Five Fictional Women We Can Look Up To
Advice from a Nerd with No Children!
This article features spoilers for the Tomb Raider series, A Song of Ice and Fire, The Hunger Games series, the Mass Effect series, and Gravity.
No, I don’t have any kids. However, I know each and every parent has a different philosophy regarding their child’s best interests. I am not writing this list to criticize anyone or say that I know better, because simply put, I don’t know any better. This is simply my opinion. With that being said, I decided to write this article based on observations I’ve made about the recent surge in the Feminist movement. Many times, I’ve seen young women latch themselves onto familiar faces in pop culture for a grounding point from which they begin to fully develop their personalities. Whether it be the shamelessly whorish and attention seeking antics of Miley Cyrus, or the slightly less whorish but still wholly degrading cock mongering of a character like Bella Swan from the Twilight films and books. In most cases, what the young woman in question learns from these role models is that all they need to do to be happy in life is appeal to men.
But that leads to an ultimately empty lifestyle doesn’t it? If your daughter only aspires to be the object of some man’s affection, what happens when the dream fades and reality sets in? What happens when she’s old and used, and filled with regrets for not pursuing something that truly could have interested her?
Now I’m not saying it’s wrong to aspire to be a housewife or a loving partner to someone. Those are actually quite noble goals. Yet, some girls never get a glimpse outside of that lifestyle. Some get shoehorned into thinking that because they’re female that’s simply their lot in life, and the last thing we as a species need is for our females to be wandering about in a self-depreciating malaze like some pent up lady C-3PO because they can’t find a husband, or shamelessly spread eagling for attention. Especially in a time where breeding is no longer necessary to our survival and we have become focused on leading more fulfilling, productive lives as a whole. I believe that young women (actually, anyone for that matter) need to find something in life that gives them hope and makes them strong.
So, what I’ve written here is a list of five female characters from some recent high profile media who are more that just vaginas with some bad writing and characterization behind them. These are five of our favorite women women here at ATG, that I believe would be good characters for young women to begin embracing.
5. Lara Croft (Tomb Raider series (video games), specifically the Legend Trilogy and Tomb Raider (2013), voiced by Keely Hawes in the Legend Trilogy and portrayed by Camilla Luddington in Tomb Raider (2013), created by Toby Gard)
Now some of you may be appalled that I chose a character that basically began her popularity as gaming’s first sex symbol for this list, but hear me out. When confronted with the task of making a video game hero, artist Toby Gard’s initial male characters were rejected for bearing too much resemblance to Indiana Jones. The idea came to Gard to create a female character instead, not only to combat the stereotypical video game woman, but to do something with a character that would be fresh to gamers of all types. Now, naturally, after the success of the first Tomb Raider game Lara was increasingly sexualized to appeal to the predominantly male driven market at the time. Appearing on the cover of magazines topless, and even in the games with the controversial “Nude Raider” patches. In spite of all this, her firm grounding as an intelligent and resourceful person remained.
Now flash forward to the dawn of the Xbox 360/PS3 era, and the 90’s Lara Croft has all but died out. Deciding to take a new direction with the character, Eidos begins making a quasi-reboot of the series. The first game in the series, Tomb Raider: Legend, introduced us to a Lara that was still familiar, but ultimately better than her former iteration in almost every way. There was still hints of the former Lara lurking within the code, such as unlockable bikini skins, but as the trilogy moved towards its conclusion the focus shifted more towards Lara as a truth seeking warrior who embodied strength and smarts.
With the release of the full on reboot in 2013, gamers met a whole new Lara. Showing her retold origins as an inexperienced shipwreck survivor on a mystical island, and her eventual growth into a powerful and resourceful woman, Tomb Raider was a critical and commercial success. Now absent from the game were the blatantly sexual skins and innuendos, making Lara a much easier character to empathize with. As she grows and learns from the traumatic experience on the island, the gamer grows with her, and this new Lara revitalized the series as well as female gamers hopes for a worthy character.
4. Daenerys Targaryen (A Song of Ice and Fire (books), Game of Thrones (TV), portrayed by Emilia Clarke on Game of Thrones, created by George R. R. Martin)
Starting off as a meek and abused young girl, Dany quickly becomes a trial tested leader who is also one of the most beloved Game of Thrones characters. In a series that has often been criticized for scenes of rape and torture, Daenerys stands as a beacon of hope to all fans. As evidenced in the above scene, she is a cunning and admirable leader. She doesn’t always make the best decisions, but she always does what she thinks is right. Whether its freeing slaves by the thousands, slaying corrupt and decadent lords, or justly leading her people and armies, Daenerys always finds new ways to earn our respect, and she does it all without falling into negative stereotypes.
Sexually, physically, and emotionally abused by her weak minded brother Viserys, Dany seems only to fall further when Viserys sells her to Dothraki warlord Khal Drogo. Drogo initially treats her as little more than a sex slave, but soon Dany makes it apparent that she is intelligent and capable, and Drogo eventually elevates her to her rightful place as Khaleesi. Now wielding the respect and command of a fierce army, with power to rival that of her husband, Dany becomes a force to be reckoned with. Following the death of both Viserys and Drogo, Dany doesn’t hide her head in the sand, instead she rises above her circumstances and becomes a beloved leader to thousands. For this reason I find her character to be one of the most compelling and inspiring in contemporary fantasy.
3. Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games Trilogy (books), The Hunger Games Series (films), portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games series, created by Suzanne Collins)
The comparisons between Katniss Everdeen and Bella Swan usually center around their respective love triangles. I believe the similarities end there. Where Bella is just a womb that gets juggled between a vampire and a werewolf, Katniss is something more. A totally realized character, Katniss begins her story not by chasing after undead boys, but instead she SINGLE HANDEDLY PROVIDES FOR HER FAMILY. In a dystopian society where food is rationed by putting your child’s name in a slaughter lottery to obtain more, Katniss flips the bird to the man and secretly hunts to provide for her younger sister and near catatonic mother. In a time where teenage girls are typically characterized as dumb tarts who exist only as an extension of their smart phones, Katniss is a breath of fresh air.
Fully self sufficient and then some, Katniss represents the biggest step forward for science fiction heroines since Ellen Ripley. Her actions throughout the trials she faces speak volumes about her integrity. Sure she falls into a silly love triangle, but that is not the focus of her character or her story. Her primary motivations stem from protecting those that she loves and doing whatever it takes to do the right thing. Eventually rising up to hero status, Katniss is a young woman that embodies strength, intelligence, and compassion. She’s like Lara Croft 2.0. Fully upgraded and ready to rock.
2. Commander Shepard (Mass Effect series (video games), voiced by Jennifer Hale, created by Drew Karpyshyn)
Nothing says empowerment like a human female becoming the first member of an intergalactic badass club and saving the human race, as well as all other races, from annihilation. This is what happens if you choose to create a female character in Bioware’s huge and epic sci-fi trilogy. Loosely based off the first American to enter space, Alan Shepard, Mass Effect’s Commander Shepard is a heroine unlike any other. Allowing the player a massive degree of freedom in controlling the outcome of the story through their Shepard’s actions, Shepard not only has the opportunity to empower women, but also any player that happens to have their hands on a copy of the game.
I happened to pick a female Shepard for my character, and through most of the series I followed her story. I also chose to make her a Paragon Shepard, which is the game’s way of saying “goody two shoes”. Expertly voiced by the amazing and prolific Jennifer Hale (who has done voices for everything from Metal Gear Solid to Diablo III to Legend of Korra to… well you get the point) my Shepard became a force for good through compassionate acts all over the galaxy. She helped the Krogans overcome a crippling disease, helped a crew member find solace after the death of his husband, helped her elite squad of misfits come together to survive a suicide mission, and even stood up for the rights of refugees from destroyed worlds. The fact that you can do so much good for so many different species and worlds as a female character in a game almost lifted Shepard to #1. And, she’s actually my favorite on this list, just because of the emotional bond I built with my version of the character over the course of three MASSIVE games.
There’s one reason why Shepard isn’t number one, and it simultaneously stands as another reason why she’s so high on the list. Freedom. Like I said earlier, playing as whatever Shepard you decide to create is the most empowering character building experience in all of gaming. This does mean however, that you can make a total piece of shit Shepard who cares only about themselves and sleeping with as many of your crew as possible. Still, the fact that Shepard embodies so many freedoms, makes her/ him extremely important. Never is player forced into a certain way of playing, you are always given a choice, which also happens to be true of life as a human. This makes Shepard not just a step forward for women and gamers, but all people. Which leads us right into…
1. Dr Ryan Stone (Gravity (film), portrayed by Sandra Bullock, created by Alfonso and Jonas Cuaron)
There is a reason I gave this film a perfect 10. Not only is it an amazing spectacle, but it is the most relevant film released all year, and all of that relevance is carried on the shoulders of Dr. Ryan Stone. In a literal sense, Dr. Stone is the epitome of the empowered woman. Extremely intelligent, hard working, and level headed, she has pulled herself from the depths of despair up to a gig with NASA and the opportunity to work in the great unknown. After the death of her child, and with no one to stand beside her, Stone picked up what was left of her life and tried to move on. Working long shifts at a hospital and driving across Illinois seemed to be the only things that soothed her and gave her a sense of well being. That is until a cataclysmic encounter with satellite debris in space forces her to find the strength within herself in order to survive. As she plummets from the heavens, she laughs and triumphantly cries, “No more just driving!”. She takes control of her life in spite of the pain and fear, and rises up from her capsule deep in a lake to the shore where she shakily stands and revels in the glory of her victory and the sun beams down on her. Gives me goosebumps every time, and I’ve seen the movie three times.
When you look past the plot of the film and delve into the metaphor is when Dr. Stone becomes something truly special. As I said in my review, the whole movie basically serves as a visual metaphor for someone’s life. From being born and forged in fire to becoming a responsible individual, Gravity is such a timeless and important film that, sometimes I can’t even handle it. We all have felt pain and fallen low, and this film reminds us that no matter how bad it gets we can always strive to make it better. Since I’ve heard many Feminists proclaim how Feminism isn’t just about women, but rather equal rights across the board, I think it’s fair to say that the Cuaron’s beautiful message of hope, much like Commander Shepard, is relevant to us as a species.
In a time when war, loss of personal liberties, financial crises, and political and religious divides threaten to tear us all apart, we can look to not just Dr. Stone, but all of these characters as proof that anyone can rise above their gender, or any other societal label, and become something more. Now, getting back to my ultimate point (after a nice long rant), if you’re worried about what media figures you daughter/ son/ whatever has latched onto I hope I’ve given you a good place to start with positive role models. Granted some of these figures come from media that is… well graphic (*cough* Daenerys *cough*), just keep in mind I’m not telling you to go let your six year old watch Game of Thrones. Use your good judgement, and understand your child’s grasp on maturity and tough subject matter. They ARE smarter than you could ever know, it’s simply genetic. Also know, as amazing and inspiring as these five fictional women are you, the parent will always be the best role model for your child. Help shape a person you can be proud of, one that will help others and do the right thing. Help them understand what makes a person or character good, and to find those qualities and emulate them. I hope this has been entertaining at the very least. Feel free to comment/ criticize/ argue/ or agree below.
I’ll close with a quote from one of my favorite philosophers, Kyle Broflovski:
“Think about it. Haven’t Luke Skywalker and Santa Claus affected your lives more than most real people in this room? I mean, whether Jesus is real or not, he… he’s had a bigger impact on the world than any of us have. And the same could be said of Bugs Bunny and, a-and Superman and Harry Potter. They’ve changed my life, changed the way I act on the Earth. Doesn’t that make them kind of “real.” They might be imaginary, but, but they’re more important than most of us here. And they’re all gonna be around long after we’re dead. So in a way, those things are more realer than any of us.”