Words by Kelly Punzalan
Mainstream Hollywood films and television have been doing a much better job lately when it comes to female representation on screen. In fact, there was a significant increase in representation for women in the top films of 2018. Think Ocean’s 8, Crazy Rich Asians, and Black Panther. And how cool is it that we get to see female superheroes like Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel as protagonists?
Many would say that this a victory for women and while I don’t necessarily disagree, the current definition of “strong female character” seems to be too restricted. Of course, it’s great that we don’t see women act like damsels in distress that need to be saved by men. I absolutely love characters like Katniss Everdeen and Rey, but that doesn’t mean all female characters have to be carbon copies.
The strength of fictional women is often attributed to their physical strength and not their strength of character. Unless they’re brave and can fight bad guys (in a tight, skimpy outfit) they’re automatically considered weak and useless. This sends the message that feminine qualities are also inherently weak and useless, and it’s bullshit that a lot of people think that.
Personally, I like my female characters complex and three-dimensional. Does she have a fleshed-out backstory and personality? Does she have her own goals, beliefs, and interests? Is she written like an actual human being who has flaws and makes mistakes? And most importantly, does she have a purpose other than being a male character’s love interest or eye candy?
Here are some of my favorite underappreciated female characters (possible spoilers ahead):
7. Sansa Stark (Game of Thrones)
Fans are way too harsh on Sansa. Sure, Arya is a total badass with a sword and Daenerys has cool dragons, but Sansa has been through hell and back. With everything that’s happened to the Stark family, her awful marriage to Joffrey, and essentially being sold to the sadistic Ramsay Bolton, it’s amazing that she’s still alive. Life has been cruel to her but she showed a different kind of strength by learning how to protect herself, and she has come a long way from being the spoiled princess. The fact that she outsmarted a certain character last season shows that she’s becoming more cunning and knows how to use her naive image to her advantage. Westeros better watch out!
6. Starr Carter (The Hate U Give)
The Hate U Give is a heartbreaking true-to-life story about discrimination and justice. Starr Carter, a 16-year-old girl, watched her best friend get killed by a police officer right in front of her eyes. Before she even had a chance to grieve his death, it became a national news story and Starr was forced into the spotlight as the only witness to the crime.
Racist comments and hate speech were thrown at her. She received threats from both gang members and the police. Starr was extremely afraid. Who wouldn’t be? Nevertheless, she continued to fight because she knew what was right and that her voice would make a difference.
5. Princess Carolyn (Bojack Horseman)
The ultimate example of a strong independent woman, Princess Carolyn is an ambitious career gal who trusts no one but herself. Not to mention that she’s probably one of the most responsible characters on the show. Whenever Bojack or another character screws up, Princess Carolyn is there to clean up the mess.
She’s definitely not perfect, though. No, she’s far from it. Sometimes she makes very selfish decisions and justifies it as looking out for herself. She’s self-reliant to the point it becomes self-destructive and she doesn’t ask for help when she needs it. PC tries so hard to mask her emotions because when women show even an inkling of vulnerability, we are ridiculed for it. Her imperfection is what makes her real.
4. Cher Horowitz (Clueless)
Cher Horowitz is, shockingly, a feminist icon. She appears to be a stereotypical ditzy, dumb blonde, and even though she’s smarter than people think she is, Cher also shows that there isn’t really anything wrong with who she is. She cares a lot about fashion and taking care of her appearance, and she is unapologetic about it. Who cares if guys think she’s shallow? It’s perfectly fine to be interested in make-up, clothes, and other “girly” things, and we shouldn’t let men (or anyone for that matter) make us feel bad about the things we enjoy.
Cher is also a girl’s girl in the sense that she’s loyal to and supportive of the women around her. She protects her friends and handles their conflict with maturity. Yeah, she may have engaged them in some petty fights, but she knows how to apologize when she’s wrong and take responsibility for her actions.
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