Growing up, many of the women I found whilst reading or watching movies seemed to follow a certain pattern.
The woman character was beautiful, and that defined the way that others related to her. She followed the rules, and she didn’t create a fuss. Perhaps her main function was to give the hero something to aspire to, or to add a little light relief. She was graceful and dignified. Whatever else you might say about her, she often wasn’t the main protagonist in her own story.
A lot of these attributes are awesome things that women (and men) can be, but they aren’t the only things that we can be. Certainly they aren’t adjectives that I easily identify with. Beautiful and graceful? Give me smart and sassy any day. Follow the rules without making a fuss? I’d rather be helping to create a culture where the rules make sense and are helpful — and that might mean they need changing.
I wanted to take a minute to appreciate some of the fictional women I grew up with whose creators dared to make them different. The ones that I could relate to. The bad-ass women who didn’t just let life happen to them — they happened right back to life…
1. Major Samantha Carter
For sure Sam is top of my list. Sam was a female scientist at a time when I was taking science and maths classes with mostly male peers. She is smarter by miles than any of the men around her, and highly respected for it. She solves problems and has brilliant ideas. Oh, and with her military training she could kick your ass for sure. Part of what I loved about Sam was that although there is no denying that Amanda Tapping is a beautiful woman, it was never ever the focal point of Sam’s character. It just didn’t matter.
2. Alanna of Trebond
(Song of the Lioness, Tamora Pierce)
Alanna is a girl who decides that she wants to be a knight. As this isn’t allowed, she disguises herself as a boy for the entirety of her training, dealing with issues like breasts that start growing, periods and contraception at the same time as learning how to shoot arrows and fight with a sword. She also can kick your ass. I’m grateful that I live in a world where I don’t have to pretend to be a boy to follow my chosen male dominated career, but I still admire Alanna.
3. Zoe Washburne
Zoe is the perfect example of a woman who been able to retain the traditional female value of “family first” (one that my husband and I both hold) whilst still being able to (I’m spotting a pattern here) kick your ass and have a career that matters to her. She’s definitely smart and sassy, and I love the dynamic between her and Wash (don’t talk to me about the movie, that didn’t happen). Again, Gina Torres is a beautiful lady, and again, that’s not the damn point.
4. Hermione Granger
(Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling)
Hermione of the “bushy hair” may well be the most all-out competent woman on this list. The brightest, most dedicated student in the books, she saves the day on countless occasions. Although she is obviously astoundingly clever, it’s made clear that her hard work is of equal value. She’s emotionally astute as well, and kind, and caring, and idealistic. Hermione doesn’t compromise. She may or may not be able to kick your ass, but she could certainly hex it into oblivion.
I have a lot of love for women like Elizabeth Bennett, Anne Shirley, and Jo March who are absolutely themselves and make their own decisions whilst following more traditionally female paths (marriage, teaching and writing/child rearing respectively). But we need more female scientists, warriors and lawyers in our collective consciousness, and I’m fiercely grateful that these women were ahead of the curve and around when I was a teenager.
At least I know that if I ever find myself short of inspirational women in the fictional world, I won’t ever have to look too far or too hard to find them in the real one. On that note, I’m so excited that the first woman to ever do so (Maryam Mirzakhani) recently won a Fields medal (basically the maths equivalent of the Nobel prize). We live in interesting and amazing times.
Who are the bad-ass women from literature and films that inspire you?