It’s International Women’s Day today, and I thought that just for a change, I wouldn’t use it for feminist ranting, and would instead share some of the booty-kicking, smart-talking women in books, TV, movies and comics that I love. There’s a lot of talk lately about the representation of women in films and television, and I agree that it’s often pretty crap. BUT there are some damn awesome ladies out there if you know where to look. I promise I’ll try not to make this list entirely Whedon women.
1. Wonder Woman
The original butt-kicking babe, Wonder Woman was created by William Moulton Marston in in 1941 with the aim to create a “feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.” Since her early days of fighting the Nazis, Wonder Woman has had nearly as many incarnations as Barbie. She’s an Amazon warrior Princess who’s been secretary to the Justice League, a Mod boutique owner, a Marital Arts expert, an ambassador from Themyscira and most recently the daughter of Zeus. Whatever she is, Wonder Woman is always a character grounded in love. She routinely puts herself in danger for her friends, and let’s not forget that with the magic lasso, her major weapon is truth. Despite the spangly swimsuit, Wonder Woman has become an icon of female power. Please, please let Gal Gadot do a good job of playing her.
2. Buffy Summers
Into every generation a Slayer is born. No list of my favourite fictional women could ever be complete without Buffy Summers. Buffy first appeared in Joss Whedon’s film Buffy the Vampire Slayer in 1992, but is best know from the television show of the same name, played by Sarah Michelle Gellar. The character is now the star of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics. Whedon created Buffy with the intention of subverting the horror movie cliche of the little blonde girl who gets killed first. Buffy is the thing monsters are afraid of. Like Wonder Woman, her compassion is her strength, and it is often stated that the reason Buffy survives is that she is the first slayer to have her friends fighting alongside her. As a television show, Buffy put it’s main character through the wringer; she died twice, suffered depression, lost her mother to a brain tumor and went through a sexual assualt. Through it all, she comes out standing, still clutching her stake (or a crossbow).
3. Zoe Washburne
Zoe Wasburne is the second Whedonverse character on the list, and with good reason. Zoe is from TV show Firefly, it’s spin-off movie Serenity, and the current Serenity comics. She serves as a Corporal in the Unification War, before becoming first-mate aboard Serenity. She’s calm under pressure, clever and a tough, deadly fighter.We do get to see Zoe’s softer side too, though. She is funny, and clearly loyal to the rest of the crew, often acting as surgeon when the ship’s doctor is out of action. We also see her loving side with her husband, pilot Wash. On a side note, Gina Torres, the actress who plays Zoe, has frequently spoken about the portrayal of women in Science-Fiction, and the difficulty of being a woman in Hollywood. She’s amazing (and my personal pick to play Wonder Woman!).
Xena first appeared as a villain in Herecules: The Legendary Journeys. She was so popular with audiences that she got her own show in the 90s, Xena: Warrior Princess, where she turned hero and began to account for her dark past. Played by Lucy Lawless, Xena tried to redeem for her past by helping people with her formidable fighting skills. The show was ground-breaking for it’s time, and is often credited as carving the way for later ‘woman power’ shows like Buffy and Dark Angel. Xena has also become something of a lesbian icon. The relationship between Xena and travelling companion Gabrielle was always very ambiguous, with a strong lesbian subtext. Hints, jokes and innuendos about their connection were common in the show. The show’s finale had Xena reviving Gabrielle with a mouth-to-mouth water transfer, filmed to look like a kiss. In 2003, Lawless spoke about this episode and the relationship, describing it as, “definitely gay…there was a ‘well, she might be or she might not be’ but when there was that drip of water passing between their lips in the very final scene that cemented it for me. Now it wasn’t just that Xena was bisexual and kinda liked her gal pal and they kind of fooled around sometimes, it was ‘Nope, they’re married man.'” I admit, I haven’t watched this show since I was a kid, but I remember watching Xena when I was small, and loved it. She was the first strong, female character I remember, and that has to have an impact.
5. Princess Leia
Princess Leia is another of my childhood heroines. I remember being taken to see Star Wars and being utterly enchanted with this beautiful Princess who took over her own rescue when it went wrong and ended up saving herself and both the boys. She is forceful, driven and determined. Much more than just a princess, she is also a diplomat, a member of the Imperial Senate and a spy for the Rebel Alliance. She’s undeniably brave, withstanding torture and one of the few people to unflinchingly get in the face of Darth Vader. Sure, she gets rescued a lot, but she does plenty of her own rescuing too, either saving herself, or saving Luke and Han. I’ve always personally loved the banter between Leia and Han. She spends plenty of time calling out his arrogance before giving into her feelings for him. After which…well, she still calls him out.
6. Princess Jasmine
Bear with me on this one, I can almost hear you rolling your eyes. Disney princesses are rarely held up as examples of strong women (except Mulan, maybe), but I was obsessed with Princess Jasmine as a kid. I love the Aladdin film, and I actually think Jasmine is pretty awesome. Who can forget her classic quote, “I am not a prize to be won!” She lives in a society where the men are in charge and her proper place is to marry a Prince of her father’s choosing, to ensure the royal line is continued. She challenges this and demands the right to choose for herself. Aladdin turns up to rescue her, but she is an integral part of defeating Jafar, immediately faking attraction to him to allow Aladdin to approach unnoticed. Without her quick thinking, the rescue wouldn’t have worked. And she has a pet tiger. Cool.
7. Lisa Simpson
Lisa Simpson might be 8-years-old, but she’s one of the most vocal feminist on television. Lisa has firm beliefs and isn’t afraid to express or stand up for them. She is occasionally dismissive of Marge’s role as a stay-at-home mother, but always comes round to seeing that Marge is just as smart as she is, and has just made a different choice in life. Lisa is an activist too. In the episode ‘Lisa Vs Malibu Stacey’, Lisa becomes concerned about the messages the doll is giving her and other girls. She creates a rival doll, and takes on the creators of Malibu Stacey to get her message across.
8. Jessie Spano
The first time I heard the word ‘feminist’, it was coming out of the mouth of Saved By The Bell’s Jessie Spano. Whether she was helpful or harmful to the movement is often questioned, but I loved her. She was out there waving her feminist flag and calling out sexism wherever she saw it, whether it was protesting a beauty pageant or calling out her boyfriend for calling her a ‘chick’. She was often mocked for her beliefs, but never wavered from them, and for that, I think she’s awesome.
Lord of the Rings’ Eowyn is a shield maiden of Rohan. She longs to prove herself in battle, but as a woman, is held to duties elsewhere. Of course, she won’t stand for this and takes matters into her own hands. She disguises herself as a soldier, and rides with her uncle’s army to the aid of Gondor. She fights and kills the Witch-King, who, it is said, cannot be killed by man. Lucky thing Eowyn isn’t a man, then…
10. Hermione Granger
Hermione Granger is a hero for a lot of girls of the Harry Potter generation. She’s astonishingly clever, opinionated and brave. She’s not the girl who needs rescusing and is instead right in there fighting alongside her friends (and puzzling out the complicated parts of the adventure). It’s Hermione who has the idea to get Harry to start teaching the students to defend themselves with magic, when Umbridge stops them learning anything useful. She is the catalyst for Dumbledore’s Army. My favourite Hermione moment though, is sad one. In the final book, she knows that her presence will put her parents in grave danger, and so she leaves with Ron and Harry, but first wipes all memories of her life from her parents. She knows she may never be able to return to them, and essentially wipes herself out of existence for their safety. That takes immense emotional courage.
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