Ladies, today is our day. It’s International Women’s Day (March 8)!
What better way (for us entertainment-obsessed peeps) to celebrate than to take a look back and appreciate the strong female characters that have appeared in film and television?
Gone are the days when the desirable female character was a pretty-but-airy damsel-in-distress (I’m talking about you Hitchcock girls and female leads of the past). The 21st century audience is drawn to female characters that are independent and strong (not necessarily in a physical sense, but they usually are physically strong enough to not need to depend on others for protection).
Without furtherado, here are five strong female characters (in no particular order) that make girls everywhere proud:
1. Katniss Everdeen
The Girl on freakin’ Fire changed Hollywood. She showed us that franchises with female leads can be successful. She made the actress who brilliantly portrayed her, the one and only J-Law, the highest grossing action heroine of all time.
What’s not to love about Katniss? She is a wonderful mix of strength and vulnerability, and this combination has a lethal (pun, intended) effect, both on us audiences and those Tributes. Her hard façade (necessarily displayed for her family) shields a normal girl who, like any average human, has her own fears and troubles.
That’s what makes Katniss so likeable; she is an ordinary girl doing extraordinary things. She shows women all over the world what we’re capable of, and that we don’t need the powers of Wonder Woman to be a heroine for others and to save lives.
The main character of The Hunger Games finds herself at the centre of a love triangle, but she is in no way stereotypically portrayed as the hero’s romantic interest, emotional support and prize (it shouldn’t come as big news that female objectification has existed prominently in entertainment). Like any girl, she falls in love. She has boy troubles. But this does not distract her from doing what is important, and she in no way shows that she needs a man to complete her, or that she needs to ultimately end up with a man because she’s a girl.
Thank you, Miss Everdeen!
2. Hermione Granger
It’s a world where the male populace has somehow managed to implant the idea that a “smart” girl is unattractive. How many times have we seen in films and television that the silent, dumb girl is more attractive than the smart one who can destroy you in verbal sparring? Way too many.
But Hermione managed to expelliarmus that thought from our youth. As the most prominent female character in Harry Potter, she showed us that a girl can be smart-and-she-knows-it, bloody brilliant (as Ron would put it) and still be extremely cool. The only female and 1/3 of the spell-casting trio, Hermione was not afraid to flaunt her intelligence, and she did so proudly.
We were drunk with girl power when she punched that “foul, loathsome, evil little cockroach” that was Malfoy (now’s not the time, Dramione shippers. Though I’m one of you.). By using her fist instead of her wand, Hermione took out the bully in the most humiliating (for him) way possible.
By not pairing Hermione with Harry (whom she was a billion and one times more compatible with than dear Won-Won), Rowling avoided unintentionally relegating the strong female lead into the hero’s love interest. It was smart, even if this meant that the final love pairings were kinda odd.
Of course, the actress who played Hermione is just as big an inspiration as well. We all know what a brainy beauty Emma Watson is. Unlike most successful child actors, she chose to go to college (and an Ivy League one, à la Natalie Portman). Watson is an inspiration to not just women, but to the youth of the world as well.
Ten points to Gryffindor!
Remember when Avatar came out in 2009 and took the world by storm? We were all so entranced by it because we had never seen anything like it. Avatar was what everyone talked about, and its most memorable character was Neytiri, who left a big impact on a lot of viewers. I remember the time when a lot of male bloggers and vloggers were proudly declaring that, even though the Na’vi female was blue-skinned and 3 metres tall, they were still in love with her. Likewise, female viewers looked up to her and recognised her as one of those strong female characters that James Cameron (appreciatively) consistently churns up.
From her fist appearance in the film, Neytiri is quickly established as a warrior princess. Her first interaction with the film’s hero, Jake Sully, involved her single-handedly saving him from a pack of what-do-you-call-those-Pandora-creatures. Then, she was dismissive of him in a very likeable way. When she falls in love with him, it is clear that she admires his courage and leadership qualities, not because she needs to rely on him but because his strength compliments hers.
Then, she protects Jake in a pose where body language screams “Don’t touch my man”. Twice. (Pictured above). And, of course, she saves Jake (again) in the end.
As a girl, I might not want to be 9 feet tall and blue, but I want to be like Neytiri!
4. Daenerys Targaryen
The Mother of Dragons is not only a wonderful example of a strong female character, but also of tremendous character development and progression. After watching her being a complete “badass” with her army and dragons in the latest season of Game of Thrones, refresh your memory of what Daenerys was like when we were first introduced to her by re-watching Season 1. It’s amazing how far she grew under the guidance and love of her Sun and Stars, Khal Drogo.
From being easily manipulated by her older brother at the beginning of Season 1, Daenerys’ ‘Khaleesi lessons’ (not at all like Anne Hathaway’s ‘princess lessons’) quickly developed her into an independent and confident leader whom people looked up to. By Season 3, she was able to coolly negotiate with cunning men and walk away with an army of her own and the place going up in flames. Imagine if, instead of grabbing a young Daenerys’ throat, Viserys threatened the Mother of Dragons that she developed into? I can imagine an uglier fate for him than a (molten) golden crown.
Daenerys is not a flawless leader but she does learn a lot on the job (especially when we take into account the ingenue she was in Season 1), and she became pretty great at convincing people to follow her. She freed the Unsullied and convinced them to loyally serve her by choice. And remember when she freed another group of slaves (whose name escapes me), and they lifted her up and called her “mhysa” (mother)? Indeed, she has her weaknesses, but her displays of leadership, especially at drawing more to her cause, have been pretty darn amazing.
Yes, there has to be a Disney Princess here, don’t you think? But Belle is more than just a Disney Princess. Belle is considered by many critics to be an iconoclast (one that deliberately destroys, within a culture, that culture’s icons); she destroyed the previous depiction of Disney Princesses by becoming Disney’s first “strong female lead” and “thinking woman”. If I’m not mistaken, she is the first Disney Princess who did not have the goal/wish of marrying the prince.
Belle is another female lead who embraced books and intelligence. She loved to read (when the Beast gave her her own personal library, she reacted the way teenage girls react to clothes), and she didn’t care what other people said about her. Disney made the effort to highlight and celebrate this quality with the song ‘Belle’.
Belle is a wonderful example, in an increasingly shallow world, of how beauty is found within. Yes, Belle is gorgeous (and her name is French for ‘beauty’), but much of Belle’s beauty was also found within her. She taught us to love someone like the Beast by looking inside him, where it truly matters. She truly put the beauty in Beauty and the Beast.