Too many women in fiction are portrayed as helpless damsels in distress; a stereotype that is not only inaccurate, but is also not a suitable role model for any young girl. However, there have been recent trends in fiction to reverse this ideology, and portray women in stronger leading roles. To my dismay, most of them have fallen flat. The problem is that writers for films, books, and games often go overboard when trying to make a female lead too tough, and instead end up with a boring character who isn’t defined by both her strength, and what makes her a woman. Fortunately, there have been several examples of strong female leads who are worthy of your children’s emulation.
While action heroics are still very much a male-dominated fictional profession, there are still plenty of female characters in fiction who are strong-willed, determined, and caring. It’s not all about being tough, either. One of the pratfalls of writing a strong female lead is to make her overly strong, almost one-dimensionally. But, that’s not what makes a character great, realistic, or well-rounded.
This list seeks to exemplify what makes a strong female lead and role model. This list is not necessarily about sheer power or survivability, because there are plenty of recent leading females that cover that point (and only that point). Instead, this is a list of characters who deserve to be celebrated not just for their guts, strength or bravery, but also for what defines them as women, and every one of them has earned it. These women sacrifice none of their compassion and understanding by having both inner and outer strength; it is only added to the traits that make them fantastic positive role models for young women everywhere. Warning – Spoilers follow.
5. Zoe Washburn (Firefly)
A military woman and a lethal fighter, Zoe makes an amazing addition to any group she belongs to. As second-in-command of the Serenity, a transport spaceship frequently used to ferry dangerous cargo across the galaxy, Zoe is skilled, able, and authoritative, without having to resort to being cold or closed off. She is often the first person to arrive to a fight, and she’s often the one that finishes it. However, Zoe is also portrayed as quite loving towards her husband Hoban, and doesn’t back down during the times they argue about each other’s safety (due to the nature of their work). She stands up to her captain, Mal, when she has to, and is dependable enough to come through for those she cares about when they need her most.
4. Princess Leia (Star Wars, Episodes IV-VI)
Even as a princess, Leia held fast to her convictions, and proved her strength. Her feelings for her people were tested and shown early with Alderaan’s destruction, her resolve was pushed with her battle against the Empire, and these events ultimately turned her into a strong and resolute rebel leader. It was as a leader that Leia hit her stride, becoming one of the most valuable assets against the forces of the Empire, as well as a determined and accomplished woman. Having inner strength while also holding a blaster against those that threatened who she cared for, Leia proved her capabilities throughout an intergalactic war. Landing Han Solo wasn’t a bad achievement, either.
3. Izumi Curtis (Full Metal Alchemist)
Wife of a massive, hulking bodybuilder, and teacher to two of the greatest alchemists of all time, Izumi Curtis has more resiliency than perhaps every other character on this list. What makes her strong isn’t that fact that she taught two of the most belligerent boys who then went on to save the world, or that she defied a military nation during a coup almost single-handed, or even the fact that she endured her unborn baby becoming an abomination. Stubborn as a mule, yet also one of the most caring women in fiction, Izumi earns her place on the list.
2. Hermione Granger (Harry Potter)
Quite possibly the strongest candidate for a female role model on this list, Hermione grows more as a character than most fictional characters could ever hope for, regardless of gender. Countless times during her adventure together with Harry and Ron, the group would have been captured, killed, or worse, had it not been for Hermione’s cleverness, ingenuity, and steadfast determination to see them through to the end. Hermione grew through the story from a smarty-pants bookworm, into an extraordinary woman with more care and concern for her friends and family than most other female leads combined. Hermione’s unique combination of preparedness and care for those close to her earns her high marks on this list.
1. Ellen Ripley(Alien franchise)
A pioneer among female leads, and one of the first fictional woman to rise above almost any man as a lead character, there should be little doubt as to why Ellen Ripley leads this list. Ripley is all strength, yet still all woman. She falls, sometimes unwillingly, into the roles of protector, mother, and leader, and manages to survive almost any encounter, no matter how dangerous. Where countless other characters would lose hope or give in, Ripley perseveres, even when she’s completely alone or isolated. Ellen Ripley embodies everything about what it means to be strong, and also being a woman. For all these reasons and many more, Ripley earns her spot as the strongest female lead character.