Maggie
Stiefvater

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So. I See I’m A Girl. :/

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When I was a teen, I spent a lot of hours wishing I’d been born a boy.

It wasn’t because I wasn’t happy in my own skin. It wasn’t that I looked at my face in the mirror and thought: that’s not me. It was just because I had seen the sort of person I wanted to be when I grew up and none of them were women.

Teen-Maggie loved all sort of books and movies, particularly thrillers and adventure stories. Like most readers and movie-watchers, I had a long list of characters I’d admired for sometimes very shabby reasons: Maverick from Top Gun, Sean Dillon from Jack Higgins’ novels, Howl from Howl’s Moving Castle, Tyler Durden of Fight Club, Athos of The Three Musketeers. The list was longer than that. By a lot. It was also all male. I wasn’t crushing on them. I wanted to be them. I wanted to be the wise-cracking adventurer with hidden depths, fearless and aggressive and bad-ass and car-racing and explosion-making and just . . . sexy.

I spent a lot of time looking for equivalent woman. But in movies, they usually wore spandex. And in fiction, they were called “sassy” instead of “funny.” And in real life . . . well, they didn’t exist in real life. At least not in my rural middle-class part of the world. How could you reconcile a funny, fearless adventurer with a Nurturing Mother Type?

I’ll give you a spoiler, in case you’ve never seen the hundreds of blog posts, articles, and generalized confessions of women feeling guilty about working away from home. You couldn’t.

So here was the moral of the story for teen Maggie: be born a boy, or take your toys and go home.

Don’t get me wrong, there were strong female characters in many of the books I read. They were just strong in different ways. When they appeared as secondary characters, they were the rocks the tempestuous men tied themselves to. They were the helpmeets and the scholars, the ones who did their homework and the ones who appeared with solutions at the last minute. And as narrators, they were often plucky and fearless and capable. But they were never just a female version of any of the people on my list of Dudes I Wished I Was. Where was the woman I wanted to be?

She didn’t seem to exist.

The thing is, girl characters mostly look different than boy characters. Even when written by women. We have hundreds of years of story-telling to tell us what a hero looks like, and what a heroine looks like, and that stuff is ingrained deep. It’s not that we don’t want to write women who are capable in the same way as men. It’s that it requires a helluva lot of imagination to overcome the weight of that narrative history. It’s one thing to write a better version of something you’re already looking at. It’s another thing to write something you haven’t ever seen before.

We talk a lot about strength in women characters, but not so much about the things male characters still have a corner on: humor, aggression, confidence, ambition. Heroes and heroines wear these things so differently still — look at the Avengers. Just look at it, okay! We’re still so stuck on gender roles. I’m reminded of it every time someone asks me about my masculine hobbies.

They’re not masculine hobbies. They are Maggie hobbies, thanks.

I wasn’t born a boy. And it’s taken me 31 years to finally become the person I wanted to be — 31 years to find a way to translate my list of admirable fictional role models into a woman I can actually be in real life. It took me that long to find a way to translate my often “masculine” interests into a “feminine” persona. It meant overcoming quite a bit of failure of imagination. Much of it mine.

Now I’m trying to translate that back into fiction. I really want a future-Maggie to grow up with a list of fictional role-models populated by both genders. I spent so many years depressed that I’d been born into a gender I didn’t seem to belong to. I want future teen me to know that she really can be anything she wants to be . . . and see examples of it all around her.

  • Rachel Bellavia

    Thank you so much for writing this post. This is something I’ve struggled with myself for as long as I can remember, and something that has flared up again now that I’m in danger of graduating college and having to face the real world.

    I grew up loving two things more than anything else: books and sports. I wanted to grow up to do one of two things: slay a whole lot of orcs, or work in sports. As I got older, and it dragged on me more and more to be constantly fighting the uphill battle a female sports fan faces, I channeled my future plans more into books. Now, on the cusp of graduation and contemplating library school, I’ve been returning to the “what if.” What if I had been born a boy. Would I have made different choices? Would I have gotten more involved in sports reporting, sports management, any number of things. Would I have actually played quarterback in high school, like my 8 year old self wanted to?

    Just the same as you, I’ve never felt like I’m NOT a girl. It’s the cultural paradigm girls are forced into that caused me trouble, and the corresponding paradigm “reserved” for boys that I DIDN’T fit in.

    I’m still a long way from working it out. Luckily, life is such that even if some doors are closed (alas, I shall never lead my high school to a state championship), there are still paths I can take, and no one future is ever locked into place. It’s difficult to remember sometimes though.

    So thank you. Thank you for writing this post, and reminding me that I’m not the only one who has gone through this, and that it IS possible to reconcile these things, at least within myself, even if culture may yet take a long time to work it out.

    • maggiestiefvater

      OH you said this so succinctly: “I’ve never felt like I’m NOT a girl”— I was trying hard to find a way to say that. I’m so very fine with being a girl . . . so very unfine with interests being gendered and sexualized. As if a girl inherently knows less about sports, or a boy must be a “metrosexual” if he likes to pick out his clothes with intent. Come on, humans! THIS IS THE FUTURE!

    • Melissa

      Not trying to discourage you, because there are things I love about being a librarian, but you should know that it is 90 percent a society of women, and rife with stereotypical female paradigms! I came into it late in life (got my degree at 50), and there are a lot of us working to make it a more robust profession, but it can be discouraging. We had a session with our police department the other day (on how to deal with difficult patrons), and the officer in charge told us that we should get one of those giant cut-outs (like Fabio) of the “typical” librarian–bun, glasses, and the shushing finger–and put it out in the front lobby so all our trouble-making patrons will know what to expect before they walk through the door. I put up my hand and told him that was tantamount to telling him to put a giant box of donuts in HIS lobby. I think he got it.

      • Rachel Bellavia

        Yeah, that’s one of the biggest things on my “cons” list toward library school. I think it could be very good for me….but for the exact scenarios you described above, it could also be quite bad for me (or at least my ability to keep my temper in check).

        Tragically, I’m pretty sure there’s no career option for women these days that WON’T face some sort of issue like this, which just makes me incredibly sad.

        Thanks so much for the reply though, and that donut comment was pure genius!

    • icenek0

      I want to tell you Rachel do not be afraid of collage. Much wonderful discoveries and acceptance comes in collage and university. I learned a lot about myself and figuring out who I was in university.

  • erinemoulton

    I love this. As I was reading over the stories I wrote in elementary school, I realized that they always were lead by a male protag, and I am quite confident it is because the stories mirrored the books I loved, gravitated toward, and then lacked the imagination to flip up the gender roles so that the girls could take the reigns and kick ass on the adventure, too. Also, just the other day one of our regular teen patrons did complain about being unable to find a book where the girls went as full throttle as the boys. She said she would prefer a book with a male protagonist if I could help her find one. : / And we actually talked for a few minutes about how men and women are depicted differently in books and movies. So, yes, I think we need to be more original so that I can hand her a million books where she can see the girls being as adventurous as the boys…and maybe she would ask me specifically for a book with a girl protagonist. And that would be great!

    • maggiestiefvater

      It is humbling to have to continually examine my own writing to see if I preserve the male bias. HUMBLING. Equality starts in our own head, and I would’ve assumed that my head would be a very fertile ground . . . it’s stunning to realize how rocky the soil remains.

      • erinemoulton

        As you say, so much is INGRAINED. For me, empathizing with a character is based on the situation, not the gender, so I still love reading books with male or female leads. But it really is interesting the molds you find when you start thinking and examining the trends more analytically, and how refreshing it is when a trend is broken.

  • Todd Thomas

    I was on board until the thought of “future-Maggie.” You mean there will be more? Good grief. I need a tea and a lie down now.

    • maggiestiefvater

      MILLIONS

      • Todd Thomas

        Allow me to break character long enough to say I hope so.
        Now I shall retire to my fainting couch.

  • Emmalee Helen Giantomasso

    This was amazing Maggie. Thank you for posting this!

    • maggiestiefvater

      You are very welcome. 🙂

  • Hannah Saskia

    This post made me try and think of a book where women take the reigns and are stronger then the male characters. I can think of several books where the female character is strong but not as strong as the male. The one book that I think comes close the female character being as strong as the male, is Graceling by Kristen Cashore. In the book the female protagonist Katsa is as strong as her male companion, Po. Katsa doesn’t always take the lead but she is very strong, and is a strong believer that women should be taught to fight, so women can be equals with men. I hope there are more books out there with strong females.

    • maggiestiefvater

      I think it’s easier to find examples in high fantasy (fantasy that takes place in another world), because we can more easily imagine/ write equality in a culture that isn’t ours. It gets trickier to find it when it’s a book set in our world, even if it is fantasy.

      • Hannah Saskia

        I never thought of that, but most of the strong females I can think of are from fantasy. That’s sad that in our society we have a hard imagining gender equality.

      • Harriet the Spy! and The Egypt Game! I loved the Zilpha Keatley Snyder books.

    • Lettie Burton

      Try Melina Marchetta. She has the greatest female characters I’ve ever read. And yes that superlative is accurate 🙂

      • Hannah Saskia

        Actually, I’m currently reading Finnikin of the Rock by her, and I’m really enjoying it!

  • kellybarnhill

    This is why I’m glad I grew up around a bunch of smart-mouthed, fearless nuns – each one built like a Soviet tank. There’s no one on earth who can teach a young, impressionable female about the diversity and power of her gender and her *self*, like the nun who simultaneously convinces her that it is a FINE idea to climb the fence at Honeywell during an anti-nukes protest and get arrested. That lady, by the way, was eighty-two years old, and climbed that fence like it was nobody’s business. And when we got arrested, the cops? They all knew her. Loved her like their own mothers.

    While I had to endure their collective annoyance that I became a park ranger and a wildland firefighter instead of taking vows, I had nothing but love and praise from them for my decisions. “We love you,” one wrote to me on the day I graduated. “But we will be terribly disappointed if you go into the world and neglect your responsibility to kick some serious butt.”

    Seriously, man. Nuns. They’re the best!

    • maggiestiefvater

      HEY. There were also nuns in my past. They didn’t climb walls, but several of them were nothing to be trifled with.

      • kellybarnhill

        The ones that I knew were in the Sisters of St. Joseph (same order as Helen Prejean – the lady who wrote DEAD MAN WALKING). They are a breed apart. One woman I know is in prison now for her protest at the School for the Americas. She’s 101. And a bad ass. Also, as I hear, very popular among her fellow inmates. Because, of course.

      • maggiestiefvater

        THIS DELIGHTS ME.

      • Jéssica De Freitas Maciel

        You are so lucky! Wish i grew up around these marvelous woman too

  • bobbie killip

    I love the way you get inside my head and move stuff around when I’m reading your books, and I love the way you open up my head to the possibility of how to move stuff when I’m reading your blog. Thank you. And for the record, I think you’ve succeeded in your mission with Blue. She’s full of awesome and way better than any of the boys. Even Gansey.

    • maggiestiefvater

      Ha, thanks! Blue gets to have this conversation herself in the very near future . . .

      And thanks again for the nice words about the blog and books, too.

      • GraceMiller

        YESYESYESYESYES BLUEEEEEE

  • Amy H Meunier

    I love so many things about this. I always loved the girls, Anne, Laura etc. But I think I did, partially, because I was supposed to. There are absolutely things about me that are very feminine/nurturing mother and I know how to change a tire, split wood and clean the gutters. I think I was lucky in that my mom was (had to be) a strong role model for getting things done. My dad was working a lot when I was growing up, so if something had to be done, it got done. It didn’t matter if it was a girl job or not. I know sometimes I still surprise people when I do “guy” things. (Aside: I would love to be in a race the way you do, Maggie! that sounds like so darn much fun!) But I feel like every time we do things that are not expected of us, we are also shifting perceptions. So basically, it’s so important to have self examinations like this and to get to the place where we do things we want to do and not those that are expected of us. In this way, we keep the world changing! Thanks for writing, Maggie!

    • maggiestiefvater

      I totally agree with you — and I think your mother sounds amazing. 🙂

  • fivecats

    The blessing is that you’re now able to give the younger generations that exact type of hero in female form.

    • maggiestiefvater

      Man, I hope so.

  • Genel Kiarra Gronkowski

    I spend a lot of time doing online role-playing and once I did a little faux-experiment. I created two identical characters with the same hero-type personality. Physical appearance was moot because they both wore long, black coats with the cowl pulled down low. I asked roleplayers on several sites what they thought of the characters, and the male was described as “kind of sexy’, “pretty cool” and “badass”.

    The girl was a “bitch” “melodramatic” and “unrealistic”. If the guy was cocky and arrogant, it was just part of his character, but if the girl was she must have an agenda. It’s basically the same reason I put fantasy novels back onto the shelf and walk away longingly.

    Fantasy novels keep sending me the messages that girls are only allowed to be cool characters if they use magic. Want to fight with a real weapon? Well, maybe we’ll give you a bow, but that’s only so you can stand off to the side and let the real heroes do all the work. Forget swords, and don’t even think about morning stars or axes.

    Get back to the alchemical kitchen and make me a fireball sandwich.

    On an off note, I’m not sure how I would react to a female Tyler Durden. I keep picturing Brad Pitt with boobs, wearing an apron, making soap, and yelling “Marla needs to go”. Fanfiction of this probably exists somewhere.

    • Jeska

      *snort* “Get back to the alchemical kitchen and make me a fireball sandwich.” 🙂

      • Taylor Dunn

        Yep, great line!

    • maggiestiefvater

      Oh, I so hope that that fanfic exists. Please let it exist.

      And YES. The double-standard is breathtaking. Brief confession: it irritates the snot out of me when readers say that Blue is weaker than Adam, for instance — the characters were designed as gender analogues, and if Blue were the boy, everyone would say right now she is kicking his ass in this game called life.

      • Hey, Blue got out of the boat. I don’t think people realize how much strength it takes to resist temptation, and to not just go along and do whatever makes someone else feel better at the expense of oneself.

    • SarahZ

      I’m having trouble with Disqus, so sorry if I post this twice, but if you haven’t already you should check out Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books. Alana, the protag in the first Tortall series, is in training as a knight. She does have some magic abilities, but she’s first and foremost a warrior, and one badass swordswoman. It’s a middle grades/ya series, but definitely a classic.

      • Veronica

        I’ve read all of her Tortall series, I started as a teen and now I’m 30 and still reading her books. The Protector of the Small quartet is my favorite because Kel has no magic and is just a warrior and a leader and all around badass who is also a good person.

  • Jeska

    Thank you for putting that into words. I especially liked the part about “Maggie hobbies.” I’ve been failing to write a worthy reply for over an hour.

    In high school English, my favorite character was Mercutio, so that’s who I played when we acted parts in class. When I watch a movie or read a book (although in looking at my shelves, I do read a lot of female-led books), often times it is a male character that I find myself becoming. And when I ride my scooter around town, sometimes I catch myself emoting a little bit of kick-butt hell’s angel. (Haha. On a scooter!)

    I’ve always seen myself as a girl that relates better to boys. (Not that I don’t get along with other girls… just in small doses!) And, I love my role as a nurturing mother type. I may teach them to sew and cook, but just keep giving me all boys, please?

    But I guess, if I get a girl in the mix… I can think of a good non-fiction role model for her. And for myself too.

    • Mercutio is the bomb. I was Mark Antony (pre-Cleopatra) in the death of Caesar scene, and I felt like such a badass. I was teaching preschool last summer and had a very long talk with one of my four-year-olds about why I could be Captain America even though I am a lady. That boy liked to play the Hulk to another boy’s Ironman, and they invited me to join. I am not a Black Widow fan.

  • Shannon Lawson Hemric

    I loved this!! It felt like you were writing about me. I had a hard time growing up and feeling “odd”. I didn’t do Barbies, so they called me a tomboy. I wanted to be a pirate, and my family shook their heads. I didn’t want to rock baby dolls, and my school mates shunned me. Thank goodness for my mom!!!!! She was the one that told me that there wasn’t anything I couldn’t have or accomplish! Now I am married with three sons. I have always taught them that gender stereotypes are WRONG!!! I want to raise my children to see the worth of the women they have in their lives. And to see it on that woman’s terms!!!!!

  • Bridgette Johnson

    I’m so glad you posted this. Just for the record, I think you’ve achieved this goal with all of your female characters. I loved Puck more than I did Sean in The Scorpio Races, and I adore Blue in The Raven Boys. Your post also makes me feel so infinitely better about my heroine in my WIP. Even being brought up with feminist values from my mother (who never married) and an outspoken feminist aunt, I’ve found myself wondering if I’m making my heroine too hard, too masculine, and would then add something to soften her and kept doubting myself it it was there to make a more fleshed out character or if, for some reason, I didn’t think having her so strong was appropriate. Again, though it’s fantasy, specifically a gender-swapped retelling of Sleeping Beauty. However, I don’t like to write to realistic fiction or too much of it either. Even when you’re not talking about writing, it’s still though provoking and this will make me relook at my heroine, and the other characters, to make sure I’m not changing her, or the Prince’s character, to fit gender roles that isn’t appropriate for their personality.

    I was always a bit of a girly girl–played with dolls, liked dresses as a child, and watched every single Disney princess movie. But even as a kid, I wondered why the girl couldn’t rescue the boy. Why was it always a girl in distress? Why couldn’t there be a dude in distress? Sadly, that line up extends far beyond Disney’s versions of centuries old fairy tales and is in much of fiction literature in all genres. It’s so pervasive and ingrained that we don’t even notice sometimes. Your books don’t do that and it’s one of the many reasons that I love them. If there is rescuing to be done, it needs to be done more equally. I think that’s nice and needed sometimes because then it shows how a real relationship might work where each person supports the other, instead of one person being in charge all the time. But there still needs to be more books showing female characters that are just as complex and strong as male characters. Life influences literature and literature influences life so maybe with more complex, multidimensional, strong female characters in books the real life possibility of that will become a reality.

    Anyway, thanks again for posting this!

  • miriamjoywrites

    Thank you — this post was awesome, and I know what you mean, because as a kid I felt the same way. Now I’m working my way out of it … mostly.

    Also, the name Sean Dillon jumped out at me from that list. I spy character-name-influences.

    • maggiestiefvater

      *wiggles eyebrows* I like to entertain myself.

  • awhit333

    What a great post! I’ve had similar discussions with female friends recently, and I really hope more writers will follow your lead in this. I remember clearly the first female character I wanted to be, since they were few and far between. It was Meg Murray from A Wrinkle in Time. As an adult, I read the Philip Pullman series and thought about how much my young self would have desperately wanted to be Sally Lockhart. I think young people having other young people of both genders to have awesome vicarious experiences through is hugely important. By the way- I have also added Puck Connolly to the list of characters I want to be.

    • Man, Meg Murry was the best! She was grumpy and smart and not cute and I finally felt there was someone like me in a book.

  • AnnaReed

    I’m 13, so most of what you just wrote confused me. A lot. Growing up reading your books has shown me that there are types of fearless, bad ass, witty female characters. So much so that whenever I’m in a bad mood with a friend I’ll tell that that I’m about to go Isabel-Culpepper-icy on them. No one gets the reference. Ever. Honestly, I feel sorry for you to have grown up without a Maggie Stiefvater of your generation to inspire you. Thanks for writing the awesome books that have shaped the base of my personality and littered my ceiling with paper cranes.

    • maggiestiefvater

      GOOD GOD you have improved my day by one thousand.

    • AnnaReed

      I think it’s fair considering you have improved my life by one thousand.

      • Jenn Baker

        AnnaReed, you are officially one of the most awesome 13 y/os in the world.

      • Jéssica De Freitas Maciel

        Indeed. I salute you girl

      • Taylor Dunn

        I agree! I would love to see you get out there and do some writing AnnaReed, be the inspiration of the next generation. Do you know what a “shawty” is? If so, I’d say you’re in good shape to take over for Maggie…

    • Ella Galindo,

      I get the reference! So cool!

    • Jyn McBratney

      Well said.

  • Jackie Dolamore

    I’ve been playing like crazy with the way I write girls vs. boys and the way I think about them and the traits I give them (and the tragic pasts, even!). I blogged about it over the summer. http://jaclyndolamore.blogspot.com/2013/07/writing-female-characters-with-secret.html It is amazing how ingrained some of this stuff is. When I was a young thing I wanted to be an actress until I realized I had no interest in female parts. I grew up with that same feeling that I wanted to be a boy because they got to do the cool stuff. And I’m not a tomboy. I just wish I was David Bowie sometimes. Since you posted this, I am hopeful that maybe growing awareness is in the collective unconscious these days.

  • So, true story: when I was twenty-six my mother took me to one of your artist talks while we were in L.A. As I queued up to have you scribble in my copy of The Scorpio Races after your story about taking a phone call on an airplane my mother leaned over to whisper in my ear, “She’s just like you!” To which I replied, “I know.”

    My mother spent most of my childhood convinced that I was a lesbian. While I liked to bake and draw and crochet, I also liked to climb trees and play with Legos and pretend to be a Ninja. My role models were Blue Power Ranger, Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, and the Greek goddesses Artemis and Athena. My mother found my affinity for denim and my tendency to wear leather jewelry with a lot of metal elements mildly alarming. She was convinced I was the only woman like me in the whole world. I now realize I utterly mystified her as a child (which translated as me being cranky and irritable and mean to her because I knew she didn’t get me and I didn’t want what I felt she was trying to force on me.)

    The really funny part is that the first thing you said to me was that I seemed familiar.

  • YC

    I sometimes find myself feeling a little bit despaired that, as, a female who identifies as a girl, there is so little I could be in my favorite literary worlds. I couldn’t be a Lost Boy, or a knight, or Robin Hood. It gets you down, ya know?

    • My mother used to make all the neighborhood kids play Robin Hood with her, just so she could play RH. And my aunt wouldn’t play Star Wars unless she got to be Han Solo. So it crosses some generations…

  • icenek0

    This post is an inspiration. It is encouraging to know you eventually found the person you want to be. I’m still struggling with ‘I wish I was born a boy’. Perhaps in another 5 years I’ll reach the point were I’m happy with the skin I was born into. For now thou, I great look up the characters like Katsa from Graceling. She is probably my ideal heronie. I also really admired Grace and her realistic reactions in Shiver. So many times I read girls discovering the truth and whining about it, or claiming the guy betrayed her, such irrational reactions. Isabel is nothing short of awesome as well.

    Ha! I would rather love to see an Avengers movie where they are all women. We really do need more publicized female roll models. Thanks for the post Maggie!

  • rosie

    I would have been exactly in the same boat as you, but I was lucky enough to grow up with a dad who coaches the women’s swim team at the Air Force Academy. I was raised surrounded by strong, determined, funny and totally awesome women. If you even need inspiration, female fighter pilots are pretty darn impressive 🙂

    • maggiestiefvater

      Here is a true story: I longed to be a fighter pilot (my father was a Navy doctor) and I still own the calendar where I marked the sad, sad day when my appalling vision officially got too bad for me to get into Annapolis.

      • rosie

        Oh, that is the worst!

  • Maddie Bee

    For me, Puck is that character. I wish I had met her when I was younger (not that I can’t change, but it just seems harder now, hehe).

    • maggiestiefvater

      This is a lovely thing. THANK YOU.

  • Jenny

    I’ll restate what everyone else has already said: thank you so much for addressing this issue. What’s almost worse than the sexism and gender stereotypes themselves is that people constantly pretend that they don’t exist. It’s true that as a whole, women have made serious progress in terms of independence, but even though the gender divide is not as obvious as it once was, it’s still present. Literature does contain some amazing female characters though, such as Hermione Granger, Maddie and Julie from Code Name Verity, and of course Grace, Puck and Blue (I haven’t yet read Lament, so I can’t comment on Deirdre). There are so many instances when I wish that I could either meet and befriend one of your characters, or just be them and have all of their fun adventures (because it might be easy for me to be strong and independent and not care what anyone else has to say about me, but it is infinitely harder to meet a pack of wolves, ride in the Scorpio races or look for an ancient Welsh king). In addition to the amazing characters you have created, I also admire you. You write fantastic-amazing-brilliant books, compose your own music (which is great for listening to while writing), make beautiful art and drive race cars. Seriously, I need to learn to drive manual so that I can get my own race car or the Pig. So thank you for being inspiring and just all around awesome.

    As well- I know you’re busy with all of the aforementioned awesome stuff, but is there an email address where I can contact you? I would love to talk more about my newfound love for cars inspired by the Dream Thieves and general bookish things and don’t want to take up more room than I already have here (sorry, by the way).

    • maggiestiefvater

      Why yes, indeed, I do: StiefvaterReaderMail@gmail.com (but I will warn you I am slow indeed to answer).

      And thank you. Which is a very, very short answer to a very nice comment indeed.

      • Jenny

        Email sent! Thank you for taking the time to reply to my comment and I really hope you’ll be able to respond to my email!

  • Jessa Bateman

    Teenage Maggie reminds me an awful lot of… well… currently-teenage me. And I second basically everything you’ve said in this post. Because it seriously sucks to have “masculine” interests when you’re a girl and you have next to no female role models mildly like you. We actually were writing in my Honors English class today about heroes – I made a list of some of mine and was hard-pressed to come up with females (by the way, Maggie, you made my list, along with Elizabeth I).

    But in some ways, it’s nice to have the male-female imbalance. It means that I can draw inspiration from male heroes and favorite male characters of mine for when I write my stories. It also means that I can laugh at how closely I resemble some characters… For example, I consider myself to have a very similar personality and skill set as Gansey. Which is awesome.

    It does make it harder to come up with original female characters who can be just as kick-butt as the guys stereotypically are. It’s probably a good thing I like being challenged.

  • Jenny Bravo

    What an amazing post! I definitely had a tomboy phase as a child, but I hate that phrase! Being labeled a “tomboy” was so unfair. Just because I wanted to climb trees and play in the woods didn’t make me any less of a girl. Thankfully, I feel like these stereotypes are changing. Girls and boys can be whoever they want. At least that’s what I’d like to believe!

    Jenny
    http://www.blotsandplots.com

  • appifanie

    “When they appeared as secondary characters, they were the rocks the tempestuous men tied themselves to. They were the helpmeets and the scholars, the ones who did their homework and the ones who appeared with solutions at the last minute. And as narrators, they were often plucky and fearless and capable. But they were never just a female version of any of the people on my list of Dudes I Wished I Was. ” Yes.

  • Steve MC

    I longed to be the strong, wise-cracking adventurer, too, and I was a scarf-weaving, cookie-baking boy you could’ve easily whupped. It takes a long time to appreciate yourself and your gifts and be strong enough to claim that space, and I’ve always appreciated that we’re getting the authentic Maggie.

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  • Julie P Gallegos

    Love this. It’s like reading about myself! I totally agree. I too wished I could be a boy sometimes, I wanted the remote control cars and the Thundercats set. Nope, I received nail polishes and clothes. I’m cool with who I am now, but I’m also turning 40 in a couple of months. I guess better late than never. BTW, I love the female characters in your books.

    • Julie P Gallegos

      BTW, my two beautiful children have helped me love being a woman. They are my rock.

  • Adiba

    Interesting.
    Sometimes I think about how boys and girls are different, in books and stories, or even in real life. Sometimes I also think about what it would be like to be a boy. But I don’t think of what it would be like to be a boy because all my role models and superheroes are males, I just think of it because it’s interesting to see a problem in different points of views, and so I always wonder how a male might be thinking, or reacting, or taking in shôcking news. In books it says how they are feeling when shocking or surprising news is given, but that’s different from actually feeling the feeling. I’ve always wondered if they think differently or whatever.
    It’s interesting how you wanted to be a boy. I never really think that I WANT to be a boy, I just think about how different it would be if I WAS one.
    I’m sorry that you didn’t really have any females who were like your role models, but I’m glad that you are the person you want to be now.

  • Teresa Meredith

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! You are such an inspiration to me. I love reading anything and everything you have to say. You’re easily my favorite author to check in with. This post really hit home. I’m 40 now, but I grew up with the same thoughts and frustrations. Why do the boys get to have all the fun? Why can’t girls be the heroes of adventures? Why would I want to play “school” when I can play tag? And hello? Would you rather be Indiana Jones or Princess Leia? Seriously?! I grew up with lots of boy friends, having forced my way into their ranks, and felt quite at home there, I might add. But people do tend to raise eyebrows and tease anyone they see as a “tomboy”. I did make some great female friends, but I’ve always been quite fond of hanging out with the guys. It always angered me to feel like I had to be limited in my abilities and activities because of some societal expectation. I grew up and now work in a very male-dominated field. I find some people can’t quite take me seriously (like I couldn’t possibly know what I’m doing). Others react with an expression of shock or seem to think I must be some kind of freak. Mostly it is fine once people get to know me. I really admire strong female characters though and always will. Ripley from Alien comes to mind. And Maggie…you combine the strong female character with a sense of adventure, humor, and creativity that literally makes my day all the time. Oh, and GOATS! Thanks for being you!

  • Rahnie

    I want to be like Gansey (lol) and Howl from ‘howl’s moving castle’ too!
    but i always look for a way to be that person while being a girl, lol!

  • I’m 21, and I still feel this way. It’s in everything I do every day – I don’t not want to be a girl, but sometimes it seems like being a boy would make everything so much easier. At work, a conversation came up about having kids. I said I didn’t want any, and immediately got reactions such as “you’ll change your mind” or “why not, it’s the only way you’ll ever truly learn what love is!” or “wow, um, that’s…okay.” Nobody flat-out said it was my duty as a lady bearing ladyparts to shove another human out of them, but it was implied. Several days later, another similar conversation sprang up and my male coworker announced, “Yeah, having kids, not for me.”

    Not a single person questioned him. Nobody asked him to defend his reasons. No one suggested it was his duty, or that he wouldn’t feel as whole without it.

    This is just one of those ways in which I constantly feel that being a man would make me free to be who I want to be. I am independent and fierce and opinionated and smart, and I hate that these are things I associate with being “scary” in a woman just because I’ve grown up being told that, from people, from family, from movies and books. I hate that boys have flat-out told me that my intellect intimidates them, so much so that they’ll stop talking to me altogether. It’s a really confusing thing, and I feel that way all the time.

    Which really just makes me grateful for you, and authors like you (Maureen Johnson, Sarah Rees Brennan) who are committed to writing fully-realized girl characters who get to be humans of all varieties and shapes. That’s part of why I want to write books one day, too – because maybe then girls who grow up after me won’t have to struggle quite as hard as I am to figure these things out.

  • Bronte

    Ever read Kristin Chasore’s books- AWESOME heroines and Tamora Pierce’s series Song of the Lioness is about one very boyish heroine who becomes a pretty cool woman by the end of the quartet. I’ve always wanted to be the heroines, they often poses qualities I wish I possessed and generally have one (or sometimes more) very desirable suitors.

  • Annie J.

    Things like this are always so interesting to me because I never felt that disconnect. I grew up in the mountains in a small town where life was rough and very raw and we had to snowmobile into our cabin in the winter because the snow was so thick the cars couldn’t make it off the highway. I had really strong women in my family (my mom was 6 months pregnant on the back of that snowmobile and that was the life she wanted) and I didn’t even realize it, because it was all I knew. I read a lot and dreamed even more and never felt a dearth of female characters in my stories or in my life.

    I remember distinctly looking at Linda Hamilton in the Terminator movies and being upset that they had to make her so much like a guy. Because I felt like Hollywood was saying you can’t be both a woman and strong – not really. The only way to do it is for a woman to pretend like she’s a guy and then we’ll believe it. So, it’s fascinating for me to hear the other side of that where you were looking for that sort of a character – not as a Hollywood cop out because the men had no imagination but because a woman that was tough and aggressive like that was a dimension you didn’t see much of anywhere else. And I’m sort of putting words in your mouth with the specific example of Terminator, which I don’t mean to do. It was just such an explicit moment to me growing up, I’ve never seen the other side of it.

    And I really like seeing things from someone else’s point of view or understanding something in a way other than I’ve known. So, thanks for a really cool post.

  • Ella Galindo,

    I totally understand. I’m 13 and I always want to be awesome and witty and agile and everything else. But I guess that’s normal. I want to be a writer and I want the narrator be a strong woman role. I look up to you and Veronica Roth, Suzanne Collins,Marie Lu, and many more amazing authors who have made women fearless and brave. I just got stitches and didn’t even cry! I really hope I grow up to be strong. What I think the real problem is that the setting is wrong. Where is the carnivorous horses? Or the tyrannical leader that forces teens to fight to the death? Only if I had the chance to be an actual hero.

  • Pedro Guimarães

    You are fantastic! I just hope to be at least 50% like you, though I like being a boy.
    Anyways, I’m working on it already…
    So, about Forever: the ending is somehow (I really don’t know why) my perfect ending for the trilogy. You did an incredible job on the books, I really appreciated it, thank you. And you also made me feel the cold while reading (and I live in the Amazon for Chris’t sake).
    About The Scorpio Races: I miss them. I mean, I really DO miss them.

    Maggie… What can I say? Thank you will never be enough.
    You are fantastic!

  • Roaring Goose

    Intellectually you know it isn’t true, but with the constant barrage
    of sexist noise from society, sometimes its easy to think that you’re
    the only girl who doesn’t identify with how women are generally
    presented in movies and books.
    You know about sexism, you know about
    how it works in the media and most of the time you are okay with who
    you are even though it flies in the face of all of the stereotypes
    people try to box you into. But still there’s that terrible little voice
    in the back of your head that occasionally looks at everybody else,
    then looks at you and asks, “What’s wrong with you?”
    And you feel ashamed even though you know you have nothing to be ashamed about and it’s all so confusing.
    This
    is why I deeply appreciate you and your books, this blog, all of the
    comments below it and all of the people who wrote them. Every ally is an
    arrow in my quiver of logic and rationality and hope, so next time that
    voice pops up I can take it down immediately and then dance upon it’s
    grave.
    Intellectually knowing you’re not alone is one thing, actual evidence that it is true is another.
    Having
    actual evidence that I’m not alone makes me feel brave, and feeling
    brave makes those stereotypes seem less like untouchable foes that will
    always be waiting in the background. Now I can see that they are just
    things and like all things they have weaknesses, they have an Achilles
    heel.

    Stereotypes are not untouchable, they are weak and tenuous and very vulnerable.

    And I think I am in the mood to take a few of them down.

  • Ada Turanli

    I also sometimes think the same as you, Maggie. 🙂

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  • The One

    Maggie, I could say the same thing. All my life I’ve looked up to characters like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, until, ya know, I met Puck and Blue. I’m in high school and have read a lot of books, and I must say that my favorite series is the Raven Boys. Your female roles in all of your series; even The Curiosities, have inspired me as a writer, an artist, and a person. Keep it up; I’m dying to read that next book!

    http://theonewholovestoeat.tumblr.com/post/68215912052/when-noah-teaches-blue-how-to-kiss-theres-gonna

  • Victoria Prickett

    Maggie I’m dealing with the exact same thing in the situation that I’m in now. I can’t tell you how much I relate to Blue in The Raven Boys…and how inspirational Puck was in the Scorpio Races. It was so nice to finally see really strong female characters that didn’t have to depend on boys to be the hero. This is so inspirational for young girls who read stories and want to be the female characters…now they can know what they are capable of and not just aspire to be the damsel in distress and dream of prince charming coming to rescue them!

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  • Dawn Kurtagich

    You’ve highlighted how lucky I am to have grown up with my mother. She is everything you described, only more. 😀

  • Jyn McBratney

    I was raised by a single father and an older brother. In my household, I am the one to fix the toilet or install a new sink faucet – not my husband. I worked in a coroner’s office and have been an autopsy technician. I have watched grown men fall apart over the most mundane, scientific processes . I cannot describe the joy I felt when I bought my Skil saw, or when I used said saw to built my own French Industrial, distressed and aged bookshelf. (It’s beautiful and costed a FRACTION to build than buy.) I LOVE OFFROADING. I currently have a tongue-in-cheek competition with my brother about who can mod out their jeep faster.

    I get SO frustrated with female heroines in books and film. Most often, I just want to slap them. I often have to stop myself from saying out loud to a fictional character, “That is the MOST RIDICULOUS THING YOU COULD POSSIBLY DO RIGHT NOW, YOU SPINELESS MORON.” Unfortunately, I like to read romance. I say unfortunately because I often accidentally spend money on romance books that feature my biggest pet peeve: a woman who ‘loses all sense’ or is ‘overcome’ or you know, lets go of all of her rigid moral values because some dude shows up and gets her all flustered. I keep asking myself, do women really behave this way? Am I an anomaly? Is my gender only good for waiting around to be saved, to be completed, to bake?

    I most certainly hope the answer is no. I admit that I was raised by dudes, so I have always grown up with the ‘tomboy’ filter on when I look in the mirror. I don’t look like a dude, but I always thought I acted like one. I cuss, I spit when I need to, I like tools, I like working with my hands, I like the outdoors, I like getting dirty. I like showing men I am just as good as they are at something. That I can even beat them. My husband doesn’t do manual labor, despite his rugged masculinity. This doesn’t bother me at all – it makes me feel good because I do. Despite this, I am most assuredly a woman. I hate that society tells young, impressionable girls that they can’t be both.

    So thanks, Maggie. Thanks for Puck and Blue and Grace. (I didn’t want to slap any of them.)

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  • LadyThief

    Um….Hey? Well so I really just came upon this by mere chance, not gonna lie. But instead of skipping by it something caught my attention and i just had to read. Once I started I really couldn’t stop. I can absolutely and honestly say i feel for you Maggie. I am just like that to the tithe. Like now I’m constantly scouring the net looking for a robin hood story. Also has anyone fifured that there are quite a few that star robin as female? Those are the absolute greatest stories I’ve ever read. And its simply because they made the heroine more heroic than typical. Im noy gonna lie I hate stories where women are common damsels in distress. Absolutely loathe those stories. But people are starting to come out and see the idea of a female not having to ve stuck in her old heroine persona is not a crazy idea. I feel weird saying that i am 16 and still wish i was a dude so I could be that awesome but its true. Sadly. Also do you have any robin hood books recently its become ny ovsession even over the female King Arthur. I’ll check into your books! Ciao!

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  • Chels

    I’m a 14 year old girl who’s in your situation as well. I also wish I was born a male not because I’m into the same gender or what not but because of the movies I have watched and I’m a total movie fanatic and they always portray men in a way that I wish I could be. And I sometimes feel a little hopeless sometimes, and I’m glad I’m not the only one who felt this way.

Maggie Stiefvater
Hi, I'm Maggie Stiefvater

Professional novelist by day and artist by night. I live an eccentric life in the middle of nowhere, Virginia with my charmingly straight-laced husband, two kids, and neurotic dogs. I’m the author of the Books of Faerie (LAMENT and BALLAD); the bestselling SHIVER trilogy (SHIVER, LINGER, FOREVER), and THE SCORPIO RACES.

How I Write

Maggie Stiefvater Novels

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