Girls Who Read

So, last weekend I decided to begin the long process of rewatching a show I had first discovered at the age of 14 that aired on a premium cable channel while I was attending summer school before my freshman year of high school (not because I was failing any classes, actually, but so I could get a half-credit out of the way from my phys ed requirement before starting high school; I ended up taking the health/sex ed class, BTW). I almost immediately fell in love with this series, called The Tribe, as soon as I started watching it. Now, you know I am not much into science fiction, not on TV, film, or in writing…it was just something I could never really get into. This was different, though. It revolved around the lives of teenagers who had been left to fend for themselves after a mysterious virus killed every single person over the age of 18. In the unnamed city where the show is set (in actuality, it was filmed in and around Wellington, New Zealand 🇳🇿), several gangs or “Tribes” had taken over most of the city and had turned it into their own personal evil playground in the name of “Power and Chaos” (the primary villainous tribe in the first series were the Locos, founded by a disillusioned teen named Martin who renamed himself Zoot after the Virus, and “Power and Chaos” was his mantra that he used to unite his followers). Think of this as sort of “Mad Max” meets “Gangs of New York”. Several teens trying to escape the violence and destruction being caused by the Locos and their allies the Demon Dogs (mentioned but not really seen) find refuge in an abandoned shopping mall and eventually form a Tribe of their own, becoming the “Tribe” referenced in the show’s title. This show ran for five seasons and well over 200 half-hour episodes, with at least a couple dozen cast members finding their way in and out of the show’s main tribe, the Mall Rats (named in honor of the shopping mall they called home); the Locos would fall out of power, but other villainous tribes would fill the void over the show’s history.

I am only about 15 episodes into series 1 right now (each series consists of around 52 half-hour episodes, and is structured more like a soap opera than a traditional sci-fi series, with supercouples and minor subplots in addition to each series’ overall storyline arc). So, what does all this have to do with the title of this post, “Girls Who Read”? Well, one of my favorite characters then (and now) was a girl called Amber (who is played by a very talented New Zealand actress named Beth Allen, who would also later appear in a Power Rangers series called Operation Overdrive, and is still active in acting in both television and theater). Amber was a girl who had a natural ability to lead and also mediate in times of conflict and comfort in times of trouble, although she came into the leadership role reluctantly. She was a compassionate leader and quite intelligent for her young age (Ms. Allen was about 15 when the show premiered, so her character’s estimated age was around 14-15 in the show’s first series). She would become an integral part of the show’s overall storyline in four of its five series. For reference, this is what she looked like in series 1:

Given the circumstances, there aren’t a lot of things these kids could do to pass the time during the long days learning to survive after the Virus. And I should mention that the Locos practiced book burning during their rule over The City. Which means this one little shot I saw when watching an episode recently was pleasantly surprising.

(Yes, I screencapped it from YouTube.) One scene opened up with a shot of Amber sitting on her bed reading, of all things, a copy of The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli. I had never noticed this before! And while the world after the Virus meant no more television, radio, or internet for entertainment (because, you know, electricity), it didn’t destroy the books. Sure, the Locos got to some of them, but not all of them. To see a woman reading something like The Prince was both novel (you wouldn’t expect to see a 14-year-old girl reading Renaissance Italian political discourse) and refreshing (because of the standards that girls tend to be held to that oftentimes preclude indulging in their intellectual curiosities).

In the past, I’ve talked a bit about my experience being a girl who likes to read. I think girls tend to be held to impossibly high standards when it comes to attracting potential partners: look pretty, doll yourself up, keep sweet, don’t show any sort of a personality, don’t let on that you’re smarter than he is, nod your head in agreement with whatever he says…basically, we’re expected to dumb ourselves down to appeal to men. I think any guy that a girl has to dumb herself down for in order to get him to notice her is not a guy worth falling for. We women are better than that. A man of quality would never want a girl to do that. He’d appreciate her for what she’s packing in her brain.

Girls who read exist. We read all sorts of books, too! We aren’t the stereotypes of lovesick women reading Jane Austen and the works of the Brontë sisters. I mean, there are women who enjoy reading those kind of books, but that’s not all we read. We don’t all spend our days reading Harlequin Romance novels or Nora Roberts or Danielle Steel or Debbie Macomber (although there are those who do and enjoy them very much). There are those who enjoy Orwell and Huxley, Lovecraft and King, Asimov and Clarke. We read Bradbury and Vonnegut, Atwood and Collins, Herodotus and Homer! We read Dante and Machiavelli, Miller and Stein, Thompson and Kerouac! We grew up on Ann M. Martin and Beverly Cleary and find ourselves graduating to Ann Rice and Toni Morrison. We get the urge to read Hurston and Wright and Salinger and Marquez and Achebe. We challenge ourselves to read Joyce and Melville and Tolstoy. And yes, some of us even try to read books by the most macho of macho men, Ernest Hemingway. Yes, women read Hemingway. 😁

If you’re a girl who reads, I just wanted to say that you are awesome. You are awesome and brave and adventurous, and don’t let your gender define what you read. And that goes to male-bodied readers, too. If you identify as male and you enjoy reading romance novels and gothic novels and the likes of Danielle Steel and Nora Roberts, you are awesome, too.

Be like Amber, read bravely. Read where your heart takes you.

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