Today is International Women’s Day! I thought we would celebrate here on OTF by focusing on some badass fictional women who have busted through gender stereotypes and given us real-life women someone to look up to when the patriarchy gets us down. Here are my top ten inspirational ladies brought to life on the big and small screens.
10. Lara Croft
First stepping in to video game consoles in 1996 and then brought to life by Angelina Jolie on the silver screen, Lara Croft is the female answer to Indiana Jones, except she’s far quicker on her feet than the professor, and has way cooler toys. Sporting her trademark double-holster guns, single braid, and steely glint in her eye, this is one female Brit who’s not so much high tea as she is high adventure. I admire Lara’s fighting spirit and the fearless way she dives headfirst into sticky situations. She’s also extremely well-read and knowledgeable about her field, a deft intelligence that comes through both in the video games and the films. She may get a somewhat antifeminist rap for her bosomy profile, but she is rarely dressed for anything other than speed and comfort, eschewing the impractical for cargo shorts, backpacks, and durable non-heeled boots.
Ed. note: the newest Tomb Raider just came out this past Tuesday, and, by all accounts, it’s pretty amazing! We’re still in the middle of our playthrough of this prequel, but we’ll be sure to address the game in the future.
9. Tami Taylor
How do I love thee, Connie Britton? Let me count the many ways. While “Mrs Coach” started out on Friday Night Lights as merely Coach Taylor’s stay-at-home support system, cooking up team BBQs and putting out disagreements among the Dillion Panther boosters with her hey-y’all smile and Southern Charm, by the end of the series she was running that school as principal (and her husband’s boss, no less!). The series finale sees the Taylor family helping Tami follow her dreams to a high-profile position at a university rather than her continuing to follow the whims of Texas football. She and Eric (Kyle Chandler) have one of the most realistic marriages I’ve ever seen portrayed on TV, and it is the backbone of this excellent show. We’re rooting for her strength and grace just as much as the state championship game.
8. & 7. Lorelai and Rory Gilmore
This strong, stylish, and unconventional mother-daughter team put each other ahead of their many and varied relationships with men, all the while being successful, kicking ass and taking names on the small business front (Lorelai’s Dragonfly Inn) and on the journalist front (Rory, editor in chief of the Yale Daily News). Gilmore Girls exemplifies the best there is in women’s relationships across the board – see Lorelai’s bff Sookie (the stellar Melissa McCarthy before she had her Emmy/Bridesmaids moment) and Rory’s best friends Lane and Paris; even the old-school Emily Gilmore managed to come down off her pedestal once in a while. These women leaned on each other and lifted one another up, and the quirky and fun town of Star’s Hollow was home to even more fabulous femmes as supporting characters (who doesn’t love Babette, Miss Patty, Mrs Kim, or Luke’s sister Liz?) adding flavor to the show and dimensions to what it means to be a chick in this crazy world.
6. Zoe Washburne
Zoe’s about as tough as they come – she was Mal’s right-hand lieutenant during the war, and managed to survive the Battle of Serenity Valley and live to fight and love another day. She and ship’s pilot Wash also have a very realistic marriage, especially in a genre that rarely does functional romantic relationships. When Mal needs muscle, he takes Zoe along with the stalwart Jayne, knowing she’s got his back and can get him out of a tight spot with her brains or her fists. Hell, she was even strong enough to be considering motherhood in that wasteland of danger and reavers! I only wish we had more of Firefly so we could have seen her develop even more.
5. Myka Bering
Warehouse 13 agent, former FBI, and all-time literature lover and general smarty-pants, Myka is the more serious and analytical foil to Pete Lattimer’s goofball. Pete is the one with the intuition, the one who gets ‘vibes’ about situations while Myka is more likely to be putting her massive encyclopedic knowledge of history to good use when tracking down dangerous artifacts for baggin’ and taggin’. She and Pete are equally matched when it comes to saving each other’s asses, and while some fans wish for romance, I think this pair is better off as the bff/brother-sister combo they currently are.
4. Kara “Starbuck” Thrace
You all knew Starbuck would be on this list, right? It’s not complete without her! The role of Starbuck was a male role in the original Battlestar Galactica, but female scifi fans across the globe worship at the altar of Ron Moore for making her into one badass lady. Hotshot Raptor-piloting, liquor-swilling, one-night-stand-having, cigar-chomping, solo-mission flygirl and mystical harbinger-of-death Kara Thrace embodies the ideal of what a woman should be on TV and in science fiction in terms of feminist agency and equality on all fronts. She has no boundaries, embodies no stereotypes and cannot be contained. Bow down.
3. Laura Roslin
The role of President Laura Roslin did not exist in the original BSG, so Ron Moore did the right thing and invented her his own damn self. Leader of the civilians of what remains of the 12 colonies, Roslin goes head to head with the military forces led by the stern (yet awesome) Admiral Adama. Roslin does more than hold her own against him, as they often disagree on the right course of action. Deeply spiritual yet pragmatic, Roslin will not be swayed when she knows she’s in the right, and didn’t even let little things like cancer or killer Cylons get in her way. She even won Adama over to the extent where they became confidantes and lovers, the matriarch and patriarch of their wayward people on the journey to Earth.
2. Dana Scully
The character of Dana Scully predates every other woman on this list (she beats out Captain Janeway by a year and a half), as The X-Files began in 1993. A lot of people, especially us ladies complaining about the lack of strong female characters in the media, can easily forget that there used to be a very short redhead running around with her MD and thesis on Einstein under belt, taking on shadow governments and all manner of unexplained phenomena with her crazy partner Mulder. Scully led the charge that so many other ladies of scifi did before her, except she actually broke through the wall and left her predecessors in the dust. When the show started (much to Gillian Anderson’s disbelief), Scully was to walk several paces behind Mulder, approaching doors and crime scenes as a second-class citizen. To which we all must snort and say “eff that.” Scully was a force to be reckoned with, taking on baddies twice her size and even shooting her own partner to keep him out of trouble. Instead of invalidating Mulder’s quest for the truth, she took up his mantle and made some earth-shattering discoveries and decisions along the way. Thankfully, someone in the Hollywood brass recognized this and gave her an Emmy (something David Duchovny sadly never received for his work on the show). Even when the writers were doing silly things in the last 2 seasons (knocking her up, taking away the kid, etc), Scully never lost her spark, becoming the voice of belief and the touchstone for fans. Scully’s power and brilliance became a point of emulation for the kick-ass women who followed her.
1. Captain Kathryn Janeway
A woman in command – of her ship, herself, and her life – is the image Captain Janeway always embodies. Whether she’s navigating the violent and unpredictable Delta Quadrant alone, without Starfleet support, or literally taking down the Borg from the inside, Janeway served her crew and her Starfleet principles above all else. She was compassionate and maternal while at the same time projecting a take-no-bullshit demeanor – this was not a woman you wanted as an enemy. Intensely smart and curious, Janeway was a scientist long before she was in command, an aspect of her persona that added dimension to her captaincy. While she was capable of romantic relationships (and had left a fiancé back home on Earth), she chose solitude for the good of her ship and crew – something I understand much better as an adult than I did as a teenager. Speaking about the character of Janeway is deeply personal for me on many levels – she is a source of strength, an inspiration toward which to strive, and a revelation of the power of the feminine. I’ve written about her in personal essays and academic papers, and the best way to embody her energy is with a quote from season 4 – “one voice can be stronger than a thousand voices.” Respect.
Honorable mentions: M of James Bond fame (all kneel before Dame Judi), Buffy of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Professor McGonagall & Hermione Granger of Harry Potter, Agent Olivia Dunham of Fringe, and Commander Kira Nerys of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
How about you – did I forget anyone near and dear to your heart?
Since March is Women’s History Month, why don’t you put your money where your fandom is and donate a few shinies to Equality Now, favored charity of the Whedonverse in honor of your favorite fangirl! It’s a great way to celebrate the ladies you love and bring some good to women in need around the globe.