Fearless Fictional Females from Pop Culture

While Hollywood and the greater media industry leaves a lot to be desired, one thing to celebrate is the increasing number of stories about female characters. The abundance of female roles in books, TV shows, and movies is a good thing because storytelling is one of the keys to successful cultural and individual development. Storytelling not only shapes whom we grow up to be, but also reflects the cultural norms and values society embraces. If a culture celebrates stories of strong females (fictional or real), the people in that society will begin to embrace a non-stereotypical view of women. To celebrate women’s history month, here are some of the best fictional female characters from pop culture.

Photo source: HBOLucasfilmDisneyLionsgate

Flights of (Fantastic) Fantasy (Females)

Whether the story is set in a dystopian future, outer space, on a pirate ship, through a magical wardrobe, in a world hidden in plain sight, or a medieval alternate reality, these female characters defy their unusual circumstances. While the story takes place in a fantasy world, the female characters in this category are no more special than you or I. Therefore the storyteller is celebrating how adaptable, courageous, resourceful, smart and bold women can be. Many of the female characters who belong to this category rebel against the role society expects them to play, proving time and time again that what makes one different makes one special. By placing a story in a fantasy world, it shows that women can be rebellion leaders, warrior women, or anyone they want to be regardless of time, place, or any other circumstance. For example, Game of Thrones is set in an alternate medieval Europe. Women in Westeros are expected to be objects only valuable for marriage alliances. The genius of the show is that through its female characters it illustrates that females can be equally strong in a variety of different ways. Take Arya and Sansa Stark, for example. Arya rejects all traditionally feminine powers, instead opting to be a knight, and becomes one of the most formidable and valuable characters in the show. On the other hand, Sansa can't fight or wield a sword, and she's girly in ways the other women aren't. However, Sansa has learned to play the game of thrones from the most skilled players like Cercei and Little Finger, making her also one of the most underestimated yet compelling characters. The two are drastically different but regardless Sansa and Arya take to become two of the most powerful characters. This demonstrates to audiences that there are different types of female strength, each no better than the other.

Notable examples: Katniss Everdeen (Hunger Games franchise), Princess Leia (Star Wars universe), Lucy and Susan Pensive (The Chronicles of Narnia), Elizabeth Swann (Pirates of the Carribean franchise), and Arya and Sansa Stark (Game of Thrones book and TV series), Maeve Millay (Westworld)

Photo source: Warner BrothersMarvelWarner Brothers 

It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s...Superwomen

The female characters in this category are related because they all have some kind of powers. Even though being a demigod, a witch, an alien, the chosen one, or a water bender certainly makes one powerful, having superpowers only highlights the extremes. What makes these “superwomen” special isn’t their powers themselves but their humanity. Stan Lee, who was famous for putting the “human” into “superhuman”, once stated in his essay titled What is a Superhero: More than Normal but Believable that, “the human condition is such that we love reading about people who can do things that we can’t do and who have powers that we wish we had.” In other words, when characters gain powers and still have human traits it suggests that those human qualities that are “left” can make us powerful. Even though we don’t have the fantasy side of powers, the powers of wisdom, love, tenacity, bravery, responsibility, and empathy are just as powerful as casting a spell, having superhuman strength, manipulating the elements, or fighting vampires and mythological Greek monsters. Female characters with powers are especially notable for their dualistic nature which makes them even more powerful than a superhero or a human because characters who embrace their human and powers at the same time get the best of both worlds. While Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel are the most powerful characters in their respective cinematic comic book universes, their human traits of wonderment, kindness, and persistence in the face of adversity are what makes them even more strong. While readers may never get the chance to go to Hogwarts or wave a wand to cast a spell, when audiences embrace Hermonie’s (along with other witches in the Wizarding World) human traits like being smart and brave, audiences can still feel magical. While our teenage lives were not filled with prophecies, learning to control the elements, or fighting vampires and monsters, Katara, Buffy, and Annabeth’s human strengths of loyalty, assiduousness, and fierce protectiveness show that we don’t need superpowers to be superwomen.

Notable examples: Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (DCEU), Hermonie Granger (Harry Potter Franchise), Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel (Marvel Cinematic Universe), Annabeth Chase (Percy Jackson book series), Eleven (Stranger Things), Buffy Summers (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Katara (Avatar the Last Airbender)

Photo source: MGM StudiosAMCNBC

Finding the Extraordinary in the Ordinary

While the other two categories lean more towards fantasy while still praising universal values and traits like kindness, adaptability, and determination, the stories in this category are set in the everyday realistic world we live in. The stories may take place in seemingly boring settings as opposed to Westeros or in a galaxy far far away, but their realistic setting makes their stories ever the more powerful. The females in this category show that one can be powerful, kick ass, and be extraordinary even if you don’t live in a fantasy world or have superpowers. What makes many of the examples listed below exceptional at their jobs is that they embrace their feminine side. Leslie Knope excels at public service because as ScreenPrism states, “Leslie turned traditionally feminine strengths like caring about others, paying attention to detail, putting relationships first, and empowering other women into sources of power in the workplace and the world.” In Elle Woods’ case, Legally Blonde showed that one can be successful and themselves at the same time. A female can be feminist, secured in a high power position, and still be ultra girly.

Notable examples: Leslie Knope (Parks and Recreation TVseries), Peggy Olson (Mad MenTV series), Elizabeth Bennet (Pride and Prejudice), Elle Woods (Legally Blonde films), Miranda Priestley (The Devil Wears Prada)

There are certainly many more strong female characters not included in this article, and many more aspirational fictional females to be dreamt up of. The rise of fictional female role models in the past several decades is not only beneficial to the little girls who grow up reading and watching stories of strong female characters, but to society as a whole. Movies and TV shows help expand (and reinforce) what we see as normal and what we believe is possible. If we see strong females with different strengths, values, and roles on screen it may just change the world around us.