by vanessa, geneva, julia, and mey
Here at Autostraddle, we love kickass women. Who doesn’t like to see a girl kick some ass, both metaphorically and physically (but only to protect herself from harm and/or save the world and/or consensually with a trusted partner and a safe word)? Unfortunately for everyone, strong, confident, awesome female leads are few and far between in mainstream media, and when they do exist they’re often deeply flawed or oddly flat characters. Nonetheless, there are some really badass fictional ladies in this great big world, and we want to talk about them.
At camp, the four of us – Vanessa, Julia, Geneva and Mey – will be leading a discussion about female heroines who have positively impacted our brains and our worlds, and contrasting them with supposedly strong female leads who actually kind of miss the mark and make us wince (hi Bella, we’re looking directly at you). What role do these characters play in society’s view of women and girls? How do they positively or negatively shape girls’ own perceptions of themselves and their capabilities? How can we as a community work to create kickass women characters in our pop culture and how can we influence the mainstream media to follow our lead?
Much as we’d love to have that conversation here on the website, too, unfortunately it’s a bit difficult to host and participate in an open thread when you’re hanging out on a mountain top without any internet access. That said, we have a feeling you guys might have a few words to say about all this and we have total faith that you are all kickass humans in your own right who can totally handle this without our guidance, so we’re presenting a list of our favorite kickass fictional heroines as a way to jumpstart this feelingsfest and leaving the rest up to you!
This list is by no means all-inclusive, all-knowing, or even all accurate. If you completely disagree with our inclusion of a character, please (respectfully!) let us know. If you think we left someone out and are totally shocked and appalled that we’ve never read your favorite book / watched your favorite teevee show / viewed your grandma’s favorite home video starring YOU as a fictional heroine, go ahead and school us in the comments! And if you wanna profess your love for Buffy, once more with feeling, we wouldn’t blame you one bit.
SPOILER ALERT: We are about to talk about all of these characters as if you’ve read the whole book / seen the whole series / watched the whole movie / own all the comics in which they appear. If you have not in fact done that you may want to skim and skip accordingly.
20 Kickass Girls in Books, Comics, TeeVee, Movies, and Pop Culture In General
Miss America Chavez
Young Avengers (Marvel Comics)
This interdimensional kicker of butt is one of only a handful of prominent Latina superheroes in all of mainstream comics. She’s invulnerable, she can fly with super speed, she can travel through different dimensions and she’s so strong that she can “throw tanks to the moon.” She’s able to fight Norse Gods to a standstill. She has one of the best costumes in the Marvel Universe and a cool, no nonsense attitude. Plus, she has two super-powered moms.
Without Hermione, Harry Potter would not have survived past book one and then it would have been a lot shorter. She is the brains of the operation without a doubt. She might even be the smartest kid at Hogwarts and intellect is sexy and powerful. She is also a mudblood so she faces a lot of adversity within the wizarding world, but she gains everybody’s respect because she really is better at this stuff than most of the kids born into wizarding families.
Kel is the first known female to sign up to become a knight. The boys pee on her door and trash her room. They put weights in her practice weapons and make her life a living hell, but Kel carries on with a calm face. She gets up before dawn everyday to do strengthening exercises so she can’t just compete with the boys, but so she is stronger than the boys. She takes in animals who are bound for the slaughter house and fights for those who cannot fight for themselves. She is a truly awesome role model for girls.
Julia is desperately waiting to be cast as Kaisa in the movie version of Ash, because she wants to be her so bad. Kaisa is the King’s Huntress, which is basically his right wing woman. She rides around the country keeping everything safe and leading the hunt. She has excellent archery and equestrian skills. Her position is one of power and respect. She is also super suave with the ladies.
A soldier, a wife, a friend, and a kickass independent woman of color, Zoe earns her spot on this list many times over. Over the short run of Firefly (RIP), we witness her show off some impressive fighting skills, and it often seems as though she’s the only member of the crew that Captain Mal Reynolds really trusts. Though it’s a little off-putting to hear Zoe call Mal “sir” so often and consistently, that does not stop her from giving her opinions (both to Mal and to her husband, pilot and crew member Wash), and she never misses an opportunity to make subtle “I told ya so” comments when Mal’s plans inevitably go awry. It’s also refreshing to see a married woman on television retain her independence; she may be a wife, but she still calls her own shots and her husband not only accepts that, it’s obvious he respects it. Solid healthy relationship modeling all around!
Karolina Dean and Xavin
Karolina is a glowing, flying teenage daughter of alien supervillains who’s the emotional center of her team. Xavin is her shapeshifting Super-Skrull fiancée who’s one of the few transgender characters in all of comics. Together they form one of the best queer couples in recent comics, showing not only that you can have three-dimensional queer characters, but also that gender isn’t a simple, straightforward binary. These two are able to not only overcome their supervillian legacies, but also the racism and homophobia that they face for being an interracial lesbian couple.
When we meet Katniss she is a young woman with almost no support system who manages to look after both herself and her family with no complaints. That would be impressive enough, but when she’s thrust into the world of the Hunger Games (by bravely and selflessly volunteering as tribute to save her little sister) her character gains strength and independence that make her an unstoppable force. Throughout the series we see her attempt to discern right from wrong, decide who she can trust and who is lying, and her humanity is celebrated even when it is not immediately rewarded, providing nice depth in comparison to a robo-girl who just kicks butt and takes name. Katniss does all this while being human, and it’s inspiring.
Tara is arguably one of the most underrated Scoobies of the gang. She’s shy when we first meet her, but over the course of her arc she proves herself to be a powerful witch with both natural and learned talents, she stands up to her father and rejects the preconceived notions her family has about what a woman must do and be, she supports and loves Willow but also refuses to be manipulated, and she is always willing to offer wise advice, sweet encouragement, and an extra brain when it comes time to research. Honestly the only critique we can think to lob at Tara is that she’s too perfect – for real, try to think of a single moment during her entire arc when she bothered you. You can’t use the time Joss made her and Willow wear weird princess dresses during the musical because that wasn’t her fault. See?! She’s perfect and kickass. Also also also: she’s a gay lady – we love gay ladies!
Xena was originally a character on Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, but her spin-off show surpassed its dude-lead counterpart in both ratings and pop culture prominence. Xena is everything we could ask for – she’s confident, multifaceted, queer and can kick the asses of most gods. She has intense relationships with a whole bunch of female characters over the course of the show as friends, enemies, family and thinly-veiled lovers, flying in the face of the widely held belief that no one will watch a women-lead action show.
San, in my opinion is without a doubt the most badass Disney Princess. She sucks a bullet straight from a giant wolf’s shoulder. She charges into battle armed with just a knife against people armed with guns and swords. She wasn’t just raised by wolves, she was raised by a Wolf Goddess. San is willing to do anything to protect her family and her home. She’ll fight tooth and nail for what she believes in, even if it means trying to single handedly stop a rampaging Boar Demon.
Brienne of Tarth
A Song of Ice and Fire / Game of Thrones
In a universe notorious for corruption, violence and greed, Brienne is the one true knight. She can’t technically become a knight because of the patriarchy, but she doesn’t care and earns a place in Renly’s Rainbow Guard anyways. She’s honourable, determined, street smart and doesn’t let men belittle her. Though her journey is closely intertwined with Jaime Lannister’s redemption arc, Brienne always has her own story and her own motivations. And she kicks his ass in a swordfight.
This show starts slowly, but once Echo’s character arc kicks in midway through the first season a really cool feminist narrative unfolds. Echo is trapped in a child-like state, controlled by the staff of an underground company who program volunteers to become various fantasies of rich clients. In her supposedly blank state, Echo develops self-awareness and rebels against the company. When their technology gets in the wrong hands and turns Los Angeles into an apocalyptic nightmare, Echo leads a band of guerrilla warriors to save the world from itself. The show never shies away from dealing with the misogyny and consent issues inherent in its premise, and Echo, Sierra and Adele always find a way to upset the order of the institutions trying to control and exploit them.
Ginny is fierce. She is the youngest and only girl in a large family of boys and she is totally awesome because of it. She always steps in to be at the front of the battles, even when she is told she is too young she manages to sneak in to lend a hand. She is one of the bravest/strongest characters in the series. She handles the love stuff with Harry in a mature and responsible way, she is helpful and insightful, and she knows exactly how to use a wand.
Faith does everything we wanted to do high school – she skips school, has sex whenever she wants and rocks snakeskin bell-bottoms. Though she was introduced strictly as a foil to Buffy, Faith’s journey from teen bad girl to supervillain to stoic hero is one of the stand-out arcs of the series. Whether she’s picking fights with cops, possessing Buffy’s body or leading an army of fellow Slayers into battle, we always understand Faith’s motivations. While Faith has to make amends for her mistakes over the course of her redemption arc, she never apologizes for who she is. Faith’s as outspoken, confident and kinky after her heel-face turn as she ever was while evil.
Nani holds it down. She’s recovering from the tragic loss of her parents, raising her little sister, and working full-time. Not only that, but she also has to deal with government agents and a whole mess of aliens trying to take away either her little sister or that sister’s pet and best friend. Nani is by far one of the best role models in any Disney film. She’s able to show the importance of family and love, and that when someone is a part of your family, you accept them for who they are and hold to them as tight as you can, no matter what.
Bo is the big-hearted, brave lead of Lost Girl who loves breaking rules. She refuses to align herself to a side in the ongoing magical war, chooses humans as best friends and lovers despite cultural stigma and makes no apologies for being bisexual. Bo and her bestie Kenzi handle monsters-of-the-week, doomed romances and the trials of being young and broke through humor and self-reliance. When it’s revealed that Bo is the prophecized savior of her people, she begrudgingly accepts her duty without ever compromising her morals, attitude or sex life.
We had a hard time deciding whether or not to include Willow on this list because of that time she raped her girlfriend via magical mind-wiping, but the world is a complicated place and we think she still belongs here. Willow begins the show with little agency as the computer nerd everyone picks on at school with a hopeless crush on her best and only friend, but she soon proves herself critical to the Scoobies’ adventures thanks to her book smarts, loyalty, and growing magical prowess. In college, Willow forms more of an identity outside of the Scoobies, joining a Wicca group and beginning a secret relationship with another witch, and she asserts herself as much more than just Buffy’s sidekick. Though her buried self-hatred, need for control over her loved ones and arrogant overuse of magic eventually drive her to become evil and try to end the world, it’s hard not to cheer for her rises in confidence and power. Having Willow mess with the established order by magically imbuing thousands of potential Slayers with their superhero powers is a kickass final act for her story.
Kaede and Taisin
We put these two together because they are both awesome heroines in their own right, but as a team they are unstoppable. Taisin has crazy magical sage powers and Kaede is fierce and kickass. They support each other through a journey to save the world. They share a unique mental bond, as well as having the complimentary skills to complete their mission, as well as fall deeply in love with one another.
The first lesbian superhero with her own comic book, Batwoman is just as tough and fierce as any of her male counterparts. After being kicked out of the military for refusing to lie about who she is back when DADT was still in effect, she decided to become a vigilante in the most dangerous city in the DC universe. She teams up with the likes of Wonder Woman, The Question, her fellow members of the Bat Family and even the Justice League of America. She flirts with the Police Women who pull her over and looks great in a tux. She may share a name with Batman, but she is no sidekick.
For better or worse, women who kick ass on television will always be compared to Buffy Summers. Over seven seasons, Buffy takes on the patriarchy in many of its guises – she emancipates herself from the patronizing Watchers Council, fights demons posing as douchey frats guys and abusive boyfriends, slices a misogynistic preacher in half via crotch and always has a snappy retort and ass-kicking in store for vampires who underestimate her. The overarching theme of the loneliness Buffy faces as the only Slayer in the world comes to a satisfyingly feminist conclusion in the series finale when Buffy and Willow do a spell that shares Buffy’s power with thousands of girls around the world, creating a Slayer army.
San is not a Disney princess though. I don’t think Disney was ever able to make such an extraordinary character. (The closest they’ve come is Mulan, I guess. And don’t get me wrong, I love her too.)
Seconding Lux. Princess Mononoke was released by Disney in North America but it was created by Studio Ghibli.
Speaking of Ghibli, I’d vote for Chihiro (Spirited Away) to be on this list too. She starts off as a total crybaby but turns into a fearless badass who saves a polluted River God, risks her life to get Kaonashi out of the bathhouse, and fights a witch in order to save Haku and her parents. She’s not exactly a warrior but she’s definitely a heroine who knows how to get shit done.
All of Studio Ghibli’s female protagonists are strong and wonderful characters no matter if the film is about fighting against an army, working in a delivery service or taking care of your little sister while your mom is away in the hospital.
It’s truly inspiring and amazing that they present different types of strong female characters (from little girls to elderly women) and all of them are different, showing that you don’t have to be a cookie cutter princess to be worth something, make a difference, change the world and do better by yourself.
The much newer Disney fare has been improving big time (Belle, Pocahontas, MULAN, Tiana, Rapunzel) but in the end, they always just go back to that “and then you get a man and live happily ever after” formula. They’ve also been trying to give the guys more personality outside of the bland Prince Charming archetype (hence street rat Aladdin, the bandit Flynn from Tangled. Although these two films in particular are about the male leads, not the female ones).
Brave seemed to just be a frustrated response to the whole focus of the “princess marrying” trope, and I am grateful for that, although it wasn’t the best film I thought it could have been. Did bring up a ton of mommy issues for me, though… Thanks, Brave.
Let’s not lump all the amazing Ghibli characters with lacklustre Disney ones.
I’m not loving all the hate for Willow going on here. I totally agree that what she did to Tara was completely and utterly wrong, but we have to remember, she was an ADDICT. Whether it’s magic or drugs, addiction is a very serious disease. Those who suffer from addiction require treatment and help, not blame and accusations. Willow didn’t have an “arrogant overuse of magic”, she had an ADDICTION. And, as so often happens with addicts, what finally prompted her to get help was hurting the ones she loved the most – first Tara, and then Dawn. I love all the kickass women on Buffy, but Willow will always be my favourite. Buffy and Faith start off strong, they know they have power, and they have Watchers (or, in Faith’s case, HAD) who taught them how to use their power. Willow started off with no power at all, and taught herself magic, and taught herself so well she became one of the most powerful wiccans ever, capable of destroying the world. And I think the reason she became addicted was because she did it on her own, she didn’t have anyone guiding her, helping her. Giles only stepped in and took her to England to learn how to use her power after it was already too late.
Hey, I wrote most of the Willow paragraph, and here’s where I’m coming from.
Note: I feel like the addiction metaphor was kind of tacked on to Willow’s storyline, so I give it less weight in how I view her character than some people might.
It seems to me like the writing staff wrote flaws in Willow’s character that were later written off as effects of her addiction as opposed to causes of it. I wish that her flaws (her need for everyone to get along even if it means lying, her extreme insecurities, etc.) had been explored as aspects/roots of her addiction rather than being ignored in favour of a more traditional control-your-usage story.
I think the character flaws I just mentioned are responsible for her raping Tara in OMWF, not primarily her addiction, and that’s never dealt with. We’re supposed to cheer Tara on for going back to Willow without ever dealing with how Willow violated her. And though Willow had been off of magic for a while then (yay for her), that is nowhere near enough to rectify what she did to Tara.
(That said I love Willow and put her on this list because of it [but I really feel like she isn’t criticized enough]).
You had me at Xena, but now I want to start reading comics too.
you should start reading comics! there are a lot of comics, even in major publications like Marvel and DC, that are writing badass female characters.
I would definitely recommend the new run of Captain Marvel (she was once Ms. Marvel), its written by a woman, the Capn has a badass, functional costume (yo that some fanboys def whined about in the letters), and the conflicts and storylines are interesting and involve lots of tough ladies, not just a singular heroine in a world of men.
I’d also recommend Saga (Image Comics, written by Brian K Vaughan and art by Fiona Staples) for cool, developed women, themes of queerness, etc.
“Rachel Rising” by Terry Moore (who writes excellent female characters) is a horror comic of revenge and spooky-ness and witches. Also, lesbians.
“Revival” is a zombie/noir mystery comic with a single mom detective as the heroine.
Seconding “Young Avengers” and “Runaways” as well.
comic nerding, over and out.
This could be my absolute favourite post ever. I’m a huge fan of Buffy, Firefly and Dollhouse.. I’m especially pleased to see Zoe here. She’s probably my favourite badass female character from the Whedonverse. But this post has also given me many unknown characters to investigate, which is exciting. I’ve contemplated trying Lost Girl before, do people recommend it? I’m definitely going to try Ash, Huntress and Runaways though. :)
Yes yes yes watch Lost Girl! The show is amazing, well-written, and has awesome characters! Plus tons of sexy people. Tons.
I whole-heartedly recommend Lost Girl. It’s funny, sharp urban fantasy with a queer lead and a goth sidekick.
YESSS BRIENNE OF TARTH!
Obviously I love the rest of the ladies on the list too, but sometimes I feel like Brienne gets overlooked a lot by the ASoIaF fandom? I guess to a lot of people her archetype seems pretty typical, but it’s not imo. The world of ASoIaF is filled with knights, but almost none of them live up to the fairytale expectations. Almost none, because Brienne of Tarth exists. She tries her best to look out for the powerless and keep the promises she’s made, often to her own detriment. The first time she kills isn’t easy for her, but she does it because she has to.
And one thing I really like about her is that at no point does she belittle the other female characters because of her own occupation of a masculine role. (which is why I have issues with her portrayal in GoT,but that’s a rant for another day) She clearly respects Catelyn, enough to swear fealty to her.
Also, this quote she says about her father from the books may have punched me a bit too hard in the feels. (Esp. when she’s pretty much the most honorable character in the books imo)
“He deserves a daughter who could sing to him and grace his hall and bear him grandsons. He deserves a son too, a strong and gallant son to bring honor to his name. But I’m the only child the gods saw him fit to keep, the freakish one, not fit to be a son or daughter. “
I toyed with putting Dany or Arya or Sansa or Catelyn on this list, and I’m glad you’re glad it’s Brienne instead.
Yes her story is pretty traditional in that she’s a woman who wants to be a knight and can’t, but she’s written with such depth and so many personal anecdotes that she brings a lot to the table. I really enjoy how focused she is on her duty and direct situation/surroundings; while a lot of the characters are busy pontificating on their personal woes and egos, she’s observing and feeling for what the smallfolk have gone through in this war.
I think it’s also great that although her parents don’t outright reject her – Selwyn Tarth loves his daughter and ultimately lets her make her own life choices – she’s still not comfortable with the gender roles in Westeros. There are plenty of other institutions trying to bring her down.
I don’t like that you used the term “mudblood” to describe Hermione, that’s a pretty serious slur in the book and she’s my favorite.
Also, I would add Loup Garron from the book Santa Olivia. She’s strong, kicks ass in prize fighting, and wins the lady and her freedom in the end.
seconded on Loup! And Pilar in Saints Astray (no spoilers but she also becomes pretty bad-ass).
I would second Loup and throw in an Aud Torvingen for good measure.
Batwoman! I love the part where Batman tries to give her advice and she’s just “Yeahh… I actually thought of all this already and have it all under control.”
For the fanfic-inclined, this is a pretty good Hermione-is-under-rated post-canon take (warning: WIP) http://www.fanfiction.net/s/5537755/1/Amends_or_Truth_and_Reconciliation
This is good, but where’s Tris? Or Lynn? Lynn is even lesbian! *spoiler alert*
You forgot Sydney Bristow.
THANK YOU for mentioning Tara, who is one of my favorite scoobies! I even love her frosted tips and princess dresses.
One of my favorite heroines is Fevvers, from Angela Carter’s novel Nights at the Circus. She’s big, brassy, flawed, and in love with life. Plus, I secretly like to imagine that she’s also trans, because what could be awesomer than a six foot winged circus performer from the turn of the 20th century who is also a trans lady?
What about Kiki from Kiki’s Delivery Service
Of course, no list will ever be perfect. Still, I miss/my personal fictional heroenes: Pippi Longstockings (probably for many the first kick-ass female you know by stories), Alanna and Dana.
THANK YOU for including Kel! I love all of Tamora Pierce’s characters, but Kel is something special. I think Kel’s story has the most direct parallels to the Real Life Experiences of Women Today.
How about River Song from Doctor Who? She is sassy, smart, not afraid to openly be a sexual human being, excellent at kicking monster/alien ass, and according to Steven Moffat, is bi. Also, she gets to both be in love with the Doctor and be her own independent person.
Speaking of Doctor Who, Madame Vastra and Jenny surely need recognition as a couple of badass mofos.
Let’s be real, those two need their own spinoff.* They’re also somehow one of the most consistently written lesbian couples I’ve ever seen on TV. Plus, Jenny kicks more ass than most characters on that show combined.
*Strax can come too I guess, he’s p. cute.
I definitely agree with a spin-off; Strax would be a must for the show as no one can resist his love of grenades and confusion with the genders!
If only Moffat would hurry up and make it happen…
I’ve come to the conclusion that River Song is kind of what the writers thought people wanted from a Strong Female Character, but that’s not really enough to base a character on. She’s had her moments, though, especially earlier on in her arc.
In terms of the women of Who, I’d say Martha is most deserving of a spot here, with Donna and Ace being close second.
Yeah, I loved River up until the end. I think several seasons of Doctor Who are much improved by pretending the finale never happened. I get the sense the Stephen Moffat wants to be a feminist and queer ally, but doesn’t actually take the time to consult women and/or queers about the characters he crafts.
Mycelia: I agree about Martha, I think she is very underrated. I liked how even though she loved the Doctor, she was strong enough to walk away. Rather than being a side-kick with an unrequited love, she choose to pursue her career and became very accomplished and powerful in her own right. She was able to choose her own path in a way the other companions were not (a pattern which bothers me). I particularly disliked the way they disposed of Donna, though I loved her character otherwise.
People above have pretty much covered the reasons why River didn’t make my list. I love her so much but I don’t think she was written as her own character so much as a plot point for The Doctor.
That’s mostly why I didn’t suggest we include any companions either (though I love them all, especially Donna).
I feel like Moffat’s treatment of Clara has been the clearest example of this problem and am really hoping for some more agency from her next season.
BO!! Though I’ve gotta nominate Kenzi ’cause that girl kicks some serious butt.
It was like a 49%/51% call.
This is a lovely list but it completely leaves out any of the female characters from Avatar the Last Airbender or Legend of Korra. Young girls deserve awesome kick-ass role models as much as anyone.
Kel!!! Who put Kel on the list?! Can I be your friend?
Seriously, out of all Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books Kel was the role model that stuck with me the most growing up. I modled my reaction to adversity off of her. ALSO – she’s 100% an ally in the books! She’s so accepting of queer folks, having been raised amongst the Yamani, that she doesn’t even get why people in the Eastern lands would use same sex attraction as an insult. She calls her best friend and crush out on it! And she has a lesbian maid named Lalasa who dates her sister’s maid!
For a young queer kid growing up in Texas, this was such a huge thing for me to have. I found a lot of my identity in these novels.
Also: I have a cat named Kenzi, which I may have named after Bo’s sidekick in Lost Girl.
Really? I was totally obsessed with Kel as a kid (Tamora Pierce’s books in general). Kinda want to go back now and look for the queer parts.
Yeah! The Lalasa relationship with Tian is never explicitly stated, but Tamora Pierce confirmed it on Sheroes and during fan conventions. It’s one of the things that was canon, but couldn’t be included in the books due to her editors.
If you read the Circle of Magic, Lark and Rosethorn are also together, though they have a non-monogamous relationship – Rosethorn also is sometimes with Crane, depending on how much he annoys her at the moment. In later books after (spoiler alert) one of the four comes out, they mention it more directly. Of course those books came out in like… ’08 or ’09, versus the late 90s for most of the Circle books, so it was easier for her to include it then.
I love your summation of Lark/Rosethorn and Rosethorn/Crane. :)
My favorite character was always Tris though.
WOW! I love Tamora Pierce, and, I must admit, checked immediately to make sure one of her characters was on this list.
I remember being SO EXCITED when, as you so un-spoiler-ly put it, “one of the four comes out.” Retrospectively, this was probably one of those early warning signs that I might be doing some coming out of my own in the not-so-distant future.
Really? Rosethorn and Crane?! I always thought their relationship was purely professional, and pretty acrimonious. I’m going to have to go back and read the Will of the Empress. I don’t remember any mention of that in The Circle Opens series. But even I first read the books as a young’n I had a feeling Lark and Rosethorn were together. Pierce doesn’t really state whether Winding Circle initiates can openly enter relationships, although Frostpine has a lady companion in Cold Fire.
I think Lark and Rosethorn were definitely the “life companions” or whatever Tamora Pierce called them…and I distinctly remember Briar having a moment where he puts two and two together and realizes they are most definitely not just friends.
That series (well, all of Tamora Pierce’s stuff in general) brought up all these controversial things and dealt with them so flawlessly. LGBT stuff, political/gender/class lines, just everything. I was so sad when I realized I’d aged out of her particular reading group.
I want her to write some adult novels now!!
The way Pierce explained it, dedicates of the Winding Circle are free to pursue relationships as they please. There’s now vows of celibacy in the Circle religion. As dedicates however, their first duty is to the Gods, and marriage/children distract from that. They can (and often are) reassigned to other temples at will by the higher ups in the religion, too – so they aren’t guaranteed to be able to stay near to the people they love about.
Basically, their vows are to their Gods, the Temple and the Living Circle, with all other attachments coming after that. If they come to a point where they value something more highly than that, they’re free to resign their vows honorably.
As for Rosethorn/Crane – their relationships is sexual, but not romantic. The way Pierce described it, they have this intense passion. It usually manifestes in anger at each other and arguments, but during stressful points where they’re forced into proximity with each other (Lightsbridge, during the plague, during the 10 years they worked on the Human Essence project) it often turns into sex. They don’t necessarily LIKE each other, but they didn’t always dislike each other as much as they did at the beginning of Sandry’s book.
Ahhh. I just reread The Will of the Empress. For the most part Tamara is veery subtle when it comes to sexual orientation, it definitely went right over my head the first time I read the series (with the exception of the character who comes out in The Will of the Empress obv).
Meghan, you explanation makes sense- especially given that Rosethorn and Lark seemed to be at peace with their separation during the Circle Opens books, in spite of being so close.
I’m geeking out right now because you know so much about Tortall. I definitely need to go back and re-read those books; they’re amazing! Having read everything that Tamora Pierce has ever published, I can attest that most if not all of her books have subtle LGBT-supportive undertones, which is probably why I loved them so much, even long before I fully understood why! :P
And for anyone who hasn’t read the Beka Cooper trilogy, it’s amazing (although I’m biased because I have a huge crush on Clary Goodwin. Older women… le sigh). Beka definitely deserves to be on this list. Also, there’s a trans* character in that trilogy!
All of Tamora Pierce’s fictional heroines will always have a special place in my heart, but Pierce herself is my real-life hero for being such an amazing ally for decades.
True story, Tamora Pierce has been the author that stuck with the most throughout the years. A kind woman handed me the Song of the Lioness Quartet at Powell’s book in Portland when I was 11, and I haven’t gone a year without re-reading at least one quartet since.
Her writing isn’t perfect – there are sometimes things I find troubling – but she has done the best to create a world I would want to be in, and heroines that I try my hardest to emulate.
Wholeheartedly agreed; her stories made for a wonderful childhood world. Just out of curiosity, what things do you find troubling? (I’m not spoiling for an argument or anything, I swear, just interested in your perspective!)
Namely that in the Pierce universe a lot of situations are solved through violence that might as easily be solved through cleverness. I think she got away from that and really stretched the minds of the characters in the Circle-verse, which is why I adore it so much.
At the same time I recognize that this is the nature of a fantasy realm. There’s combat and fighting and chivalry and jousting, and our heroes are mages and fighters and the like. It would just be nice to see a non combat oriented character for once as well.
She deals really well with a lot of it in her short stories, actually. I really love her anthologies and collections.
Very true; arguably, the more recent Beka Cooper trilogy seems to glorify violence and is less cerebral than the Circle quartets. In general, Pierce’s books have “grown up,” at least in my view, and adopted a more mature perspective as her readers (at least of our generation) have grown up. I agree with you, her books are at their best when her characters rely on their wits and abilities (magical or not), rather than on their batons and swords. It’ll be interesting to see what “Battle Magic” has in store in September, although certainly the title and the plot overview on Amazon indicate that it will be another darker, more graphic adventure.
The heroines in the Tortall universe are either knights/knights-in-training (Alanna/Kel), in a police force (Beka Cooper), or spending a heck of a lot of time around the military and wrangling magical monsters (Daine — although her books are perhaps SLIGHTLY less violent than the others). They also (especially Kel) encounter the attitude that girls aren’t “tough”, i.e. aren’t suited to violence, or some such. The Trickster books might be different, but I don’t recall as I didn’t really like them.
I’m inclined to think that the Circle universe has more gender equality, but that might only be among mages. (Sandry certainly runs into people underestimating her when she’s around non-mage nobles.) So the girl characters aren’t trying to measure up to the boys in the same way — everyone’s just focused on doing magic. There IS violence in the Circle Opens quartet, but from the protagonists it tends to be the thought-out, this-is-necessary-to-prevent-further-evil variety. (Tris almost loses her temper in Shatterglass, though.)
I’m looking forward to Battle Magic myself.
geeking out too! totally had a lady boner for alanna. and well the rest of them. they were probably the first novels I read that had any kind of sex in them also which was just fine with me. maybe I’ll have to come back to these books again soon!
Yes yes yes! Out of all of Pierce’s books, Beka Cooper’s tale (and the characters in them) are absolutely my favorite.
Love this. BRIENNE OF TARTH!! I am in love with her. Seriously. she’s the reason I started watching GoT. My friends were like, “hey girl, hey- check out this tough butch lady-knight in shining armour” and I was like, ” *swooooon*”.
My only rant is that she wasnt written as a raving queer (her love interest was Renly? Really? I’ve not read the books, but please, all gods old and new, tell me she doesn’t fall in love with Jaime). I guess that’s what terrible masturbatory fan-fiction is for.
Also. Xena! Xena is totally responsible for making me gay, lol.
Yes. My support for Brienne and Xena. Strangely i do somewhat like Brienne/Jaime emotional closeness, just because it breaks all cliches – while making Brienne gay would be a trope of a trope. I am totally in love with her though.
Honestly in GoT if there was one character who could have been gay it’s Dany (i adore all trinity of superinspiration, Dany, Brienne and Cersei – and accept they’re all part of me) – and the being last of her dynasty would be a wonderful opportunity to address the complexities of sexuality. but that’s me thinking wishfully.
What about Arya? Baby dyke? No?
I’ve been saying for awhile now that I wish they’d give Arya a girlfriend. I don’t know what happens in the books, but I also don’t really care that much. Just give her a girlfriend, books be damned!
Yes. Agreed. Arya could well be a baby dyke. Point.
You should include Idgie Threadgoode from «Fried Green Tomatoes» on your list! Idgie is a brave tomboy with a big heart, who chooses to live her life just the way she wants too, this including dressing as a boy and living with a woman, in a period when this was unthinkable (She lives in Alabama in the 1930’s). She refuses to follow the race laws in Alabama, by serving both black and white people in her café despite that she gets threatened by members of Ku Klux clan. She treats everyone who comes her way with respect; among them an old alcoholic who shows up at her door. She provides him with food and a place to sleep, and helps him in every possible way. Her love and respect towards him is touching. Idgie also saves her friend Ruth from a violent relationship when she is pregnant with her child. They move in together, and Idgie helps raising the child. When Ruth’s husband comes back and threatens her, Idgie protects both Ruth and her child. When Ruth dies, she takes care of her son as if he were her own.
Idgie is the most wonderful fictional character I’ve ever come across! She’s strong, funny and loving. Plus, she’s a lesbian ;)You should really read the book by Fannie Flag and watch the great movie, starring Cathy Bates, Jessica Tandy, Mary-Louise Parker and Mary Stuart Masterson.
I love That bee charmer
All of the female characters in Fannie Flagg’s books that I’ve read so far are really strong and independent. She is one of my favorite writers for that reason.
Xena is my root.
I was so obsessed with Xena in high school! I got made fun of relentlessly for going to the Hercules and Xena show at Universal Studios, by myself, on my senior trip. Root indeed.
can we please please please talk about rogue from x men
or jean from x men
I realize that they might not all be role models BUT I LOVE THEM.
We can all wish.
Over at Comic Book Resources, Brett White posted an article about how the X-Men made him a feminist, which is pretty great.
I used to tell myself I watched X Men for Wolverine.
Then two weeks ago it was on tv and Rogue popped up on the screen and I just started laughing at myself. When Jean appeared the laughing turned hysterical.
Wolverine. I really thought I watched it for Wolverine.
I think we don’t have enough conversations about *supposedly* strong female characters who miss the mark. It’s not just Bella, I feel like I’m constantly arguing with my friends about the portrayal of female characters on television/movies. Sex and the City in particular drives me batty. People act like those women are a good example of being strong, independent career women who prioritize friendship, but so much of what the characters do revolves around men. Often they even seem to have friendships solely to discuss and process their relationships with men.
Good idea. That would make an interesting article.
You might find this interesting: http://www.overthinkingit.com/2008/08/18/why-strong-female-characters-are-bad-for-women/
Thanks for the link!
It sums up perfectly why the recquirement of having “strong female characters” always annoys me. Why does there need to be “strong” next to “female character”? Why can’t female characters just be, you know, characters? Complex, unlikeable sometimes, annoying, interesting, funny, unfunny, basically I want complex characters, not superwomen who excel at everything.
I’m not saying the list isn’t interesting, though. I love some of the characters on it: Katniss, Hermione, Brienne, Nani.
yes thanks for the link – and i think the article has a point. Imo there are different senses of ‘strong’:
– strong as in: not passive, someone with agency and free will, someone who actually meaningfully participates instead of being there for eye candy’.
– strong as in: video game cheat type strong, as in topping the list of who would beat whom – WHILE being weakly characterised AND there for an eye candy. Typically a girlfriend of a politically correct, goofy, self-depreciating male main character with equally nonexistent characterisation – yet somehow the film manages to be entirely about him.
the latter isn’t exactly empowering. the former tends to be.
Commenting to agree with Emma and say, Whoa! In the HP universe, “Mudblood” is pretty much like the N word or non-reclaimed F or D words. Call Hermione Muggle-born and remember that language has power, even in our made-up worlds.
That aside, excellent list. Adding my votes for Gabrielle and Renee Montoya.
Seriously though, Hermione will always be my heroine crush (partly because she is fantastic in the books, and partly because she is played by Emma Watson who I love…. have you seen her in short hair and suspenders?… http://www.gotceleb.com/emma-watson/emma-watson-elle-magazine-france-september-2011/attachment/emma-watson-elle-magazine-france-10
I was disappointed by that picture because I was expecting what us UK folk call suspenders (the sexy underwear things that hold up your pants) and she’s actually wearing what we call braces. Bah. Cultural differences! :p
haha major cultural difference! I would definitely have loved if she was in sexy underwear things =D
KEL! She is my favourite of all of Tamora Pierce’s heroines, ’cause unlike Alana, Daine, Aly or Beka she’s got no magic. Just her sense of herself and of right and wrong.
I understand why you like Kel the best of all of them, but I still think leaving out Alanna, Daine, Aly and Beka is unfair. They are ALL awesome, kickass women, and deserve a mention on this list. Especially since many on this list do have magic or superpowers as well (Willow, Tara, Buffy, Faith). Having magic doesn’t make them less kick ass. And as Alanna reminds us, having magic is not a “crutch”, it does not mean that they have an added advantage.
Personally, Daine was always my favourite. I like that, until Beka came along anyway, she was the only one of the bunch who didn’t start with a noble background. She worked her way to her position through sheer strength and determination. Unlike Alanna, Aly, and Kel who got a lot of privileges due to their noble status, Daine was always an outsider.
I’d also add in Tris, Daja, Sandry, Lark, and Rosethorn :)
Lark/Rosethorn is my OTP.
Oh I love them all, Daine was the first one I read, then I realise Alana existed too. When I left the UK two years ago my Tammy books HAD to come with me because they are like old friends: there are times I just need them. Yeah, Kel gets noble privilege but what I love about her is that she knows she has it and does the right things with it, like the speech to Neal about bullies. I would really like a book about Rosethorn and Lark, perhaps some sort of prequel; Lark has an interesting back story as a circus performer! And Tris was me in high school, temper and all.
One thing I love about Kel’s story is that her tale ends with her not attached to anyone, and totally at peace with that. Ooh, I lied, Beka doesn’t either, not exactly, but I’ve only read Mastiff once so far as the betrayal in it hurts :s SO MANY FEELINGS!
I love this list so much!
As much as I love most of the women on this list, I’m a little baffled by your inclusion of Miss America. Don’t get me wrong, she IS kickass, but I feel like she has the least character development so far out of any of the ladies I recognize on here–she mostly just seems angry and likes punching things. Hopefully she’ll get more development as time goes on.
It’s so awesome to see you list Karo and Xavin– but what about Marvel’s original lesbian couple, Mystique and Destiny? Not only are they explicity described as having been lovers for decades (which means Rogue has two (adopted) mommies!), but Mystique is bisexual *and* defies the gender binary– Nightcrawler was originally supposed to be her and Destiny’s biological child, but the censors stopped it before it went to print. I know we’re talking heroes here and Mystique is definitely one of the main villains of Marvel, but she’s also incredibly badass– and, more often than not, motivated very strongly by her identity as a mutant and her love for Destiny and Rogue. She also has a really awesome and tension-filled relationship with her coworker Val Cooper during the X-Force comic. Definitely not saying we should hold her up as a role model for behavior, lol, but if we’re talking badass women in fiction, she’s gotta have a mention. XD
Oh my god it’s just all my fictional crushes in one place. I feel like we’re missing a few though!
Sydney Bristow = total badass.
You’re also forgetting all the wonderful ladies from Doctor Who! Rose, River, Donna, Amy, Sarah Jane…
Yes! All the female companions kick tons of ass.
Great list. Although I’d add Sarah Lund (Danish version) and Saga Noren – they’ve definitely been some of the best female tv characters on tv recently.
Terrific list! Batwoman, fuck yeah!
I’d like to nominate H.G. Wells for consideration. No, not that H.G. Wells, this H.G. Wells:
She’s so strong, intelligent and progressive. I absolutely love her. She’s also bisexual and in love with Myka Bering who also could go on this list since she’s her own brand of awesomeness.
(BTW how do you insert pictures in these comments? I’ve seen people do it before but I can’t figure it out. :/ )
Yeah, I kept kind of expecting to see H.G. pop up. She invented a time machine and a grappling gun and she knew martial arts back in Victorian times when she wore vests and pantsuits. Definition of kick-ass.
H.G. Wells is obviously too fucking amazing for this list aka I totally forgot about her but would include her if I could. <3
Spoiler: Can’t wait to see her again next week.
She had me staring at pencils for hours at a time, wishing them to levitate. She had relatable powers. Powers of the mind!
And yeah, duh, Idgie.
I’m a little sad to see Xena on this list, though, without there being a mention of how fucked up that show is terms of appropriation/racism/absolute ridiculousness.
You’re right, Xena is completely awful in that 90’s way about appropriation and orientalism. I didn’t mention it because I was trying to be positive in this post, but a line or two could have been included that made this post reflect the show’s failings more.
On that note, Buffy, Firefly, Game of Thrones and probably most of these media have serious issues re: racism and orientlalism that we don’t address in this article for brevity’s sake. But we could really talk about this more.
Thanks for including Nani. I relate to her a lot (I had to step up and basically co-parent my sister when I was about 18) and I think she’s a great example of how doing the right thing can make us a kick-ass heroine, even if we don’t do much ass kicking.
Also, the list is a little Whedon heavy, but I get it, he’s good at writing that kind of character. I would have added Dany from “Game of Thrones,” because I love her, and hell, Leslie Knope. I really think there is no one who kicks ass or sticks to her morals better than Leslie.
And if you guys haven’t done so already, since you included the characters from Malinda Lo’s other books, EVERYONE GO READ “ADAPTATION” RIGHT NOW. Reese is a kick-ass “bisexual” (although she rejects labels) character and Amber is pretty sweet too.
Yes! Nani is so amazing, I love that movie so much.
FBI agent Gracie Hart from Miss Congeniality. That is all. Tatiana Maslany’s Clones in Orphan Black and Future Detective Kiera Cameron from Continuum.
And speaking of Sci-fi badasses, the Mother of Future Time-travelling freedom fighters…Sarah Connors.
I also want to add Helen Magnus from “Sanctuary.” She became a doctor in Victorian England- when women still weren’t allowed to attend university- started studying the supernatural and then found some special vampire blood that basically made her immortal. So she set up world-wide organization to protect abnormal life and runs all the aspects of it. She is super smart and can physically kick the ass of anyone who fights her. She is surrounded by men who all know she is smarter and tougher than she is and aren’t threatened by that. In fact, they spend a lot of their time warning the bad guys not to fuck with her. She protects the weak. She thinks outside the box. And did I mention she sometimes kisses ladies?
Also, the actress who plays Magnus, Amanda Tapping, was both the lead AND an exec producer of the show, directs all kinds of stuff, and basically single handedly set up a charity called “Sanctuary for Kids.”
Continuing the “Magical Girls” thread, I put in Sailor Moon. She goes from a bumbling klutz to future queen of the earth, and the strongest warrior in the universe. Her boyfriend and best friends die fighting multiple times, but she continues to fight till the end, never doubting her own strength. Actually, all the Senshi are badass–they pretty much put aside their personal lives to lend their strength to Sailor Moon and constantly save the world, usually dying in the process.
Yes to this! Really all of the senshi could be on this list, but I particularly like that Usagi is portrayed against type as a terrible student, junkfood connoisseur, clumsy and silly and yet grows into her own completely as someone who is willing to die to prove that no one else needs to.
Also want to throw Utena Tenjou in here, from Revolutionary Girl Utena. Not just a great questionably-queer protag (not at all questionably in the movie, but I would really not recommend people watch that before the TV show) who literally hacks away at some pretty nasty stereotypes, but also just an all around awesome person who gets in over her head numerous times to defend her friends and will keep fighting even when she literally has no weapons and is seriously outmatched because it’s the right thing to do.
For that matter Anthy makes a great kickass heroine as well, just in a less obvious way. But I’ve been having Utena feels today so I’m gonna stop or I’ll write a paper.
I’m not sure you’re allowed to put Xena on any list without Gabrielle. It’s the rule of beautiful totally queer girl friendship-love.
Also, Kira Nerys from DS9.
I was kind of thinking the same thing… Xena is kick ass, but Gabrielle adds a certain element.
Two out of two Leighs agree, so it must be true!
YES Kira! I’m currently rewatching DS9 for the first time as an adult, and her character is totally the best!
I feel like I lied a bit adding Xena instead of Gabrielle. Really they should both be there. Gabrielle is even more of a feminist character than Xena, and neither could exist without the other.
Xena Bo Faith Echo Willow <3 <3 <3 <3 <3
The Orphans from Orphan Black, anyone?
Specifically Sarah Manning. That show rocks my world on so many levels: an uber complex female lead motivated by something other than romantic involvement with a man. Or anyone.
Sabriel and Lirael, from the serried by Garth Nix, and Toph from Avatar the Last Air Bender are all bad asses.
ohmygod SABRIEL. How could I forget about her, and Lirael, and the Abhorsen and the bells?! This entire thread is reliving my childhood.
Katsa, and Fire, from Kristin Cashore’s novels Graceling and Fire respectively.
They deserve to be on this list. Katsa is incredible – she is literally invincible, falls in love with a man and still sticks to her promise of not marrying him because in this swords-and-sandals world, marriage is a commitment Katsa is unwilling to make. She is such a round character as well.
That’s an interesting take on Xavin, though it’s not at all what I took away from the book (though I’ll confine myself to BKVs run, since Whedon, while well-meaning, doesn’t “get” it):
I think Xavin is unquestionably trans*; although shapeshifting aliens are obviously no substitute for characters and narratives that deal with the physical and social issues many transgender people actually face.
Skrull society is interesting because they are shapeshifters who do have incredibly entrenched gender roles, as you say, that Xavin clearly inherits: Skrulls are warlike and imperialistic and their ability to shapeshift curiously makes their attitude to gender more essentialist. Choose to be “male” to be physically strong etc. and Xavin is brought up to be a “prince”.
Xavin is young however and their expression of their gender shifts in line with their gender role: juxtaposed with their “alien” origin. Xavin’s shifting, within the context of the story, is closely tied to their state of mind: a gendered visual metaphor. Whether this shifting is normal for Skrull teens or not, it’s clearly a device BKV adopts to explore gender through the character (with few conclusive statements, aside from two “narrative voice” conversations with Molly Hayes (another great female character from the run)); One where she questions why Xavin cannot just be a girl all the time, since it would make everyone more comfortable (paraphrased); One where she affirms Xavin as a “sister”.
Xavin is frequently male bodied/presenting in the run, especialy when there’s a threat, or they are feeling emotionally defensive. The character even rationalises this (a little sketchily) as a pragmatic measure in a fight. Karolina is someone who Xavin has clearly idolised and built into a fantasy for a long time, as an expression of things they desire beyond the stifling violence and gendered constraints of their own upbringing. How this translates into a workable relationship (other than through the vehicle of young love) is a bit of a mystery, but they spend some time apart from the team with each other and something has clearly worked. Karolina loves Xavin, but is only *physically attracted* to them in their female presentation.
Xavin says to Molly “But I am not like everyone else, and that means you may have to accept something new and different, as my betrothed already has.”. Although it’s later implied that this is actually still a learning process for Xavin and Karolina.
Karolina: “Xavin, I like *you*. I just want you to be *yourself*.”
Xavin: “But I have no idea who I am.”
Xavin performs gender and social roles with their appearance in a manner that is decidedly genderqueer, and how this intersects with Karolina’s identity as a lesbian, and what that identity means, is intentionally brought into question. Xavin is also certainly an individual in conflict with their socialisation as a Skrull Prince, with all that entails.
I can sort of see how you might frame Xavin’s confusion as dislocation from a male identity, but I’m still not seeing it: and there’s that series of panels with a literal, visual, peeling back of layers as they confess this to Karolina. I don’t think Xavin is ever discomforted with being female, but I can think of many moments when they feel discomforted at being perceived as *feminine*, except around Karolina; and Molly, who calls them on it:
“Dude, are you kidding? You’re kinda annoying but you’re probably the only person on earth who thinks about other people first. I don’t care *what* shape you are…you’re totally my sister now.”
tl;dr = Xavin is totes genderqueer/gender fluid imo.
(sorry this is long: I have so many Xavin feels :X )
Gonna quickly add that the dimension that Xavin is also a social/cultural exile is important when it comes to the identity question too!
Headcannon is what it is, but it resonated with me and still does. I’m curious about your comment about Young Avengers: was it something Kieron Gillen talked about?
I know my Canadian is showing, but what about Anne Shirley? A spunky orphan that manages to win over almost everyone she meets, she works hard and pursues a post-secondary education and career when such was rare.
Also she had “bosom friends”. Honorary subtext?
Aud in Nicola Griffith’s books is a kickass queer heroine…she’s trained in martial arts but is also smart, nearly fearless, and cool as a cucumber.
Max in Dark Angel is…more kickass than inspirational, to be honest. I mean she fights injustice or whatever but also does it a lot in a black catsuit? (also I’m pretty sure she made me queer…those may or may not be related.)
and Alanna and Daine from the Tortall series (and Buri and Onua) definitely had an impact on me when I was growing up, as strong female characters.
My first thought when Agents of SHIELD was announced was that Lucy Lawless should be on it.
Yay Xena! That was the first moment in my childhood I realized women could be strong and independent. And really really gay. I’m now planning to go to Xena Con for the third year in a row now that I am also a strong, independent adult woman who doesn’t listen to other people when my fangirl is showing.
What about miss Lisbeth Salander? Talk about strong woman kicks ass and takes names? Not to mention has her own book series, and movies in both Swedish and American. Def worth a mention!
Good list, though a bit Buffy-heavy.
Eowyn from Lord of the Rings, who kills the Lord of the Nazguls is a good fantasy one.
Jadzia Dax from Deep Space Nine, who is kind of transgender (well, there’s a symbiote involved) and bisexual.
Luna Lovegood from Harry Potter, very cool weird girl who was comfortable in her own skin. Although Hermione is enough Harry Potter.
Peppermint Patty. Anne of Green Gables.
And no Scully!?
Scully was hard to leave off, but her story gets pretty sketchy in later seasons. All the Scully love, though.
AAAAAAHHHHHH WHAT WHERE’S THE LIONESS?? Okay, but seriously, so excited a Tamora Pierce character made it on the list! Love a good strong female lead, love literature; so this post is perfect. Of course my lifelong fictional female heart will always belong to Scarlett O’Hara…
Thank you for including Kel!
I love those books so much and have re read protector of the small so many times :) All of Tamora’s other main characters are awesome as well, but Kel is one of my favourites.
River Song from Doctor Who, anyone?
Also, I totally want to read Huntress now.
The only one who I think was left off the list is Aeryn Sun from Farscape.
Definitely shortlisted. <3
What about Veronica Mars?
I agree, I love that show! Totally made me buy a bunch of graphic t-shirts which I look bad in because I have big boobs. Fun story.
Veronica Mars is amazing but:
a) Not technically sci-fi/fantasy
b) The third season really fucked the pooch re: victim blaming and rape culture and feminist stereotypes which was so disappointing.
Yes on Veronica Mars. I have problems with her, mostly how she seems to want to be more one of the guys than be around ladies but hey, maybe you can chalk that up to a traumatic response to what happened to her best friend. Definitely worth discussing.
…alright, at the risk of being ridiculed, I’m going to add ‘basically any of the girls from Homestuck’ here. I’m literally sitting here trying to decide what one to suggest and I can’t decide. I’m going to go with Aradia Megido, who has one of my favourite arcs in the series, but it’s a close call.
So many kickass ladies. So many.
No, I totally agree! I wouldn’t have thought to say Aradia, but she DOES have a great arc.
My votes are on Jade and Roxy but really many of them could be on here.
What, no Aeryn Sun? I know Farscape is kind of esoteric, but seriously, you will love it. And her.
All the other women on Farscape kick ass as well (and it’s one of the few space opera shows that ends up having more women than men in the main cast by the end), but seriously, Aeryn. All of the Aeryn.
Also, Katara and Toph from Avatar the Last Airbender.
…and Susan Ivanova from Babylon 5. Not only a kick-ass character, but canonically bisexual and canonically had a relationship with another woman. In 1995. (It flew over a lot of people’s heads and it’s done very subtly, but it is canon.)
(Seriously, everyone. Watch Farscape. You will not regret it.) (And Babylon 5.)
Everything is BtVS and nothing hurts.
But also I want to show some love for Ellen Ripley for being one of the all time great kick ass ladies. Especially in Aliens where her maternal instinct fuels her with a strength and fearlessness that surpasses any space marine.
Okay, there are two ways to parse the sentence: “Kel is the first known female to sign up to become a knight.”
1) Kel is the first girl in history to sign up for knight training. (FALSE)
2) Kel is the first girl-people-knew-was-a-girl to sign up for knight training. (TRUE)
Why is this important? Because Alanna, Kel’s predecessor, was seriously kick-ass and in my opinion a much more interesting heroine than Kel. Kel is just a little too good, too selfless; she just isn’t as relatable and real.
My list of important kick-ass female superheroines that should be on this list:
1. Alanna (from the Alanna series by Tamora Pierce)
2. Starbuck/Kara Thrace (from the new Battlestar Galactica)
3. Dana Scully (from the X-Files)
4. Katsa (from Graceling by Kristin Cashore)
5. Fire (from Fire by Kristin Cashore)
6. Bitterblue (from Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore)
7. Beka Cooper (from The Legend of Beka Cooper series by Tamora Pierce)
8. Arya Stark (Game of Thrones book series; no clue about the tv show)
9. Sassinak (from Sassinak by Anne McCaffrey)
10. Kylara Vatta (from the Vatta’s War series by Elizabeth Moon)
11. Jordan O’Neill (played by Demi Moore in GI Jane)
12. Tris (from Divergent & Insurgent by Veronica Roth)
13. Olivia Benson (from Law & Order: SVU)
But yay for Buffy-Tara-Faith-Willow-Echo-Zoe!!!!
I’ve actually been on a kick of re-watching/re-reading all my favorite shows/books with kickass female superheroines. Right now, these awesome women just make my life so much better!!
Looking at the above list, though, I think the heroines that really influenced me growing up were Alanna, Buffy, Scully, and Sassinak. The rest I sadly discovered later on (or were written/made later on).
I had a hard time growing up because I was big and strong for a girl, but wasn’t a tomboy. I very much felt like I didn’t fit until I found Buffy and Scully, who were kick-ass and feminine.
[P. S. I should have mentioned that Olivia Benson on SVU is played by Mariska Hargitay, who is quite inspirational in real life. Also Scully = Gillian Anderson = <3]
YOU GUYS. Pretty much any heroine in Merecedes Lackey’s Valdemar/Velgarth books. Especially Kethry and Tarma from The Oathbound/Oathbreakers/Oathblood. Kethry is a noble-born sorceress and Tarma is a Goddess-sworn swordswoman. They go around righting wrongs done to women (for money, hopefully. Most of the time because of Kethry’s magic sword). I’ve been on a Valdemar binge lately. There are several gay and lesbian characters in her books, and their sexuality is typically no big thing which is awesome.
Éowyn! Éowyn! Éowyn! Éowyn! Éowyn! Éowyn! ;)
Also: I think it used to be sort of mandatory for gay ladies to be in love with the warrior princess? At the time I never really got the obsession* my ex had with Xena but now I sort of do.
*And I mean obsession. She used to write and record songs about the series and performed them at conventions, even. (If you’re reading this: Hi, Theo! I really kind of get it now! ;)) Some of her stuff is still up at DocCovington.net if any of you wanna check it out.
I’d also throw in Starbuck, Athena, Kat, and Duala from Battlestar Galactica. And that’s only partly because I have an enormous crush on Starbuck. I love that there were so many strong female characters on that show, and it’s wasn’t even a thing. Nobody said anything like “Can you believe it? Starbuck is the best pilot ever, and she is a WOMAN!” It was just sort of common knowledge that women were as capable as men.
I forgot Laura Rosyln too.
And most importantly 6. I’m not kidding, 6. She’s an inspiration.
First of all – her total dignity, pride and sense of self in the face of being denied even personhood.
Gaius: so you are a machine? and this was all a pretense?
6: No i’m a woman. And a Cylon. And it was all real.
To see her cool is an inspiration, seeing it backed by nuclear weapons and a Basestar or two is a feel good message.
Secondly – Even though 6 is straight i can’t help but see her femininity along the lines of a queer femme. She’s does not fit a lazy feminine steretype, quite the other way around – she’s one of the emotionally hardest, most logical and determined characters in Battlestar (attracted to Gaius as her complementary, a diametrical opposite). And her femininity is neither a disguise nor something default – hence i can’t help but see her embracing it in a very deliberate, reflected and personal way. Also, she’s taller, heavier and more muscular that Starbuck (which showed in their one-on-one is s2) but artfully never comes across that way. Queer femme icon if i have ever seen one.
I AM SO GLAD SOMEONE PUT GINNY IN HERE.
Seriously, Ginny gets a lot of hate and I’m not sure why except that she had the audacity to make out with a few people. If anything, she handles being pursued by Harry the emo boy of all caps with the disturbing lust chest monster with grace and she can wield one hell of a bat-bogey hex, not to mention survives being possessed by Voldemort and barely gets asked if she’s okay.
Also, really really glad someone else appreciated Dollhouse’s tackling of misogyny. Most of my friends were like “THIS IS EXPLOITATION WTF” when it came out and didn’t realize that it was trying to make a point, which I think it does actually rather well even as things get crazy. Albeit with probably a necessary trigger warning, especially for Sierra’s storyline. (Side note: Sierra/Priya should probably be on here too. Or maybe I’m biased because Dichen Lachman *____*)
So happy to see San and Echo on here!
I had to miss this panel on the mountain, so I’m super glad it’s here online as well! I agree with everyone on this amazing list, as well as everyone’s comments above!
As well as all the amazing people mentioned in the comments, I’d like to add Samantha Carter from Stargate SG-1 (military professional/scientist/badass), and Sansa Stark (badass within the societal constructs of the GoT world). It always makes me sad when ppl recognize Arya’s badassry but overlook Sansa!
Sansa Defenders Unite <3
so envious that geneva (@onthetracks) has already had time to hop in here and respond to y’all. so excited that everyone had so many feelings about this. so grateful for the 50ish humans who attended our panel on the mountain and engaged in an AWESOME discussion that made me think so so so much. so ready to get home from work tonight (ugh) and finally participate in this comment thread for real. SO IN LOVE WITH SO MANY FICTIONAL KICKASS HEROINES.
I’m surprised that Kel was on this list yet her precursors, mentors and inspiration from previous book series by the same author, that take place in the same universe, weren’t mentioned.
First and foremost, let us not forget Lady Alanna, the first Lady Knight. Pretends to be a boy in order to become a Knight, before it is eventually revealed she is female, wherein she then becomes known as the Woman Who Rides Like A Man and she takes the Lioness Rampant as her sigil. All around badass and pioneer to the ladies of the Tortall Universe.
Then my personal favourite would have to be Veralidane “Dane” Sarasri. Starts out as nothing more than some bastard child, then orphaned by a rabid bear. She possesses a rare kind of magic, Wild Magic which allows her to speak to animals and eventually heal them as well as shapeshift. By the end of it she’s befriending dragons, defeating evil emperor mages, and fighting against immortal beings. Also it turns out she was the daughter of a god all along.
Actually all of Tamora Pearce’s heroines are pretty stellar.
I kinda wish there would have been some other Dollhouse ladies on here. Echo’s ok, but Sierra is so much more of an intriguing character to me and her original self Priya survives and gets through some serious shit. Not to mention Adelle DeWitt being a kick ass lady who takes care of her house.
i do love the inclusion of Faith, she gets a lot of shit sometimes, but wow character development and badass-ness.
I do second the comments about Kara Thrace/Starbuck and Laura Roslin from BSG, and Ellen Ripley.
We could all talk forever about awesome ladies that deserve to be on this list though. Haha.
Great article, love seeing Hermione and the Buffy girls on the list!
Myka Bering and Helena G Well and Utena,and hell, even Helena from Orphan Black.
HG is unapologetic and twisted and genius and kick ass and awesome.
Myka is your super nerdy eidetic memory kickass sword savy super secret agent.
Utena wileds a sword, dresses and behaves like a prince and fights for her princess.
And Helena..well, Helena is super twisted and evil and whatnot,but she survived horrific abuse for basically her entire life and she’s the rockstar who keeps busting her twin sister out of tight spots and survives basically anything cause that’s how kickass she is.She’s a survivor in every sense of the word.
And Carrie Mathieson and Sydney Bristow for Team Cia.
P.S.I strongly doubt Mononoke is a Disney Princess in any sense of the phrase.
Really I was only led to this because I searched “Willow and Tara” (I’ve been on a hardcore Buffy marathon lately), but then I read the whole list and I give all the approval. Brienne of Tarth is one of my favorite characters and it also makes me really happy to see that other people have read Malinda Lo books.