Laura Sook Duncombe’s previous Literary Ladies Cage Fight columns for The Butter can be found here.
Hello, gal-pals! Artie and I have missed you sooooo much! Welcome back (or welcome for the very first time) to LLCF—where we take two heroines of literature and set them up in five rounds of combat. The lady with the most points wins! I am your co-host, Aphrodite (Goddess of Love and Beauty), along with my sister, Artemis (Goddess of Hunting and Chastity).
Thanks for that surprisingly competent introduction, Dita. We have learned that in the mortal realm, June is LGBT Pride Month. We here at LLCF believe that every month should be Pride—because every woman is sacred and beautiful, and we respect and fight for every woman’s right to love who she loves. We will follow your earthling traditions and dedicate June to our LGBT sisters. First up is an old classic versus a new one: Molly Bolt of Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle versus Cameron Post of Emily M. Danforth’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post. So fight fair, ladies. Fight gloriously. Let the games begin!
Molly is so awesome! She is tough as nails and determined to make her way in the world, despite being a “bastard” from a rural small town. In the first few pages, she feeds a fat kid a box of turds disguised as raisins for doing her wrong. Make no mistake—Molly knows what she wants, and nobody is going to get in her way. She is a Slytherin for sure.
Cameron is as quiet as Molly is bold. She also lives in a rural small town (in Montana—the gorgeous scenery of the state is basically a character in this book) but their similarities end there. She’s only twelve when the story starts, kissing a girl on the day her parents die in a car crash. She thinks her relationship with Irene is linked to her parents’ death, and so she hides her feelings for girls for years and years. Cam’s shame and guilt define her—her loyalty to her parents is part of what keeps her in the closet for so long. She is a Hufflepuff.
Winner: Molly. I don’t see pretty much any woman we’ve ever covered here coming close to beating Molly—maybe Katniss or Lyra could give her a fair fight, but I think she might still come out on top.
Round Two: Sidekick
Molly is basically alone—right from the start she’s told by her “mother” that she’s adopted because her parents couldn’t take care of her. Her cousin Leroy is her childhood playmate, but he ends up being a total jerk and turns his back on her. Boo! One person who is there for her is her adopted dad, Carl. He gives her a pep talk about life and dreams that keeps her going through some very hard times. She has so many hard times! But she never gives up. Seriously, gotta love Molly.
Cam is alone, too—her parents die right away, and she pushes her best friend away as a result of their deaths. Her horrible aunt Ruth is a driving force in the story, but she’s not sidekick material. One person who isn’t really a great person but who cares about Cam and wants her to be happy is Jamie, her pot-smoking friend from cross-country. He’s got a thing for her, but he valiantly tries to put that aside and support her, in his own teenage boy way. He writes a note to Cam that would bring me to tears…if I could cry.
Winner: Cameron. A proper sidekick should get the protagonist in a little bit of trouble, and Jamie definitely does that. He’s a goofy deadbeat, but he worms his way into the reader’s heart somehow.
Round Three: Love Interest
Oh man! Molly’s got a few…and they are all different, fully-fleshed out ladies. One that stole my heart is Faye, her college roommate. By working her tail off, Molly gets a scholarship to college. She and her roommate fall in love and have a happy, carefree relationship that is the first time Molly can really enjoy herself. Her high school dalliances were closeted and ended in heartbreak, but Faye really loved Molly and she wasn’t afraid to show it.
Cam…I like to think her best romance is yet to come. I don’t want to spoil all of the heartbreak for those who haven’t read it yet (you haven’t read it yet? WHY? GO GET A COPY NOW! And, if you want to celebrate Pride, buy a copy for your local library so everyone can read it! It’s been unfairly banned in a lot of schools—read more about the controversy on AfterEllen.com)—but every girl Cam loves ends up hurting her, some in bigger ways than others. Coley Taylor, you are on notice. Artemis is DISPLEASED. The closest thing she has to a good relationship is with loudmouth Lindsey Lloyd from Seattle, and Cam is never really in love with her.
Hey, it is hard to find a flaw for Molly! She is so cool and fun and tough. I wanted to highlight every line of dialogue she had. If I had a notebook, I would scrawl her text all over it. I can’t imagine being a young girl when this came out, when nobody was talking about lesbians, and then meeting through this book this gorgeous, funny, smart lesbian making it on her own in NYC! This book is so important, and it opened the door for other important books to be published (like Cam Post, even!). Molly’s flaw, if she has to have one, is that sometimes her plucky sense of self-reliance doesn’t allow her to accept help. There are a few times in the book where I wanted to shake her and say “just let them help you, honey! You deserve it!”
Cam’s flaw is hard to blame her for, since it’s one we all struggle with—she has no self-confidence. She spends a lot of the book wallowing in her guilt and sadness, “sending the right signals to the wrong people,” and generally just being miserable. There’s one moment late in the book where you want to pump your fist and cheer for her, but it comes so late after so much sadness. Part of the reason the book is so good is that it so accurately depicts the struggle many young lesbians go through…but it hurts so much to read it.
Winner: Cam. She has an actual flaw, and she does make progress throughout the book, albeit not as quickly as a reader might wish.
Round Five: Happy Ending?
Molly’s ending, like the whole book, will make you shout YEAH! She graduates from film school and is determined to take no shit and make great films. She reconciles with her adopted mom and lets go of her resentment. You know she’s got a hard road ahead of her (Ava DuVernay, anyone?) but she’s going to do her best work and keep pushing until she succeeds, no matter what. You just know that whatever happens, Molly Bolt is going to come out on top.
Cam’s ending left me yearning for a sequel, or at least another chapter. I find myself thinking about it often in the weeks since I’ve finished it—I want, no NEED, to know that Cam is going to be alright. Part of the perfection of this book is the not-knowing. Cam’s story is so achingly real, and real life means not knowing that it’s all going to work out right. But she ends her story with something that’s been missing in her life for so long—hope.
Winner: Awwww, Artie, can we tie? I know we tie a lot, but how could you possibly pick a winner here? A heroine that created a whole genre and a new heroine forty years later that’s perfected the genre? Let’s just be happy that young women the world over have different heroines to choose from—different role models to empathize with and aspire to, okay? Pleeeeze, Artie? For me?
Fine. Okay. It’s a tie. But next time there will be a winner, okay? Join us next time for Part II of Pride!
Keep reading! Keep celebrating! Keep being your beautiful, wonderful, amazing unique selves! We of LLCF salute you!
Laura Sook Duncombe lives in Alexandria, Virgina with her husband and a mutt named Indiana Bones, Jr. Musical theater, pirates, and Sherlock Holmes are a few of her favorite things. Her work can be found on the Toast, the Hairpin, Jezebel, and at her blog.