Hello, I’m a unicorn. Zoey Redbird from Marked is a terrible protagonist. I’m just throwing that out there. I know, I was really subtle about it in my last few posts, but it’s true. She’s a terrible character in a terrible book full of so much hatred. There is so much woman on woman hatre in that book that I need a palette cleanser, something that celebrates a variety of women in all shapes and forms. I needed a reminder of my old role models, but there are so many lauded by critics that it would be redundant to list them here. So, in no particular order, here are my top ten female character that don’t nearly get enough attention, whether they are heroes, villains, or somewhere in between.
10. Starfire– No, not that one:
Teen Titans Starfire is the one I grew up on and one of my favorite characters on the show. Even when it had been several years since I’d seen an episode, I still remembered her. There was something so charming about this fish out of water and her unerring optimism. In a culture where women are considered weak and condemned being emotional, she wears her feelings on her sleeves. Her powers directly come from her emotions, and she’s never criticized for that. She’s unafraid to be quirky and goofy, but when she gets serious, she is amazing. I just wish the comics would follow the example set by the show and give her this adorably quirky personality as opposed to the one in Red Hood and the Outlaws.
9. Joss Carter from Person of Interest– (Spoilers) She’s a tough, no-nonsense cop who started out as the Inspector Javert to the two protagonists, but over time, she slowly saw their side of things. For a while, she was the only regular female cast member, and an awesome one at that. She’s a veteran, a single mother, one of the few non corrupt cops in the NYPD, and a brilliant strategist. In her final episodes, she single-handedly took down the group of dirty cops called HR, which had been a problem for the team from the start. She acted as the team’s moral compass, preventing them from going too far and crossing any morality lines. By season three, I was sad to see her go. Whether or not she was stuffed in the refrigerator is something I’ll leave up to you to decide.
8. Stahma Tarr From Defiance– She is the resident Lady Macbeth of the show, the snake in the grass, the taste of bitter almonds in your meal, and the epitome of the saying, “behind every great man is an even greater woman.” Stahma comes from a very patriarchal society that would not respect her intellect, so she schemes from behind the scenes while maintaining the image of the perfect wife. Her demure nature hides her dangerous ambition, and I just love her for it. She’s never shown to be physically strong enough to fight, but she’s easily the most clever character on the show. She’s smart enough to stay on the good sides of the heroes and the villains and to run her husband’s criminal empire without him even realizing it. She just has an incredible presence to her, making her such a memorable villain.
7. Captain Holly Short From Artemis Fowl– She is the first female member of the Lower Elements police reconnaissance unit– or LEP Recon unit– of the fairy world and certifiably awesome. In her first appearance, she defeats a troll on her own while running out of magic. Even though she spends the majority of the first book a prisoner, she escapes pretty quickly from her cell, and practically rescues herself. This is the only time she needs to be rescued. She’s a great pilot, an expert markswoman, has an acid tongue, and in universe, paved the way for other women to be members of LEP Recon. All in all, she’s one heck of a role model.
6. Countess De Winter From the Three Musketeers– I would be remiss without mentioning one of my all time favorite femme fatales, Milady De Winter. She is easily the most evil character that the Musketeers ever faced and is definitely the true antagonist of the book. It’s obvious why Cardinal Richelieu chose her as one of his top agents. Her cunning is legendary. There is a part of the book where she is held prisoner by the Duke of Buckingham and guarded by a straight laced Puritan who they thought would never be seduced by her. She instead convinces the man that she is also Puritan and being held prisoner for rejecting the Duke’s advances and has him kill the Buckingham. Ever since the age of sixteen, she’s used her powers of seduction to achieve her own ends, and all of it in a time where women had very little power. She, like Stahma, is one of those characters that I don’t necessarily like, but I definitely respect for her cunning, her strength, and paving the way for other femme fatales.
5. Thirrin Freer Strong in the Arm Lindensheild From Cry of the Icemark– Thirrin is a princess who, after her father dies in battle, must make peace with her kingdom’s former enemies and create an army to protect her land from an invasion. She, of course, wins the day, and is a skilled enough warrior to defeat the invading army’s most feared general in single combat, and all at the age of fourteen. In the opening of the book, she is pinned by a werewolf, and reacts by punching it in the nose and telling the creature to “make it quick wolfman, and make sure all the wounds are in front. I don’t want anyone saying that I died running away.” This is the second line of dialogue she has in the book, and makes Merida from Brave look like your run of the mill damsel in distress. Unlike Merida though, she does have a romantic interest, but for once in a YA book, the romance is downplayed. Thirrin actually has her priorities straight, and her priority is the fact that her kingdom is about to be invaded. Even when her love interest nearly dies, she continues onward, knowing that others would die if she didn’t keep it together. I honestly can’t think of very many pubescent YA female characters who would do that without having some sort of freak out. So, Thirrin Freer strong in the Arm Lindensheild, Wildcat of the North, Queen of Impossibly long names, I salute you, for having your priorities straight, and for being an all around awesome protagonist.
4. Renee Montoya From the Pre New 52 DC Comics– Renee is a good cop in a city full of corruption. She started out as a cop from Batman the Animated Series, but her she was just too great a character to be limited to that show, and moved to the comics. She’s also one of the most prominent Hispanic and LGBT characters in the DCU. Over the years, she’s been put through a lot– alcoholism, losing her partners, being forcibly outed as lesbian, being rejected by her family, and having the mark of Cain put on her– but still came out stronger. She even became a superhero in her own right. I admire her so much for her ability to overcome all of those hardships.
3. Amanda Waller From The DCAU– She was 5’1″ and 200 pounds of pure intimidation. Here she is telling off Batman:
And fighting Granny Goodness:
I mostly know her from Justice League Unlimited, where she was the leader of Cadmus and every bit as brilliant and ruthless as a pragmatic villain should be. She’s also indirectly responsible for Terry McGinnis ending up the hero that he did, so we can also thank her for Batman Beyond. A part of the reason why I chose this version of “the Wall” instead of the New 52 version is her unique body type. This is a world where every main female character is a young twig, so she stands out as a character who is middle aged and had a different body type, but never fat shamed, used as comic relief or portrayed as insecure about her weight. She is who she is, and she is cunning, ruthless, and intimidating enough to quell Batman.
2. Karai From TMNT 2003–
Wow, I totally did not see that coming.
I know, I’ve talked a few times before about one of my favorite characters on my favorite cartoon, but she really deserves mentioning again, because this was one of the first characters I had ever seen in an anti-villain role. For a while, she was the most complex villainess I had ever been exposed to, and I just loved her for it. The conflict between her undying loyalty to her adopted father, the Shredder, and her sense of right and wrong made her character arc fascinating. She manages to stay on the good sides of the Foot and the Turtles for two seasons, even gaining Leonardo’s respect as a warrior. In the five seasons where she was a major player, she only needed to be rescued twice, and still managed to get a few blows in. The rest of the time she was either a fair weather ally or as seen in season four, an enemy nearly as dangerous as the Shredder. Next to the Turtles, she was easily the most well rounded character, and still one of my all time favorite anti-villains.
1. Barbie: Just Pick One of Her Direct To DVD Movies– Yes, believe it or not, Barbie is an underrated female character. She’s one of the most iconic dolls in history, but when she gets attention, it’s usually bad. The flack she gets ranges from well deserved–like the Oreo and Ritz Cracker doll line– to strange, like the controversy over a doll not having realistic body proportions or the overuse of the color pink. Very rarely do we hear about the good she does and the fact that her movies are actually pretty decent. So what if she likes pink and wears dresses? Every single movie passes the Bechdel test, stresses friendship and compassion, and always has Barbie play an active role in the plot. Barbie is presented as a clever character who would go to the ends of the earth to do what is right, follow her dreams, and help others. In the Princess and the Pauper, she even foregoes marriage to pursue her singing career. In her movies, she shows the young girls that compassion isn’t weakness, and strength is found in kindness, cleverness, and tenacity. She teaches through example that you should always follow your dreams, but to also be willing to sacrifice your own happiness for the good of the world, and teaches us to never act out of anger, but to act out of love. How does that make her a bad female character? I am by no means the type of girl who likes make-up and dresses, but does that make me a stronger woman than the one wearing a pink dress that would give up her one chance at happiness for the good of the world? We live in a culture where women are condemned for expressing their femininity, where they think that being “girly” is somehow wrong or inferior to tomboys, and where women look down on each other for being feminine. It’s a culture where femininity equals shallowness, and being called a girl is considered an insult. And here is Barbie, a woman who loves fashion and celebrates all the often reviled aspects of being a woman, teaching young girls to be who they are, to follow their dreams, show feminine solidarity, and to be the heroes of their own stories. Again I ask, so what if she likes pink?
Great female characters come in many different shapes, sizes, and flavors. They can be cunning, kind, compassionate, ambitious, tenacious or just plain quirky. They can be black, white, Hispanic, Asian, or even aliens. They all have one thing in common. They all overcome whatever challenge that is presented, whether it’s their culture, the acceptance their sexuality, their conflicting loyalties, or just simply having life give them a few hard knocks. These are all characters that I like and respect, whether for their goodness or their less than admirable qualities. I’m sure I missed many great leads and side characters, because there are too many to mention. These are just a few of my favorites. Feel free to mention your own in the comments below. I’m always willing to hear about awesome women. So what are you waiting for? Celebrate the strong women in your own life, because fictional or not, they are all amazing.