Thursday, June 01, 2017

Thursday Thirteen

Tonight the new Wonder Woman movie opens. I am hoping to see it tomorrow. I have not been this excited about a film since Lord of the Rings.

I have always had a thing for strong female heroines. And by "strong" I don't necessarily mean able to lift locomotive and leap tall buildings in a single bound, although that is fun. By strong I mean characters that embody womanly strength (which I consider to be more pacifistic, circular, and loving instincts) and still able to take care of herself without needing intervention from the patriarchy.

It's not that I don't like men. I don't like the idea that women need men in order to be whole. I don't and other women don't. This movie is coming at a great time when men in particular need to be reminded that they are not the end-all of everything. After all, without a strong woman bearing down to give them birth, they wouldn't even be here.

I began reading comics when I was very young, so Wonder Woman is familiar to me. She was not my favorite heroine in the 1970s because her male writers turned her into a more romantic character, all google-eyed over Steve Trevor, than she should have been. The Wonder Woman TV show with Lynda Carter took some of her power back, though she was still a little google-eyed over Trevor.

Comics lost their allure for me when I became a teenager, and I have not read them since. I know, however, that many of my favorite characters have changed over the years, some not for the better, and that the comics worlds have introduced parallel universe and somewhat stupid plot lines since I stopped reading. So some of my idolization is based not on current characters but on my recollection of them from the 1970s.

Anyway, here is a list of 13 strong female fictional characters, many from my childhood, some not. Some are superheroes. Some are not. The list is in no particular order.

1. Wonder Woman. Born of Zeus and Queen Hippolyta, Wonder Woman, aka Diana (the other name of the goddess Artemis), has her roots in Amazon feminine mythology. She is strong and able to fight, but she is also a pacifist at heart. She fights not certain wars, but war itself. She loves and is caring, and yet she can bounce a bullet off her magic bracelets. Wonder Woman as she should be - and by all accounts in this new movie she is as she should be - is the epitome of a female heroine. (I just wish the writers were female.)

2. Xena, Warrior Princess. Xena came around in the mid-1990s and was one of the few female heroines at that time. She was a flawed character with a charred past, and her desire was redemption and forgiveness. She hoped to do that one bandit at a time though her writers sometimes lost sight of that theme. Her pal Gabrielle was also a strong female heroine, with a more subtle strength of wisdom and words in the earlier years of the show. She later learned to fight with a staff, which, one hoped, knocked people unconscious rather than gutted them with swords, because she also tended toward pacifist qualities. As Xena's sidekick, Gabrielle was not destined to simply battle with words, though.

3. Batgirl, for me, was Barbara Gordon, daughter of the police commissioner in the Batman comics I read growing up. I understand there have been several incarnations of Batgirl (and several females who have carried that title) and that in later years Barbara Gordon, paralyzed, became the Oracle, but I never read that so fortunately for me Batgirl remains in my brain a regular woman who wanted to stop the evils of Gotham City and protect those who otherwise could not protect themselves.

4. The Black Widow was making appearances in Daredevil comics in the 1970s by the time I became familiar with her. Natasha Romanova was originally a Russian spy and antagonist of Iron Man, but she defected to the United States (comic superheroes tend to be very U.S. oriented) and when I was her fan, she was teamed with Daredevil (1971 - 1975). Apparently she goes on to become part of Marvel's S.H.I.E.L.D. and Avengers universes, but I ever read those comics. I enjoyed this character because she fought alongside Daredevil and I remember feeling frustrated because I never felt like the character received her due.

5. The Invisible Girl, Sue Richards (apparently now known as the Invisible Woman), was part of the Fantastic Four, another Marvel comic team. She was part of a team of astronauts caught in a cosmic storm which transformed their bodies, giving them different powers. She was able to become invisible and throw protective force fields over herself and others to keep them from harm. While she was a strong super heroine, she also tended to be more of a damsel in distress and not a leader. She followed her husband's lead more so than her own. Still, she had an impact on me as a young comic reader. Aside from the rather bad Fantastic Four movies, I have lost track of her storyline.

6. Supergirl is currently a TV series on the CW. It is heading into Season 3 this fall. The character as portrayed on TV by Melissa Benoist is psychologically vulnerable, still trying to figure out her mission and role as a someone with superpowers. In her TV world, she lives in an era of aliens who have a variety of powers against which humanity has no resources, so she does battle with them. The show has a liberal tone to it and Supergirl's adopted sister last season came out as gay. In this universe, women run major enterprises and the former Woman Woman, Lynda Carter (though not in that character), is the United States President. This is Do Not Miss TV for me and one of the few shows I watch.

7. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a TV show heroine from 1997 to 2003. She was a young high school student who was "chosen" to be the only person who could kill vampires and keep the evil at bay. This gave her super strength but in order to become a true superhero, Buffy had to learn the martial arts, train to keep her strength up, and manage the menagerie of emotions experienced by teenagers in general. The show tilted a bit after its first four seasons but ended on a positive note, with all girls becoming the chosen ones who would go on to fight for good. The character continued on in a comic book but I never read that.

8. Captain Katheryn Janeway was one of the few female leads in the Star Trek world, and the only female lead to date to have a major role in that world. Janeway was the captain of the Starship Voyager, and the show, Star Trek: Voyager, ran for 172 episodes (1995 - 2001). The show was not a runaway hit (fanboys hated it, I have heard, but what do they know? They're just mouths.) but it was notable because of Janeway's persistence in getting her crew, lost in the Delta Quadrant, back to Earth. Janeway was human with no super powers but she was incredibly smart and intelligent, forthright and determined, and I admired the character's ability to withstand the loneliness of command while interacting with a crew that she was destined to spend many years with. The show also featured strong female characters in B'elenna Torres, who was the ship's engineer, and Seven of Nine, a former Borg drone who was liberated and then re-humanized by the Voyager crew.

9. Christine Cagney and Mary Beth Lacey, from the TV show Cagney & Lacey, qualify for this list. They had no super powers and their tool of choice was their brain and heart, followed by a gun if necessary. The show was human but showed the strength of women, which is really what this post is all about, in that they prevailed against a system that is set up to make females fail due to patriarchal chronic push back towards the past female roles of housewife and mother. Cagney battled multiple internal demons, including alcoholism and self-esteem issues, while Lacey epitomized multiple female virtues of heart and love, fighting her own battle against cancer and bad guys.

10.  Charlie's Angels, all three from the original show, also qualify for this list. While I found the idea of Charlie, the voice from the phone who directed their investigations, somewhat repulsive, the women generally saved themselves with occasional help from a bungling Bosley, who with his somewhat clownish manner made the manly save less intrusive into this girl-power detective show. The three heroines were able to get out of trouble either by using womanly guile (never a strong point, but hey, I suppose one must use what one has) and brains, along with an occasional gun and a karate chop. The point was, these ladies could handle themselves if they had to, and they took care of one another with a sisterly bond that I enjoyed watching. I stopped watching after Kate Jackson left, as the Sabrina Duncan character (the one with the brains) was the one I most identified with. The film remake that starred Drew Barrymore gave the Angels more superhero status, as they were able to climb fences and battle machine guns with martial arts kicks that defied commonsense (I loved the movie anyway). In researching this, I just learned there will be another Charlie's Angels movie coming out in 2019. There was a short-lived reboot of the series on TV a few years ago but it was pretty bad.

11. Princess Leia was the heroine of the Star Wars films. Played by Carrie Fisher, Leia was a combination of haughty woman, needy woman, and tough as nails heroine. She didn't have the Force (I strongly suspect the Force was not, in 1977, open to women) and like other super women, she tended to be set apart from others (mostly because she was a princess).  Fisher in 2014 said this: "the only reason to go into acting is if you can kill a giant monster." Great quote, eh?

12. Eowyn, daughter of King Theodan in Lord of the Rings, is the only woman in that entire series who appears to count, but without her, Middle Earth would have been enveloped in darkness. Eowyn is not happy being a lady of the court; she wants to use her blade for the good of the people, doing battle against the forces of Mordor that are trying to take over the lands of Rohan. She sneaks into battle and goes into the fight at Gondor, and ultimately she is the one who kills the Witch King of Angmar, who believes that no man can kill him. Fortunately for Middle Earth, Eowyn is not a man. She's a shieldmaiden of Rohan who knows how to stuff a blade into the face of evil.

13. Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series. She is a witch who uses her brains as well as her magical powers to keep evil at bay. She is at first insecure and unsure of herself, but as the books (and movie series) progressed, she grew more sure of herself and her powers. Watching her grow up and blossom from insecure child to woman was one of the joys of the Harry Potter world.

There are of course many more action heroes, superheroes, and just plain great women in literature who deserve to be on this list, but it is called Thursday 13 for a reason, and thus I end here (although I will say if I were to add a fourteenth it would probably be Jo from Little Women.)

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Thursday Thirteen is played by lots of people; there is a list here if you want to read other Thursday Thirteens and/or play along. I've been playing for a while and this is my 502nd time to do a list of 13 on a Thursday.

4 comments:

  1. I never much cared for Wonder Woman. Probably because I knew her efrom the 70's TV show. She struck me as insecure.

    Hermione is great! She is both brilliant, and beautifully flawed.

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  2. This is a spectacular list. Have fun at the Movies!
    I knew the last three from the films that were made, all of which we bought when available.
    And can I add one? The heroine of Avatar. She was amazing. But of course, short lived.

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  3. Yes to all of these, esp the H.O.T. Xena!! And ad to the list: My Beloved Sandra.

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  4. I always liked Annie Oakley! I only ever read Betty and Veronica (never called it Archie).

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