In The Outsiders, Cherry Valence initially comes as off as an intense, no-nonsense girl. She responds to Dally’s inappropriate comments by dousing him in the face with soda, and readily engages in conversation with Ponyboy, regardless of the potential backlash that may result from her peers in responses to their interaction. However, Cherry Valence’s character, while dignified in her response of protecting the greasers, in the end succumbs to solely becoming submissive to both her gender expectations and her social class. While Cherry protects the greasers by defending Johnny at the trial, her “loyalty” to the greasers remains inferior to the protection of her status. Cherry, as a portrayal of women, although noble in her attempt to do justice for the greasers, ends up being weakened by proving herself to be a woman who easily submits to the pressures around her. Cherry also denies herself the right to chase or to love a “bad boy” like Dally, thus making her seem fearful of the consequences that loving him may have, as opposed to braving the chances in order to obtain what she desires.
As a former teenage girl who teaches many teenage girls, I found myself groaning in dismay at the lack of effort on Cherry’s part. When she initially meets Ponyboy, I was hoping for her to have a change of heart and to leave her comfort zone in effort to defy social/gender standards and to become friends with the greasers and to pursue her desire to be with Dally. Instead, she proves herself to be a woman who is aware that everyone “watches the same sunset”, yet does nothing in order to bridge the gap between the two rivaling parties. Instead, she remains a helpless bystander, only trying to make peace from a safe distance—this making her certainly no role model for a growing girl to look up to. In essence, Cherry’s actions (or lack there of) ensure young women that it’s ok to stand up for something you believe in, that is, from a safe distance of being seen. As a teacher, I often try to encourage my students (particularly the girls) to defy standards and stereotypes, to go for what they want, and to always voice their beliefs. Cherry Valence on the other hand, is not a woman of these values, but rather a watered down portrayal of a what a heroine should be. Is this what we want to teach our kids—to only speak their mind from behind the protection of closed doors?