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?