You probably know by now that we are currently in rehearsal for The Wildness – Sky-Pony’s adventurous rock fairy tale that we’re co-presenting with Ars Nova. And while we certainly have no desire to spoil any of the adventure involved, we will say that this production plays host to more than one clever and tenacious woman, each of whom is complex and complete (also, dragons are very important).
Spending time with the heroic protagonists of The Wildness got us thinking about the prevailing idea in the worlds of film and TV that strong female characters must also function as the “right” kind of role-model for young girls – that is to say that she must be the paragon of womanhood. Words like “fearless,” “strong,” and “smart” are frequently tempered with the ideas of honor, gentleness, and sacrifice when referring to a woman, and while the Jane Austen heroine has been extraordinarily important, it is no longer the only yardstick by which we measure our girls. This conflation of goodness and strength is not one that happens as frequently in the discussion of male protagonists. Heroic men are allowed to be flawed and “whole” and, historically, heroic women are not.
We believe that the best women to celebrate are those who know their own minds and make their own choices, whether good or bad.. Maybe it’s idealistic and it’s certainly taken awhile, but all of a sudden society seems to finally be ready to follow the leads of bad-ass women who meet this description in film and TV, wherever they may take us.
So who are our top ten most bad-ass, contemporary, fictional female heroes?
1. Michón – The Walking Dead
This katana-weilding hero has a complicated past of love and loss, and in the new world order, she’s learned that survival often requires breaking the rules and keeping your distance. She’s intense. She’s fearless. She’s tough to handle sometimes. Also, she’s deadly with her blades.
2. Daenerys Targaryen – Game of Thrones
Any protagonist who begins as royal breeding material and winds up as the emancipating mother of dragons belongs on this list. Dany refuses to play by the rules of the men of Westeros. She is unafraid to disagree with her advisors. This is sometimes foolish, but you can’t deny that she knows her own mind. She errs. She learns. She grows. Bad-ass.
3. Zoe – Firefly
Talk about a woman who takes a man’s world by storm. Zoe is both an ex-rebel soldier and the first mate on a smuggler’s ship. The captain and crew often defer to her good judgement and prowess in an armed conflict, and although she clearly loves her pilot husband, she certainly not going to kowtow to him in an argument. That being said, she doesn’t always negotiate the territory between her two male counterparts with the greatest of grace. Who could?
4. Lisbeth – Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Lisbeth is the ultimate survivor. She has overcome a brutal and bloody past and is a highly skilled computer hacker who uses her skills to make a living. She definitely doesn’t follow the “rules” of society and challenges all existing stereotypes of heroines.
5. Raye – Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Although the “orphan who comes into her own” story isn’t exactly revolutionary, it’s exciting to see it manifested in Raye. She’s been taking care of herself her whole life, which makes her strong and smart, but also prideful and unable to accept help from others. Being the “last hope” of the jedi is a pretty heavy burden to bear, and I’m sure we can anticipate some stumbles along the way.
6. Lieutenant Uhura – Star Trek (both the original and the re-boot)
The lieutenant personifies the intersection between smarts and strength. She’s the chief language officer on the Enterprise and has used her linguistic skill to get her crew out of more than one scrape. In the recent J.J. Abrams incarnation of Uhura, she is made more complex through her relationship with Spock and occasionally lets her spite get in the way of the mission, because she’s human. Fancy that.
7. Katniss Everdeen – The Hunger Games
We obviously couldn’t leave the Mockingjay off our list. Katniss really comes into her own in the third installment of The Hunger Games, Mockingjay, when she throws over the government that had been using her to achieve their own ends. Was it wise to publicly assassinate the president? Probably not. But it was raw, and honest, and awesome. Katniss is unapologetically real.
8. Hermione Granger – Harry Potter
Constantly described as “the cleverest witch of her age,” it is obvious to any reader that Harry would have failed completely, in every book, were it not for her. She held everything together and yet, she was known for being more than a little controlling and wasn’t always successful at keeping the note of condescension from her voice. But why should she? It’s tough being right all the time.
9. Eowyn – Lord of the Rings
No one tells Eowyn not to do something. Not even the king. She is single-minded, strong-willed, has serious trust issues and some problems with authority. That being said, she is the only person who was able to defeat the witch-king, which helped ensure victory in Gondor.
10. Buffy – Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Joss Wheedon created Buffy with the very specific intention of subverting the role of the female in horror movies. Transitioning from high-school cheerleader to monster-slayer is rough though, and Buffy doesn’t always realize the weight of her responsibility. Even so, she refuses to sacrifice any of her life and personality and refuses to conform to any pre-existing male standards of what a heroine should be.
Each of the women on this list are characters who are forced to make difficult choices, and they definitely do not get it right every time. They can be hard, impetuous, and often get in their own way, which is a beautiful and freeing concept for women everywhere. Coincidentally, this list is made up of women from primarily science fiction/fantasy genre works. Or is it a coincidence?
Sky-Pony, similar to the writers responsible for the heroes on our list, have set their story in the world of fairy tales and the fantastical. Perhaps it is only through these kinds of works and the expansion of the parameters of our world that women are able to grow to their full magnitude, potential, and complexity.
So, if you’re still riding high from Raye’s thwarting of the dark side, eagerly anticipating the return of Khaleesi, and jonesing for some strong-willed, fierce women and talk of dragons, we’ve got your fix.
Photo by Kiley Rothweiler