The fact is that there aren't enough decent female characters out there. But when they do appear, they inspire. They are something to celebrate, to defend, to admire. The characters that when someone starts to complain about, we can't help but defend. What would the world be without them? We each posit our respective lists of top five (and more) female characters in the sci-fi and fantasy we read/watch.
5. Luna Lovegood
I spent a good portion of my childhood not fitting in, and it has shaped a lot of who I am. Including my sympathy with and love of people who clearly are outcasts. And none more so than Luna. She’s the acknowledged, and constantly-picked-on resident weirdo of Hogwarts. And they’ve got a point -- the things she believes are sort of weird. But kids, and adults as well, are often unable to dig beneath the odd interests to the person beneath, and she suffers a lot for that. It’s significant that Harry stumbles upon Luna in his fifth year, the time when he’s fighting against a hopeless public who believes he’s a liar. From the beginning, her vote of confidence meant something to Harry, and as time goes on, it begins to mean even more. She supports him through the fiasco at the Department of Mysteries, and is the only one who knows what to say after Sirius’ death. In that moment, her beliefs are not weird, they are comforting. Luna is always a strong, amazing young woman, remarkable for her patience and acceptance -- of Harry, of the Death Eaters, of the pranks and teasing she has to endure from her classmates. But as the walls of her bedroom -- painted with Harry, Ron, Hermionie, Ginny, and Neville -- show, it’s through them that she became her best self.
4. Susan Sto-Helit
Being Death’s adopted granddaughter (long story) does have it’s advantages -- the ability to stop time, walk through walls, have a perfect memory, be basically invisible, change people’s memories -- it comes with some occupational hazards, like having to do your grandfather’s job when he’s on vacation, or save the world (twice) from the Auditors, something it appears that only someone mostly human can do. She’s sensible to a fault, which makes her the best governness and schoolteacher around (though the ability to take her class on field trips to Ank-Morpork’s battles doesn’t hurt, either). Oh, and she treats the Auditors of reality like seven-year-olds who’ve misbehaved. Which is actually quite accurate.
3. Kaylee Frye
A self-trained mechanic, Kaylee gets hired to work on Firefly when the captain walks in on her having sex with the current mechanic, whereafter she proves in a few number of words that she knows how to fix the ship that her fling can’t. She may look like a tomboy, but beware if you hint that she can’t be a woman and a mechanic. She has a love affair with strawberries and poofy skirts, two things that are close to my heart. And if nothing else, Kaylee has the sunniest, sweest disposition ever, making even the criminal activities of the Firefly crew sound adorable. Possibly the most lovely, genuine character ever.
2. Donna Noble
The firey redhead was branded as a “yelling fishwife” when she first appeared in A Runaway Bride. It took her coming back for the fourth series for most of us to realize just how amazing she is. She’s firey, oh yes. But she’s surprisingly sensitive, to the Doctor, and what he’s gone through. She picks him back off the ground and dusts him off. She stops him when he can’t stop himself. In the new series, she is his best friend, the closest he’s got to an equal. She makes his wanderings worth seeing, the trip worth taking. Out of all the Doctor's companions, she sees perhaps the most of his bad side, of the traits he wants to hide, of the things that happen to people who he cares about. But that doesn't make her love him less. Nah, he's just a "big dumbo" who is so skinny "you hug him, you get a papercut!" You can't help but love her sass. All that attitude, because she thinks she’s not special, that the universe isn’t listening. But it is. Because she saves it. But for one moment, one shining moment, she was the most important woman in the whole wide universe.
1. Beka Cooper
A few months ago, if I had to pick a Tortall woman, my answer would have been Kel or Aly. That was until my friend Leslie read the second Beka Cooper book and spent nearly an hour telling me how this was her favorite heroine yet, and I realized she was right. If there is a definition of “tough” that doesn’t describe Beka, I haven’t found it yet. She grew up in the gutters of the slums of Tortall’s capital, and it’s her persistence and determination that gets her out of there, into a noble’s household. With many trades to choose from, she joins the Provost’s Guard, Tortall’s equivalent of the police, on watch in the worst district, where she will fight tooth and nail for the people who live there. And she does. Against thieves, slavers, and colemongers, she will do anything and everything to keep the peace and order. She stands up to everyone and anyone who gets in her way, regardless of rank and position. She has no high birth, no important connections, no great plans, just her sense of right and wrong, and determination to make it right. And she does it with skill and flair, earning her nicknames -- Terrier, Bloodhound. But the best part is, underneath the tough exterior is a real girl, with her own struggles. Seeing her in uniform, on the job, you'd never guess she was hopelessly shy. Or that she worries about paying her own rent, and about where her siblings will end up. Or that she's not nearly as suave with men as she'd like to be. But in spite of all that, she managed to achieve so much. She rocks.
5. Catelyn Stark
This is what I often hear when I tell people that Catelyn Stark is one of my favorite characters in A Song of Ice and Fire. “She could be so naive sometimes!” “Oh, she’s mean to Jon, she’s a bitch,” “If she hadn’t captured Tyrion the entire war wouldn’t have started in the first place, she’s an idiot.” And I’m sorry, there is only one proper response to all of these haters. And that is, FUCK YOU, SHE’S AWESOME. The thing I respect about Catelyn the most is that she’s not one of those women who is an outcast, or flouts the system. She entered into an arranged marriage, she’s mothered five children, she is in every respect a typical medieval upper-class woman. And yet this does not take away from the complexity of her character, nor the power that she wields. Cat knows her world. She knows that her position as a woman in her society automatically renders her inferior in the eyes of many. But she also knows that she has power--as a mother, as a wife, as a widow. And she is not afraid to take that power and use it to her full advantage. She will do whatever she can do protect the people she that she loves--travel the country alone, negotiate with enemies, even help break Jaime Lannister out of prison. And so often it is she who talks sense when all the men around her are being idiots.
4. Minerva McGonagall
It’s a testament to J.K. Rowling that I had an exceptionally difficult time deciding which lady from Harry Potter I wanted to be on my Top Five list. Luna, Hermione, Ginny, McGonagall--they’re all wonderful, unique, powerful witches. In the end, however, I have to put McGonagall at the top of the list. And I think it’s pretty obvious why. When Harry first meets McGonagall, he recognizes off the bat that this is “not someone you wanted to cross.” He was right, but it took about half the series for him to realize something else. McGonagall is not only a woman you don’t want to cross, she is also a woman you want very much to have on your side. McGonagall plays by the rules. She is an incredibly strict, demanding teacher, unafraid to discipline even her favorite students when she knows it’s necessary. And yet she is not afraid in the slightest to break the rules when the need arises. We see this first when she allows Harry on the Gryffindor Quidditch team, but it plays out in so many more important ways as the series progresses, particularly when outside forces encroach upon Hogwarts. She is also so incredibly loyal, with the most poignant example being her defence of Hagrid in OotP. Even though Hagrid clearly drives her crazy half the time, she does not hesitate to rush down to defend him, taking on four full Aurors and nearly dying in the process. She will defend Hagrid, Harry, anyone she cares about to the death. She is also, in her own right, an exceptionally powerful and courageous woman. Her skills shine most brightly in the final battles of Deathly Hallows, but really, should we ever have doubted the power and brilliance of the only registered Animagus in the last half century? And she does all of this, as Laura put it, with class. More class than I ever could hope to muster. But that does not stop me from wanting to be exactly like Minerva McGonagall when I grow up. Professor and all.
This is the lady on my list who I most strongly identify with. When I first started watching Avatar my roommate told me that Katara reminded her a lot of me. Which I couldn’t quite see in the first few episodes, but...she’s totally right. Katara is a hell of a lot more awesome than me, but I do see so much of myself in her. She always wants to believe the best in people, no matter what (until Zuko pushes that particular envelope a bit too far). She is caring, she is loyal, she’s a little bit mothering and overbearing at times, and she is, bless her heart, the best kind of feminist you could ever hope for. Her transition from tentative waterbender-in-training to Badass Master of Waterbending is just so delightful to watch. For most of the first season, she is so uncertain of her skills as a waterbender. She knows she has a lot to learn, but she’s not sure where that path is going to take her. Then she gets to the Northern Water Tribe (after going through a ridiculously harrowing journey) only to be told that no, only the males of the Northern Water Tribe get to learn waterbending. And she just point-blank *refuses* to accept that. She does nothing less than take on the most powerful waterbender in the tribe to prove that women can waterbend just as well as men. And in doing so, she finds out something about herself. She finds out that she is strong, and resilient, and has more power than she ever thought she did. And it gives her a confidence that serves her so beautifully throughout the rest of the season. It is she who holds the group together when crisis strikes--the episodes following Appa's kidnapping are the most poignant examples of this. The scene where she takes Aang out of the Avatar-state in the desert will never fail to bring tears to my eyes. She is the one who holds out hope. Who always wants to help people. Who never gives up. And the importance and beauty of that can never be understated.
2. Laura Roslin
Love her or hate her, support or disavow the choices she made over the course of this show, you can never deny Laura Roslin’s resiliency, adaptability, and courage beyond reason. She goes from Secretary of Education to President of the Twelve Colonies in a matter of moments. In a heartbeat, a rather ordinary woman becomes leader of the 50,000 survivors of the Cylon attack, constantly on the run, constantly having to make the most difficult decisions. Most people would be purely overwhelmed by it all. Not Laura Roslin. Despite the fact that she’s never had leadership experience on this scale before, she takes her duties as President—and simply runs with them. She’s willing to learn, and does learn. As President of a fleet constantly under the threat of attack, she has to make lightning-fast decisions, and does with the barest glimpse of hesitation. She knows exactly what she wants, and knows how to get it—and does get it, 90% of the time. And the fact that she is doing all of this while suffering from terminal breast cancer half the time is just incredible. You never see her display any fear. Ever. If you mess with her, she will air-lock your ass. This woman is the role model of mental strength, to such an intense degree. Yes, she makes some decisions that I strongly disapprove of--hiding Hera, condemning abortion, fixing an election (EXCEPT, ACTUALLY I HIGHLY APPROVE OF THAT LAST ONE. OMG). But she never apologizes for the choices she makes. She pushes on, she moves forward. And I admire that to such an intense degree. Also, she somehow manages to procure weed on New Caprica. YOUR AGRUMENT IS INVALID.
1. Leia Organa
In short, she is my hero and still whom I want to be when I grow up. In more detail… despite the fact that Leia is the only woman in the Original Trilogy of Star Wars, and the fact that it was made in the late 70s, where Hollywood directors hadn’t even heard of the word feminism, she remains amazing on so many levels. Let’s start out with the fact that in A New Hope Leia is nineteen years old. Nineteen, and she is the Senator of her home planet, in addition to being a clearly established leader within the Rebel Alliance. Vader sees her as a clear threat when he imprisons her. She withstands imprisonment and torture without any fear, and can we talk about the way she acted after the destruction of Alderaan? Her home, her family, her entire planet is destroyed, and yet she never loses her composure onscreen—not in front of Vader and Tarkin, not in front of Luke and Han, and not in front of the rest of the Rebellion. Ice princess, for sure. And ok, yes, she has to be sprung from the Death Star prison by Han, Luke, and Chewie. But let’s talk about the fact that without Leia’s resourcefulness, the four of them would never have survived to escape the Death Star. When she comes out of her cell, they’re under fire from stormtroopers thanks to Han and Luke’s brilliance. I love them both, but those two numbskulls went into that rescue operation with absolutely no plan. Without Leia’s garbage chute idea, they all would have been dead. So she’s not at all the helpless princess you’d believe on first sight. She’s established even more as a leader in Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, and she saves both Luke and Han’s asses on multiple occasions. She is always calm, cool, collected, and the Head Bitch In Charge. And yet you also see her depth and complexity beneath her collected exterior. It’s so clear how deeply she loves Han, and she’s willing to sacrifice everything she’s worked for in the Rebellion just to save the man she loves. And if we get into a discussion of the Expanded Universe, she goes on to become President of the New Republic and a Jedi Master. It’s impossible to be any more fantastic than that.
Honorable Mention List:
Alanna the Lioness - Tortall
Keladry of Mindelan
Rose Tyler - Doctor Who
Sarah Jane Smith
Zoe Washburne - Firefly
Hermionie Granger - Harry Potter
Eowyn of Rohan - Lord of the Rings
Granny Weatherwax - Discworld
Adora Belle Dearheart
Arya Stark - Song of Ice and Fire
Sansa Stark - Song of Ice and Fire
Brienne of Tarth - Song of Ice and Fire
Mara Jade Skywalker - Star Wars
Toph - Avatar
Kara Thrace - Battlestar Galatica
Jordan Cavanaugh - Crossing Jordan
Lorelai Gilmore - Gilmore Girls
Katniss Everdeen - Hunger Games