Great Female Characters? Here’s My List!

My last blog post (please read it) was kind of half rant, half personal exposition.  A fellow pop-culture blogger, Angry Mongo, commented asking me a fantastic question that I thought I’d love to answer in blog form.  For the record, Angry Mongo’s blog is about 100x better than this one, so if you’re reading me, you should be reading him!  He writes more frequently and his content is witty, relevant and an overall really good read.

He writes:

So, I have to ask, in a pop culture world with too many Black Widows and not enough Ripley’s, who are your favorite heroines in media? Did you cheer or roll your eyes at the thought of President Glitch rather than Princess Vanellope? Does the fact that they try to make Felicity Smoak (Arrow) and Velma from Mystery Inc. out to be the “sexy nerds” anger women? Can COD ever have a female character play a prominent combat role in future titles?

This guy speaks my language!  To be clear, I don’t think that any “feminine” female character is inherently bad.  My opinion is that any female character need to be “herself”, meaning that she’s not a certain way because that is what society expects of her.  If she’s feminine, weak and stupid, that’s okay.  As long as that is her character, and not just her standard position as a female.

I guess I feel like, although Black Window gets shafted as a character, so does Hawkeye so I try to tell myself that it’s because of runtime constrictions and not bad writing… even though Black Widow has been in more movies than Hawkeye… let’s just try to give the writers benefit of the doubt.  Then again, if every female character was written like Ripley from the Alien movies, it would be not only unbelievable but also tiresome and static.  In general, I don’t mind “sexy nerds”; I think there are sexy nerd male characters as well so I guess at least it’s equal.  And no, COD will never have a female character in a prominent combat role, because that’s simply not their target audience.  More males play video games than females; I believe that’s a firm statistic, and the writers of video game plots simply know who pads their pockets.  I don’t know if that’s misogynistic or just marketing.  Is it ageism that the makers of Legos advertise to children and not to the 35+ group?  No; it’s just marketing.

In general, to meet my qualifications of a great female character, they must have the majority of their conversations about things other than men, and they must not be defined by their gender (i.e. could this character be male and still be in the same or a similar situation?).  That being said, I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite female characters of all time, and I don’t mind telling you exactly why they’re well-written, modern females who any girl should be proud to look up to.  These are in no particular order…

Juno MacGuff, “Juno”:  Ok, so the character of Juno, the unwed teen mom, obviously wouldn’t be in her situation without a guy around, but I still say she’s a hero.  Why?  She thinks for herself.  She tries to do what’s right, no matter what those around her are saying.  She respects the opinions of others, ultimately sees things clearly and with a level head, and makes decisions that are mature, clever, and not self-serving.  Juno is a hero in her own right; what can easily be seen as a mistake (her pregnancy) has been turned around into many eventually positive things simply because of Juno’s perspective and way of dealing with things.

Marion Ravenwood, “Raiders of the Lost Ark”:  We all remember the scene in the bar in Nepal, right?  Marion Ravenwood literally drinks the bar patrons under the table to win bets.  But besides that, let’s think about Marion’s life for a minute.  Her father was the mentor to Indiana Jones.  That tells me that she’s basically just as educated, just as experienced and just as cultured as Indy himself.  They grew up together; Indy, Abner and Marion going on digs and studying artifacts… they were family for a period of time, and although Marion was in love with Indiana, after he left she guarded herself accordingly.  She ran her father’s bar in Nepal, so she’s got business skills.  She was witty enough to gain wagers against her alcohol tolerance to make some extra cash.  She knew how to use the power of being female to her advantage, as we see in the scene with Belloq in the tent.  The way I see it, there could have been movies made about Marion Ravenwood, her life as a child learning archeology along side her father and a devilishly handsome older teen, her life in Nepal, running the tavern and dreaming of coming back to the states, then her eventual return and her running her bar in 1940’s New York, and raising Mutt as a single mom with help only from the eccentric but well-meaning Oxley.  Marion Ravenwood is actually THE SHIT and deserves her rank as #1 on my list.  For the record, I’m not as crazy about her character development in the more recent Indy flick (feel free to ask me for details on how I feel the real Marion Ravenwood would have raised Mutt)… but my summary of her character overall remains.

Hermione Granger, The “Harry Potter” books and movies:  Hermione is in the top half of a lot of the “Female Character” lists floating around the internet, but I feel like many people think that she’s a role model only for the nerd crowd and that couldn’t be farther from the truth.  To be honest, I think her situation reflects and represents the struggle that many people go through when they feel that they don’t belong somewhere because of race, ethnicity, religion, heritage or culture.  Due to the fact that Hermione is “muggle-born” which means her parents have no magic abilities at all, she’s looked down on by a lot of the wizarding community.  As anyone who’s been a victim of prejudice knows, the key to getting past it is resilience, persistence, staying true to yourself, and proving yourself valuable when given the opportunity.  These things, in addition to NOT having a chip on her shoulder, make Hermione a great female character.  Also… if you’ll notice… she rarely needs help from Ron and Harry and in fact ends up saving their asses more often than not.

Sarah Connor, “Terminator” & “T2: Judgement Day”:  She was just a totally normal 80’s chick when she got thrown into a war that she herself would never get to fight.  Time travel plot holes aside, Sarah Connor went from girl-next-door to total war machine in a matter of years, because once she became a mother she wanted her son to be as prepared as possible for his militaristic future.  Locked in the mental hospital for years, she refused to go soft.  Working out relentlessly every day, shaping her bod into unbelievable kick-assery, and shaping her mullet into one hell of a ponytail while she was at it.  Go, mom!

Cher Horowitz, “Clueless”:  This blonde, ditzy beauty doesn’t top many lists of best female characters… she may be a rich beverly hills teen hottie, but when you remove the fluff and look at her character, it’s hard not to give the girl some credit.  Sure, many of her deeds are self-serving at first, but as we get to know Cher better we realize that her value system and desire for harmony in general is really on point, and although she’s sheltered and seemingly shallow at times, she’s an accurate representation of a popular high school girl who comes from money.  And you know, being a popular girl who comes from money isn’t always sunshine and butterflies; those girls need role models too!  We can see in this movie that Cher is not all selfish; she REALLY wants her driver’s license, and we can see that she completely screws up her driving test simply because she feels “icky” about a social situation.  My takeaway from the movie is that anyone, no matter how young and dumb, can make a difference in people’s lives and if you can put aside your selfishness, even temporarily, you’ll see that there’s a lot more to others than just what brand their shoes are.

Clarice Starling, “Silence of the Lambs”:  One of my favorite things about Clarice (other than the way Hannibal says her name… admit it, you hear his voice every time you see the word… Clarice… Clarice… Hello, Clarice…) is that she’s SO real.  She’s not a badass incarnate (see Sarah Connor in T2), she’s just a young girl who has something to prove.  She’s afraid, but perseveres anyway because she’s brave and wants to prove to everyone, most of all herself, that she’s got what it takes for the FBI.  She works her ass off to be sure that she won’t be outdone by anyone else, regardless of their sex.  She pushes herself mentally, physically, and psychologically to stay ahead of her peers, her supervisor, Buffalo Bill, and Dr. Hannibal Lecter.  The odd thing is that none of these people really see her as equals… except Lecter.  In a way, he pushes her in the same ways that she pushes herself.  Think harder, be better, run faster…  and she wins the day due to facing and eventually conquering her fears.

Ellen Ripley, “Alien” & “Aliens”:  OMG she tops every single list ever.  She’s amazing, no doubt.  I don’t feel the need to explain this one since every other blog on the planet which has published a list similar to this one has already done it for me.  She’s just awesome, okay?  You can go and read a full character analysis of her on thousands of other blogs, so I don’t feel the need to re-write history.

Irene Adler, many “Sherlock Holmes” books, movies and television shows:  The most recent incarnation of Ms. Adler (BBC’s ‘Sherlock’) slated her as a dashing and bold dominatrix, and many thought that was quite a stretch for the character.  Directly previous to that, she was little more than a love interest to RDJ’s Holmes in Guy Ritchie’s version.  However, the truth is, these newer interpretations of Adler are more “old fashioned” than how the author, Arthur Conan Doyle, ever wrote her.  The way that Doyle wrote her character is far more progressive.  In Doyle’s story, Adler is able to outwit Holmes twice, and she doesn’t do it by using her body, sex, or anything of the sort.  She simply matches Holmes step for step in brain power.  To top it all off, she is seen in the end as an honorable character who will honor her word; a rare way to view a woman even in some of today’s stories, much less back in those days when the world was ruled only by men and a “man’s handshake” was his promise.  Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy the new takes on Adler’s character, and it’s all in good fun to see Holmes be the sort of character who is viewed as asexual, then see him get his brainpower met by, well, pussy power for lack of a better term.  But for me, I quite prefer Doyle’s version of “The Woman”.

Those are just a few of my favorite fictional women; I didn’t even get to Mary Richards in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”, nor Daria Morgendorffer in “Daria”.  I guess I’ll save those for another time!

– T. Ham


Team Peeta? Team Gale? TEAM FINNICK! Or: An Adult Reads The Hunger Games Trilogy

I just finished reading the final book in the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins.  I blazed through all three books in a matter of weeks, so I highly recommend them as an easy read, even if you don’t typically have time to be the reading type.  Clearly, the books are published by Scholastic, and therefore pushed into the “Young Adult” and “Sci-Fi” genres very quickly…which I think may have been a mistake on both counts.  However, I’m going to review the books one at a time and you’ll see why I think that as you read on.

In the course of about 3 months from August-ish to October-ish, I had four different people tell me “you just HAVE to read this book!”.  When I say four different people, I don’t just mean that they are different people; that’s obvious.  I mean they are REALLY different from each other in their entertainment preferences, religious and political beliefs and moral boundaries.  I have to give the most credit to a good friend of mine who is a middle school teacher.  When she first told me about it, I’d never heard of it.  By the time that the fourth person told me that I HAD to read the book, I had to resist the urge to yell, “OKAY ALREADY!  I’ll read the damn book!”  Not that I dislike reading at all; I’ve just been VERY busy lately…but I digress.

EPIC SPOILER ALERT.  I’m going to talk about the book.  A lot.  Who dies, who lives, the ending, the imagery, the whole deal.  Click elsewhere now if you don’t want to know!

Book One: The Hunger Games
I bought the book feeling a little childish.  Of course I’ve read all the Twilight books and all of the Harry Potter series, but this book didn’t have clout of a pop culture status symbol behind it.  I began reading it that night before bedtime.  Mistake.  I didn’t put it down until around 1am – I was halfway through the book.  I turned pages so quickly I got papercuts.  The end of every single chapter is a cliffhanger, or at least something that piques your interest to the point that you can’t put the book down without flipping a page ahead and reading the first few lines.  As expected, the book reads like a young adult novel.  Although it’s subject matter is a little grotesque at times, I don’t think it’s anything that our youth can’t handle.  Trust me; today’s kids play Modern Warfare 2 and watch Dexter.  They can handle it.  I really enjoyed reading this book.  It was fun, a little dark, and very exciting.  Very worthy of all the praise that surrounds it and I can see why the kids are into it; this makes The Outsiders feel like Willy Wonka (I’m talking about subject matter here; S.E. Hinton was amazing!).  As every chapter ends with a cliffhanger, imagine my surprise when the end of the book was another big cliffhanger.  I had picked up a book that was part of a trilogy and I didn’t even know it!  I had to buy the second one immediately, and when I saw the third one sitting right next to it at the bookstore, I bought them both.  In hardcover.  Ouch!

Book Two:  Catching Fire
Certainly my favorite book in the series.  We start to get a little more into the political aspects of the world that the book takes place in, and we find out more and more about how their government is structured.  We learn about the history of the hunger games and meet previous winners.  It is well balanced with grit and romance and although the characters seem to have grown up a bit, I like them as people and believe in them personally.  I begin to guess at the endings to this trilogy and realize that no outcome will be good; but Harry Potter ended in much the same way.  We meet my favorite character in this book – Finnick Odair.  Sort of a sex symbol, he comes off like a douchebag at first.  But he’s a fun douchebag and when we learn that he can be trusted, he is instantly my favorite (a complete cocky bastard is my favorite character.  What does that tell you about me?).  Some small part of me no longer cares who the female lead picks to spend the rest of her life with because the love story between Finnick and Annie is not only more dynamic and less adolescent, but it’s beautiful in every way and I would love for the author to write a story about their past.  The second book is not unlike the second Star Wars (well, okay, episode five technically) in the way that it’s giving you all the information that you need about the politics, the characters and the relationships to get through book three without having the hangups of in-action explanation.  I know this as I’m reading it, and I’m getting excited.

Book Three: Mockingjay
When I get to book three I’m reeling.  What happened?  Where’s Peeta?  I need details!  The author provides them all in due time, without inundating the reader.  I’m reading along soundly when suddenly, about halfway through the book, I realize that I care less about the characters.  I’m not even sure why.  I’m so torn about how I feel about this book that I am not sure that I can succeed to put it into words – but I’ll try.  For one thing, we’ve known all along that Peeta is a bit of a mama’s boy, even though his mom beats him.  He’s a baker…for God’s sake he decorates cakes for a living.  His idea of rebelling against the government is no fighting, no wars, no casulaties…a complete cease-fire.  Sound like any major group we know of?  Right…he’s a hippie.  I don’t mean that he wears tie-dye and smokes pot all day, I mean that he generally holds a more liberal line of thinking…he’s artistic and affectionate.  He’s not necessarily afraid of fighting, but he sucks at it and he doesn’t want to do it at all.  He thinks that abstaning from violence will quell the capital’s thirst for blood – but just like in the real world, he’s wrong.  Not fighting isn’t going to make them realize that he’s “not just a piece in their games”.  It’s just going to make them kill him and keep moving on.  I love Peeta because of his idealism and his simplistic love for Katniss, but let’s think about who really won the war and kept (almost) everyone alive?  Gale.  Gale did because of his death traps, deadly aim and tactical genius.  Katniss was the only pawn in the war – it was up to her to make a decision.  Peace or war?  Hippies or rednecks?  Democrats or Republicans?  Come on, Katniss!  Well, she didn’t really choose.  She kind of got pushed into war and then hated herself for it.  Her sister got killed in the mix, which was terribly sad for me (at this point in the book I liked her sister more than I liked Katniss).  Somewhere in the mix, we lost Finnick which REALLY made me furious.  About 3/4 through the book, I started feeling rushed – the author was coasting to the end without much detail or thought.  At the finishline, I felt empty.  Unsatisfied.  The ending was reasonable enough, very realistic even.  It was the lack of detail and the complete breakdown of our hero that I feel displaced about.  I cried when Buttercup appeared at Katniss’s house looking for Prim, but I’m not sure why… I think I cried because we lost Prim, who’s life being saved was the only reason for this entire trilogy.  But mostly, I cried for Finnick and Annie, and because I never got to hear more of their story.