It’s time for another instalment of Kick-Ass Fictional Women! It’s been a while since I added to the list. If you want to see who I’ve already covered, click in the box above to find the other posts. Missed your favourite? Tell me!
This might be a slightly controversial choice, as River has been questioned a lot lately. I know a lot of fans feel that Steven Moffat undermined the original awesomeness he set up with Ms Song, making her into something of a femme fatale trope, instead of a nuanced character. I do love River though, and she certainly began well, even if that wasn’t maintained, so here she is. When we first meet River, she is clearly the smartest person in the room, with more understanding of what is going on even than the Doctor. She is not a woman who needs rescuing, and instead for her first few appearances she turned up to work alongside the Doctor and to get him out of scrapes. This smart, capable, funny and flirtatious woman who could fly the TARDIS and knew things about the Doctor that even he didn’t? Wow. What a shame she didn’t stay that way.
Kara ‘Starbuck’ Thrace
Most people know that in the 1979 Battlestar Galactica series, Starbuck was a male character. For the reboot, Starbuck was changed to female. What makes her special though, is how few of the original character traits were changed. This new female Starbuck was still cocky, hard-drinking, an incredibly skilled pilot and tough as hell. Rather than stay as a stereotype of ‘butch army woman’ though, we get to see Starbuck struggle and deal with her vulnerable side. She is tough, but she’s still human, and this is shown and developed skilfully throughout the series. Starbuck is incredibly popular for this very reason. She is never two-dimensional, and her toughness is from bravery rather than hardness.
Echo is from Joss Whedon’s much overlooked series, Dollhouse. Quick background, Echo is a blank ‘doll’, imprinted with personalities to order. Until of course, she starts to remember things. Throughout the series, we literally see Echo’s personality grow and develop. Her original identity of Caroline is gone, and instead she constructs who she is out of scraps of Caroline and every personality she was ever given. She struggles with the decision of whether she should be trying to bring Caroline back or to remain as Echo. As she becomes stronger, escape and bringing down the Dollhouse become her mission.
Another Whedon character, this time from Firefly. River spends large chunks of the series somewhat incoherent after enduring the Alliance experimenting on her brain, due to her well beyond average intelligence. She is broken after their treatment and spends the series slowly rebuilding herself. She succeeds at this to varying degrees in different episodes; the path to mental health never did run smooth, after all. Without giving too much away, in case you haven’t seen it, with River we have a story of a woman overcoming unimaginable things, and ending as an absolute badass. Also, she can kill you with her brain.
Sarah Jane Smith
One of the most beloved Doctor Who companions of all time. Sarah Jane arrived in 1973; a self-identifying feminist and a gutsy journalist. Like Starbuck, Sarah Jane was always portrayed with a realistic mix of toughness and vulnerability, if in a very different way. She is fiercely intelligent and will tolerate no nonsense from the Doctor. Sarah was so well loved, she was brought back in the new Doctor Who series, still a journalist, still smart and still vocal about gender politics. Next came her own series, The Sarah Jane Adventures for CBBC, allowing Sarah Jane to continue being clever and brave for a whole new generation. To quote the lady herself, “There is nothing ‘only’ about being a girl.”
Possibly my favourite Doctor Who companion. Why? The complete lack of romance. After the love with Rose Tyler and Martha mooning around after the Doctor, I loved the dynamic between Donna and the Doctor. It was refreshing to see a platonic, mixed gender friendship on TV, something we rarely get. Donna is not in awe of the Doctor at all, something we never get from the other companions. She tells him off and calls him out when he’s in the wrong. She humanises him, and pushes him to step in and rescue people when normally he wouldn’t. It was also refreshing to have a companion who wasn’t a skinny 20-something! Donna was unapologetic about who she was, and grew into a confident, smart woman who wanted to have adventures. Undeniably, the best temp in Chiswick.
Done badly, Catwoman is a hypersexualised comic book fantasy. Done well, however, she is so much more. Now teamed up with Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn in the Gotham City Sirens run, we get to see a softer side to Catwoman. The three women have a strong, if initially reluctant, bond. We see Selina gradually come around to the idea of friendship and supporting one another, instead of operating alone. Her walls come down and Ivy and Harley find a way in. Cool, calculating and incredibly skilled, Catwoman may be complex and difficult to define as a progressive or regressive character, but you can’t argue her badge of kick-assness.
They say you can tell a lot about someone by whether they prefer Sandy or Rizzo in Grease. No prizes for guessing my preference. The two are often in direct contrast with each other, no more so than when Sandy sits outside the sleepover singing mournfully about her hopeless devotion to a man who doesn’t want her (or so she thinks), while at the same moment Rizzo is climbing down a drainpipe, in active pursuit of the man she’s decided she wants. When a pregnancy scare sees her become the subject of gossip with her peers, rather than hide away, Rizzo pulls out all the stops. With a new date and a show-stopper of a red dress, she attends the school dance with her head held high. When gossip turns malicious, we get Rizzo’s solo number, which asks just what she’s done that is so bad. To Rizzo, there is nothing so bad about being a woman and enjoying sex.
The Addams family matriarch has ousted Wednesday as my favourite Addams as I’ve got older. I love her sultriness, her humour and her dedication to her family. Morticia acknowledges the challenges of being a modern woman and juggling the pressures of home and family with seeking out her own desires. It is also worth noting Gomez’s instant support of her wish for more time to spend outside the home. She wants the same for Wednesday, reassuring a teacher that she has informed Wednesday, “College first,” not following in the footsteps of her witchy ancestor who enslaved a minister. At least…not right away. To be blunt, I also love the way she and Gomez are portrayed. They have clearly been married a long time and yet their love and desire for each other is obvious, a rare thing in TV and film! Their relationship appears to be a consensual S&M arrangement, with both of them often making references to restraints and pain with nothing but glee. Forget Fifty Shades of Grey, these two have kink perfected in a very healthy way.
A tough heroine, Sarah Connor is definitely kick-ass. She begins her story as the typical damsel in distress, needing to be rescued. Quickly, however, she learns to defend herself, getting stronger and braver and more skilled as her story continues. She saves herself and others multiple times across the various Terminator movies. She is resourceful and intelligent, and refreshingly, almost never a victim of the ‘male gaze’. Sarah is dressed practically, not for titillation and the camera rarely pans over her body in a way that invites us to drool over her. If only that was more common.