Strong Female Characters: A Quiz

Welcome to our newest game show! In honor of International Women’s Day, I felt it was a good time to celebrate fictional women. I’m going to show you pairs of images and have you tell me which one is the strong female character. Simple, right?

Ready? Go!

Zoe from Firefly

Zoe from Firefly or…

PrincessLeiafeminism

Princess Leia from Star Wars.

Answer: Zoe. Not only is she smart and quick on the draw, but she gets a lot of the good lines and is portrayed as tough and unfailingly loyal. Whereas Princess Leia is basically the prize awarded to the hero at the end. Don’t even be fooled by the weapon (that she barely uses in the movies). Princess Peach ain’t got nothin’ on her in the perpetually-being-saved category.

Katnissfeminism

Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games or…

RapunzelFeminism
Rapunzel from Tangled.

Answer: Katniss Everdeen. Yes, Rapunzel is adorable and can sing, and her innocence has a certain appeal. But all she does is follow her heart and paint and sigh about when her life will begin. Even by making her weapon a frying pan, the writers were trying to tie her in to the symbolic place of women in the kitchen. Meanwhile, Katniss defies the usual stereotype of an irrational, emotional woman and makes sacrifices for other female characters (her mother and sister), while the men of the story take a background role.

DaisyBuchananFeminism

Daisy Buchanan from The Great Gatsby or…

BlackWidowFeminism

Black Widow from The Avengers.

Answer: Black Widow. No, the tight costume has nothing at all to do with sexual objectification; it’s simply the most practical outfit for a female sort-of superhero who can inexplicably fight off legions of metal aliens with a tiny handgun. Besides, in the best of liberated modern woman tradition, she’s the one holding all the power in her interaction with men. Daisy Buchanan, on the other hand, is a vapid, lazy blonde who actually says the best thing for a girl to be is “a beautiful little fool.” Outrageous.

EowynFeminism

Éowyn from Lord of the Rings or…

ArwenFeminism

Arwen from Lord of the Rings.

Answer: Éowyn. No, she didn’t get the man…and that’s another point in her favor. She’s a strong, independent warrior woman who don’t need no man! Also, she followed in the time-honored cross-dressing, gender-role-subverting tradition of Mulan, various female Civil War soldiers, and basically every Shakespeare character ever. Unlike Arwen, who spent most of her scenes staring at the camera with echo-y voiceovers, Éowyn actually went out there and did stuff. Like slaying the Witch King while simultaneously finding a loophole in a gender-biased prophecy. See if Arwen could do something like that with her fancy little necklace. (Wait…the books, you say? Who cares about the books?)

MeridaFeminism

Merida from Brave with bow or…

MeridaFeminism2Merida from Brave without bow.

Answer: The Merida with the bow. As soon as you take that away, she is nothing but a long-haired maiden in a pretty dress. No, this is not about making Merida’s animation style match her traditionally animated sisters, nor is it the glam treatment that all Disney princesses go through. This is different. Stop trying to objectify female characters by saying they are worthless without their frilly or bejeweled accessories! Instead, you should acknowledge that female characters are worthless without their weapons. Obviously.

baking2

Me baking or…

Me with spear

Me with a spear.

Answer: Me with a spear. Baking is a traditional woman’s role and you can tell from my expression that I am clearly being forced into it by external pressure. I might as well have captioned it, “Help, help, I’m being oppressed!” Whereas with the spear, I am suddenly the agent of my own destiny, in control of whether the person with the camera lives or dies. Or, since it’s a blunt-tipped prop, whether the person with the camera lives or has a small bruise.

The Point of This Quiz

Classifying a female character as “strong” has nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not that character is complex or well-written. Nope. Every woman who at one point in the story is rescued or even aided by a male lead is an empty-headed, giggling damsel in distress. If we want our daughters to value themselves and their unique talents and abilities, we must make sure that only one type of woman is represented in our films and literature: the independent, brave, ultra-fit, and beautiful one, preferably holding some type of weapon.

This matters to me in a very personal way. Because, you see, I am a strong female character. But only sometimes, only when I am acting in accordance with a certain set of values.

Weapon 2

It really has nothing to do with what activities I like or dislike, or what I believe about gender roles, because those preferences and opinions are probably a result of my indoctrinating upbringing. And it has nothing to do with me being made in the image of God, because that idea is often paired with a stifling complementarian ideology.

So I will resist. I will not enjoy baking. I will not coo or awwww or even crack a smile at the sight of a small child. I will not wear dresses or skirts unless it is perfectly clear that aforementioned dress (usually short and tight) puts me in control of my sexuality by allowing me to flaunt my stuff in front of staring men without acknowledging their existence.

I am a strong female character. Don’t try to box me in.

Axe

Note: The above post is satire inspired by an article about why the female leads of Frozen were not strong female characters and the following  discussion I had about the article with several other women. It’s not a critique of feminism (and definitely not of Christian feminism), just a critique of what a few feminists are saying.

Many feminists, in fact, would agree with me: an interesting woman is a strong female character, one who is portrayed as a person instead of a prop or a trophy.

This includes cookie-baking grandmas, lion tamers, the Proverbs 31 woman, race car drivers, dentists, nuns, and attendants at toll booths. (Also arguably all of the characters in this blog post (though some are better written than others), even Daisy, because, well, listen to the first minute and a half of this video.)

Who’s your favorite female character in a book, movie, or TV show? Why?

14 comments

  1. And, most strong female characters have one thing in common – loathe authority, distrust authority, go around authority. It’s all a 60’s theme. Dad’s a weak minded goofball, Mom holds a PhD in physics and keeps the family together by ignoring Dad, little brother is gross, and sister is rebelious, headstrong, armed and dangerous (but wears tight clothes). Pieces of the formula have been working for 50 years. My fav is Agent Carter from Captain America. She is strong, faithful, patriotic, complicated, and she has a great british accent (which is something else you could blog about).

    1. Jon, the incompetent Dad thing drives me crazy, though sometimes both parents are adorably clueless. Which is still annoying. (Also, British accents do make everything better. Let’s face it.)

  2. one of my favorite female characters is Cimorene from “The Enchanted Forest Chronicles.” She is feisty, practical, and breaking traditions is her favorite hobby. 🙂

  3. I have two: Skeeter Phelan from The Help and Cherry Valance from The Outsiders (both are books and movies). They both have a strong sense of self-worth and identity and won’t let anyone, especially a guy, intimidate or make them feel inferior.

    From Jackson, Mississippi during the 60s, Skeeter has a nontraditional dream of becoming a writer instead of just settling down and getting married like all of her friends did and her mother wants (though she isn’t opposed to marriage if the right guy comes along). She also stands up for injustice even though it’s not popular and loses most of her “friends” in the process.

    Also from a the 60s, in a fictional town based on Tulsa, Oklahoma, Cherry is a high school cheerleader from the “rich side” of town who won’t tolerate stereotypes. She has the sense to leave her boyfriend, the most popular kid in school, when he becomes drunk and demanding, and ends up befriending some “greasers” or guys from the “poor side” of town. She also stands up for some of them in a court case when she could have just walked away like so many others from “her side” of town have. I like that she values friendship and doing what is right over whimsical dating and just going with the flow. The only flaw she has is not talking to one of the greasers in school because their friendship would stand out and look weird (but then again it was sort of a mutual agreement not to let their friendship be known at school).

    1. Skeeter! Oh, I should have had her! She’s the best. A lot of strong female characters in that book, actually. And Cherry sounds really interesting. Class conflict is always one of those places where you see clearly where everyone stands, which instantly ratchets up the tension.

  4. I like that you mentioned Black Widow, but you should give a nod to agent Maria Hill. She took on Loki *and* brainwashed Hawkeye by herself without thinking twice.

    Also, favorite female characters: Aerin from The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley (she becomes a dragon hunter!), Credenza Black from webcomic Archipelago (thearchipelago.smackjeeves.com), and Jo March from Little Women. Aerin’s your Eowyn-type feminist hero, Credenza’s greatest strength is to unite and inspire people (not fight, not be rescued, or cook, though she can do all three), and Jo reminds me a lot of me and is an inspiration.

    1. Maria is pretty cool, I have to agree. You just can’t take that woman by surprise. I think if you informed her that the whole world was being taken over by yodeling octopi, she’d just nod and get to work.

      I hadn’t heard of all the characters you mentioned, but they sound awesome. And I can’t tell you how sad I was growing up that Amy was the bratty little sister. I wanted Jo to change names with her so badly!

  5. Just to throw this in, look at the way that Katniss has her arrow tipped to her bow (outside of her fingers). If she tried to shoot like that, who knows where the arrow would end up!

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