Two Book Nerds Talking Presents


8 Books. Discussions. Interviews. In-Class Activities.

Ep 7: Who Gets To Be The Centre Of A Story?


The Principal Girl Feminist Tales from Asia (2019) edited by Sharifah Aishah Osman and Tutu Dutta

Genre: Short story collection/ Local Myths and Folklores retold and reimagined


The Principal Girl is a collection of stories that aim to put girls at the centre of the story, where they were traditionally not placed. The tales also put at the forefront issues that concern Malaysian girls and women: issues such as sexual harassment of a schoolgirl, domestic abuse and arranged marriages.

For instance, The Girl on the Mountain is loosely based on Puteri Gunung Ledang where the princess gives the King a piece of her mind that later becomes the kernel for his own change in attitude. Operation Rescue: Pris has a girl offer a hand of friendship to the giantess Gedembai that has existed shunned by society for being different and turning people into stone. Maybe she was just lonely? In Gamble, a girl whose close friends are boys discovers how tricky it is to navigate teenhood when hormones are raging and eventually finds a way to speak up. In An Epic Misunderstanding, a well meaning mother conditioned by the patriarchy prevents her daughter’s happiness so that she can marry a more ‘suitable’ boy. In the end the daughter had to take matters into her own hands when she found herself pregnant with a girl.

The stories might not necessarily paint all women in a favourable light but it puts the female narrative centre-stage and this, when it comes to books, is important as the first step in framing newer and more inclusive narratives. We have plenty of male centric stories (just look at our classics list!), thus we need more female-centric  ones too so that young readers have representation on both sides and are able to read widely and more inclusively.

Books like this are great for would-be writers amongst students to see through a different lens how they can frame their stories differently or choose a female protagonist for their own fiction.


Classroom Materials:

1. Name a girl hero in a story that you have read? Hang tuah, Badang, –  all the men are always at the center of the story and are always in the middle of the action/adventure. Women characters are always the damsel in distress, needs saving from the male character.

The Girl in the Mountain 

The story is about a King who is obsessed with marrying and possessing the girl in the mountain even when she clearly is not interested. He only wants to own and display her.

2. Some men feel that they are entitled over a woman. Even when a woman is not interested and says ‘No’ to their pursuit, these men are not satisfied and will not accept the rejection. 

Why do you think there are men who have this mentality and entitlement? 

-patriarchy, male privilege, the idea that women are supposed to be submissive and obedient to men

 3. Do men and women have the same privileges? Discuss. 

Surya and The Supernatural Sleuths

4. So many ghost stories make ghosts mostly women. Pontianak is one example, goes after men and not children. Surya, becomes a Malaysian version of Nancy Drew. She goes on adventures and follows clues to solve the mystery. 

Girls are mostly asked to be safe and be careful but here we see Surya doing things boys/men would do in a fairytale, be the one in the middle of the action.

Do you think painting a girl/women in a good light is a good thing? Is it too much to always make a female be the hero of a story? Eg: Captain Marvel 

The Gamble

5. Are there in any way where boys and girls are segregated by people around them? Eg: baby shirt colours, or words on baby’s clothing ‘Dad says I’m not allowed to date’. 

Do you think boys and girls can have platonic friendship with all of these insinuations being placed on them? Discuss.

6. In Gamble, Draupadi is used for collateral. The boys had the audacity to be entitled over her and use her for their benefit. Draupadi’s not seen as a human being but she is viewed as an object and she herself does not own even her own body when they asked her for the kiss. 

Do you agree with the actions of these boys? 

Should they have done such a thing to their friend?

What do you think would happen if Draupadi agreed to the kiss and something bad had happened after that? Who would be blamed in this scenario?

An Epic Misunderstanding 

7. What do you think about an arranged marriage? Do you think someone has a say whether they want to get married or not?

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