Who’s your favorite fictional feminist?

Apparently Al Franken realizes there’s a shortage of good female characters out there – specifically, feminist ones:

CA: Who is your favorite fictional heroine, and who are your heroines in real life?

AF: First, let me say I was shocked at how difficult it was to come up with a good fictional feminist. I’m a reader, I didn’t think this would be tricky. I asked my wife and my daughter, male and female members of my staff (which includes a couple literature majors), I asked friends of all ages. And it was hard! Do you pick Anna Karenina or does the ending ruin her feminist credentials? What about Simone de Beauvoir’s fictional alter ego – is that really fiction? Do you want to count Hester Prynne? Is Xena really the best we can do? Eventually I decided to go with Jo March from Little Women. Or Ripley from Aliens. The point is this genre is sadly lacking. The feminist heroines who inspire us tend to be real-life women, which is wonderful. But shouldn’t some writers out there seek to fill this void? Let’s see what a feminist heroine can do when they’re not confined to non-fiction format. I’d read it.

What characters – from any medium – can you think of that further your ideas of feminism? There are no wrong answers, because feminism means different things to different people. Just give a brief description of the ways you feel your chosen characters are good feminists. I’ll start with mine, but these are in no particular order, and the list is not exhaustive by any means.

  • Kira Nerys, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. She’s been fighting an overwhelmingly powerful enemy all her life, and she’s lost more people than she’s got left. Nothing can stop her from doing what she believes is right. She’s good at putting her feelings aside when it’s time to fight or sacrifice, but her spirit is so open she’s incapable of ignoring evidence of good in her worst enemies. This, folks, is a strong woman.
  • Cagney & Lacey. Two very different women working to get what they want out of life. It just so happens to be in a man’s world.
  • Lou from Young Riders for reasons discussed here. Also, Emma and Rachel, for reasons I’ll write an article on one of these days. Also, to a lesser extent, Jimmy: for always arguing Lou be “allowed” to accompany the rest of them on dangerous missions.
  • Precious Ramotswe from The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. In contrast with someone like Kira Nerys, Precious is a very gentle person. And yet, both of them are willing to take on more powerful enemies rather than be cowed.
  • Sandra Pullman, from New Tricks. This is a woman who possesses serious leadership skills, an excellent bark, and a complete lack of concern when people accuse her of being insufficiently feminine.
  • Cathy Linton, Wuthering Heights. If you understand WH as a psychological portrayal of class abuse leading to multi-generational familial abuse and abuse cycles in general, what happens at the end is that Cathy renders Heathcliff’s victory worthless by allying with her cousin and helping him overcome the ignorance Heathcliff forced on him. While Cathy couldn’t have known her actions would have this effect,  you don’t get anymore feminist than refusing to give up, even in hell.
  • Laura Dickens, Sandbaggers. There are things that bug me about Laura’s backstory, but I absolutely love that after allowing herself to be talked into doing a job she adamantly doesn’t want to do, she won’t let anyone cut her any slack because it was her choice to join the Sandbaggers. When both her boss and colleague try to convince her not to take a ridiculously dangerous assignment, she rightly points out she’s by far the best qualified, and that’s all there is to it.

I’m sure I’m leaving out a lot of great characters. Who are your favorites?


  1. Vee says

    Dr Camille Saroyan from Bones: the relationship between Cam and Bones is initially prickly but becomes one that works and is utterly professional and friendly. Cam has sex, and that isn’t something bad or wrong (according to the show, I mean). Cam knows her shit and is tough, but not in a non-vulnerable-I-am-an-awesome-and-understanding-caricature-of-a-tough-chick. I love her, I love her so fucking much.

    Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter from the book by Astrid Lindgren: because she practices being in danger, because she develops her own moral code and is right about it, because she knows how to survive in a forest, because she knows when she needs help. Astrid Lindgren had a lot of fictional feminists that work for me, actually (including Pippi Longstocking, of course, who works because she’s an example of it being okay to be entirely out there–and we see that society does not approve, but we also see that society is wrong).

    I could actually keep going for quite a while. One might say this is somewhat of an interest of mine. But I’ll stop for now.

    • SunlessNick says

      Regading Dr Saroyan, I also like the interplay and contrast between her and Angela Montenegro. Much less professional, but kind-natured and and grounding some of the flighty science types; also intelligent and bringing in very different expertise from the rest of the team. Like Cam, Angela has (a lot of) sex without it being shameful or harmful. My favourite thing about Bones is how gives more than model for a woman can be competent, cool, and awesome (and display mutual respect between exemplars of them).

  2. M.C. says

    Fantaghirò: A legendary Italian princess, who disguised herself as a man in order to fight a duel in her father’s place. Of course she won because she was a skilled swordswoman and very clever. And then she married the handsome king, whom she had defeated in the duel and thus became queen of two counties.
    There’s a series of 8 films based on the Fantaghirò legend, and she was probably the first feminist I heard of as a kid.

    Tess McLeod, McLeod’s Daughters: The big city girl, who is suddenly reunited with her estranged half-sister Claire after they inherit the family farm. Tess is a fish out of water in the Australian Outback who’d like nothing better than sell her half of the farm and move back to the city. But she doesn’t because that would mean Claire loses the farm too and she couldn’t take it. And so Tess stays, learns a whole new way of life, forms a close bond with Claire and teaches those sexist cowboys just how capable girls can be.

    Rose Tyler, Doctor Who: I know alot of internet fans hate her, but I love her because she’s the girl who left her job/boyfriend/family for a life of adventures. It didn’t start with her crushing on the Doctor or anything, she was just bored and decided to go on an exiting life-or-death roadtrip. Just like that.

    Rose Hathaway, the Vampire Acedemy novels: Rose is a head-strong, sarcastic teenager with a violent streak, driven totally by her platonic love for her best friend Lissa. Rose lives and dies for princess Lissa, dedicates her whole being to protecting Lissa. And then she turns 17 and discovers she would like to live some of her own life, before sacrificing herself for Lissa. So she leaves the princess. But while they are parted Lissa realizes how selfish she was and Rose discovers that she still loves Lissa. They reunite and decide that this time they will be there for each other as partners, not as princess and body-gueard.

    Alex Degenhardt, Mein Leben & Ich: Alex would be perfectly happy if the world only lelft her alone. But no, her family want her to do family-things, some people keep bugging her because they think Alex is actually their friend, and life just keeps happening. So Alex deals with everything in her usual sarcastic way and then goes back to writing and making photographs.
    I guess I like Alex so much because she’s just herself. She never tries to fit in, she demands that the world take her the way she is.

    Honourable mentions go to: Lois Lane, Buffy Summer, Lyra Belaqa, Aeryn Sun and Captain Katherine Janeway.

  3. M.C. says

    Forgot to mention Olivia Dunham from Fringe, it’s like the writers are writing her to be the arechetypal hero because they forgot they cast a female in the role. I love that.

  4. Jen says

    Lara Croft – she’s smart, kicks ass, and spends her time off having adventures, whilst still accepting help when its needed.

    Sam Carter (Stargate) – smart, kicks ass, maintains friendships with both men and women, just as comfortable with being motherly as she is being the tough career orientated genius techie.

    Alice Abernathy (Resident Evil) – smart, kicks ass, maintains friendships with both men and women, just as easy with her caring side as her destroy the evil corporation side.

    Molly Weasley – (Harry Potter) – happy to do the stay at home mum thing but can kick ass when the occassion calls for it.

    Kaylee (Firefly) – genius mechanic, friendships and sexual relations with whoever she damn well pleases, equally comfortable with being super-girlie and a tom-boy.

    Zoe Washburne (Firefly) – figure of authority second only to the Captain (who she is also smarter than and kicks ass better than!), friends with both sexes, healthy marriage, mixes tough soldier chick with flashes of softness when she wants to. The woman is awesome!

    River Song (Doctor Who) – (without going into spoilers for US viewers who haven’t seen the last couple of episodes) Smart (an actual intellectual equal for the Dr), sneaky, compassionate, kicks ass, equally comfortable dressing up fancy as she is with running around in combats … and she can drive the Tardis better than the Dr! What’s not to love?!

    • Ray says

      I always thought the costuming on Firefly was well done. Unlike any number of women in sci-fi or suerhero stories, always in the ridiculous get up that I would never wear to fight crime, the women in Firefly wear clothes appropriate to their jobs (and, I would say, to their personal likes). Zoe looks great but it’s not because she’s in some sort of bikini armor or stilettos. She wears practical clothes. Kaylee has a fun “girly” style, but one that allows her to crawl around the engine; she saves the frilly dresses for parties 😉 Inara shows plenty of cleavage, but again, it seems character appropriate. (Even Kira Nerys from DS9, who I have professed my love for elsewhere on this page, had an character-wise inexplicable costume change somewhere around the middle of the series, changing from practical looking boots to high heels. So I appreciate when costumes seem to come from the character and not be imposed from outside.)

  5. says

    OK, neither one is truly fictional, but they’re both women who have used the graphic novel format to tell semi-fictionalized tales from their lives: Marjane Satrapi and Alison Bechdel.

    Two of my all-time favorite personalities in all of the narrative arts.

  6. Jen says

    There are some great characters who inspire me and who I can look up to, are we talking about characters who are self proclaimed feminists or also characters who help the feminist cause (indirectly)/ are a more fair/detailed portrayal of a female/ are a good role-model in other ways / even a cautionary tale…?
    I would say Kara Thrace from BSG, unfortunately she is portrayed as ‘one of the guys’. She is tough and sticks up for herself, enjoys sex and drink and violence. This is good as it shows a woman who can do everything a man can do and more but on the other hand she is seen as an exception to the rule. often that hurts the feminist cause cos it’s like ‘she’s not a typical woman she’s DIFFERENT; more like a MAN’.

    I would also say Lorelai Gilmore (gilmore girls), However her daughter Rory Gilmore is a great role model for teens, she can be utterly sweet while doing exactly what she wants to do, she does make mistakes in love and gets treated like an emotional punching bag, but I think this is GOOD for the feminist cause because I found myself going ‘YES! that is EXACTLY what teenage boys are like!’ and found myself shouting at the screen ‘dump him dump him dump him’ which she inevitably did, so the final message was that she needed to be single and independent because those boys only held her back. Lorelai is like a GOD to me, however. Always right, without being arrogant, so strong.

    Lindsay Weir (freaks and geeks). This show could have easily starred a boy, but what a great character Lindsay was! She started off just wanting to rebel, so sucked up to the cool ‘freaks’ which at first seemed pathetic. But the character grew and became her own person, stronger, more political, outspoken and much cooler than the other ‘freaks’. So much better than a male character being like this, and so much better than a character who STARTED OFF feminist, here we witness a teen girl finding reasons to be left-wing, feminist and outspoken in a 1980s high school.
    Brilliant scene from the BEST episode where her parents read her diary : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CyhMIKwBnBw

    • says

      Jen, if we limited it to self-proclaimed feminists, the list would be much MUCH shorter (no sci-fi characters, either). So long as they’ve helped the cause, they’re gold.

      Kara Thrace is hard to pin down for just the reasons you mention. All the meta about her opens doors (i.e., that her character was originally male, that she leads a show, that she does things female characters aren’t supposed do), but the on screen stuff cuts both ways, as you detailed.

    • philstar22 says

      I liked that Kara was one of the boys, though. Although I wish the show meta had been less about it being an extraordinary thing and more about how sometimes women are like that.

      The thing is, there are so few female characters that aren’t femme that it can be hard for butch women to find female characters to identify with. And Kara was one of the boys, but not really in the typical sexed up way. Usually, a character like that will secretly be feminine and will only then be paired off with a guy (after a makeover of course). Kara was apologetically brash and in your face.

      So, I guess what I’m saying is that the problem with Kara is not her characterization but in the meta surrounding her on the show.

  7. Maartje says

    Marie Claire from Thea Beckman’s hundred year war trilogy (has that been translated into English?) She starts out as the Flemish Marije but when she runs away from home and crosses the border into (war-torn) France, she chooses to become Marie-Claire and be her own kind of person. I can also recommend Thea Beckman’s Kinderen van Moeder Aarde (children of mother Earth) trilogy, but it’s feminist in it’s entirety. It’s Patriarchy VS a Matriarchy with the conclusion being that excluding half the population is always wrong.

    Chris Kelly from the show Pacific Blue, the show itself is not feminist AT ALL, it’s pretty much a T&A show. But the character of Chris is the only one who is fiercely ambitious and who doesn’t let anything stop her. She was a Naval aviator before basically being kicked out for being a woman , then joined the police force but when she got stuck with a PR job within the force she kept kicking down doors ’till they gave her another assignment- with the bike police in spandex. Fast forward three years, she was content to get some experience as a cop but now she sees everyone being promoted and she’s still stuck in spandex so actively seeks out detectives to assist them and dazzle them with her know-how but her boss/husband doesn’t like it, he wants to keep her in her place. So she leaves her husband and the force and joins the FBI.

    PS I am very open to being proved wrong on both these characters feminist value. To me they were just the ones that told me as a child and teen that the only right thing to do was be your own person and follow your own path, with or without a husband.

  8. Maria says

    Sigrid from Valente’s In The Night Garden

    OMG She survives several hundred years in a WHALE’S STOMACH!

    Anne of Green Gables

    Elisa Mazda from Gargoyles

    She-Ra, Princess of Power

    Red Sonja

    • persephone_il says

      OMG I second Sigrid SO HARD. Also the other Sigrid (who used to be a bear), and that cow-tailed girl from Cities of Coin and Spice.

  9. BowieCa says

    DANA SCULLY – because she is just awesome. No, really. She’s smart, fearless, capable, pretty, intelligent, rolls with the punches, doesn’t put up with the male hierarchy, solves crimes, apprehends bad guys, brings down a global conspiracy, researches brain surgery on Google, beats up Russian terrorists, vanquishes alien viruses, and does it all in 4″ heels.

  10. Mel says

    Rayyan Hamoudi from Little Mosque on the Prairie–it’s pretty rare to see a self-described feminist on TV, and Rayyan’s feminism–and how it interacts with her faith–is a running theme in the show.

    At the same time, she’s not perfect–she’s bossy and convinced she knows best and can be inflexible–and there are lots of other aspects to her character as well.

  11. Griffin says

    Two old favorites of mine are Amelia Peabody and Mary Russell, and I’ve just discovered a new favorite for the cannon of awesome lady heroes: Mary Quinn.

    Amelia Peabody is the heroine of Elizabeth Peter’s eponymous series. Amelia is based on two separate Victorian lady archeologists who were bending gender expectations in their own time. Amelia begins the series by unexpectedly inheriting a fortune, and decides to take herself off to see the world and do the things that interest her. Even when she does get married, it’s a marriage of equals where being a wife and a mother doesn’t get in the way of her archeological interests or her crime-solving. The 1975 starting novel is called “Crocodile on the Sandbank.”

    Mary Russell is basically the girl version of Sherlock Holmes. When she’s first introduced she’s wandering about the countryside reading Greek in the original, and a chance encounter with Sherlock ends with her deciding to train her as his apprentice. I like that Mary’s up to everything- she’ll be in deep cover, designing experiments, translating the Bible from the original Hebrew, and solving a bizarre array of cases. The first book in this series is “The Beekeeper’s Apprentice.” (and the author’s Laurie R. King)

    Mary Quinn’s a new discovery, and a YA heroine as well. The first book of the series, “A Spy in the House” (by Y.S. Lee) is just out this year. We first meet Mary when she’s being swooped away from a gallows sentence (for stealing) by a woman masquerading as a prison guard. She is brought to a charity school where she receives a great education. However, Mary’s life takes a turn when she confesses to the ladies in charge of the school that she wants to do something more involved with her life than teaching, which she just doesn’t have the heart for. They offer her an alternative: a life as a spy. Since woman are often overlooked in Victorian England, it makes the perfect cover for information gathering.

    I’m sure that I’m not explaining them well enough, but they’re all wonderful. And there are lots more wonderful literary heroines out there as well that I’ve not mentioned because the list would be too long!

  12. scarlett says

    @ MC, is Mcleod’s Daughter’s any good? It was one of those things I always meant to watch but never got around to. My DVD store has a decent collection, though.

    Anyway: Scarlett O’Hara of course. She’s deeply flawed – greedy, immature, short sighted – but you can kind of understand what drove her to it. Also, highly capable of doing what needs to be done while others (ie, her whiny, wishy-washy sisters) sit around expecting someone to do it FOR her.

    Anne Shirly. Bit of an odd one, I know, but I was reading Before Green Gables recently and it reminded me how much I loved Anne growing up. (Probably the reason I wanted to be a redhead for so long.) She’s fiesty, opinionated, a compulsive daydreamer with an overactive imagination – both of which get her into plenty of trouble – but smart, capable and loyal. Given it’s pre-feminist era stuff, there’s no ‘anything you can do’ stuff, but nonetheless there’s a strong sense that Anne is perfectly capable of holding her own against the boys (and the other girls).

    Though somewhat hit and miss, the entire cast of Buffy. Like, Cordy was totally self-absorbed but she knew who she was and went after what she wanted. Willow was highly capable and a talented tech geed/wicca (let’s forget season six though, shall we?) and Buffy herself was more physically capable than any man in the show. And I loved how Anya said whatever was on her mind and rarely apologised for it.

    • M.C. says

      @ scarlett: Absolutely. McLeod’s Daughters is one of my favourite shows. It has a very wide range of female characters, none of them are perfect, but they all seem real. And since the show focuses alot on family and female friendship it passes the Bechdel test in every single episode.

      • scarlett says

        I found out my library owns most of the show so I can borrow them for free for a month at a time, versus $7.95/week. I got the third disc from s4 – I’d watch Wil Traval reading the phone book, hell, I sat through the crap that was RSO for a season – and just the fact Steve’s a short redhead with less-than-sleek-and-shiny hair has impressed me.

  13. Emma says

    Catherine from Catherine, Called Birdy. For being hilarious and adorable and awesome. I love that book.

    • Maria says

      Plus, there’s Illyria, the Unicorn Queen and Paris MacKenzie, the lady Sherlock Holmes. YA fiction has some great heroines.

  14. Ray says

    I second Kira Nerys! LOVE her. (…It was also cool to see a woman who is religious — a hero, religious in a way that isn’t about hurting others, and for whom religion is important but also not the sole factor in her life.) And for that matter, Dax is pretty awesome, too. That show did a good job, overall.

    …I was also a fan of Mara Jade, from the Star Wars expanded universe — she and Kira remind me a bit of each other. Some of the later books undermined her awesomeness, but when I was a young teenager, I fell in love with her fierce independence and ability to move herself forward from a devastating past. I liked also that she could end up in a romantic relationship without having to lose all other aspects of her character.

    Speaking of characters I fell in love with as a kid, Tamora Pierce’s books — my favorite of her characters was Alanna, but there was generally a lot of good stuff there.

    I love the women of Firefly, but I think I like the way the ensemble of Firefly works together more than I could necessarily pick out a single character. It was really cool to see a variety of women represented in one show.

    Also, I’m a fan of a couple of old kid’s/young adult books by Eloise Jarvis McGraw (anyone heard of her?). One I read as a kid and reread when I need something nostalgic, one I found recently by chance (it’s out of print :( ) and was also impressed by. The first is Mara, Daughter of the Nile. It’s potentially troubling from a feminist perspective, because the whole plot is that Pharoah Hatshepsut has usurped the throne and must be deposed so that her brother can take his rightful place blah, blah, blah. BUT Mara, the main character (within the context of Hatshepsut=bad, Thutmose=good) saves the day (and gets the guy), and it’s never a “oh, wow, I can’t believe a woman could do that!” situation. The book passes the Bechdel test fantastically — she and another woman who over time becomes her friend talk about men, but they spend a lot more time talking about other things, and it’s integral to Mara’s character arc. My favorite thing about her is how complex she is — she starts out as totally self-serving and ready to push others under the bus, and ends up becoming part of a community — but not in the “silly woman ought to care about her family more than herself” sort of way. I think that’s why I still call this my favorite book despite the fact that it’s written for 13 year olds (and I was about that age when I first read it). It really is depressingly difficult to find female characters with that much nuance and arc.
    The other is called Greensleeves – I would call it feminist, in that it is about a young woman who learns to trust herself, and not just go every which way someone tosses her. Shannon, the main character, starts out with no self esteem and gains confidence… it’s the 1960s and she’s 18, half the people in her life are telling her to go to college, and half are telling her to get married. She goes to a new town and masquerades as “Georgetta” for a summer to work out what she actually wants, and who she is.

    I also like Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain, actually, she’s certainly flawed, which could be read as an anti-woman thing, but I prefer to think of it as writing a fully characterized person… Scarlett, you might like it, it reminded me of Gone with the Wind. Mildred, despite her deep love for her spoiled brat daughter (not a very feminist portrayal there…) that will eventually screw up her life, and bad choices in men, she kicks out her cheating husband and pulls her family through the Depression, starts her own business with the help of female friends, when she sets her mind to something she does it.

    So it wasn’t too hard to list all of those characters, but when you think of all the media we consume every day, this shouldn’t be a question to which a list is an easy answer. We should have too may answers, and that”s just not the way things are. And we’re people who seek these characters out and tell each other about them…

    (Oh, and I don’t usually think of her in the same way as some of the other women I’ve mentioned here, but also characters like Elizabeth from Pride and Prejudice — even a story in a traditional setting (and written centuries ago) can be feminist if women are fully characterized, I think. And it’s been a while since I read the book, but I love the BBC production, and remember her being in the book as well, fully characterized, and definitely opinionated and willing to make her opinions known — she operates within a traditionally female role, but is not passive nor weak.)

    • says

      Oh, Mara Jade. I loved her too – not only does she remind me of Kira in hindsight, but also a lot of male characters in the mold of Jack O’Neill from SG-1. These are survivors, scrappers, people who are prepared to fight dirty or die for the greater good. Hell, that’s sort of your classic Mother Defender role, so how come it usually goes to male characters, anyway?

      • Ray says

        Good point!

        …Also, re: Kira, I ran across an interesting tidbit on one of the special features discs (don’t remember which, sorry, one of the later seasons, maybe. Or maybe her character profile.). (SPOILERS) Apparently one of the main writers wanted her to have a relationship with Dukat, and Nana Visitor had a fight with him and basically said “My character wouldn’t do that, and I won’t do that.” Which I think is a rather feminist act itself — protesting against bad writing choices that do a disservice to female characters. Like what we do, but on the front lines 😉

  15. Ray says

    Also, while I’m apparently thinking of books I read long ago (working at library fundraisers will do that to you!) if there are any children in your life, give them Avi’s True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. Charlotte is a child of privilege who, through crazy circumstances, ends up without a chaperone on a ship of sailors about to mutiny. At one point, she ends up adopting boy’s dress and becoming a part of the crew. The captain puts her on trial for being “unnatural” and — in a scene that thrilled me as a kid because it just said what I was always trying to say but didn’t have the words for as a 10 year old — she fights back, insisting that her actions are “unusual” but not unnatural. …I think of that book every time I get in a fight over essentialism. It’s also just a damn good adventure story.

  16. Erin says

    Torin Kerr in Tanya Huff’s Confederation novels

    Meguet in Patricia McKillip’s Cygnet duology

    Saro in McKillip’s _The Book of Atrix Wolfe_ – rescues herself and the prince

    Harry Crewe in Robin McKinley’s _The Blue Sword_, and Aerin in _The Hero and the Crown_

    Sabriel – Garth Nix

    • Izzy says

      Pretty much any of McKinley’s heroines: she’s moved away from classic heroic swords-n-horses fantasy in the last decade or two, and much as I love Aerin and Harry, it’s even more impressive to see how she can show very strong and competent female characters who garden or bake or do veterinary medicine. So I’d add Sunshine, Beauty, Mirasol, and Rosie to the general list.

  17. Debsens says

    A lot of great ones have already been mentioned! I second Olivia Dunhum from Fringe, Kira from Deep Space Nine and Sam Carter from the original SG

    Jadzia Dax from DS9..while she certainly did not have the past of Kira she was a very couragous and heroic woman.

    Xena okay she may be a little campy but still awesome(Gabrelle of course too!)

    Temperance Brennan
    and of Course Buffy Summers

    • says

      I have to agree with Xena, and almost included her in my list. The show is problematic in some ways, and I’d have to re-watch it before giving an unqualified thumbs up, but what I remember is a woman in a role normally reserved for men: a warrior, someone on a redemption path that’s nothing to do with sex, who has a true buddy relationship in the great tradition of male buddy relationships (slash included).

  18. says

    Every single female character ever written by Tamora Pierce. With a particular fondness for Rosethorn, grumpy hardnosed garden-witch, and Keladry, first girl to train openly as a knight of Tortall. Kel is kind of an example of Pierce looking back at her own work, noting problems, and making it EVEN BETTER. One of her earlier heroines, Alanna, (also awesome) outright says to Kel something along the lines of “You’re important because you’re ordinary. I was an ‘exception.’ I trained disguised as a boy, so I wasn’t ‘really’ a female knight. I was chosen by the goddess, so I was ‘special.’ You’re ‘ordinary.’ You’re a ‘real’ girl. That makes you matter so much more. They can’t explain you away. ”

    Gratuity “Tip” Tucci from The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex. A dry, practical twelve year old who was pretty much raising her scatterbrained mom. When aliens abduct her mom and conquer the world, she straps cans to her feet so she can reach the car pedals and drive to Florida in search of her. Eventually, world-saving happens.

    Umi, Fuu, and Hikaru from Magic Knight Rayearth by CLAMP. These very different young ladies are thrown into another world and gradually go from being strangers to the kind of friends who’d die for each other. I love how they use not just new magical skills, but the abilities they brought with them. (Hikaru’s family runs a kendo dojo. Fuu studies archery at school. Umi is a competitive fencer.)

    Toph from Avatar: The Last Airbender. A butch, snarky, geokinetic tough girl, how she perceives herself is completely at odds with how her parents view her, which is as a crippled, fragile flower who needs their absolute protection. She runs away from home to be with people who don’t let her one disability keep them from recognizing her incredible abilities, and her REAL weaknesses (she’s kinduva spoiled brat at times, and they let her know it).

    Hothead Paisan: Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist, by Diane DiMassa…. don’t judge me….

    Anait, from an Armenian folktale. She refuses to marry the Prince until he learns brocade making, because she has vowed never to marry a man who does not know a trade. After they’re married, the King-formerly-known-as-Prince is captured and enslaved, and he manages to smuggle a message out to Queen Anait woven in brocade. And she LEADS THE ARMY to his rescue. Eat that, Snow White.

    Digger, from the webcomic of the same name by Ursula Vernon. She is a wombat. She is pathologically practical. And she will put a perfectly maintained mining pick right up your backside if you give her cause.

    Antimony Carver, from the webcomic Gunnerkrigg Court by Tom Sidell. The most unflappable heroine who ever failed to flap. A ghost once tried to scare her, and she advised him on how to improve his technique.

    • Ray says

      !!!! I can’t believe I forgot Anait! I LOVE her! So cool that you know her, too… Best folk tale ever.

      Also, I like your points about Alanna/Kel….

      • SunlessNick says

        Anait sounds awesome; I’ve never heard that one.

        And her name reminds me of Anat, who’s a goddess of ancient Canaan, and the star of their version of the descent into the Underworld myth, to save her brother – only Anat’s descent consists of storming the gates, beating the tar out of the god of death (in the more picturesque tellings, wearing his entrails as a headdress while she dances on his body) and taking her brother back. That’s what you want in your war and fertility deities.

  19. says

    I second Kel from Tamora Pierce’s Protector of the Small series. She is awesome! And, as my introduction to Pierce’s work, feels far superior to Alanna (who so many fans prefer).

    Zoe and Kaylee from Firefly also make my list. As does Scully. And do Harry and Aerin from the Damar books.

    But let’s try to add some new blood to the mix…..

    Theodora from The Gate of Ivory is pretty amazing – and though I don’t recall her ever outright identifying as feminist, as a trained scholar and habitual roamer, she provides a nice analytical interpretation of everything she observes.

    Loup Garron from Santa Olivia. Her utter fearlessness when fighting the corruption, oppression and discrimination in her world is awesome.

    Idgy Threadgoode (sp?) from Fried Green Tomatoes is always a favorite. Especially when the film is watched with my family – they are utterly convinced that there are NO lesbians in the movie! Haha!

  20. Raeka says

    Let’s see, I second Kel from Tamora Pierce, and the Firefly ladies, and definitely Mara from Mara, Daughter of the Nile…

    I’d also like to add Meliara from Crown Duel and Court Duel –she starts off the series woefully ignorant of the wider world and a bit too stubborn and hotheaded for her own good, but she (and her brother) are the first of the nobles to stand up against a tyrannical king despite the overwhelming odds. Over the series, too, she later applies all her passion to learning and overcoming her own ignorance, and learns to temper her stubborness and temper… overall, one of my absolute favorite characters.

    Integra Hellsing is also one of my all-time favorites! I only ever saw the anime, so I couldn’t speak for the manga themselves, but she freakin’ leads an entire organization charged with eliminating vampires in England. She has the willpower and strength to control –and intrigue– the god-knows-hold-old Alucard, and my absolute favorite part –she never, ever appears to regret the hard, demanding life she has. I ADORE this presentation of an ambitious, fierce woman who has dedicated her life to a bloody cause because of honor, duty, etc –all that good stuff that usually only men get, or women get but only if they think longingly of babies in their free moments.

    Integra Hellsing, ftw. She is my all-time favorite anime character.

  21. says

    This is a great list! I’d like to add Katara from Avatar: The last Airbender, who, while she respects and loves her culture very much, she doesn’t let it stand in the way of her learning a martial art she wants to learn (waterbending). She stands up to the Patriarchal leaders who refuse to teach her, and ends up helping her society progress towards the better.

  22. Elee says

    A lot of the characters that I would usually mention are already in the comments, so here are: Elisabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice – because in a time where the only “careers” available to woman were being a wife or a companion to a rich relation she still chooses to speak her mind and to marry for love, not for convenience sake or to escape her home. But she also is open-minded and capable of learning from her mistakes and once she knows that she loves Darcy, she shows it in the limited ways that are socially acceptable. She is not a true feminist, but like Jen said, furthers feminist cause. And just because I love Tyne Daly, her role as mother of Judge Amy in the TV-Series is totally cool. She works an unrewarding, emotionally draining job and is still capable to show enthusiasm and courage when most people have given up, and when her daughter expects her to work overtime as a babysitter because her self-important daughter of a Judge apparently thinks that this is the only raison d’etre for a grandmother, she has no problem to tell her a peace of her mind. You know something has gone wrong when the namesake of the series who a viewer is supposed to sympathise with comes off as a self-righteous a-hole.

  23. Patrick McGraw says

    Paksenarrion Dorthansdotter from Elizabeth Moon’s The Deed of Paksenarrion. Paks is a sheepfarmer-turned-mercenary-turned-Paladin.

    Daria Morgendorfer of Daria. Beneath all the snark and sarcasm is a deeply principled young woman who holds herself to the same standard that she judges others by.

  24. Vee says

    A whole host of female characters from DC Comics (who unfortunately often does not know what to do with them and fucks up their arcs epically, but the characters are great and in the hands of writers like Gail Simone, they get to be great: Barbara Gordon (Batgirl, then Oracle), Shiva, Cassandra Cain, Stephanie Brown, Dinah Lance (as Gail Simone writes her), Misfit and Huntress, etc. And Wonder Woman. Most obviously.

  25. KLee says

    I 3rd Kel from Tamora Pierce’s Protector of the Small–as someone else said, its a great example of an author “fixing” from an earlier series (Alanna’s series).

    I 2nd sbg’s vote for Shane Vansen from Space: above & beyond. A series that Fox, as usual, cancelled way too soon.

    Three of my all time favorites are from novels that feature wonderful female protagonists that are multi-faceted, fascinating, and great role models.

    Mahree from AC Crispin’s novel Starbridge. Despite being the youngest on a space ship, she refuses to ignored when they encounter an alien species for the first time. Fighting for the growing friendship between her and a young alien, trying to get the adults to fight through their fear, and finally taking a desperate leap of faith to find some help before it all goes to hell.

    Tocohl from Janet Kagan’s novel Hellspark. A murder mystery set on an alien planet, a novel about intercultural communication (language, verbals, nonverbals) as seen through the interaction of a team of explorers, and questioning the nature of sapience and sentience. And at the heart of the story is Tocohl who is a Hellspark through and through along with her ship AI Meggy. Hellsparks are a race of traders, diplomats, judges and free-wheeling adventurers. Smart, capable, unapologetic unless an apology is truly warranted, and I re-read this book more than once a year. It is truly a tragedy that the author died without writing a sequel. (Kagan also wrote the Star Trek novel “Uhura’s Song”)

    Tallie from Mind-Call by Wilanne Schneider Belden. The first in a young adult trilogy that is out of print & you’re lucky if you find it in the library. Tallie prescient dreams help her survive a devastating earthquake & flood–following those images she escapes with the family cat, rescuing a baby along the way & sails to a cliffside fortress owned by a mad man. Joined by other children with equally special abilities they struggle to support each other & survive while hiding in the lower levels of the fortress. She has grit, intelligence & courage even as she struggles with her growing abilities and to protect the baby from the evil living upstairs.

  26. says

    I nominate most of Octavia Butler’s female protagonists (some of whom actually declare themselves feminists) but in particular, Lauren from The Parable of the Sower. Not only is she tough and scrappy, she’s forward-thinking and refuses to let her circumstances limit her–and she creates her own belief system in place of her family’s more stringent one.

    I also second Sabriel and Lirael by Garth Nix.

  27. says

    I’d like to second the ladies of Avatar: The last Airbender:

    Katara doesn’t take sexist shit from anyone. Early on in the series she’s calling out her brother and before the season 1 finale she’s giving Mater Pakku a hell of a fight for his “Go back to the healing huts, girl!” attitude. (Pakku himself would be a wonderful example of “Patriarchy hurts men too.”) (all seasons)

    Toph doesn’t give a shit about society’s gender roles. She was initially planned as a male character and still behaves like that for the most part. She’s also a tiny blind girl and the best earth bender around – and the only one who can bend metal. (seasons 2,3)

    Suki is teaching Katara’s brother some lessons in fighting. She’s the leader of a female elite fighter team that is protecting her home island and later helping out in the Earth Kingdom. She’s a minor role but eventually joins the heroes for the big finale. (all seasons)

    Azula is the daughter of the big evil overlord and one of the main antagonists. She is very ambitious when it comes to power like her father but being a girl doesn’t hinder her aiming to become Firelord herself one day. (seasons 2,3)

    Mai and Ty Lee are Azula’s childhood friends who accompany her. Albeit having rather small roles they are both well rounded female characters who kick some serious butts. (seasons 2,3)

    I also loved the backstories of some female minor characters:

    Hama is a water bender from the south pole that got captured during the war and admittedly got a bit crazy during her captivity. Eventually she found a way to get herself out of prison and ever since was living as a creepy old inn lady in the Fire Nation more or less terrorizing her neighbours. Although it is a pity that the only female old master is apparently ‘evil’ it is completely justified Imho due to her fantastic and intense backstory. (season 3)

    Kanna is Katara’s grandma and former fiancée of Pakku. It was an arranged marriage and she fled the Northern Water Tribe because of the sexist bullshit that was going on there. (season 1)

    Overall the whole series is pretty much amazing when it comes to their female roles. If you haven’t already you should totally watch it.

    (I’d also love to see some articles about A:TLA from you! In any case you could certainly analyse it and compare it to the movie adaptation which pretty much reverted all progress that was made by the cartoon and made Katara a weak whiny love interest, Suki and her group of fighters just have a super short appearance and apparently the Kanna/Pakku/sexism sub-plot was completely dropped.)

    • SunlessNick says

      Another thing I’d add in favour of Avatar is that several of them fill the “badass normal” niche, which is usually reserved for men (I seem to recall that Mai and Tay Lee learned particular martial arts strikes that messed up a target’s bending abilities).

      • says

        Yes, indeed! Mai is versed in throwing knives and daggers and whatnot while Ty Lee is very acrobatic and able to render an opponent helpless with chi-blocking. Suki and the Kyoshi warriors also fall into that trope. They fight with fans and later also with katanas and shields – and they wear protective samurai-like armour!😀

  28. Anemone says

    Jane Eyre, for refusing to have a relationship with Mr. Rochester on any other terms but her own.

    The Paperbag Princess: defeats dragon, rescues prince, dumps prince.

    Susannah of the Mounties: girly and spunky and fun all at the same time. (First book still in print but remaining three pretty good, too.)

    The women of The Shattered Chain, a Marion Zimmer Bradley novel. The first feminist SF/F I ever read and a huge watershed for me.

  29. Sam L. says

    As far as I can see, we haven’t mentioned any sitcoms here, so let me suggest Lindsay Knope from Parks & Recreation. First of all, she actually has the distinction of being a self-professed feminist, which is nice, and though she is often the butt of jokes, her principles are not held up to laughter. Also, P&R has been really funny for the past season, which helps.

  30. says

    I’m surprised that no-one has mentioned Britta from Community – a rare self-identified feminist on TV.

    Coraline (from the book) – she is resourceful and clever and saves the day (unlike in the film – grr)
    Maria Braun – she is a metaphor for post-war Germany and we know how successful that was
    Young Charlie from Shadow of a Doubt – she undertakes a terrific rite of passage which I won’t spoil
    Jenny from An Education – she makes terrible choices which she learns from

  31. Mana G says

    Fenice from Chretien de Troyes’ Arthurian Romances. She falls in love with Cliges, nephew of the Emperor, but gets “married off” to the Emperor. (According to the deal made with Cliges’ father, his uncle was only supposed to be Emperor so long as he didn’t marry, because Cliges was in fact the rightful heir.) Fenice loves Cliges, but also really, really doesn’t like the fact that her husband broke his word and married her, while remaining Emperor. She pursues a relationship with Cliges on her own terms, as well: Cliges wants them to run away together right away, but she constantly says that she doesn’t want them to be like Tristian and Iseult. (Which makes me happy, because I’ve always hated the way the Tristian/Iseult love story is idolized.) She gets a lot of help from her maid, (who, for instance, whips up a potion that makes the Emperor think he’s sleeping with Fenice when he isn’t even touching her), but she comes up with all the solutions. Including, eventually faking her own death so that she and Cliges can run away together. (Fenice wants to make sure that no one will think that Cliges’ uncle has any legitimate “claim” on her before she’ll go anywhere.) When the time comes to fake her death, a group of men come along and insist that she’s not really dead. Therefore, they beat the ever-loving crap out of her, expecting her to flinch or cry out. Fenice, however, neither moves nor makes a sound. (And how badass is that, I ask?) She eventually heals, and the Emperor dies, leaving the throne to its rightful heir. A far cry from Tristian and Iseult, is it not?

  32. Pipenta says

    Ellen Ripley (Alien films)
    Jael (The Female Man, Joanna Russ)
    Offred (The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood)
    Mavin Manyshaped (Sherry Tepper’s True Game series)
    Esme Weatherwax (Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series) and Nanny Ogg and Tiffany Aching
    Eliza (Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle)

  33. Charles RB says

    A bunch of the above, plus:

    * Daria Morgendorffer from Daria – smart, capable, funny, and not willing to put up with your stupidity or attempts to make her do things. She wants to READ, damn it.

    * DS Siobhan Clarke, from the DI Rebus books – Rebus’ partner, starting off as a rookie and then rapidly growing into an accomplished, intelligent detective. And while she picks up tricks and techniques from Rebus, she’s not slavishly copying him: she can handle her own cases, and can socially navigate better than he can.

    * Sarah Jane Smith, Mariah, and Rani from Sarah Jane Adventures. Notably, in the first series Mariah was the clear lead and POV character, with her relationship with Sarah Jane as a lynchpin. How many other sci-fi shows have a mother/daughter dynamic with a teenager and a woman in her 50s? How many sci-fi shows have a competent, ass-kicking female character in her 50s?!

  34. says

    M.C.’s comment about Olivia Dunham is the best thing I read today. Exactly!

    And I’d add: Carol Danvers (Ms. Marvel) of various Marvel comics; The Bride in Kill Bill and Bridget von Hammersmark in Inglourious Bastards; and without a doubt Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal (books and movies).

  35. SunlessNick says

    Season 3 of Farscape is being repeated in my neck of the woods, restoking my love of Aeryn Sun, Chiana, and Zhaan. Three very different women with their own forms of awesome.

    And Farscape possibly has the most complete Bechdel pass I’ve ever seen: a scene with Aeryn, Chiana, Zhaan, new regular Jool, and guest character Niala (none of the guys there) arguing spaceship disasters and monsters. Be nice if that wasn’t so remarkable, but while it is, it merits the remark.

  36. A. says

    Helen Magnus from Sanctuary. Brilliant, strong, resourceful, completely comfortable in her position as the boss.

    Jaina Proudmoore from Warcraft III and World of Warcraft. (despite recent attempts by Blizzard at attempting to push female characters back into more traditional roles). She is a great leader. She is also a very scary mage when danger is present or faction leaders stop thinking with their head. 😛

  37. Izzy says

    Ooh, Cordelia!

    Also Jane Rowland from the Temeraire books–and her daughter Emily’s growing up to be a pretty impressive woman too.

  38. Robin says

    So many of my favorites have already been mentioned, so I’ll just list the ones I haven’t seen yet.

    Nynaeve al’Meara & Min Farshaw from Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. I admit that there are some not-so-great gender politics in Jordan’s work, but these two women are fantastic. Strong-willed in a typically Medieval-ish fantasy society, but not afraid to share their hearts with the men who love and respect them. And, boy howdy, do they command respect from everyone around them.

    Martha Jones from Doctor Who and Torchwood. It takes some serious determination to not only stand up to some of the most powerful beings in the universe, but also to leave the man you love when it’s clear that he’ll never return your feelings and find someone who will appreciate just how awesome you are.

    Detective Karin Murphy from the Dresden Files series. Don’t get me wrong, Connie Murphy in the TV series was pretty awesome too, but my first loyalty is to Karin Murphy from the books. I tend to picture her as Buffy Summers might have been if she’d grown up with out supernatural powers and became a cop. Time and again, she’s stood beside her friends against thugs and criminals of the human, vampire, werewolf, and faerie varieties, even when the odds seem unbeatable, with nothing other than her razor-sharp wits, a firearm or two, and her fierce determination to do what’s right.

  39. says

    She’s not yet been mentioned, but I like Thorn from Bone: a farm girl who must cope with being a princess, she has a few moments of doubt where all she wants is go home, but in the end she acts the heroine – and she doesn’t even get married off. Plus, she’s got a no-nonsense, cow-racing grandma queen at her side.

    I also want to mention to characters from China Mieville: first is Bellis Coldwine from “The Scar”, who I found to be a great character. She’s not a traditional heroine, she just wants to go home and does what she can to get there – even things you wouldn’t exactly call heroic, but I really enjoyed her inner struggles.

    More importantly, there’s Deeba from Un Lun Dun – which, you know, if you haven’t read it, READ IT. Deeba is also a POC, and she is sent into “Un-London” along with her friend, but the way Mieville plays with fantasy tropes here is simply awesome, and Deeba is a resourceful, smart, worthy protagonist.

    Jane from Michael Swanwick’s “The Iron Dragon’s Daughter” is also a great protagonist despite this book being called “Anti-Fantasy”. She is believable, and all the realism and “rightness” of her actions make the story all the more tragic.

    George Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series has quite a few female protagonists, and the biggest one is probably Daenerys, the Dragon Queen, a teenage girl thrust into power but managing quite well.

    And now I’ll have to take a look at all those names posted above. Quite a list, and good to see you can get at least that extensive.

  40. sbg says

    Mary Shannon, In Plain Sight. She’s unapologetic about her flaws, and she has many. She’s snarky and snarly and kicks ass every day of the week.

  41. Aydan says

    Definitely Cordelia Naismith, from Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series. She’s… really, really, cool.

    Also thirding the recommendation for the female characters in the TV series, “Avatar: the Last Airbender.”

    Harriet Vane, from Dorothy Sayer’s Lord Peter Wimsey books. She runs into a lot of sexist criticism over something she did, and spends the next five years trying to figure out who she is, and what her place, as an intelligent woman, is in pre-WWII Britain. (That’s a really bad description. But the books are really good.)

    Sherryl Jordan has a book, Winter of Fire, which is unfortunately out of print, but the main character, Elsha, is a very strong woman who fights against sexism and slavery.

  42. Aydan says

    Oh! And also from later in the Vorkosigan series, Ekaterin Vorsoisson. She’s spoilers stuck in an abusive relationship in a patriarchal society, and has to figure out, basically, who she is and what she’s going to do. / spoilers

    • Shuu says

      Ha, yeah… spoilers, but I love the end of Komarr, where she does everything major herself and all Miles really gets to do is finish the clean-up.

      • Aydan says


        The end of Komarr makes me so happy.

        That line about “wait around for a responsible man to handle it.”

        And then… the smashing.

        It makes me smile just thinking about it!

  43. Shuu says

    I agree with the women from the Vorkosigan books; so awesome. Also from Bujold, I really liked Iselle and Beatrix (may have misspelled those; haven’t read the books in a while) from “The Curse of Chalion.”

    Also seconding Integra Hellsing, who is even more awesome in the manga. Heck, I’d even say Seras counts for this category, since in the manga, she has every bit as complete of a plot arc as any of the male characters, and changes the most throughout the series. I think what made me really love her as a character was when (minor SPOILERS!) it revealed, through some flashbacks, how hard she’d worked to become a police officer, and how much the job meant to her. Even if she lost that position in the very first chapter when she got turned, it still gave her a past and a sense of agency. Yeah, major Hellsing fan. Don’t get me started.

    • Raeka says

      I was actually never that much of a Seras fan, as I thought her miniskirt uniform was completely ridiculous, and she seemed so much like the obligatory big-boobed anime girl :( I also had little sympathy for her angsty waffling over drinking blood… but then again, I only saw the anime, so maybe she gets presented better, or at least more completely, in the manga xD;

      • Shuu says

        Yeah, I disliked her in the anime… She did just seem like she was there to be objectified, since Integra wasn’t. For perspective though, the anime covers the first two Hellsing manga and then makes up the rest (so everything after the Jan and Luke attack), and Seras’ major character development comes in the 7th volume of the manga. Another advantage there is that the group splits up for some dramatic stuff, so the characters get to show off their strengths instead of just Alucard doing everything.

        Integra’s also twice as awesome in the manga. Just saying.

    • Patrick J McGraw says

      What I love most about Paks is that she isn’t inspired to become a hero because of personal tragedy. She becomes a hero because things need doing.

  44. says

    Lots of ones I love have already been mentioned (particularly the casts of Firefly and Avatar). A few others:

    Agatha Clay from Girl Genius. Tough, brilliant, and generally in charge of any situation she’s in.

    Winged Victory, from Kurt Busiek’s Astro City…though she may do the talk better than the walk.

    Snow White from Fables (probably more in that series, as well); I think she takes a downturn after her relationship with Bigby gets formalized, but I still love her.

    Gert Yorkes from Runaways.

    Irma Geddon, from Alan Moore’s Top Ten (for that matter, most of the female characters, from Syn Jackson to Jack Phantom to Robin “Toybox” Slinger are pretty awesome). Irma is pretty much the most awesome, though.

    • Raeka says

      Oooooh, seconding Agatha! 83 And one of the things I also liked about that webcomic was the way EVERYONE is drawn so…stocky. And strong. It’s a nice change from the plethora of thin people :/

    • Shuu says

      Snow White’s awesome, Bigby’s creepy. Liked him until he mentioned (spoilers) about smelling her emotions and all that, and after that he just seemed weird and Edward-y and stalker-y to me.

  45. sbg says

    You know what I was thinking lately? Television (I’m thinking US here, by virtue of where I live) could use another Jessica Fletcher. A sharp, successful old lady who not only had a great gig as a mystery writer but actually solved mysteries on the side. She never let age or gender slow her down.

    • KLee says

      I agree, but I doubt we’ll see it unless its on a cable channel and even there its doubtful. I miss those “gentler” fun mysteries–remember Father Dowling Mysteries? Wouldn’t a Jessica Fletcher series of movies a la the Hallmark channel ones with Dick Van Dyke, or the Mystery Woman be nice? I haven’t even seen Murder she Wrote in reruns in forever–is it running on one of those nets on the usual digital tier?? (out of topic, but I was also a big fan of Diagnosis Murder).

      • sbg says

        I forgot to reply to this! I actually saw Murder, She Wrote reruns on Hallmark’s movie channel the other night. I don’t know if it’s nightly or not, though. I think I just lucked out in seeing that it was on.

  46. Carolina Blue says

    Smilla from Smilla’s Sense of Snow. The movie was enjoyable, but the book allowed for better description of her character. I highly recommend it to anybody searching for strong female character.

  47. says

    Dana from Kindred, Octavia E. Butler’s famous work and Vianne from Chocolat by Joanne Harris.

    I loved Dana because she’s a young black non-religious feminist. I loved Vianne because she’s a non-religious, fiercely independent feminist. Oh, and the book Chocolat is SOOO much better than the movie.

  48. Cassy says

    Kind of hard to believe that no one’s mentioned Honor Harrington yet.

    From the YA side, Menolly from Anne McCaffrey’s Harper Hall trilogy has always been one of my favorite heroines. Can’t get much better than a woman who changes her world by daring to do what she loves.

  49. says

    Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. Quick-witted, capable, in charge, generally awesome. I’m an absolute fan of YA fiction; sometimes I like it better than adult fiction, cuz it lacks the airs of highness and loftyness.

    And, I realized recently, there are a few leftovers from my younger days that feature strong female protagonists and focus on their journeys: Virginia Lewis from The 10th Kingdom (miniseries on NBC) and Max from Dark Angel (canceled TV show on Fox, with other problems that I won’t get into here!).

    And there was another book from my youth called Into the Land of the Unicorns (I know, I know) that had almost all female protagonists: Cara, her grandmother, the queen unicorn, and the scary scary dragon, Lady Firethroat. The dudes were the quirky secondary characters, for the most part, though that series has Problems, too.

    And I seventh (?) Samantha Carter, and add Janet Fraiser, because I love SG-1, even though that show horribly fails the Bechdel test and loves it some gender stereotyping outside of that one. female. main. character. (and one auxiliary character who comes on sometimes but doesn’t see much pew pew pew gun battle running jumping explosion stuff!)

    Grr Oppression Alert disclaimers, why are you necessary?!

  50. Maria says

    Anita and Me has some GREAT female characters in it. Meena, the main character, is awesome because she’s trying to figure out who she is as a British Indian. Her G’ma is pretty great too — at one point Meena and her are about to get jumped by some racists, and they pull a knife on them, and the G’ma is all, “That’s not a knife. THAT’S a knife,” and scares the pants off them.

  51. says

    All the characters I thought of off the top of my head have been mentioned! So I’ll just second Elizabeth from Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Daria Morgendorffer, and Alison Bechdel’s characters.

    Oh, Jaime Hernandez writes really interesting, capable, multi-talented women in his Locas comic series, too.

    Another favorite would probably have to be Kat Stratford, the only self-identified feminist star of a popular teen movie I know: 10 Things I Hate About You

  52. Shuu says

    Oh, thought of a few more anime characters!

    Utena, from Revolutionary Girl Utena: the series has a very fairytale feel to it. The basic premise is that Utena was saved by a “prince” (not royal, storybook) as a young girl, so she’s decided that she wants to grow up to save people herself. All throughout the series, people try to push her into the princess role, and she even rejects a few suitors who she feels like see her that way. The series is about her efforts to help save another girl.

    Also, because I’ve been watching it recently: Kino, from Kino’s Journey. This series focuses the least on the main character’s sex/gender of anything I’ve seen: she dresses androgynously, the Japanese voice could be mistaken for male or female, and the only time it shows her gender is in a flashback, when she’s wearing a dress and has long hair.

    • Casey says

      I’d say Relena Darlian (and her “evil” war-mongering counterpart Dorothy Catalonia) count as maybe feminist? I think she’s a Strong Female Character(tm) aside from pining for Heero and imploring him to kill her…I thought she was a bad-ass and uncompromising diplomat/ardent pacifist.

      I was just considering Haruhi Suzumiya but she’s always sexually abusing/exploiting Mikuru (and when Mikuru’s future self recounts her past torment, she looks upon it fondly as a funny memory…ICK).

      I was thinking of including Misa Hayase from Macross, since she’s a really dedicated military-minded career woman, but everyone gives her shit because of it (yes I know it was the ’80s, it STILL bothers me). Shoji Kawamori’s original idea for Macross was for it to be all women on a space-battleship/colony with a woman as captain…I’d have liked to see that (although all-female casts are already relatively commonplace in anime).

  53. resmc says

    I’m shocked no one has mentioned every female character in Robin Hobb’s Liveship Trader’s trilogy; Althea, Etta, Malta, Amber, Keffria, Vivacia. They’re all *very* different … walks of life, personality, challenges. Some start out less than sympathetic, yet develop lotsa depth. And the books are totally worth reading even aside from the awesomeness of the characters … many hilarious moments, awareness of class, creative/interesting, great plot.

    A hearty 2nd to Kat Stratford from 10 Things I Hate About You. And Patrick Verona was – aside from being obscenely hot – open to learning of feminism (even if he had questionable motives, he wasn’t afraid to publicly show interest in a classic feminist book) and sometimes making of fool of himself in hopes of being with someone seen by most people as being ‘just a feminist bitch’.

    <3 <3 <3 to Bones/Temperance, Dr. Cam Saroyan & Angela from Bones! (Cam's relationship with her young ward is also worthy of note) And, come to think, the Firefly grrrls! Oh, and def to Agatha Clay from Girl Genius!

    Concurred re: Tamora Pierce's heroines. I was especially impressed with how (think it was Alanna) they didn't try to reduce the beautiful complexity that is attraction & relationships to being undyingly devoted to one guy (despite being quite capable of love; just that sometimes people turn out to not be quite as compatible as they initially seemed) Doubleplus props considering it's a book for young adults. George Cooper had some great feminist ally moments.

    Kate Libby from Hackers is another kickass protagonist from a popular film. Not the least bit ashamed to be sexual, to ask for help when needed, to shamelessly kick people's asses, to be snarky. (Also has some amazing outfits & got to hang out with other awesome but sadly fictional characters)

    Octavia Butler's heroines (tho i'm much more partial to the ones in Parable of the Sower & Kindred than Talents). Her awareness of race & otherness in Kindred rocked my world.

    Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel series is pretty sweet. Phaedre no Delaunay is one of my favorite characters … very complex, & kickass in her own way. Not ashamed to be sexual in unconventional ways. But all her heroines are still quite awesome, of course! [Warning: Those who find certain kinks to be non-feminist may not like the series, but it has definitely opened my mind in terms of seeing the possibility for non-dehumanization in practices that may seem less than empowering on the surface]

  54. says

    Thanks to this thread I have now started to read/listen to “First Test” by Tamora Pierce, and oh my deity is it awesome so far. I love it, thank you thank you thank you for mentioning it.

  55. Casey says

    Has anyone mentioned Julie Winters from The Maxx? She’s a self-identified “pro-sex feminist” (I guess they didn’t have the term sex-positive back then?), but she engages in some victim blaming. The Maxx himself also counts as a feminist too, I think.

  56. KC says

    I’ve loved horror movies since I was little, so maybe that’s why I’m a feminist today. The sexism and misogyny in most horror films (especially from the 80’s) is so blatant and unashamed that you can’t avoid feeling degraded and devalued as a female viewer the more you watch them.

    That being said, The Descent and Silent Hill surprised me. Not only did the strong female leads not require “rescuing” by males, but these films passed the Bechdel test beautifully. Virtually every important character in Silent Hill was female (good/bad, old/young), and all the characters (minus the cave monsters) from the Descent were strong, independent females.

    • Casey says

      The Descent was awesome and I loved Silent Hill for what it was when I first saw it in theaters, but the more I re-watched it, the less I liked it…that’s the ONLY movie where I’ll ever complain about a woman being the lead character, since they fucked up the plot of the game so much…plus, Christabella’s death scene (where she’s raped by barbed-wire and torn apart like in Urotsukidouji) traumatized me…and I was 16 at the time…Hmmm, that’s pretty pathetic of me. 😛

    • SunlessNick says

      In the case of the Descent, there may be also some feminist mileage in the moral, “Don’t fall out with your friends over a guy, or betray your friends for a guy, or else cave monsters will get you.”

  57. says

    I just rewatched the first season of the Canadian show The Listener, which I loved the first time around, and loved even more the second time. Multiple strong, prominent female characters, cool male characters (mostly cool in that they are adorkable, not cool like the way people think like, John McClane is cool…), and in my rewatch in my post-feminist learning experience, I realized that at least three of the main characters are most likely feminists based upon what they say and how they act and whatnot. The two main female characters are two of my favorite female characters in TV, Olivia and Charlie, and they are much more interesting to me than the white male main character who has telepathy…because he is, oddly enough, the most boring character on the show, even though he is less boring than most TV characters (IMO, anyways. I have a thing for low-budget, silly sci fi shows ^^;;;).

    • Shaun says

      You should check out Ark. It’s a series of 4-7 minute vignettes that add up to around 45 minutes of time, I found it on Hulu. It was obviously a cheap production, and the PLOT sounds really… standard (this woman falls asleep on her couch and then wakes up in a pod on an alien ship) but the storytelling was actually really good, and showed how much could be done with a really low budget. Renee O’Connor’s character was really identifiable with, consistently awesome compared to the man in the same situation, and it eventually winds up passing the Bechdel Test in a really… awesome way (initially it looks like it’s just the two of them).

  58. says

    All the BtVS ladies were mentioned, but I think Cordelia Chase deserves special mention for the transformation that she goes through on Angel. She goes from [SPOILER] air-headed comic relief to half-demon ass-kicking higher power——and it’s something that she chooses, not something that happens to her.

    Sophocles’ Antigone is pretty bad ass. She fights for what she believes is right and never gives up her autonomy.

  59. Alicia says

    Quite a few of the major female characters from Katherine Kerr’s Deverry books: Jill is a brilliant swordswoman and magic-user who has relationships in her own terms and turns her back on the ‘happily ever after’ ending of marrying into nobility in order to follow her own path; Lovyan is (as she describes herself) ‘a warrior’s wife and a warrior’s mother’ who, in a highly patriarchal society, runs a fief, goes to war to keep her fief, is politically savvy, and has no problems having battles of will with her liege-lord (and son), all the while being the epitome of a noble lady in the setting; Bellyra grows up mostly ignored but teaches herself all kinds of things, when she does end up marrying a king who’s always off at war she keeps everything at court running, and with nothing but her own strength of will faces down opponents trying to get her killed; Carramaena rejects her brother’s attempts to marry her off by having an affair with en elf, then runs away from home to chase across half the kingdom looking for him; Gweniver takes up a sword to protect her mother and sister when her father and brothers are killed, becomes the first war priestess for generations, and becomes one of the king’s best and most trusted warleaders. There are more, but I’ll end up talking about the plots of the 12 and counting books trying to cover them all :-)

  60. Finbarr Ryan says

    Eve. Screw all that nonsense about the Fall and Original Sin. She chose the pursuit of knowledge over allegiance to an omnipotent tyrant. She was a goddamned hero.

  61. says

    Vina Apsara in The Ground Beneath Her Feet. Extraordinarily gifted singer, all authority rejecting, unarmored facing all the evils of the world, promiscuous sex having, her love for a certain man only matched by her hate, passionate, uninhibited, uncompromising, well-spoken, sort of like Joan Baez meets Madonna meets Tracy Chapman meets John Lennon.

  62. Lorraine says

    Luna Lovegood (Harry Potter) – notable for her independance and “this is the way I am” attitude. She doesn’t let people put her down for her opinions, and doesnqt change just because people want her to. And she certainly doesnqt need a man to make her happy!

    Cimorene (The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, and most especially Dealing with Dragons) – capable and self-assured (although the poster girl for rebellious princess syndrome). Cimorene reads Latin, bullies the armsmaster into giving her fencing lessons, and outwits magical beings. Why aren’t there more heroines like this? Dealing with Dragons should also recieve merit for being one of the only novels I’ve found with a female protagonist who genuinely has no interest in romance.

    Honourable mentions to Hermione Granger (Harry Potter – for her intelligence), Lady Macbeth (Macbeth – for her determination) and Anya (Buffy the Vampire Slayer – for her honesty)

  63. says

    Ista from Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold. For the first forty years of her life, she tried to do what she was supposed to, tried to be a good daughter and wife and mother. And for all her trouble, she was left with blood on her hands, declared mad and shunted aside, powerless to defend her children. PoS is about her journey to make something of herself that she chooses, something outside the boxes that other people have shoved her into. Bonus points for approaching middle-age; there aren’t enough older heroes in fiction, especially not female heroes.

  64. Cassius says

    Lyra Belacqua of His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman! For me, she’s this amazing action hero who *happens to be female*. She is strong-willed, manages to find love but it’s a side part of her coming of age story – like a male hero that we’ve been conditioned to expect, she’s a brilliant, prophesied child who builds a life within the constraints of a charmed but brutal destiny. The boy she falls in love with is a real character but the fact that she falls in love does not negate her strength – unlike most female characters, she doesn’t need to learn weakness to find happiness. She’s a real hero, and has been mine for over ten years now.

  65. The Other Anne says


    I just bought these after having read them over ten years ago as a kid and I can’t wait to reread them! I love Lyra, and Will (that’s his name, right?) and I didn’t get a lot of the themes before, but I am excited to reread them and see what I remember and what I don’t.

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