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September 2, 2015

Woman Crush Wednesday: Brainy Ladies for Back to School!

Posted by Maya
Happy #wcw! And happy September --- as the school year kicks into gear, we decided to feature ladies of literature who inspire(d) us as we headed back to school! This may be a bit of a #tbt for many of us 20somethings, but the women who gave us the strength and courage to face a whole new year of classes and social confusion are always worth celebrating! New beginnings can be hard. So can recognizing that as a 20something, autumn means a lot less of a structured return to classes and routine and a lot more of figuring out how to do the adult thing when you don’t have a college advisor to turn to. But some things don’t have to change, like our love for the #wcws who inspire our Septembers no matter how we spend them!
Ronnie: Annabeth Chase from the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan
The daughter of Athena, the mythic Greek goddess of wisdom, Annabeth Chase is a serious smarty-pants. When Riordan’s titular boy-hero Percy meets Annabeth at a summer camp for demigods, he’s instantly blown away by her genius --- and he has good reason to be! Just like her mom, Annabeth has a particular gift for both strategy and memorization, skills that make her an invaluable ally and a formidable foe. Without Annabeth, Percy Jackson’s status as brave saver of Mount Olympus and true hero would have never been achieved. Just like Hermione Granger, Annabeth reminds middle school girls everywhere that being super smart is really cool. 
Maya: Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling
I don’t think I’d be anywhere near who I am today without Hermione --- and although I do especially nerd out over Harry Potter, I know I’m not the only 20something who feels that way. I love Emma Watson, but movie-Hermione is written almost too tidily, taking a lot of Ron’s lines to seem like a more rounded character (than she already is) and taming her hair so soon, while book-Hermione is complex and absolutely relatable. Her hair! That alone, for the mixed race half-Jewish six-year-old I was when I first read about Hermione’s bushy mane, was enough to make me feel so close to her. Far from the sexualized, flat female trope that some YA young women fall into, Hermione is her own character. She loves to read. She loves to learn and explore, and being Muggle-born, at a very young age she was thrown into a world with entirely different rules than the one she grew up in --- and again when that new world ended up being fraught with danger and some very impractical friends!
Hermione taught me that books can be a path to confidence. She taught me that within research and knowledge, you can create your own surety, and the tools to fight for what you learn you believe in. She also taught me that one must take what they’ve learned in books and put it into practice. Hermione taught me to question authority, to fight for justice in a system that pretends it is already just. I honestly think more people would understand my transition from quiet, awkward bookworm to angry, passionate feminist if the movies had included S.P.E.W., Hermione’s Society for the Protection of Elfish Welfare. Her execution was misguided, but her goals were as bright, selfless and ambitious as Harry’s, if not more so. J.K. Rowling has indicated that Hermione went on to spend her life fighting for equitable rights in her career in the Ministry, and she began at school. She is a frizzy-haired, book-loving, passionate and compassionate young woman, with an eye for what true equality does and does not look like. Boys break her heart and she breaks theirs. She cries and stresses out over classes, snaps at her friends when they’re just not being very good friends; she consumes books almost as she breathes, looks absolutely gorgeous when she feels like it and lets her puffy hair and big teeth fly and shine when she just can’t be bothered...and she saves the world. No matter how many September firsts pass by without that Hogwarts letter ever making it to me, I know that Hermione Granger will remind me to be the unapologetic, understanding, beautiful, brilliant witch that I am. Always. 
Jeanna: Ms. Henry, high school librarian
You probably don't know Ms. Henry. She's not famous, nor has she written any books. However, when I think of a woman who made me want to return to school each year, I think of Ms. Henry. She's the one who taught me that reading was awesome, writing bad poetry is cool and traveling the world changes you. Each new school year, she would return from her travels with new stories to tell and new books for me to check out. She's such an inspiring lady, I wrote all my college application essays about her and got accepted into each and every one. After my graduation, she retired but still travels the world, inspiring all who cross her path.
Hannah: Rheya from SOLARIS by Stanislaw Lem
Dr. Kelvin seems to have it bad: He’s studying an alien planet that keeps conjuring up a recreation of his long-dead love, Rheya. Every time he looks at her, he’s filled with a mixture of love, hope, fear and regret --- after all, he blames himself for not saving her before she killed herself.
But the recreated Rheya’s story can be considered the true tragedy. She’s the creation of a sentient being whose purpose remains unfathomable, and the incompleteness of her sense of self plagues her from the start. She can’t understand why she has so many gaps in memory and why she’ll never measure up to the “real” Rheya; moreover, no matter how hard she tries to distance herself, her very presence depends on her close proximity to Kelvin. Haunted by fits of amnesia and inhuman transformations and unable to come to terms with her identity crisis, she tries to end her life in increasingly violent ways. If those heartbreaking actions don’t qualify her as a human, I don’t know what ever will.
“I wish I'd a knowed more people. I would of loved 'em all. If I'd a knowed more, I would a loved more.” This quote, from Toni Morrison’s sublime SONG OF SOLOMON, has popped up in my mind on nearly a weekly basis since I first read it in college. Morrison is often called the best living American writer, and having read and re-read a handful of her novels, I find it a pretty hard claim to dispute. (The only other quote from contemporary literature that haunts me so is from Philip Roth’s AMERICAN PASTORAL, so take that as you will.) She has a knack for turning setting, description and even names into characters of their own --- the aforementioned SOLOMON has characters named Milkman, Pilate, First Corinthians and Macon, all of whom bear the surname Dead --- and a clear but distinct narrative voice that consistently exemplifies the best in American writing. BELOVED is a classroom favorite, but I recommend you pick up the slimmer, more streamlined SULA and let Morrison school ya.