The XX Factor

Girls See Plenty of Introverted Heroines Onscreen

Actress Sarah Vowell, who voices Violet in The Incredibles

Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Amanda, I agree that it isn’t just girls who need to see introverted heroines on their movie screens, particularly in Disney movies. And I also think that Lindsay Lowe at the Atlantic has a point in arguing that there are cultural and feminist incentives to make female characters outgoing, physically strong, and adventurous. She writes:

“It makes sense that given the rare chance to develop a female protagonist, studios would want to present her as an unmistakable paragon of strength and independence, which usually means making her extroverted. Because they are so outnumbered, the modern girl protagonist must really play two roles: her character within the story, but also the role of ambassador for her gender, defining what it means to be a ‘strong modern female.’ ”

But where I differ from both you and Lowe is the idea that pop culture is doing a bad job of portraying introverted girls as heroes. Pixar, which is now owned by Disney, created a great introverted heroine in Violet Parr, the oldest child in the super-powered family at the center of The Incredibles. Voiced by Sarah Vowell, a self-described introvert, Violet is so painfully shy that she sometimes becomes invisible. But over the course of the movie, Violet discovers that needing her own space can actually be a superpower: She learns to project a powerful force field big enough to protect her family. Now, Pixar’s making a movie called Inside Out, to be released in 2015, that’s literally set inside the brain of a young girl. It’s hard to think of a better dramatization of the narrative power of a girl’s interior life than that.

On television, there are good options for girls, too. Tessa Altman (Jane Levy), the teenage girl transplanted to the suburbs on Suburgatory, may not technically be an introvert, but she’s someone who needs a lot of alone time to adjust to her feelings. And Bunheads, ABC Family’s marvelous dramedy about a ballet school in California, tirelessly plumbs the minds of its four young heroines, whose ideas and anxieties about everything from having sex for the first time to roller derby are treated as if nothing could be more important.

In other words, maybe Lowe’s error is really just looking to Disney’s active princesses to lead. In fact, princess stories need to catch up to the rest of pop culture’s self-reflective heroines, who see their own interior lives as grand adventures.