They say diamonds are a girl’s best friend. I would have to disagree, because books, besides lasting forever, offer something priceless: the power of imagination.
In a world of constrictions, duties, injustices and violence, a book offers the comfort of being able to be somewhere else for a couple of hours and the chance to experience pain and happiness that do not belong to us. As Fernando Pessoa wrote in «The book of Disquiet» - “Literature is the most agreeable way of ignoring life.”
However, the most popular tales are a disguised warning, that teach people to conform to social norms and helps shape behaviors. The “righteous path” appears as the reward for those who choose it, and the consequences of breaking the rules are catastrophic. Fables and fairytales have a concealed undertone of policing female’s sexuality and educating them to take traditional roles in society. There is a reason to why the prince saves the day and the dame in distress is always helpless while waiting to be saved.
Nevertheless, in modern history we have been able to read uncountable books written about woman. They portrait mothers, daughters, lovers, sisters and sometimes these roles combined. Rarely the hero of their own story, woman in literature often appear as a crutch to male leads and their angst. A trend set no doubt thanks to most writers in the past being men, since the opportunity to have a published book wasn’t possible until recently for woman. In the words of Osterhaus “images of women in literature that are products of a creative process that has a limited perspective”.
The feeling of knowing there is someone else we can be, whose problems are different but relatable is a priority when reading and the importance of being accurately represented in literature has been ignored until the last decades. The realization that books are mirrors of society, and therefore should portrait it fairly came like a breath of fresh air for the literary movement. The possibilities became infinite and genres were created, after the notion that minorities such as women and people of color could create as exquisitely as white men.
New heroes were born; characters had souls and struggles that went beyond the obvious choices that existed so far and social movements gained a voice.
Jane Austen, Virginia wolf and Maya Angelou thrived as they were given the opportunity to publish their thoughts and inspired generations to make their voices heard. They set the path for young girls like me that dreamed of being the hero in their own story and having their work become recognized and awarded. These authors are the proof of why representation matters and why there are so many people fighting for it, so we can all open a book, and for a simple and quiet moment, believe we are there.