We could use more strong female leads in all the media we consume; be it literature, TV programs and of course films. Strong female leads help to encourage other females that we don’t need to be submissive to the patriarchal tendencies of society – that just because we still do not have equal pay and are underrepresented through so many media forms, there are still some female characters we could definitely learn something from.
Arguably, many females in TV programs, films and books are not given the agency and proactivity they could all possibly thrive on, especially as we still live in a society where males tend to dominate the screen and media industry. However, I will argue that many female characters have a deeply positive impact on the audience, so much so that the strong female leads of these films and TV shows are represented with a developmental life story that often does not even need the inclusion of a male. For many reasons, strong female leads are a necessity in our culture. We need them to teach young girls that we are not as weak as society and previous film eras have depicted us.
So in this list, we commemorate and acknowledge a number of strong female leads from TV shows, books and films that deliver exceptional agency, empowerment and independence through their choices, behaviours and navigations of their stories. These strong female leads are those that have an enormous impact in the way we as women have shaped our understanding of ourselves, and how we can carry this into our own realities.
1. Mia Thermopolis, The Princess Diaries
Here we are speaking of the Disney film from 2001 and its sequel from 2008 as opposed to the character developed by the original author, Meg Cabot. In the beginning of the first film, Mia doubts whether she can lead a country or not because her mission in life is “to be invisible” because she’s just good at it. This isn’t necessarily because she is a girl, but because she has always felt like an outcast and lacks the self confidence to be anyone or do anything spectacular.
When she is presented with the opportunity to be a princess, her initial reaction is to turn it down because she thinks it’s not for her. But as the first film progresses, she learns she does hold that capacity to pursue change that will help the world rather just her new country, Genovia. In the second film, she seeks to abolish the ancient rule of the Queen of Genovia having to marry before becoming a ruler, and succeeds to become the first single Queen of the country.
As she navigates how to use her voice to evoke change and demonstrate leadership in small ways, she learns that she is more than capable in leading a country and that’s why I include her in this list of strong female leads. She teaches us as girls that we are more capable than we allow ourselves to believe in making the right choices and promoting change in the world, without the need for a male by our side.
2. Hermione Granger, The Harry Potter series
How could we not include the brightest witch of her age? Hermione Granger enters the Harry Potter series with the kind of confidence and intelligence we all dream of. Hermione uses her love for reading and research to not only get all the top marks during her school years, but to help her best friend Harry as he needs to go through battles and climaxes throughout the series.
Arguably without Hermione, Harry and Ron would not have been able to perform any of the success stories throughout the series – they needed Hermione to guide them and translate so many endless texts to fight. Hermione reads and reads and reads, and this teaches us that knowledge is power. It teaches us that women need to be educated and thrive on learning, which also reminds us that many nations within the world still do not permit the education of women.
We could all learn something from Hermione Granger. Not only is she one of our favourite strong female leads, but she also teaches us that reading and knowledge is the power to success, that we can perform and succeed without the demoralisation of others. As a mudblood, Hermione lived a rough life during school, but this never stopped her from achieving the best results. She is an inspiration to all of us.
3. Jane Eyre, Jane Eyre
Honestly, this was just an excuse to include my favourite novel in this list. This was one of the first classics I ever read and I didn’t expect to feel so dramatically empowered by a novel from the 1800s. But Charlotte Bronte had tremendously modernist views about feminism and her character Jane Eyre showcased that perfectly.
Jane teaches us that the partnership of a male is not the be all and end all of the female life. Males are not the backbone of our existence and we do not need them to survive. For this reason she decided to leave Mr Rochester after finding out a deadly secret of his, and only returns when she has made a more independent version of herself. She is a classic example of strong female leads within literature and we definitely need more of them at our disposal.
4. Mary Richards, The Mary Tyler Moore Show
At a time where feminism was only in its second wave, that is the 1960s, Mary Richards was a terribly rebellious gamble as a strong female lead character in a TV sitcom. The show depicts a 30 year old single woman, moving to the city to make a career for herself after leaving an unfruitful relationship.
Mary Richards is extremely different for many reasons. She is 30 and remains unmarried for the show’s duration to prove a point – that a woman does not need a man in order to be successful. She navigates struggles throughout her life and deals with equal pay, pre-marital sex and more. She is an incredibly detrimental addition to the list of strong female leads as she represented so many issues that before her show, neglected to be depicted.
5. Diana, Wonder Woman
Arguably, I didn’t find Wonder Woman that feminist or strong of a character until I watched the 2017 Wonder Woman film. In this film, Wonder Woman, better known as Diana, practices humility, compassion, emotional and physical strength to defeat villains and create good within the world.
While a love interest does appear in this film, the loss of him drives her determination to be a better saviour for human kind, and to save the world from destruction of Zeus. She is incredibly strong both physically and emotionally, and we could learn something from her compassion to heal others and learn from pain.
6. Elastigirl, The Incredibles
Please don’t laugh at this choice, but I have to argue that Disney is actually pretty great at producing and creating strong female leads within their films. I’m sure someone out there is yelling “but all these princesses just wait around for their princes to save them”, and maybe that’s an argument I will fight for a later time. But in Disney’s The Incredibles, Elastigirl is perhaps one of the strongest mums and wives I have ever seen.
Despite being the mother of three and the wife of an emotionally insecure husband like Bob Incredible, she retains composure and strength throughout the entire film and not only takes care of her entire family, but travels out to save her husband from being trapped under the villain Syndrome. Again, she teaches us that women can be both mentally and physically strong while also being the mother a child needs.
7. Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice
Not only a classic piece of literature but also a widely adapted film, Pride and Prejudice’s lead female character Elizabeth Bennet is the definition of pride and strength. She is incredibly steadfast, able to think on her feet, and will never let the charm of a man change her views. She teaches us even without a man, we can be intelligent and are able to make our own decisions.
8. Elle Woods, Legally Blonde
I know I definitely left my favourite for last, but Legally Blonde has always been my go-to movie when I either go through a breakup or wish to uplift my spirits when I’m down. Elle Woods is the stereotypical blonde, but this does not mean she’s not smart or intelligent.
After being dumped by her boyfriend Warner, she believes she needs to go to law school to prove to him she is worthy of his love. What starts out as a pursuit to get her boyfriend back turns into a pursuit for Elle to prove she is not only intelligent enough to become a lawyer, but that she is much more capable than she allowed herself to believe, and better than the mediocre Warner anyway. She is absolutely my favourite in this list of strong female leads and she uplifts my spirits to be a better or new me every time.
There are definitely more strong female leads out there in all media forms, but I think we need more exposure and circulation of these characters. Is there a strong female lead that I haven’t listed that is your favourite? Let us know in the comments down below.
Feature image source: pinterest.com
I am an aspiring writer, editor and photographer.I am passionate about old media, especially worn books, black-and-white films and scratchy records. I seek to make sense of my imagination through poetry, words and art.