In May I had my last installment of Fictional Ladies I Admire, and at the time I thought I’d write a follow-up about actual ladies I admire IN REAL LIFE. Then whoosh! Months past and I didn’t get off my duff. So here we are!
There have been tons and tons of fabulous females throughout history and I’ve been lucky to have a few in my own life as well. Compiling this list of ten was hard – there were so many to choose from! But after much consideration, I narrowed it down to my top 10:
1. Margaret of Anjou
Margaret was married to Henry VI when she was 15. After her husband’s first collapse, she completely took over all royal affairs. When he was declared too mentally incompetent to rule, Margaret raised an army to defend herself and styled herself as a warrior-queen. She led several victories during the War of the Roses before she and her family fled to Scotland. In 1462 she went to France and received help from Louis XI. Things went pretty well for Margaret until her child was killed by Edward VI. Margaret was known to be incredibly smart, clever, and fierce.
2. The Grimke sisters
Sarah Moore and Angelina Emily Grimke were 19th-century abolitionist and women’s rights advocates. They were born to a slave-owning father in Charleston and fled north, where their deep personal revulsion to slavery led them to become the first females to speak out in public in the US. They were Quaker converts and their personal beliefs led them to be hated in South and made fun of up north. Upon learning that their brother had children by slave women, the sisters brought the kids up north and paid for their educations.
3. Kathrine Switzer
Katherine Switzer was the first woman to run the Boston marathon with an official number in 1967. She signed up for the run under the name “K.V. Switzer” and was not discovered to be a woman until she was physically running. Marathon organizer Jock Semple went after Kathrine, yelling at her to get out of the run and physically trying to remove her. Kathrine’s boyfriend and several other male runners provided a protective shield during the entire marathon. Kathrine later won the 1974 New York City marathon (women’s division) with a time of 3:07:29.
4. Hawa Abdi
Hawa Abdi is a Somalian doctor and one of the first female gynecologists in the country. In 1983 she opened a small clinic for women and children on her farm with her own money. In 1991 during the country’s civil war, she opened her clinic to all. When militants invaded the camp and took Dr. Abdi hostage, they proclaimed that a woman should not be allowed to be in control of a clinic – she responded with “I may be a woman, but I’m a doctor, what have you done for society?” BOOM. As aid workers and agencies abandoned the country, Abdi continued to run her clinic alongside her daughters (also doctors) on her own money and donations. She also provides education and literary classes for women, gives them food and clean water, and advocates against female genital mutilation.
5. Helen Thomas
Helen was an author but was most notably a pioneering White House news reporter. She was the first women to become a chief White House correspondent and the first to join (and lead!) the White House Correspondent’s Association. After her time as a correspondent, she moved to Hearst where she wrote a fairly open political column. She covered 11 presidents’ administrations and was known for her tough questioning of presidents and their press secretaries. She openly hated the Bush administration’s policies and was often ignored by President Bush during press conferences. Apparently, it was pretty common to see a president try to get a word in edgewise when being questioned by her in the press room – she was quite the bulldog!
6. Carmen Rupe
Carmen Rupe was originally born Trevor Rupe, and was a drag performer, brothel owner, and LGBT activist in New Zealand and Australia. In 1968 she opened up Carmen’s International Coffee Lounge which became a famous hangout and was even patronized by many members of Parliament. At this time, the law still criminalized homosexual acts – Carmen challenged this prejudice and hate against the gay and transgender communities and often spoke to the press about this. In the late 70’s she even ran for mayor. She supported gay marriage, decriminalized abortion, legalized prostitution, sex education in schools, and nude beaches. Despite her loss, all of her reforms eventually became legal in New Zealand.
7. Brownie Wise
Brownie Wise is the lady behind Tupperware parties! Earl Tupper, the inventor of Tupperware, hired Brownie as part of his sales force and she created the idea of Tupperware parties. She even wrote the script for salespeople hosting them (it remained pretty unchanged for almost 30 years, too). During her first year selling Tupperware, Brownie recruited 12 more salespeople and sold $200,00 worth of merchandise through the parties. Brownie was also one of the first women to be featured on the cover of Business Week in 1954. 4 years after her cover, feeling jealous of her success, Earl Tupper fired Brownie. What a lame ass. But! Tupperware, as well as Tupperware parties, are still extremely popular. I’ve read that a Tupperware party is being held somewhere on the planet every 1.7 seconds. Well done, Brownie!
8. Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Charlotte was an author, poet, sociologist, and social reform lecturer in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s. She was a utopian feminist and did more than many other women of her time could ever dream of. She became many feminist’s role models due to her unusual views and way of life. She is probably most famous for her short story (that is also semi-autobiographical and one of my absolute favorite stories of all time) The Yellow Wallpaper. The Yellow Wallpaper tells the story of postpartum depression and its ramifications. Charlotte also believed traditional domestic environments oppressed women and rejected the patriarchal aspects of society.
9. Ellen DeGeneres
Not only is Ellen hilarious, talented, and doing quite well for herself professionally and personally (she has a net worth of $65 million and is married to the gorgeous Portia de Rossi), she isn’t afraid to be herself, which is something I really admire. In 1997 she came out as a lesbian and was under immense media scrutiny. The pressure and hostility she faced caused her to career to suffer, but she came out on top and is now one of the world’s most well-known entertainers. She is also a passionate animal rights advocated and in 2011 was named by Hillary Clinton as a Special Envoy for Global AIDS Awareness.
10. My mom.
I know it’s a little trite to include my mother on this list, but she truly is an inspiration for me. Not only is she smart, beautiful, and hilarious, she is strong. In her 40’s she faced a terrible loss when her husband died suddenly and she was all of a sudden a single mother. Luckily, she was more than self-sufficient, having created her own graphic design and marketing business, and was able to take care of herself and her darling, wonderful child (ahem). She has instilled in me a fiery independence and a somewhat twisted sense of humor that still gets me in trouble sometimes. In addition to M, she is my rock and my biggest supporter, and I hope I am able to provide her with that same safety net and support.
I’m back! But not with a vengeance, or even a tan, despite my long weekend in Palm Springs. I’ve been a lazy blogger again, what with a big work event I’ve been working on for a year finally coming to fruition last week, along with my pilgrimage to California for a sun- and fun-filled bachelorette party weekend. I’ve also been busy with school (biology is hard) and other life-related things. It also might have something to do with almost being done with A Dance With Dragons and reeeaaalllllllyyyy wanting to finish it. But here I am! Back for my latest installment of Fictional Ladies I Admire. So let’s get to it.
Sybil Branson nee Crawley of Downtown Abbey – Sybil is awesome. She’s the youngest of the Crawley daughters and is a bit of a rebel (she wears pants!). She takes up worthy causes and fights for the little guy – even getting knocked unconscious during a riot. Plus she also doesn’t let her family’s wealth and occasional small-mindedness stop her from being with the person she loves most.
Liz Lemon of 30 Rock – I can super relate to Liz Lemon. She and I have done a lot of similar things, like sucking pie out of sweatshirt fibers. I can proudly say, however, that I have not made out with a dog. Anyway, Liz is on the list not only because she’s hilarious, but because throughout the entire series she stays focused on her goal of “having it all,” despite some major road blocks like crummy boyfriends and a demanding job. And, like the photo says above, the lady isn’t afraid of making mistakes.
Daria Morgendorffer of Daria – Daria is such a cool lady that when she first appeared on Beavis and Butt-head, MTV gave her her own show! Like Liz Lemon, I see a lot of myself in Daria. She’s can be pretty cynical and somewhat anti-social, and has a general disdain for others (“I don’t have have low self esteem. I have low esteem for everyone else.”) She’s not afraid to be herself or speak her mind, though, even when it comes to wacky (but well-intentioned!) parents and teachers. She’s also a fantastic role model for teen-aged ladies who may not be having such a great time milling around in high school social minutia.
Peggy Olson of Mad Men – When Peggy wants something, she goes after it. When she first arrives at Sterling Cooper in the series premier, she’s an unassuming secretary with terrible bangs. With some major copy-writing chops (and a new hair cut), she is promoted to a copy writer, and then poached by the competition for a buttload of money. Way to go, Peggy! She is also strong and able to hold her own with the likes of Don Draper and Roger Sterling – she calls them on their bullshit and even extorts money from one of them. You get it, girl.
Leslie Knope of Parks and Recreation – Leslie Knope is also a strong lady who knows what she wants – to work in the government! This last season we saw her ascend to city councilwoman, meet her lifelong crush Joe Biden, and marry the man of her dreams! Busy lady! Leslie is passionate about the people and causes that matter most to her and isn’t afraid to work hard to defend her beliefs. She also loves breakfast foods at any time of day, which I can certainly get behind.
Joan Harris nee Holloway of Mad Men – Joan is on the list for obvious reasons (she’s awesome!), but mostly because she is just so damn confident. She has a bangin’ bod and takes no guff from any of the lecherous dudes around the office. She’s comfortable in her own skin and isn’t afraid to stick up for herself, even when it comes to her super sleazy husband. Plus, she’s the only woman on the show so far that hasn’t succumbed to Don’s charms – talk about strength of will.
Aeryn Sun of Farscape – When Aeryn first shows up, she seems like your everyday, mindless soldier that’s been brainwashed to ignore her humanity and personality. But after some humanizing and whatnot, we discover there’s some gooey, amazing, bad ass creamy nougat underneath the hard militant shell. Aeryn is strong, smart, and knows her stuff. She’s not shy with her opinions and never belittles herself for the benefit of someone else. She’s also a true friend and very loyal, even to weasly little guys like Rygel.
Maggie Greene of The Walking Dead – I love The Walking Dead, but one thing I hate about it is the lack of strong female characters. Laurie was a stupid harlot, Andrea was always making horrible decisions, and the rest don’t really do much else. Maggie, on the other hand, is amazing. She is amazing at killing zombies, talking sense into idiots, taking care of her dad and sister, and getting what she wants (like Glen!). She’s strong and capable, but also sweet and kind. And she totally deserves to kick The Governor’s ass to high heaven (everyone does, technically, but she does the most!).
Zoe Washburne of Firefly – I’m a big Joss Whedon fan, and I like that he creates strong female leads, but I think the strongest, without a doubt (even more than Buffy!) would have to be Zoe. Whedon’s heroines have a tendency to either be emotionally iffy or to run around nearly naked. Sometimes both. Zoe is always fully clothed and has her emotional shit together. Despite her toughness, she still has a soft spot for her friends and especially for her husband Wash. When forced to choose between her captain/BFF Mal and Wash, she totally chooses Wash and it’s heart-warming as hell!
Donna Noble of Doctor Who – I love Doctor Who, but one issue I have with it is that all the female companions develop crushes on the Doctor and are just in complete awe of him. Not Donna Noble! From the start she regards the Doctor as her equal – while impressed with his TARDIS and time-traveling capabilities, she doesn’t think she’s better than her because of them. Basically, Donna doesn’t take any shit from anyone and she gets stuff DONE. But in a really nice, funny way that makes me love her!
In my second installment of Fictional Ladies I Admire, I will be discussing strong female characters in various movies I enjoy.
While compiling my list, I noticed that four of them are from horror movies and some aren’t necessarily the protagonist in their movies. I’m a big horror movie fan, so that’s not entirely surprising, but I think it’s telling that some of the ladies are, while not necessarily “the bad guy,” aren’t exactly good guys, either. Being slightly villainous takes strength, too, people!
Miranda Priestly of The Devil Wears Prada – While she’s not necessarily the warmest person ever, Miranda Priestly is strong, confident, and has no problem asking for what she wants. I like to channel my inner Miranda Priestly whenever I’m feeling a little lackluster.
Lisbeth Salander of Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – Lisbeth has more demons than most, sure. She killed her father when she was a child, and her guardian is raping her in exchange for money in order to eat and pay her living expenses. She takes those demons, though, and uses them to her advantage when she solves a murder case that has been cold for decades with the help of her super-hot friend Mikhail. She also totally gets the rapist/guardian back for his bullshit. Adding to the fact that she’s an amazing computer hacker, a genius, and refuses to be a victim when certainly no one would fault her for it, and you’ve got yourself a bonafide heroine.
Tiffany of Silver Linings Playbook – I really, really enjoyed Silver Linings Playbook and Jennifer Lawrence’s character Tiffany. Tiffany is a sex addict, recent widow, and, like Bradley Cooper’s character, chock full of neuroses. Despite her problems, though, she is at peace with who she is and likes herself, flaws and all. She also is a pretty good dancer and is cute as a button.
Sarah Williams of Labyrinth – So Sarah starts out as kind of a bitch. After her parents divorce, she is resentful of her father’s “new” family: stepmother Irene and half-brother Toby. She is running late to babysit Toby, a task she isn’t really into. In a moment of jealousy, she wishes for Toby to be taken by a bunch of goblins and poof! He is! Realizing she’s in big trouble, she makes her way through an elaborate labyrinth to find Toby and his kidnapper (the Goblin King Jareth played by mega-babe David Bowie). Along the way she makes friends and realizes she really does love Toby and develops a stronger sense of responsibility. At the end, though thoroughly intrigued by Jareth (who wouldn’t be?), she refuses his attempts at seduction and an offer to stay with him forever in order to get her brother back. Yay!
Carrie White of Carrie – Carrie is another leading lady who has it rough. She’s tormented at school, her mom is a psycho fundy, and things keep breaking around her! Weird! Things start to look up, though, when Tommy invites her to the prom – they are even named prom king and queen! Prom goes bad, though, when mean girl Chris and her hoodlum boyfriend play a cruel joke on Carrie and dump a bucket of pig’s blood on her head as she’s being crowned. Her rage (and telekinesis) takes over and shit really hits the fan. Like Miranda Priestly, she’s not a total protagonist, but what I like about her is that she’s totally not a victim. I also like seeing mean high school kids get their come uppances. Take that!
Nancy Thompson of A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) – Nancy is one tough cookie. It’s not just anyone who can kill Freddy Krueger, and she did it almost all by herself! She’s also kind of nerd and likes her books – I can relate. She shows up again in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors to help out some kids, too. She’s just an all-around nice, nerdy, bad ass chick.
Jennifer Hills of I Spit On Your Grave (1978) – Okay, so, I Spit On Your Grave isn’t exactly… wholesome. And the first half of it doesn’t really espouse feminist praise. It’s the second half, though, where I am super impressed by Jennifer Hills and root for her wildly. While spending some time in a lake cabin by herself, Jennifer is brutally raped and left for dead by a gang of icky boys. She gets her revenge is super gross, highly imaginative ways and it’s AWESOME.
Laurie Strode of Halloween (1978) – By day Laurie is a mild-mannered high school student who spends her time studying and babysitting. By night (and as quite a surprise to her), she’s a knife/knitting needle/metal hanger-wielding heroine who protects herself and her babysittee from the evil and hard-to-kill Michael Myers.
The Bride in Kill Bill I & 2 – This one is fairly obvious, but for good reason! Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and The Bride was super-scorned in Kill Bill. After being left for dead by her “friends,” she is on a mission to get revenge and her kid back from The Man. She also can escape being buried alive, walk to a safe place, and order some coffee like it’s no big whoop.
Lydia Deetz in Beetlejuice – I looooooove Lydia. I also loooooooove Beetlejuice. It and The Last Unicorn were my favorite movies as a cherubic young girl. Maybe that’s because as a little girl, despite my sweet nature, I knew deep down I was more like Lydia than say… Jane Butterfield. In any case, Lydia is one cool chick. She sticks up for herself in the face of her (well-intentioned) moronic parents, and can see GHOSTS! She also sacrifices herself in order to save the Maitlands by marrying Betelgeuse. And that dude is gross.
Let’s be real – I consume a lot of culture, whether it’s from movies, TV, or books. Most recently I have been reading the latest installment from George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, A Dance With Dragons. Not only is it totally awesome, but there is no shortage of strong female characters. That, combined with the latest PR campaign I’m working on in the office (a charitable event focusing on sisterhood, supporting fellow women, and general lady postive-ness), led to my latest series of blogs: Fictional Ladies I Admire.
This is a series because, when I started my list, it was just way, way too big. So I’ll be breaking it down into three groups: Literature Ladies, TV Ladies, and Movie Ladies. I might even cap off the series with a list of actual, real life ladies.But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
As a general disclaimer, this list is in no particular order and yes, I realize many of the photos are from the movie or TV adaptations of the books. Also, there are spoilers for various books ahead – you’ve been warned!
Daenerys Targaryen – Hoo boy, Daenerys has had it rough. As a baby her entire family (save her nasty older brother, Viserys) is killed, so she and the nasty brother are exiled to a strange land, where she grows up being manipulated by Viserys, who sells her into marriage so he can amass an army and retake his family’s crown. But then it’s okay because her warlord husband ends up being a good guy and she even gets pregnant! And she evens decides to retake the family’s crown for herself and be Queen. But then her husband dies, she loses the baby, and is very sad. But then she hatches dragons! And decides to amass her own army and get her shit together in order to sit on the Iron Throne. In doing all this, she outsmarts warlocks, slave masters, and other bad dudes and frees slaves and saves down-on-their-luck people. She has a big heart and an inner strength and DRAGONS.
Arya Stark – Arya has also had it pretty rough. She’s ragged on by her older sister and septa for not being lady-like enough, she has to send away her direwolf Nymeria, she’s sent off to King’s Landing and hates it there, then her dad dies in front of her. And then she’s carted off into the woods and her protector also dies in front of her. Sheesh! With a little luck, stubbornness, and moxie, Arya makes it through (so far, I haven’t finished A Dance With Dragons) and is stronger and wiser because of it. Plus, she saves some dudes who she thinks are just criminals (because she has such a good heart) and one ends up totally killing some dudes for her (because despite having such a good heart, the girl deserves to exact some revenge).
Jo March – Ms. March is based on author Louisa May Alcott, so you know from the start she’s going to be pretty awesome. Jo is the family’s tomboy and is even referred to as “my son Jo” a few times by her father. My admiration to her might stem from our shared love of literature – she writes poems, short stories, and plays that she and her sisters act out. She even goes on to be a writer. She is also super sweet, cutting off her long, beloved hair and selling it so her sister can purchase a train ticket. What I like most, though, is that she chooses a partner that respects her and is her equal, which in her (fictional) time, was somewhat unheard of. Plus, she got cozy with Laurie, and he’s a total fox.
Scout Finch – Scout is another bookworm. She’s sassy, very intelligent, and stands up for what she believes in. Plus she is able to stop an angry mob. What’s not to like?
Bridget Jones – Bridget Jones has man problems, and at the beginning of the book she lets those problems and her loneliness gobble her up, so much so that she does things she normally wouldn’t to attract a very bad (but very good-looking) man. Throughout the book, though, she comes to find the confidence to be herself and do what she loves and she ends up attracting a very good (and also very good-looking) man. Happy ending!
Karana/Won-A-Pei-Lei – Despite some serious bad luck (inspired by true events, no less) Karana makes it on her own without every complaining or feeling bad for herself. She lives alone for almost 20 years creating shelter, hunting and foraging for her own food, and generally just making sure she lives. Talk about fortitude.
Esther Greenwood – She might not be at the top of many young ladies’ lists of role models, but I find Esther’s strength in The Bell Jar quite remarkable. She goes through a very emotional journey of serious depression, even trying to kill herself, and manages to come out on the other side stronger, more stable, and with a newfound sense of freedom.
Flora Poste – Flora’s a bit of a toss-up… On the one hand, she ends up on the farm because she doesn’t feel like getting a job. And then she mettles in other peoples’ lives. On the other hand, she helps out her extremely weird, backwater extended family with a dash of city-girl smarts and ends up softening herself in the end, too. So I guess instead of calling her a busybody, I prefer the term problem solver.
Galadriel – Galadriel is described as having beautiful long, silver hair – much like Daenerys’. It’s so enchanting that it inspired Fëanor to create three beautiful jewels called the Silmarilli, or “radiance of pure light.” She is compassionate to a fault, and goes against her husband to help out Gimli. She’s also super-powerful and can determine your moral character just by looking at you.
Eowyn – Eowyn is described as being a stone-cold fox as well as possessing a warm, caring heart. Despite it making her lonely, she dutifully takes care of her sick uncle. She’s also a shieldmaiden, which in and of itself is amazingly bad ass, and she ends up being the one to kill the witch king Angmar. While Angmar is bitching about how no living man can kill him, my girl Eowyn utters, “But no living man am I! You look upon a woman.” BAM! THAT’S HOW YOU DO IT, LADIES!