We’ve all heard the term “strong female character.” Every piece of art in the world seems to have too many of them or not enough, characters that embody it and characters that are just bluffing. But today I want just want to talk about my favourite ladies from pop culture. The may not be the perfect character, or perhaps their too perfect, but they have all inspired me throughout my life and I am who I am because of them. This list is in no particular order, and I’m sure there are a million more that could go on here. Off we go!
If you know me at all, you will not be surprised to see her on this list. I have been absolutely obsessed with her since I first opened the Harry Potter books. Not only did I sort of look like her in elementary school and high school, with frizzy brown hair and her hand always up in class, but I could also relate to her on many different levels. Especially in elementary school, I also hung out with boys more than girls. I also felt alienated for being a bit of nerd and a brown-noser. I wanted so badly to prove myself to everyone around me. She is also a huge inspiration for me. A completely selfless person, she is always puts her friends and family above her well being or comfort. She is a steadfast friend to Harry throughout the books, never wavering despite when he was rude to her or refused to listen to her good advice. She fights on the side of good no matter what, sacrifices her whole life to run off with Harry and Ron to find Horcruxes, and is a powerful witch in her own right. As Ron said himself, “we wouldn’t last two minutes without her!”
Another very obvious entry for me. I have loved Nancy Drew for years, in many different forms. The computer games from Her Interactive were the first video games I ever played. I started collecting the novels from a young age as well and would read and re-read them dozens of times. I just absolutely adored the girl detective. She was clever and witty, always asked questions and looked for answers. She never took no as an answer and would chase down the culprit no matter what kind of danger she would have to throw herself into. The one thing that I really admired about her to was that she was nice. Nancy always conducted herself proudly and assertively, but she also had perfect manners and was kind to all types of people. I had a dream of becoming just like her, travelling the country and solving mysteries. Unfortunately, I don’t have a lawyer father who makes millions of dollars a year and can fund my spontaneous travel.
Do act mysterious. It always keeps them coming back for more.
When I first watched Star Wars, I was pressured into doing it by one of my aunts. I didn’t like it on principle, but I did remember the back-talking space princess that may have needed saving, but wasn’t going to let that make her subservient to her rescuers. She was powerful and loud, unlike most leading ladies I’d seen before that, who were meek and humble. Fast forward a couple years to me watching these movies with fresh eyes and no scorn, and I am renewed in my love for Leia. Even when she was being objectified by Jabba the Hutt with that golden bikini, she ended up using the chains of her oppression into the weapons of her freedom. She is the hero I’ve always needed. Not to mention the powerhouse of mental health activism and comedy gold that is her portrayer, Carrie Fisher, may she rest in peace.
One of the book series that I could not put down when I was a kid was the Series of Unfortunate Events. I absolutely loved reading them and I can remembering waiting in anticipation for when the last one was going to come out and how it would all end. I enjoyed the dark humor of it and the new way of storytelling that involved very little happy endings, middles, or even beginnings. My favourite of the Baudelaire orphans is Violet. I was about the same age as her when I was reading the books, and she was so cool! She was smart, clever, and always knew how to build a cool invention to solve their problems. Her inventive mind was my favourite thing about her. I wanted to be as creative and innovative as her. I distinctly remember a time where I started carrying around a ribbon to tie my hair up with when I wanted to “invent” something. I also recall taking apart a Barbie phone I had to learn how it worked. I never quit reached the level of inventive genius, but I still idolized Violet and cheered her on despite the misery of her tale.
I’m placing these girl into one slot because while I love all of them for different reasons, I didn’t want to take up four whole slots of my list. Ruby, Weiss, Blake, and Yang are all characters that I relate to for different reasons and they are each complicated and unique people. I love Ruby because she is so pure and opimistic, even when things are looking extremely hopeless. It’s not that she’s innocent or naive, since she has seen and experienced a lot for her young age, but more that she knows that without hope, there is nothing. Weiss started out as a snotty brat, but watching her come into herself and open herself up to new people was inspiring. She was able to acknowledge her privileged position, listen to others, and become friends with people who are far from high society. I relate to Blake the strongest because I know what it feels like to think of yourself as a burden or risk in the lives of the people you care for. My anxiety and depression love keeping me down, and I have to remind myself that my friends and family are there for me out of their choice, similar to how Blake struggles to accept help from her friends. And Yang is just a firecracker full of life and energy, but she struggles with being emotional. She tends to hide away behind a shield of bravado and rage, but inside she’s just as scared and alone as the rest of the team. I love the way these four girls work together, fitting in with each other perfectly, allowing their strengths and weaknesses to balance out across them. Not only is each girl and inspiration, but the team as a whole is an example of female empowerment and teamwork.
How can I not include her? While it’s a bit cheesy and over used, Wonder Woman is absolutely my favourite super hero. I’ve been collecting her comics for a while now and I loved the new movie. Gal Gadot’s performance was exactly how I imagined Diana being played, full of spunk and energy, fighting with righteous power, not vengeance or cruelty. Her tools are a lasso of truth, a shield, and a sword. Something to bring out the truth, something to protect, and something to defend with. The three states I associate Wonder Woman with. I also loved the costuming and character design in the latest movie. It all looked like actual armor, and while Diana’s outfit was still rather revealing, it made way more sense than a suit made out of silk (all due respect, Lynda Carter).
Ah, Recess. One of my favourite after school cartoons, Recess was how I wished my school actually was. I felt a little ripped off that we got all the annoying teachers and overbearing principals with none of the cool clubs and hijinks. And there was Spinelli, the toughest one in the main group of friends, the dirtiest and sportiest one of them all. I thought Spinelli was the absolute epitome of cool and badass. I dreamt of being that intimidating and impressive. Spinelli is basically the very opposite of all things traditionally feminine, and she rejected or mocked femininity at every turn. Now, with a few more years under my belt, I’ve learned that completely spurning every traditional aspect of being a girl and judging others on their way of portraying femininity isn’t a fair was to deal with the patriarchy. But she was still one of the first characters that taught me I could play kickball with the boys if I just acted like I belonged there and rolled with the punches.
Yes I am doubling up on Harry Potter characters. Deal with it. Honestly, Professor McGonagall is such a badass though. Incredibly smart and powerful, she acts as Dumbledore’s right hand woman and confidant. Who is headmistress when Dumbledore has to leave? Who is headmistress when Snape runs off? Who does the most amazing spell ever and wakes up all the statues and knights in Hogwarts. Minerva freaking McGonagall. After Pottermore gave her a backstory, my respect only grew. Not to mention she is hilarious. Umbridge didn’t expect her reign to be challenged by sick burns! McGonagall is someone who I didn’t appreciate fully until I grew up a bit more because before that she was just another teacher character, someone who doesn’t get kids and only blocks their fun plans. But now that I can look at her from another perspective, she is my hero, honestly.
I wonder how you expect to gain an idea of my usual teaching methods if you continue to interrupt me? You see, I do not generally permit people to talk when I am talking.
-Professor McGonagall to Dolores Umbridge during her inspection
I absolutely adore the character of Elle Woods and all she stands for. Her story is a perfect example of taking the tropes of romantic comedies and spinning them on their head. She starts off the movie as a ditzy blonde with a rich boyfriend, living that sorority life. Then her boyfriend dumps her and leaves for law school. So then she decides, screw that, I’m going to prove myself as smart and ambitious. And she gets into law school. I’m sorry bit you have to be very intelligent to get into Harvard law school. The movie kind of makes it seem like the only reason she got in was that the admissions board thought her application video was cute, but she still got 179 on her LSAT. She also had a 4.0 at school already. She then goes on to succeed at law school, officially gives up on her idiot of an ex-boyfriend, spurns the advances of her creepy mentor, and win a court case because of previously scoffed at beauty knowledge. The film is also full of positive female friendships and a love interest that waits for Elle to come to him.
Mulan may very well be my favourite Disney film of all time. Of course it has a great soundtrack and excellent comedic timing, but Mulan is the ultimate Disney princess. She is who first and fully taught me that girls can do anything boys can do. She is brave, strong, and has a powerful sense of right and wrong. I also identified with her because she always felt left out and like she wasn’t filling her roles as young woman correctly. I always felt like I was never elegant or graceful enough, and for most of my childhood I fit in more with boys than other girls. The way she destroys the ideas of gender roles of the men in the military camp is truly beautiful. I mean she saves all of China for goodness sake!