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There’s been a lot of talk lately (and rightly so) about feminism, fandom and the lack of “strong” (3-dimensional, interesting, complex, REAL) female characters in mainstream media. The above quote has been going around for a long, long time and I encourage you to find similar quotes from female writers. I just adore that quote, so I put it there.
There was a very interesting post about female protagonists here that I encourage you to read. The author talks about looking at the books she was reading to her child and her attempts to balance male and female protagonists, but they fall very short of a 50/50 split. (It ends up being more like 60/30)
When I saw that my spreadsheet project featured exactly zero actresses I realized I needed to do something. As an exercise I decided to put down my top 10 favourite female characters. Surely there were ten lady characters that kicked ass from TV shows and movies I love. Ten fictional ladies that I’d want to have a drink with, or at the very least were played by actresses I really enjoyed?
The first five were a breeze, and then suddenly I was struggling to come up with female characters that I liked, let alone strong female characters I admired or that I could take traits from to help me in my everyday life. I looked. Leading ladies didn’t suddenly come out from the woodwork, but there were strong, awesome characters that I was over-looking because I was too busy watching the leading men on the show. (Leading men talk a lot and the camera likes to spend lots of time pointed at them.)
A lot of these characters are supporting characters, in fact they all are except Rey* and an argument can be made for Clara and Sara Lance who are both part of an ensemble of sorts. Yet they are kick ass in their own way, furthering the plot and embodying traits that I want to emulate in my everyday life.
So here’s my list, I know I’m forgetting lots and I’d love to see your lists in the comments.
(In no particular order)…
1. Remy Hadley aka Thirteen – House M.D.
Played by Olivia Wilde
I think Thirteen was one of the very first female characters I ever really adored. She was definitely the first name I put down in this list, even before Clara or Rey. She just came about at the right time in my life when I was figuring out who I was. Let’s be clear, she is reckless and secretive and lots of other things I do not recommend but she has these nuggets of amazing characterization I just adore.
Realizing I was bisexual while I was still in high school and then a few years later in college being diagnosed with bipolar disorder isn’t an easy thing to get through. You feel like you’re falling apart; that you know nothing about yourself and you wonder if either of those labels are going to ruin you forever. Thirteen is unabashedly bisexual and yes, the show is very heavy-handed with jokes about it. Not to make apologies for House but he isn’t the kind of character that is going to let things like that slip by without commentary. Thirteen handles the jokes and moves on with relationships with both males and females. Yes, they are ripped apart by her job but that’s realistic. While Huntington’s disease is nothing at all like bipolar disorder that life-long condition and how she handled it showed me what not to do. She (eventually) reaches out to friends, she’s stubborn but she begins to learn to trust. She does so many wrong things that her successes feel genuine and she grows as a character.
2. Clara Oswald – Doctor Who
Played by Jenna Coleman
Anyone who listens to Verity! knows how much I adore Clara. She’s strong, stubborn, speaks her mind, and she never gives up. The Impossible Girl devotes herself to something entirely, there is no half-way! I know others have criticized Clara as being too perfect and perhaps she lacks faults in their eyes, but one only needs to look at her “seeming” perfections to see the imperfections. She’s the girl who always gets good grades because that’s her goal. She puts things on her plate and then holds that plate until it becomes so heavy it clatters to the ground. She embodies the type of woman who has something to prove and right from the beginning to shows that she won’t give up her “normal” life to travel in time and space with the Doctor. The love I have for Clara can he heard on virtually any podcast where she is mentioned, the Hell Bent episode being the first that springs to mind.
3. Martha Masters – House M.D.
Played by Amber Tamblyn
Martha Masters is a third year med student in the seventh season of House M.D., and she is genius level smart (she graduated high school at age 13), plays by the rules, finds lying extremely difficult and favours compassion and truth above all else. When I first saw the show in re-runs, I couldn’t stand her. I thought she was the most boring and annoying character on the show.
Rewatching the show I’m realizing that Martha Masters was so annoying because of all the traits I share with her or wished I had. She also had the strength to quit. After everything she had been through; she gets fired almost every episode at the beginning of her run on the show, she knows when it’s time to walk away and move on with her life. She flexes and changes to some degree during her time on the show but her foundation stays the same. She remains utterly honest, compassionate and dedicated to her beliefs. She’s not afraid to stick up to those that outrank her and generally handles the male lead of the show in a way where he has to admit she’s right even though she’s doing things in a vastly different way.
4. Rey – Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Played by Daisy Ridley
Where was Rey when I was a kid playing Jedis? She’s no nonsense right from the beginning. No hand holding, she can take care of herself and she handles a lightsaber like a badass! I maintain that she is the kind of character they needed for the first Star Wars movie, she’s not even half as whiny and annoying as Luke. She’s very good at being a pilot, but not without errors. The writers show her getting better and learning to be more confident in her skills as time goes on. A growing character is a great character. The fact that she stays true to what she believes is best for her by turning down Han Solo’s offer of a job on his ship speaks volumes. She values something higher than flying with a guy she thinks is amazing, top of his class.
5. Charlie Bradbury – Supernatural
Played by Felicia Day
Supernatural isn’t known for treating the ladies right. It’s a sad, recurring joke that ladies die on Supernatural because the journey is about “the boys” and their relationship. Charlie, however, has all the traits that speak to me on a personal level. Reading Felicia Day’s memoirs I can see that she has lots of those same traits. Perhaps that helps to strength Charlie’s character. Charlie is into gaming, technology, she’s not heterosexual (although her liking ladies is played up a little too often for shock effect and it means she’s no threat to the brothers, sigh). These are all traits I understand and have to varying degrees myself. At the same time as she puts on bravado she’s often worried, scared and not confident in her abilities. Her faults make her real. That vulnerability makes her interesting and every time she overcomes an obstacle, I think that maybe I could too.
6. Felicity Smoak – Arrow
Played by Emily Bett Rickards
I have a thing for smart, nerdy, less than super confident ladies, ok? Both Felicity and Charlie share a lot of traits and geekiness is a big part of it. Even when the guys around them struggle to understand what they are talking about they have the confidence to say, “Shut up! I can do this!” Felicity also shows a more emotional side and it’s one that doesn’t make me want to shake her and say, “No, now is not the right time!” While she’s given more than one love interest throughout the show the ups and downs she experiences with Oliver are interesting and complex. She learns to be herself within a relationship instead of getting lost behind his shadow. She makes mistakes and she overcomes them even when that means calling things off (like her wedding).
7. Sara Lance – Legends of Tomorrow/Arrow
Played by Caity Lotz
Oh, Sara Lance. I may have a tiny crush on Caity Lotz. Recently we watched the remainder of season one of Legends of Tomorrow and this solidified my adoration of the White Canary. At first I was just so happy that they had a proper bisexual character on a comic book show and more importantly that they show her having relationships with male and female characters without all the pointless drama they gave characters like Thirteen. The mind boggles. In two back to back episodes she has feelings for a female character and a male character and they treat it like it’s just another relationship. She’s loyal to those she loves and let’s be honest she hasn’t had the easiest time with the whole business of staying alive or her family staying alive. In addition she regularly saves the other characters she shares screen time with and she is treated as the best person to go to for her skill-set. She’s a trained assassin and she’s treated that way even when there are characters that are far bigger and stronger than her.
8. Kaylee Frye – Firefly
Played by Jewel Staite
Kaylee is everything I thought I would be growing up, overalls included. As much writing as I did I wanted to be in there taking things apart and sometimes putting them back together. I wanted to hang with the boys and not let being a girl get in the way. Kaylee also shows that need for both sides though and even though she wouldn’t have anywhere to wear it, she still wants that pretty dress. She’s competent, willing to stand up for herself, but also willing to be herself. It may be cliche that the seeming tomboy engineer actually loves flowers and dresses but I think it shows that you don’t have to be just one thing. You can be good at fixing stuff and really gorgeous in a dress, too. I realize that is common sense to pretty much everyone but me but I’m learning, hush.
9. Maggie Chester – Peter’s Friends
Played by Emma Thompson
You may not be familiar with the movie Peter’s Friends (1992) or the character but Maggie Chester is a spinster-esque librarian archetype who in all reasoning shouldn’t be on this list. However, the characterization in the movie is so interesting and twisty that Maggie grows throughout the course of the movie. When you first see her on screen that strong, bold lady is hidden by long woolen dresses and a shy temperament. Her secret love for Peter and deep friendship with him allows change. She gains the courage to not only attempt change but to go out on a limb and profess her love for him. Spoiler: it doesn’t go well but she leaves the movie stronger than ever before. She’s kind, thinks of others and has a grounded (if emotional) nature that I would love to have myself. There are so many things wrong with her that she feels more real that other Hollywood ladies who seem to have their shit together. Also, I think it’s important to focus on characters that don’t seem immediately bad ass. Her faults and growth make her a strong female character.
10. Joan Watson – Elementary
Played by Lucy Liu
Joan is a tough one. On one hand she’s awesome and fills the traditional role of Watson perfectly, dare I say better than Martin Freeman. She just has so much unused potential. The Elementary writers often tend to relegate her to less than she’s capable of, instead of developing her character. Any character that can put up with Sherlock Holmes is a strong character in my book and Joan Watson just happens to be female. Ergo, strong female character. She also looks great, has her own motivations and character traits and has mountains of potential to really stand on her own feet as more than just a sidekick. We’ve seen glimpses of it in past seasons. Smarten up Elementary writers.
Who would be on your list?
* Kara, the lead on Supergirl would be number 11.