr. Wormwood finds every excuse to ridicule Matilda for her love of reading. He ignores his intelligent daughter and turns instead to his deadbeat son for conversation. His belief in gender stereotypes keeps him closed-minded to the idea that his daughter has any worth. By the end of the novel, Matilda rises above this blatant sexism.
He writes about strong, single women.
Miss Honey is a prime example of an intelligent women who lives on her own and is not actively seeking a relationship. She is single, smart, kind, fun, and her students absolutely adore her. She is a wonderful role model for all girls and her relationship status has no bearing on that fact.
To be quite honest, I could probably ramble on for days. These examples are just the tip of the iceberg, but it is undeniable that Roald Dahl’s characters helped me to understand what my full potential was as a young girl. And to be honest, these stories still affect me just as much today.
Karissa Barney is a blogger, YouTuber, actor, and filmmaker. Most times you’ll find Karissa cheering too loudly in a movie, covered in glitter while crafting, or attempting to roller skate. She is the creator of rissieblog.com and ‘Rissie Blog’ on YouTube. You can follower her on Instagram or Twitter.