Sunday, March 10, 2013

My Favorite Heroines

Hey everyone! I made a list of my favorite heroines to put up on International Women's Day, and then completely forgot and put up an edition of Gamer Drama instead. So, here I am, fixing that oversight. Here are my five favorite heroines, from all types of media. Following that, I asked my friend Gabrielle to give me her list of five heroines and, boy, did she deliver. I briefly considered going back and making my descriptions longer, but then I looked at all the work I have to do, and decided that you'll have to just enjoy hers more than mine :).

1. Alanna of Trebond and Olau (The Song of the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce)

Alanna was my first real hero. I read the Song of the Lioness quartet when I was in fifth grade, and I wanted to be Alanna. I made myself a sword out of cardboard, and imagined myself on all sorts of adventures. She's powerful, has realistic flaws, and taught me about the value of hard work. She's talented at many things, but had to work or overcome fears to reach that level of aptitude. She has successful relationships, she has relationships that crash and burn, but she's always confident. Part of the reason that the reader becomes so attached to Alanna is that you follow her journey every step of the way, from an eleven-year-old page to blooded knight and King's Champion. Alanna's a loyal friend, an unmatched knight, and my own favorite hero.

2. Buffy Summers (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

I spent many years with Buffy Summers, and while sometimes she would annoy me (see most of Season 6) she was always able to step up and defeat the Big Bad. Buffy has some problems and some flaws, but is more realistic for them. These issues are never permanent, and she is able to overcome issues and develop as a character. She can sometimes be the reluctant hero, but will always end up doing her duty. She's surrounded by friends who keep her from becoming The Job (see the AU in the episode The Wish), and that is ultimately what keeps her invested in it. Her friends and family remind her that the world is worth saving when things get bad. She's dedicated to those around her, even to the point of making the ultimate sacrifice to save the world (not that that lasted long, but still. Good intentions).

3. Zelda (The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time)

In Ocarina of Time, Zelda becomes one of the coolest heroines in video games (probably the coolest if you count only NPCs). Zelda proves herself to be strong, responsible, and capable--except for that little issue where she gets kidnapped near the end. We'll ignore that, though--a trophe is a trophe, and I don't think it takes much away from what she does up to that point in the game. She was able to keep her head while fearing for her life and set our hero on his journey, she guided him later--at great risk to herself--and gave him the tools he'd need to do his part. She's even the reason he lives through the end of the game: otherwise, Link would have died as the castle crumbled. I thought that Sheik was the most bad-ass character ever and, when he was revealed to be Zelda in disguise, I knew I had found a new hero.

4. Silk Spectre II (Watchmen)

Yes, yes, the costume is a little tight, but what superhero's isn't? Silk Spectre II/Laurie may seem like a strange character to put on this list, but hear me out. She's tough, and doesn't flinch when facing a hall of bad guys (or a fiery building). She holds her own in a fight. She embraces her sexuality, but not in a way that's over the top. And she stands up for herself, and refuses to be taken advantage of. All around, a great heroine.

5.  Eowyn (The Lord of the Rings)

As one of three women featured in the Lord of the Rings triology, I became attached to Eowyn pretty early on. She's the only human woman you see, and she actually does something that contributes to the greater good. Galadriel is the Elven sorceress, and therefore unattainable, but you could be Eowyn. Of course, the character is much more fleshes out in the movie. She seems a little out of her league, at first, but rises to the challenges that are put before her. She's attracted to Aragorn, but it doesn't define her. Most importantly, she's the only one at the Battle of Pelennor Field who can defeat the Witch-King of Angmar--an essential part to the victory over Sauron. Why can't we all just be Eowyn?


When Amanda asked me for a list of my top five heroines, I thought it would be pretty easy. But then I actually tried to narrow it down, and I realized I couldn't decide. Not because there aren't a plethora of awesome female characters out there, but because I had trouble coming up with women that serve as the driving force of their own story(arch) without being totally cliche and bland or something. Because let's face it, finding truly strong, admirable female characters is a hard task. There are tons and tons of nifty female characters, but finding ones I'd genuinely call "heroine" isn't nearly as easy. So the following list is in no particular order, and every so often, there are a few caveats. But these all come from various aspects of my nerdry and niche interests. And before you get all angry and huffy at me, I didn't include Buffy because while I'd never say her character is bad, and I do think she's a kickass heroine, I just don't like her as her as much as the ones I went with- I'd want to hang out with all of the ladies on my list, but I wouldn't want to hang with Buffy. That being said, then,  if you aren't familiar with the characters or stories I'm about to address... well, think of a line from this first lady. (Hint: SPOILERS)

1. River Song (Doctor Who

The caveat for her is when I found out she's Amy and Rory's daughter, I was less excited every time she had a scene or was being mentioned. So maybe part of why I my rating of her went down a few notches has to do with my visceral hate for Amy Pond- the thought of River Song coming from her loins shook me beyond belief (believe me, I was filled with anger and despair for a good couple hours). But, you can't help what family you're born into*, and Rory is a pretty awesome dude to have making up part of your zygote. So, half of her ancestry aside, River Song is one of the cleverest, wittiest, badassiest characters I've ever met. All you need to hear is that trademark, " 'Ello, sweetie." And you know the rest of the episode is going to wash you over with so much awesome, you may want to shower when it's over. Sure, she's one of those impossible characters, in the sense that there really isn't anything she's not good at (although we've never seen her try to cook... maybe her weakness is a grilled cheese sammich). But it works for her, and isn't remotely exhausting (as it can be in other situations).  She does so many important things for the story, and being the Doctor's wife (and Amy and Rory's daughter, for that matter) is a very minimal part of that- she helps the Doctor and his companion(s) get out of myriad pinches, provides all sorts of tantalizing teasers for the audience, and is almost always a step ahead in a given situation. And if she's not entirely in control, she takes control, rather than sit back and panic. The moments where she's panicked or upset are some of the most intense moments I've had as a television viewer, because if River f***ing Song is freaked out... it's time to freak out. She's magic- and not in the hokey sense. I admire her intelligence, her ginormous skillset, adaptability, and perseverance. This last one, especially, because her other trademark line, "Spoilers," is just so utterly moving, when you think about it- the first time we meet her is the last time she's alive (in the sense that her actual body is walking around and stuff), and every time we see her subsequently, the knowledge of her eventual fate and what leads to it lies in the background. "Spoilers," isn't just a way of protecting The Doctor- it's a way of protecting herself. 

*I also really had a lot of trouble buying the bit where they ret-conned her as being this uber best friend that had never made an appearance before and then all of a sudden we're supposed to believe she'd been around since Rory and Amy had been kids. That, I try not to even think of- it was just so utterly stupid, was completely unnecessary, and again, there hadn't been any sign this third party had existed until that episode aired. Maybe I would have liked that if it had been written better, but it wasn't, so I don't. So sue me.

2. Emma Woodhouse (Emma by Jane Austen)

I'm going to cheat a little with this one. My first exposure to this character was through the movie Clueless, but be it Cher via Alicia Silverstone, Emma through Gwyneth Paltrow, or the Emma Woodhouse of the pages of the book itself, I've always been drawn to this character. I admire Cher's/Emma's strong desire to see everyone else around her happy, her skills in navigating within the constraints she's under, and her ability to admit fault or being incorrect (once it's shown to her). Also her introspection. She's a thinker, and a giver, and in terms of admirable female characters, she deserves a lot more props than she gets (in my obviously quite humble opinion). Sure, she wants to get married, but she doesn't take just any marriage, and would have been okay not marrying at all in order to care for her dad. Caring for her dad is gendered, too, sure, but hey, she couldn't own her own house, so being an "independent woman" back in her time was impossible. For the time period, Emma really pushes the boundaries of what was considered proper; and Cher is a great modern woman- recall that she does have high academic standards, and while she may argue her way up the GPA scale, the fact that she's being encouraged to do this in the current academic world is STILL, like twenty years after that movie was made, kind of batsh*t. Women negotiating for what they want? Perish the thought! Also, Emma Woodhouse's relationship with Mr. Knightly is one of the greatest love stories I've seen because it's not about a man sweeping a woman off her feet or rescuing her. It's about a strong woman realizing how important to her someone is and going for it- a friendship that turns into a love so strong, it's all they can do to run off and marry each other right away. But they don't, of course, in part because it would hurt other people about which Emma cares so much. I like her a lot more than the usual Jane Austen favorite, Lizzie Bennet, something I get flack for, but listen up. Any time Emma Woodhouse messes up, it's because she has purely good intentions- her snobbery comes from her compassion and affection for those she cares about (like, for example, deciding Mr. Martin isn't good enough for Hariet), not some inherent sense of betterness. Lizzie Bennet is both prideful and prejudiced (which c'mon, folks, shouldn't be anything new), but Emma is sincere and earnest, warm and gentle- but she has a fierce determination to help those she loves that isn't very common in the way she does it. Because I also get sick of the self-sacrificial lambs, and that's not really what Emma is. She's earnest and giving, but not to a ridiculous extent that makes you feel like you're about to retaste your lunch. 

3. River Tam (Firefly)

Oh, Firefly. I kind of want to cheat here, too, and put all four major female characters from that show down in one paragraph, but I'll focus on River because she's the one that moved me the most. (Also, I named my dog after her and my first pick- a double-nerd-entendre, I call it, muahaha.) She's entirely complex, and mysterious in a not-sexy way- the kind of way that makes you go, "Da fuuuuuu.....?" in like every episode at least once. She too proves herself a major badass when necessary, and even if you don't love the movie, who can honestly say they weren't totally overwhelmed with triumph when they show her standing in the sea of Reavers she had just mowed down by herself? If you didn't think that was major cool, stop reading right now and bury your face in a bowl of thumbtacks. Thanks. Anyway, she's also able to care for others, to the point where she'd give herself up to protect them- a few times in the show, and of course that aforementioned thing in the movie (and it's not in the eye-rolling/ vomit-inducing way mentioned above). She's this paradoxical combination of strength and grace, kindness and ironclad determinism, wisdom and childlike wonder... She just pulls a body in and makes one want to just sit in the same room to see what would happen. Sure, maybe with some body armor, but to see, nonetheless. I loved watching her grow and blossom, find herself amidst all the chaos of living on Serenity, and in spite of all that had been done to her. Like any other Firefly fan, I'm major bummed we won't ever know what she was going to do, or more about what had happened. However, as she stands, she's probably my favorite character on the show because she kept me guessing the whole time- and instead of it being bad writing, it was because the writing was so friggin' great. And while mental experiments could be considered a copout for a quirky character, the way this developed made her immensely strong, not weak. She hadn't offed herself, and she never actually hurt anyone she loved. And she was an allegory for so much going on around her- she highlighted some of the best and worst characteristics of the others on the ship, sometimes in herself, sometimes for pointing them out verbally. It may seem strange I'd pick a character so reliant on her brother, but I don't see it as a gendered relationship, I see it as a fiercely strong familial bond, a love between siblings that could destroy a space ship. Her relationship with Simon is one of the best bonds between characters I've had the privilege to see, and I only wish I could ever be that close to my own siblings. 

4. Molly Grue (The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle) 

Also a character in a book I was first exposed to via film- the animated version of this book is still one of my favorite movies ever; the book remains one of my favorite books. Even as an adult, I recognize how good the story is. I love Molly because she's straight-forward, and imperfect. She's not the sweetest, kindest person, but when you get down to the nitty-gritty, the grime washes away and her spirit and heart are clean and pure. Her reaction when she first sees the Unicorn still makes me cry, whether I'm rereading the book or rewatching the movie (and it's a little different between the two, sure, but still just as gripping) (and need I point out, I have a good third of the book memorized, and all of the movie- so recrying... yeah...); also her reaction when the Unicorn is first transformed into a human (before her name Amalthea is given)- both show her honesty, strength, humanity, and compassion. Molly is awesome because she makes no pretense to hide that she's out for herself, but she never lets her own goals hurt others, nor is she afraid to care or show that she cares for others. And her inner tenderness comes out especially when she handles Amalthea and Prince Lir and their relationship. She's unconventional, but not because she's doing something like peel a potato with a teaspoon (although, "Cut away from yourself, not toward," and aimed at a prince is pretty telling of her bold nature)- she's unconventional because she adapts in order to survive and achieve her goals (see a pattern in these choices?), and she doesn't ask for more than she deserves; she's unconventional because she's not young and pretty, but rather somewhat older and worn (or at least experienced and beaten down); she's unconventional because she's wise without really conceptualizing or comprehending it, and what to her seems sort of "duh"ish is actually rather insightful or even brilliant- but she's by no means arrogant about it, either. On that note, she's humble when it's particularly important, otherwise she's extremely confident and self-assured (but again, not in a really haughty way). She's pragmatic and thinks things through, but she also still has a heart. And she recognizes and accepts her faults and flaws- something given more depth in the book, of course, since we're given windows into her thoughts, but it still comes across in the movie. I think she'd be really fun to have around- and reliable. She'd be the most loyal, dependable friend a person could have.

5. Jill Valentine (Resident: Evil series)

Another one I wish I could pick more than one lady from the same thing- tough choice between her and Claire Redfield. I at least mean the games, though- the movies... Meh... Anyhoo, so Jill. Talk about a kickass woman. And c'mon, she's the "master of unlocking" and stuff. Heh. But seriously, folks, what's not to love about her? And let's think about her and also how she's portrayed together, kay? She's smart, has a good skillset, is a good shot, adapts, and hey, for a female with a gun, she's pretty well-covered, skin-wise. I mean, holy crap, her boobs aren't flying around everywhere! Sure, she has a tube top and skirt in RE3, but that outfit is less suggestive than the tshirt and minishorts Lara Croft has in the original Tomb Raider games (bounce, bounce, bounce). Granted, her resourcefulness comes, to an extent, from whomever is playing as her, but the thing is, that resourcefulness is actually programmed into her by the game developmers. In other words, the game helps you figure it out so you can control her, but she's supposed to do all the things you make her do- so she'd be doing them, anyway. I know that doesn't make much sense, but meh. She, too, demonstrates all sorts of adaptive skills and yet a willingness to care for others. She is most definitely a survivor to which there aren't many matches. And can I just throw this out there: She's a special ops, paramilitary member. As in trained and kickass in physical fields systemically dominated by men. Not only does she hold her own around what had to be some major sexism and misogyny (note: pure speculation, of course, but c'mon, look at the sexual assault/ rape stats for women police officers and members of the armed forces. Yeah. ZING! So more like an educated guess), but she excels, even. So it's no wonder she'd be one of the few survivors in any of the unfortunate circumstances of the games. Sure, she may get help, but what makes her a strong heroine and admirable character is she admits when she needs it- hubris doesn't cause a downfall, and that's part of why she survives. She doesn't expect others to carry her, no, but she can fully admit when she needs assistance in getting up those God forsaken stairs or out of the room with the falling ceiling. Maybe her dialogue could have been better (I love puns, but even I can admit some of the one-liners, especially from the first RE, are kind of unforgivable), but you can't blame someone in the middle of a zombie virus outbreak for attempting to be humorous. Also, she's defined entirely by her own identity, not by her relationship(s) with another (or other) character(s), male or female. And for her to get her own survival horror game (RE3) is pretty unheard of, even now- survival horror is still a huge sausagefest.   

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