Autostraddle March Madness 2024: “The Kids Are Alright” Round One — Rebels

Header: The 6th Annual Autostraddle March Madness 2024

Follow our March Madness content all tournament long and don’t forget to vote for your favs!

Well, we’re through the first round of the women’s NCAA tournament — the second round wraps up later today — and thus far the excitement hasn’t reached its frenetic peak yet. Sure, there have been great individual performances: Iowa State freshman (!!) Audi Crooks making history, by 40 points to eliminate Maryland or Dyaisha Fair of Syracuse going AWF in the fourth quarter to push Syracuse past Arizona. But if you’re looking for those kind of upsets that ruin brackets and propel Cinderella teams deep into the tourney… well, that’s just not happening. At least not yet (though second round wins by Duke and Baylor are starting to shift the narrative).

In fact, according to Jacob Mox, contributor to Her Hoop Stats, “With the higher seeds going 31-1 in the opening round, this year’s first round is officially the chalkiest since the first NCAA women’s tournament in 1982, when the top seeds went 15-1.”

We’ve talked about chalk before: it’s a term derived from the old days when sports betting was done on chalkboards and the odds had to constantly be updated. Today, sports fans use “chalk” to refer to betting on the overall favorites: the top seeds who are often thought to have the best shot of winning.

But the NCAA Women’s tournament isn’t the only place where chalk was prevalent over the weekend; it also showed up in your voting in the Jocks region of Autostraddle March Madness. Every single higher ranked seed in the region finished with the win… and, for the most part, they weren’t even close. We’re talking South Carolina over Presbyterian-style drubbings. The only close contest in the Jocks’ first round was between Atypical’s Izzie Taylor and The Wilds’ Toni Shalifoe… which came down to a few dozen votes. How’s our predictions contest looking? Well, sufficed to say, I’m doing a lot better in this prediction contest than I am in the NCAA bracket competition I’m in with members of the Autostraddle team.

That sets up some really interesting contests in the next round: Casey Gardner vs. Cheryl Blossom, Paige McCullers vs. Izzie Taylor, and Taissa vs. Van. Y’all have some difficult choices ahead of you.

But before we get there, we’ve got two more sets of first round match-ups, starting with the Rebels. This region includes girls content to confound expectations — the girls your mama probably would’ve warned you not to be friends with — and the girls our there, balancing teenage melodrama with kicking ass and taking names.

#1 seed Rue Bennett vs. #16 seed Alex Nuñez

#1. Rue Bennett, Euphoria

In Euphoria’s Rue-centric special episode, the character finds herself sitting across the table from Ali at Frank’s Restaurant, sharing pancakes on Christmas Eve. She’s doing great, Rue assures Ali, but he knows that she’s high at that very minute… and that she can’t both be high and great. She admits that she doesn’t want to get clean — that the pills have been the thing to keep her alive this long — and laments being such a piece of shit. Ali pushes back.

“You, Rue, came out of the womb a beautiful baby girl, who unbeknownst to her, had a couple of wires crossed. So when you tried drugs for the first time, it, uh, set something off in your brain that’s beyond your control,” Ali explains. “And it isn’t a question of willpower. It’s not about how strong you are. You’ve been fighting a losing game since the first day you got high.”

Ali continues, explaining how few people — aside from people like him who share Rue’s experience — truly understand what addiction is. Everyone else views addicts as selfish and weak, as people undeserving of sympathy. But Ali understands that she’s not all that band. In fact, he says, “Probably underneath all this busted-ass, chaotic energy, you might even be a good kid.”

#16. Alex Nuñez, Degrassi: The Next Generation

Here’s what I wrote about the one-time tank top and hoops wearing bad girl of Degrassi in 2018:

One of the hallmarks of lesbian or bisexual characters on television during a certain era is that they couldn’t be bad — even on a show with a storytelling history as progressive as Degrassi, writers felt like they were taking enough of a gamble by having a gay character at all; they didn’t want to push the envelope too much. As a result, in the rare instance that you had a lesbian or bisexual character on television, they were usually perfect and sexless.

I mention that here because when Alex Nuñez (Deanna Casaluce) comes to Degrassi, she’s a legit bad girl. She steals stuff with her then-boyfriend, Jay; she gets into multiple fights at school; she threatens to out Marco to the entire school; and she helps Jay and Spinner prank Rick Murray, a decision that had some awful unintended consequences. She’s a bad girl in the truest sense.

But the moment she starts developing feelings for another girl? The moment the writers start to lay the groundwork for an “enemies becoming friends becoming more” storyline between Alex and Paige? The bad girl we’d known for two seasons disappears. You couldn’t be a lesbian on TV and be bad — not circa 2005 — so they femmed Alex up and put her on the straight and narrow, so to speak. She graduates, she sets career goals, she goes back to school to boost her grades for University, she joins the lacrosse team… she is perfect.

#2 seed Tara Maclay vs. #15 seed Maya St. Germain

#2. Tara Maclay, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

In a region with rebellious women who could both be a “bad girl” and those who spend their time vanquishing demons and saving the world, Tara Maclay is a bit of both.

Following her mother’s death, she rebels, lying to her father and staying out late. He deserves to be lied to, though: for years, he’s convinced Tara that she’s part demon and that, on her 20th birthday, the evil inside her will find a way out. Tara absconds to Sunnydale to be her own person, including practicing her magic, and manages to find a family there.

She finds a chosen family among the Scooby Gang, where she uses her magic to help battle the forces of darkness… to repel the forces that, for her entire life, she’s been told, lie inside her. But the truth of it all was, Tara was never “part demon,” it was just a lie the Maclay men told to keep the women in their family in line.

#15. Maya St. Germain, Pretty Little Liars

It should be stated, for the record, that I believe that the idea of Maya St. Germain as a “rebel” is kinda preposterous. I thought so at the time of the show’s airing. We were really supposed to believe that Maya’s parents… the same people who met at Berkeley at a “No Nukes” rally, who had Maya and her brother out of wedlock, who tattooed their wedding rings on themselves, and who knew about and supported their daughter’s sexuality (“My mom isn’t your mom,” Emily notes at one point)… we’re supposed to believe those people are the same ones who send Maya St. Germain to a religious camp called True North over some weed?!

But, the writers of Pretty Little Liars needed to their audience to believe that Maya was a bad girl — an outcast with difficulty fitting in — so that they could justify killing her. And, yes, I’m still mad about it all these many years later.

#3 seed Ellie Williams vs. #14 seed Nico Minoru

#3. Ellie Williams, The Last of Us

From almost the moment she was born, Ellie Williams was a rebel. Her pregnant mother, Anna, was chased through the woods by the infected before returning to a Firefly safehouse to take refuge. But it isn’t safe for long, as one of the infected gets through the barricaded door and attacks. Anna is able to kill her attacker with her switchblade but not before the infected takes a bite of her thigh. Worried that she’ll pass the infection to her newborn, she cuts Ellie’s umbilical cord with her switchblade.

The Fireflies arrive later that night, with Anna’s best friend, Marlene, leading the group. She pushes the new baby — this seemingly perfect baby — into Marlene’s arms and begs her to take Ellie to Boston, find someone to raise her, and ensure that Ellie is safe. Realizing what fate that awaits her, now that she’s been bitten, Anna makes it plain to Marlene: “you pick [Ellie] up right now and then you kill me.”

As Valerie noted in her Last of Us recap, “The first sound baby Ellie heard was her mother’s voice, cooing at her and singing at her. The second was Marlene. The third sound Ellie Williams ever heard was the gunshot that killed her mother.”

#14. Nico Minoru, Marvel’s Runaways

One morning, after hearing her sister’s alarm clock and AI reminders going off, Nico Minoru steps into Amy’s room. She calls out but her calls go unanswered. Nico notices a pill bottle on the nightstand and the way that Amy’s lips have turned blue. She calls out again, but this time for her mother… and she screams out in horror as, slowly but surely, the reality of the situation starts to sink in. She tries to call 911 — first using the AI and then on her own — but both times, her mother stops her. She’s locked in a room and later, forced to accept (for the moment at least) that her sister died by suicide.

The death is a galvanizing event for Nico…the moment that leads to her rebellion. She immediately withdraws from her friends and family, goes goth, and embraces Wiccan beliefs. But it’s only when she reunites with her friends — and stops apologizing for not being her sister — that she’s able to fully harness her own power.

#4 seed Juliette Fairmont vs. #13 seed Karolina Dean

#4. Juliette Fairmont, First Kill

Juliette Fairmont was born to a great legacy of Vampires, a legacy she can cement when she completes her first kill. But Juliette is reticent: she doesn’t want to be a monster, she just wants to have a normal life… a desire that only grows when she sees Cal for the first time.

Juliette struggles to keep her innate cravings at bay, taking blood pills in an effort to stave off the need to feed. But when she finds herself locked in a closet with Cal, ordered to kissed under the sacred rules of spin-the-bottle, she loses herself. She kisses Cal and it’s all she wants to keep doing… the control she’s held over her cravings slips from her grip… and her fangs come out and sink into Cal’s neck.

#13. Karolina Dean, Marvel’s Runaways

From Kayla’s 2017 review:

Halfway into the first episode of Marvel’s Runaways, Karolina Dean decides to rebel. All her life, she has worn the clunky bracelet associated with her religion — the Church of Gibborum, run by her mother Leslie Dean whose all white wardrobe is a glistening facade for dark secrets. Karolina finds herself at a horrible frat party, and something magical happens. She sees two women making out on the dance floor. She pauses, stares, transfixed. The scene captures that moment of knowing and not knowing something all at once. It’s significant that this is the moment Karolina decides to unshackle her bracelet. She does so, and her body transforms, glowing in bright rainbow light…

…[It’s] a powerful moment, one that intrinsically links Karolina’s discovery that she has special abilities to something deep within her, to something much more real and relatable than superpowers. That look she gives those two girls on the dance floor says a lot with a little.

#5 seed Calliope Burns vs. #12 Cynthia Zdunowski

#5. Calliope “Cal” Burns, First Kill

Calliope Burns wants nothing more than to follow in her family’s footsteps and become a hunter. Her parents are hunters, her brothers are hunters. Even her best friend shows off the arrow tattoo on her arm, a reminder of her first kill. Cal has tried to follow in their footsteps but, so far, she just can’t do it. She missed her first attempt at making a kill and now she’s confined to being the lookout while her brothers’ hunt for ghouls.

Cal thinks she’s found her first kill when she realizes the girl she can’t take her eyes off of carries a supply of blood pills and has a visceral reaction to silver. She steps into the closet with Juliette determined to stake her — to finally become a hunter —but once the kissing starts, she forgets what she came to do. Cal’s hand drops from the stake she has tucked in her jeans and onto Juliette’s face, pulling her deeper into the kiss. For as long as they can, they both suppress their innate desire — for Juliette to bite, for Cal to kill — and pour into each other.

That is, until Juliette’s fangs sink into Cal’s skin… and she responds by plunging a stake deep into Juliette’s heart.

#12. Cynthia Zdunowski, Grease: Rise Of The Pink Ladies

Cynthia wants, desperately, to be one of the T-Birds, the greaser gang who runs Rydell High School. She joins the guys at the drive-in and garage, hoping to be accepted. And when the T-Birds seek revenge on the Rangers, it’s Cynthia who plans the pep rally prank and who takes the fall for the T-Birds when the gang flees the scene. But when she comes to collect her jacket — the one that proves that she’s a rebel just like them — they renege. They’d still let Cynthia hang out with them but they couldn’t let her become a T-Bird… not now.

She unites with Jane, Olivia, and Nancy — all, like her, who have been subjected to ridicule because of society’s expectations of women — and they form the Pink Ladies. The next day, they strut into school, with their pink jackets, and Cynthia rejects overtures from the T-Birds.

#6 seed Jukebox vs. #11 seed Jordan Li

#6. Jukebox, Raising Kanan

While visiting her girlfriend’s gravesite, a depressed Jukebox encounters Detective Shanon Burke. The officer feeds into Juke’s grief and loneliness by making herself out to be a friend: she shares the story of her own high school girlfriend and takes the teen out for Italian Ices. But eventually, Juke’s new friend turns back into a cop and Burke asks one too many questions about Juke’s family business. Jukebox doesn’t tell Burke anything, but she does tell her Aunt Raquel about the encounter. Her aunt knows she’d never betray the family.

Burke, though, isn’t so lucky. Jukebox feeds the officer the information she wants her to have, pinning the situation of one of the family’s enemies. And then, when Burke’s colleague searches Jukebox’s book bag, finding men’s clothes and an old love letter, Jukebox appeals to the same vulnerability that Burke showed at the gravesite. Burke lets her go, not realizing that she’d been played.

#11. Jordan Li, Gen V

Jordan Li is one of the most celebrated students at Godolkin: they rank second in their class. But even when the opportunity to ascend to first place presents itself, Jordan is skeptical that they’ll achieve it. So much of being a superhero, particularly an elite member of Voight International’s The Seven, is marketing… and far too many of the old guard consider Jordan’s “gender fuckery” — they can shift between male- and female-presenting versions of themself — unpalatable to the rest of the world. Nonetheless, they are a badass: virtually indestructible with superhuman strength in their male form, while the female form can release energy blasts and boasts superhuman agility and durability.

#7 Raelle Collar vs. #10 Jules Vaughn

#7. Raelle Collar, Motherland: Fort Salem

From Valerie’s 2020 review of Motherland‘s first season:

If I had to sum up Motherland: Fort Salem in one quote from the show, it would be a single word: Together.”

At the end of the day (or the first season, as it were), Motherland is about sisterhood. Not blood relations, not actual siblinghood, but the bonds of very different witches thrust into similar difficult situations. They entered basic training together with certain expectations about what it would be like, and had the rug ripped out from under them at every turn, forcing them to hold on to each other if they had any hope of surviving. One by one, people they thought they could trust and respect let them down, until all they could really count on was each other.

#10. Jules Vaughn, Euphoria

“I think I want to go off my hormones,” Jules announces to her therapist in the Jules-centric episode of Euphoria. She feels like she’s framed her entire womanhood around men. Jules wants to expand her notion of womanhood, to be more than the object of people’s desire. She laments spending her entire life building her body, personality, and soul around their desires. She admits, “I’ve been trying to conquer femininity, and somewhere along the way, I feel like femininity conquered me.”

By the time Euphoria returns for its second season, you see manifestations of Jules rebelling. She cuts her hair into a blunt bob. She wears a binder. She pairs her baggy pants with a choker. She wears more muted colors, in contrast to her makeup palette which is sharper and darker. It’s the beginning of her rejection of the male gaze and the prioritization of her own.

#8 Scylla Ramshorn vs. #9 Lilly Fortenberry

#8. Scylla Ramshorn, Motherland: Fort Salem

Early on in Motherland, the lines are drawn: on one side, the US Army, with its membership of conscripted witches, on the other side, the Spree, a group of witches who protest that conscription by any means necessary. There is black and white, there is good and evil and sides must be chosen. And, for a while, it looks as though Raelle and Scylla are on the same side of the fight. But eventually, the truth comes out: Scylla is Spree… and her affair with Raelle — her love for Raelle — was a profound act of rebellion.

“I chose you!” Scylla shouts, as she prepares for what feels like certain death. “I had orders to deliver you. I chose you instead of them. I chose you.”

#9. Lilly Fortenberry, Astrid and Lilly Save the World

If you asked her, I don’t think Lilly Fortenberry would’ve said that she wanted to be a rebel. She just wants to be a regular kid, treated like everyone else, but the world won’t let her. She’s been ostracized by her best friend, presumably because she has two moms. She’s been ostracized at school, dubbed the “Pudge Patrol” by the school jock/bully. And, then of course, there’s that portal to a demon dimension that she and Astrid accidentally opened and are now obliged to close. She might not want to be a rebel but the world won’t let her be anything else.

To her great credit, Lilly rises to the occasion and her success at battling the supernatural gives Lilly more confidence when dealing with the natural (if you can deign to call teenagers that). She wears shorts, she owns “Pudge Patrol,” she dismisses her bully and makes amends with her old best friend.

As usual, you have 48 hours to cast your ballot in the Rebels Region! This year, you can vote four times over the voting period (or to be more precise once, every 12 hours). After we tabulate the votes and update the bracket, we’ll be back to announce the results of this region and unveil the voting for our final opening round: the Thesbians.

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A black biracial, bisexual girl raised in the South, working hard to restore North Carolina's good name. Lover of sports, politics, good TV and Sonia Sotomayor. You can follow her latest rants on Twitter.

Natalie has written 396 articles for us.


  1. – Rue Bennett, Euphoria
    – Tara Maclay, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (“I am you know? Yours.”)
    – Nico Minoru, Marvel’s Runaways (Favorite of the Bracket)
    – Karolina Dean, Marvel’s Runaways
    – Calliope Burns, First Kill
    – Jordan Li, Gen V
    – Raelle Collar, Motherland: Fort Salem
    – Scylla Ramshorn, Motherland: Fort Salem

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