Let’s celebrate the qualities that make up a woman through the most female iconic characters in movies and literature.
Woman—her strength, her persistence, her tenacity, her beauty. The media’s portrayal of women in movies and literature can be oftentimes questionable, such as enclosing them in old-fashioned stereotypes of being helpless on their own. But, thank goodness, there are female characters who stood out from the rest. In both television and books, creators gave birth to iconic female characters who are now beacons for women and little girls alike.
Fa Mulan – Mulan 1 & 2
Over the years, females as the lead characters are sparse. In recent years, there is still barely over 40% of movies where females are the main leads. Among these characters, both in film and literature, strong female characters become the blueprint of what is coming.
If you want iconic female characters, you seriously have to include a Disney princess who did not rely on men to solve problems for her, then Mulan is your girl. In the story, Mulan wanted to be the perfect daughter for her parents. To stay pretty and hope to be married off to a respectable family in their town. But, nothing of that sorts happened. Instead, she went off to war, hiding her identity, to protect her father who now has difficulty in walking because of serving in the previous war. With her iconic story, Mulan is definitely an all-time favorite Disney character.
Mulan’s decisions went beyond herself. She braved areas full of men, even dominated among her peers. Even if she was told to go home after saving the army, her selflessness got the best of her, and decided to save her country for the last time. Props for the emperor too. He may be the only one in the film who was not fazed that a woman soldier protected him.
Mulan is a selfless and courageous woman. Even if she doubted herself, she got through it and made the best out of it.
Tiana – The Princess and the Frog
Walt Disney’s first African-American Disney princess is Tiana from the Princess and the Frog. Disney’s take on this classic story was a win for representation in movies. Little girls of the same heritage finally saw themselves in the Disney princesses they long adored. Aside from Tiana’s ethnicity, her attributes made her character more iconic. Tiana was raised in a loving household, she was told to dream big and received support from her parents from the get-go.
Disney princess films have a knack for creating solos for the main characters. While other princesses sing of love and abstract dreams, Tiana sings about reaching her dreams of opening her own restaurant. She sings about how she’s almost there, how close she is to achieve her goals.
Katniss Everdeen – Hunger Games Series and Movie Franchise
We all remember Katniss as the older sister who volunteered to join the Hunger Games in her younger sister’s stead. We applauded her for that. She was the icon for sisterly love and devotion. It was even more evident when she took another young participant of the Games under her wing and protected her. However, in the succeeding installments, she was portrayed as someone more than a sister and would thus become one of, (if not already) the most iconic female characters we know.
Katniss Everdeen became a voice against an unfair and biased government. Another brilliant thing about her character was that she wasn’t perfect. She made questionable and selfish decisions, which, when we think about it, are highly relatable. The series itself is also eye-opening. It brings to light the presence of moral and political issues everywhere, even in groups that present themselves as the saving light.
Katniss Everdeen is a beacon for girls to take up space and to take control of their lives. Her voice amplified the voice of others. It teaches women that being loud, opinionated, and passionate when in the right place, are “feminine” traits as well.
Hermione Granger – Harry Potter Series and Movie Franchise
The genius muggle-born that makes up the Harry Potter franchise is Hermione Granger. Since the beginning of the series, Hermione stood out as someone who did her best in academics. She was even made fun of at some point because of that tenacity. And guess what, her smarts and book-knowledge saved them more times than they could count with both hands and feet.
What makes Hermione a truly iconic character is that she knew she was different. In the wizarding world of Harry Potter, she was an outsider but her wits and skills made her fit right in. She also stood out as her own person despite having close relations with the main protagonist. When she decides on something, she goes for it without any qualms, even if it means she needs to sacrifice. She made some of the greatest sacrifices in the entire story. She stands for what she believes in and she makes sure she shows it.
Hermione Granger is a textbook example of how a female with “masculine” qualities cut above the rest. She was often painted as someone aggressive in the first books because she knows what she wants and she speaks up. When a man has these qualities, he is passionate and not afraid to show it. Granger owned up her identity.
Minerva McGonagall – Harry Potter Series and Movie Franchise
Iconic you say? The Harry Potter franchise gave birth to some of the most iconic characters that we know now. Aside from Hermione, we also have Head of House Gryffindor, Professor Minerva McGonagall, as among the iconic female characters. To be the leader of the house that boasts courage and bravery as its main attributes already vouch for the Professor’s character.
She was strict yet she was also motherly, looking over the Gryffindor kids like they were her own children, although she didn’t spoil them. Professor McGonagall follows the rules when she knows it’s beneficial. But when the rules become unnecessary, she doesn’t need to be said twice to break them. She instigates it.
Harry Potter fans the world over acknowledges Professor McGonagall as another strong female character. She is seen as an equal with the male characters of the series, if not even better than some. For women who barely see empowered unapologetic females on the big screen, McGonagall is girl power all the way.
Princess Leia Organa – Star Wars Franchise
Princess Leia deviates from all the other princesses we know, earning her spot here as one of the iconic female characters the movies have created. She is not just a princess, she is one of the Rebel Alliance’s greatest leaders. She is a dedicated leader who rallied her troops to defeat the Empire. If someone uses the statement, “You fight like a girl” as an insult, thank them because you fight like one of the galaxy’s greatest warriors and leaders, Leia Organa.
The character of Princess Leia was birthed during the time where media presented women characters as supporting roles especially in action flicks, such as Star Wars. Although the Star Wars franchise is still dominated by strong male characters, making Princess Leia as strong and headstrong as them is a great win for the women at that time.
What even makes her character more iconic is her wardrobe. The Princess Leia costumes are still in-demand up until today and are easily recognizable by people who haven’t seen any movie from the film franchise.
Mary Poppins – Mary Poppins Books and Movies
The character of Mary Poppins was well-received by children and adults alike. She sings well, she’s pretty, she uses magic, and she has a purse that’s so deep anything can fit inside it. She can even make bitter medicine bearable. Disguised as a nanny of the Banks siblings, part of Mary Poppin’s goal was to help the parents too.
Mary Poppins’ character goes beyond the image of being a nanny. She is adored by the children by being a present and stable adult caregiver in their growing years, which is something that they do not receive from either parent. Poppins carries herself in an authoritative yet gentle manner. A characterization that is leaps and bounds ahead of how women were characterized in films and literature in the 1960s.
The fact that the author behind the books is a woman who never intended the story for the younger audience, Mary Poppins had the qualities that households at that time lack.
Elphaba – Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West
The Elphaba who is more commonly known as the one from L. Frank Baum’s classic, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. She didn’t have a name yet, only bearing the title as the Wicked Witch of the West. Admittedly, she is iconic in her own way. The character design and story were explored more by Gregory Maguire’s Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West.
The Broadway and Westside versions of this story gave birth to the ever-iconic belts of Defying Gravity which narrates Elphaba’s dream of becoming more than just the Wicked Witch of the West. More than anything else, Elphaba is a strong female protagonist because she stood stall against all the misunderstandings around her. She was labeled as someone evil because of how she looks and powerful she is, where in fact, she is passionate, talented, and ambitious.
Little girls need to see strong iconic female characters in the media that they consume. They need to see women who refuse to live in the box that labels and stereotypes create.
Elizabeth Bennet – Pride and Prejudice
“Do not consider me now as an elegant female, intending to play with you, but as a rational creature, speaking the truth from her heart.” Elizabeth Bennet from Jane Austen’s classic literary piece, Pride and Prejudice.
Elizabeth Bennet or Mrs. Darcy is one of the most notable female literary characters, especially among the classics. Elizabeth’s character challenged the stereotypes imposed among women during the setting of the story. During the Napoleonic wars, women were expected to be pliant and their only goal was to have an advantageous marriage. However, Elizabeth wasn’t that. She is smart, quick-witted, and outspoken. Truly a deviant from the norm. She even rejected two proposals of an advantageous marriage.
Elizabeth is a prime example of a strong character who didn’t need to use force. Her strength comes from knowing who she is and being unapologetic about it, which is what we need to teach to young children.
Annabeth Chase – Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series
Despite not being the forerunner of the franchise, Annabeth Chase lives up as the “Best Girl” character in the entire series and the succeeding counterparts. She makes up the trio of the main character and another companion who go on missions to save the world. In their group, she is the brain, the mastermind of well-thought-out plans and strategies.
Since childhood, Annabeth is trained to be a hero as she is expected to be, being a daughter of a mortal and the greek goddess of wisdom and war strategies, Athena. She excels as a hero and as a normal teen, too. But like all other heroes-in-training, she battles with dyslexia and ADHD which are often related to rowdiness and poor school performance. Despite the poor expectations from her, she proves them wrong. As much as she can she balances all the aspects of her life.
Her character spans multiple series that’s why we are able to witness her growth. Her growth teaches kids to dream big. Annabeth’s dream was to be the best architect there is and in the last books, she is close to reaching those. She is portrayed as human as possible despite having advantages. Annabeth was a strong yet considerate leader. Her word was law, but she was open to suggestions. She uses her mind as much as she trusts her intuition.
Aside from those mentioned in this list, there are more strong female characters from films and books that are worth celebrating. There are even more females in real life who are worth emulating. It’s time to celebrate women as they are, not for how they perfectly fit social stereotypes and expectations. Let’s celebrate strong, passionate, outspoken women who are heroes outside fictional worlds.