Do we still need First Girl Ever stories?

In the real world, these stories happen and are still happening, but we've been telling them for several decades--the Song of the Lioness quartet (Alanna), by Tamora Pierce, came out in the eighties, and I've read opinions that this trope is "tired and overused."  (To be clear, this isn't the only place I've read/heard that, Brennan is just very clear.)

While I definitely agree with Brennan in the article linked above, that I would love to see more Second Girl Ever stories, I'm wondering if there's still a need for the First Girl Ever story.  Is it still important?  There are girls making huge strides in male-dominated fields today, but as Brennan points out, they're largely in "field[s] that, while not exclusively male, [are] still heavily skewed that way."  Which makes the Second Girl Ever story all the more important.

So what do you think?  Is the First Girl Ever story tired and overused?  Or an important story that needs to be told, no matter how many times we've already said it?

(Crossposted, since I'm hoping to get as many opinions as possible.)
owlectomy: A squashed panda sewing a squashed panda (Default)

From: [personal profile] owlectomy

Personally, I never found that the pressures written about in First Girl Ever stories were all that relevant to my life. I didn't grow up in the age of "You can't do that because you're a girl," I grew up in the age of "It's an enormous boys' club where everyone makes off-color jokes and people are merciless to you when you make a mistake, but that's just how things are. I guess there are no women because they're just naturally bad at math!"

I think a book like "The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks" (which IS, though, a First Girl Ever story) talks about the social pressures of being a woman in a male-dominated society in a way that's a lot more subtle and nuanced -- because it's not about the overt pressure, it's about the little things that make you doubt yourself and give up.

I think in stories it tends to be a little boring to see an obvious good triumph over an obvious evil, and it's more interesting to see two good things fight it out. Make it more interesting than "girl triumphs over evil ignorant sexists," because that's not how things work in my life anymore.
ailelie: (Default)

From: [personal profile] ailelie

I prefer Protector of the Small to Alanna. Not just because it is better written, but because Kel is always a girl among boys. Also, she has this great knight to live up to. The pressure is greater because she has to show that Alanna wasn't a fluke (or, if Alanna had been a great failure, that she was). Second girl stories have increased pressure, I think, and can tell a thornier story.
lea_hazel: Don't make me look up from my book (Basic: Reading)

From: [personal profile] lea_hazel

It's hard for me to comment objectively because I have such a huge resentment over these types of stories. I think I consumed too many of them as a teenager and it made the inherent flaws of the narrative stand out very starkly.
birke: (Default)

From: [personal profile] birke

Funny thing is, I haven't read many First Girl Ever stories. The only ones that come to mind at the moment are Alanna and this one book I read in grade school about a girl who joins the wrestling team.

I think that there's space for FGE stories in fields which are still believed to be male-only. Whe wrestling team story is relevant here, because up to that point I hadn't known it was even possible for girls to participate in wrestling as a sport, or that there was a legal case to be made for allowing them to do so. Nor, obviously, had the characters in the story. So I was discovering some new facts right along with them.

On the other hand, it is quite likely that by the time the book was written, there had been many "first girls ever" in wrestling. I think the oversimplification of the story into a one-hero narrative is a problem -- because you can have situations where girls, independently and without knowledge of one another, are breaking into new fields.
gryphonsegg: (Pyro)

From: [personal profile] gryphonsegg

This is a good question. I don't think people need to stop writing "first girl or woman in a male-dominated field" stories, but I do think the popularity of that trope brings some problems with it. For one thing, the emphasis on "first girls" contributes to the minimization of the problems that women/girls face when working in male-dominated fields after the "first girl" seal has already been broken. The first commenter hit the nail on the head with the boys' club remark. Also, I think some subcultures, including some parts of fandom and of the fantasy genre, are unfairly dismissive of women/girls who aren't in male-dominated fields. I'm now in grad school as a biologist in the age of "Wow, for all the talk of girls being bad at science, I can't but notice that it's totally normal for biology programs to be between 40 and 60 % female these days-- I guess biology must not be a REAL SCIENCE for REAL SMART PEOPLE like chemistry and geology, since it's so easy that girls can do it."

Plus, it kind of bugs me that "First Girl Ever" is assumed to refer to the first girl/woman/female person to do something that boys/men have been doing since time immemorial. I'd like to see more stories that cast a female character as the First Person Ever to do X. I'm reminded of an irritating fan fiction trend I noticed a while back: The canon has some organization or skill or title or activity that is important, and both male and female characters join/learn/earn/inherit/practice it. Nothing in canon indicates that women have ever been forbidden to do this or been widely considered incapable of doing this. So a fan writer comes along and decides to tell the story of the First Female X in Fantasylandia's history, and the story is mostly about how men have already been X for many generations, and the First Female X's biggest challenge is breaking into this long-established all-male tradition and proving that she can be just as good an X as any man despite her girl cooties. But for all we can tell from canon, the First Female X might well have been the First X- period. The organization/school/practice could have been founded by equal numbers of women and men. The activity might even have been viewed as "women's work" for a couple of centuries before the First Male X learned how from his mother and continued to practice despite tons of peer pressure from other men. In principle, there's nothing wrong with writing about the first girl to play on the boys' team, but in practice, the relative popularity of that versus some of the alternatives appears to go hand in hand with the idea that if something is worth doing, it must be founded by and primarily practiced by men.
bliumchik: (Default)

From: [personal profile] bliumchik

By this point, it's a solid part of our cultural heritage. It's not that it's no longer appropriate to use it, it's that anyone who reaches for it needs to be aware of its history and context. I wrote a mini-essay about what Terry Pratchett did right in this regard that you might be interested in.

(Of course, First Girl stories and Girl In Disguise stories are not quite this same thing, although there is significant overlap, c.f. Alanna, and the same thing applies to both of them.)

What Pratchett did is what normally happens to tropes like this - they become part of the cultural background and people start to send them up and subvert them. It's the natural life-cycle of a trope, and we're well into that portion of it, so anyone who writes a straight-up FGE/GID story is naturally going to seem a little old-fashioned. Still, that doesn't mean it can't be part of a good story.


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