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Mandy Stewart, Ph. D. Headshot

Be Divergent and Other Lessons for My Daughter

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What am I?


That's the predicted $45 million dollar question by and response to Tris Prior, the latest teenage heroine currently in theaters. The powers that be are scared of her because of her divergence -- her unique ability to not let others control her thinking. But this is nothing new. This month, we celebrate strong women of our past, many of whom scared the incumbent powers with their divergent ideas. They demanded the right to vote even though conventional wisdom said their husbands represented them. The pursued various professions, even though the only obvious options were homemaker, secretary, nurse or teacher.

As I celebrate the women of the past, I also look forward to the future as I see that our daughters now have protagonists in their books (and movies, but I adamantly contend that the books are better) that show strong adolescent female characters who are leaders, world-changers and revolutionaries. While these young adult books-turned-movies have their drawbacks, they can provide lessons for young women about their worth, potential and limitless possibilities.

1. Twilight: Be picky, very picky about boys. In fact, if he does not treat you as good as Edward, he is not good enough for you. Period. (Oh! There are no boys left like that? Well just focus on school and concern yourself with boys when you have a graduate degree.)

2. The Hunger Games: Don't be afraid to lead the revolution. Unfortunately, there are many, many bad things in our world. Sometimes small, conservative changes are not appropriate, especially regarding social justice, death and slavery as seen in this trilogy. Sometimes, revolution is required to effect change. Step up. Know what you are fighting for. Be brave and lead. (And even better if you can do it with a signature hair style!)

3. The Vampire Academy: Don't be afraid to compete with the boys. Assume anything they can do, you can do better. (While dancing backwards in high heels...) Eschew the comment: You're good, for a girl. We've all heard it in one form or another, sometimes under the guise of a compliment. Prove them wrong. Aim to be the best. Of everyone.

4. Divergent: Don't let anyone tell you how to think. Many will want to and will fear you finding your voice. But don't let them control your mind. Do your homework and come to your own decisions. And never, ever be afraid, if after careful study and your gut feeling, you arrive at a different opinion than everyone else. Be divergent. (If were not for Susan B. Anthony's divergence, I wouldn't have the opportunity to cancel my husband's vote out in nearly every election!)

Admittedly, there is some activity in these books I would not want my daughter to emulate. Not every protagonist follows moral behavior at all times. However, students read Romeo and Juliet and I certainly would not want them to follow their final actions either. It's about the conversation to ensue.

And whereas these female characters possess noteworthy qualities, we must be aware that these are all white girls, leaving out other races, cultures and linguistic backgrounds. Hopefully Hollywood will take note of this and produce more movies from the growing wealth of young adult literature with strong female characters of diverse backgrounds. (Click here for suggestions, Ron Howard.) Surely we have a better chance of solving our innumerable problems when all voices are brought to the table regardless of gender, race, nationality, language or other discriminating factors.

And while I await the blockbuster of the award-winning books representing a greater diversity of girls, I still think there are important lessons to take from these new stories. Stories that do not leave our daughters dreaming of playing the part of Hermione Granger, Harry Potter's faithful sidekick.

During this Women's History Month, may we celebrate divergent women of the past and those of the future: Our strong, beautiful daughters who are growing up with possibilities that extend far beyond the right to vote. A future where women know their worth, their potential and their ability to change the world. So move over Harry, the girls can take it from here.