In the last fifty years or so, we ladies have focused a great deal on female empowerment. I don’t want to call it feminism, because that term seems to mean so many different things to different people. No, the idea to which I refer is something much simpler: women matter and their choices are their own. So, throughout the years, numerous efforts have been made to depict strong women in media. Some of these have been Rant of Rage abhorrent, while others have become the product of my obsessive fangirling: i.e. the only reason Gail could ever tell you who Buffy and Angel were… and Nathan and Haley… and Jamie and Claire…
That girl stuck by my side even after I made her play the Buffy the Vampire Slayer video game… and described in detail my plans for who would be together in my Sims game. There were charts. To be fair, though, she did talk about politics an awful lot for a fifteen-year-old girl. I cannot unhear those National Youth Rights Association tangents.
Pictured: not us
So, not only is it a librarian job requirement to be able to name strong female leads (or pathetic attempts at them), but it’s also a side effect of my media tunnel vision. I present to you, the worst and best women of fiction.
*** Spoiler alert if you’re unfamiliar with any of the titles… duh. ***
Carrie Bradshaw – Sex and the City
She’s horrified that someone doesn’t love her as much as she loves herself.
I graduated in 2006, from a Southern suburban high school. Like any misfit in overalls, a turtleneck, and ribbon-laced combat boots, I found common misfit ground with the three gay guys in my graduating class. At the time, this pretty much required me to have seen every single episode of Sex and the City; therefore, I am fully informed in my loathing of Carrie Bradshaw. Now, don’t misunderstand me, here. I am not anti-Carrie because of her sexual freedoms. In fact, Samantha was probably my favorite of the four characters. No, my issue with Carrie was her absolutely unforgivable selfishness.
Gail and Malik have always defended Carrie in this argument, insisting that her impossible self-absorption was the point. I get it. Real women are flawed. Miranda is a workaholic. Samantha is emotionally unavailable. Charlotte is painfully idealistic. None of these compare, however, with the utterly horrifying extremity of Carrie’s self-absorption. For example, there was the time she…
1. … cheated on her boyfriend, ultimately breaking up with him on her friend’s wedding day.
2. … got angry with her boyfriend for insisting she stop seeing the man with whom she cheated.
3. … threw a tantrum when one of her best friends wouldn’t loan her money after she’d spent years proving she was bad with money.
4. … knowingly slept with a married man, then confronted his now ex-wife for telling people about it, after causing her to fall down the stairs and break a tooth.
5. … became so focused on the materialism and fame of her wedding that she completely ignored the groom’s vocalized discomfort over both.
6. … blamed one of her best friends for her having been left at the alter, despite having ignored the groom’s vocalized discomfort.
These are just the plot points I remember from ten years ago, but they certainly qualify as evidence that Carrie Bradshaw was an absolutely disgusting and offensive portrayal of a woman who chose to forgo the suburban soccer mom path.
Andrea – The Walking Dead
This gif is just so watchable, because she’s tied up and gagged.
One of the best things about the current apocalypse craze is the chance to see some badass heroines. I mean, what woman wouldn’t want her daughter to look up to the brave and selfless Katniss Everdeen? That gal had moxie, y’all. Sadly, however, some of the efforts toward a strong female lead have fallen far short… as with Andrea.
When I first started watching The Walking Dead, I knew little about the fan preferences, such as the fact that the audience violently hated both Lori and Andrea. Just a few episodes in, however, I was confused. Why was everyone so sympathetic to Andrea over her loss? For realz, yo, it’s the zombie apocalypse. Every person in this camp has lost everyone they’ve ever loved in the last thirty days. Rub some sand in your vagina and get on with life.
As the show progressed, it was painfully obvious that the writers wanted Andrea to become the fan favorite she was in the comics… and failed. Instead of holding her own with the men, as guardian of the camp, she accidentally shot a member of her own team, got left behind after the zombie attack, and ended up solely dependent on Michonne for protection, putting her and everyone in their makeshift family in grave danger, because of Andrea’s idiotic decision-making skills. By this point, I can only assume the writers had given up hope on “Team Andrea” t-shirt sales, because they killed her off, despite the fact that her comic book character is currently alive and well. Personally, I don’t think she went painfully enough. I wanted her eaten from the feet up for being such a weak and selfish representation of a woman in crisis.
Robin Scherbatsky – How I Met Your Mother
Stab her. Please stab her now.
Robin, Ted’s obsession in How I Met Your Mother, was originally driven, confident, straight-forward, and disinclined to pursue a traditional family life. She was initially a decent portrayal of a woman who didn’t know exactly what she wanted, but knew exactly what she didn’t want. As the series moved along, however, she quickly became overly brash and masculine, calling to mind the 1990’s ball-busting career woman stereotype, in an ugly gray power suit. You can’t be successful and feminine. You have to burp in public and eat ribs in your sleep.
Despite everything she claimed to want, Robin ended up repeatedly dating Ted, a man who clearly specified that he had completely different goals in life. She met a few men along the way, always ending things for horribly insulting reasons, and eventually ended up dating and even marrying/divorcing one of Ted’s best friends. For realz? You’re breaking up the band, Yoko! In addition to mistreating the people closest to her, we even got to see Robin’s outright abuse of a friend, as she treated her like a hated slave for comic relief.
Ultimately, in a show with only two leading female characters, one of whom was an artistic, sweet, kindergarten teacher, who married her college sweetheart, it was just insulting to women to see the only portrayal of a career-minded single gal as a flighty, self-absorbed, butch, bitch. I won’t even mention the fact that The Mother was just a stand-in for her, making the entire series a complete waste of time, as Ted does eventually end up with her.
Endora – Bewitched
She doesn’t need a man to make her drink.
When I was little, I watched an unhealthy amount of television, particularly during the Nick at Nite Block Party Summer event. I am pretty sure that I was the only eight-year-old who not only watched every single episode of Bewitched, but considered it an absolute favorite. In hindsight, however, I will say that I couldn’t have chosen a better woman to look up to than Endora.
By today’s standards, Endora was independent, diabolical, and unafraid to speak her mind. The fact that her character existed in the 1960’s however, makes her an even more impressive heroine. She was all of the above and she was powerful in a way no other character was, male or female. She was more powerful than Samantha, Aunt Clara, Uncle Arthur, Cousin Serena and even able to go head to head with her own husband. Furthermore, despite the understanding of the time, that a woman essentially becomes her husband’s property, Endora never let go of her insistence that Darren was attempting to quell a natural part of her daughter. She was willing to concede to her daughter’s wishes (mostly), but at no point did she back down and tell Darren that it was acceptable to stifle Samantha. She was relentlessly mischievous and meddlesome, often stealing the show in a time when women weren’t usually able to do so.
Hermione Granger – Harry Potter Series
I’d have totally practiced those spells, in secret.
As a librarian, there are a lot of reasons I despise most of the reading programs implemented in American schools. One of the primary reasons, though, is that I was assigned a 9th-12th grade reading level in the 6th grade and was only allowed to receive credit for books at an 8th grade level and higher. Translation: I could read Harry Potter with the other kids, but I couldn’t get any credit like the other kids. Well, Hermione Granger is absolute proof that there’s more to be had from reading than an improved vocabulary.
I desperately wish I’d read the Harry Potter series in middle school, reading points be damned. Not only was I obsessed with magic, even then, but I’d have benefited a great deal from knowing Hermione Granger. School always came effortlessly to me, pretty much until graduate school and I’ll tell you right now, that doesn’t make you the most popular girl in the 6th grade… especially if you’re willing to announce it to the room in true Hermione Granger style. I have never been willing to deny my intelligence and will, to this day, quote Professor Snape and admit that I am “an insufferable know-it-all.” I mean, it’s pretty much a job requirement now. Not only was Hermione smart, she was also loyal, brave, more than capable of overcoming That Awkward Stage, and she could throw a decent punch. More than anything, though, I needed someone to tell me that it was cool to be smart, as opposed to punishing me for it by not allowing me to read Harry Potter for credit.
Buffy Summers – Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Gaia Moore – Fearless)
If I try this, I will accidentally stab myself and die.
I was actually pretty torn on this one. I wanted to say Gaia Moore, from Francine Pascal’s Fearless series. She was a seventeen-year-old badass with no fear and an inability to relate to her peers and coupling my inability to relate to my peers with no fear would have been the shit. You, my readers, likely have no idea who that is, though. Instead, I’ve chosen a heroine that was both similarly and equally significant to me: Buffy Summers.
At fifteen, I climbed on the Buffy Bandwagon pretty late in the game, just as the series ended. It started with watching a few episodes before school and quickly morphed into saving my pennies to buy all of the seasons on DVD and constantly quoting it to Gail as she read The Communist Manifesto in our Pre-AP English class.
“Does this sweater make me look fat?”
“No. The fact that you’re fat makes you look fat. That sweater just makes you look purple.”
Buffy Summers was the perfect representation of a woman who could be both feminine and strong. She was a babbler who said the wrong thing a lot, hung out with the misfits, and just really wanted to be normal, despite having a pretty rocky home life. At fifteen, I related to that in a huge way. Not only that, but Buffy never pretended to be less than she was. Not once did that gal hand over a pickle jar that she could damned well open herself. Buffy taught girls to be proud of what they bring to the table and to own it, even if the boys quail. She was also an endlessly selfless character, giving up all hope for a normal life to save people. Furthermore, she was just a generally good friend, daughter, and whatever the hell she was to Giles. Sure, she was kind of a shitty girlfriend, but even that was a lesson that sometimes, love doesn’t go the way you want and life goes on… because Joss Whedon is kind of an asshole.