Cinematic Discussion: What Makes a Great Female Role Model?

October 1, 2009

Ginny from Harry Potter

Note: As this cinematic discussion is meant for contemporary audiences, these examples will be equally contemporary. Just as women and men are different, we've all evolved with the times. And one's role model, for the most part, often represents one's contemporary outlook for their future self.

Believe it or not, a man can discuss and write about issues of feminism. While some may be woefully ignorant or just banefully uninterested, take notice, guys, you shouldn't be. And not all of us are -- completely, anyway. So, with that in mind, there's one particular issue of feminism, of the representation of females, that I want to discuss at the moment: What makes a great female role model? (Of course, as localized to the medium of film.) What are the elements of a female character that should be most sought after by writers hoping to create strong, relatable, fleshed-out characters? What makes the characters who imbue those elements great role models? And what are some of the best female role models in film?

Now, over the course of this discussion, you may question some of my choices and definitions -- especially when I begin to list what I think to be some of the best contemporary representations of female role models. So, let's address this impasse immediately: You won't find The Bride or Alice on the list. They're both tough, strong, independent women -- but they're not role models. They're female action heroines, which is fine, but irrelevant to this discussion. It's not that I'm dismissing action heroines outright, as Genevieve so graciously pointed out to me:

"Female action heroines [can be] good female role models. They are (except for cases where they are overly sexualized for the male gaze) heroines not defined by their sex but by their goals and motivations. Trinity and Lara Croft are focused on action and are on missions for their own reasons. Any action hero, because of the nature of the character, are interchangeable between the sexes. The very definition of the story and character are focused on morality/justice/higher ideals, not the petty everyday humdrum of relationships that would lend itself to binary sexual identification of characters."

The above is a great defense of the action heroine as a female role model. And I agree with Genevieve's points. The action hero is usually a masculine role (even Ripley was once written to be a man), but it's something females can fulfill as well. And that, for sure, is worthy of being called a role model. Though, their inclusion will cease henceforth.

A role model, as I'll be using the term, is someone whose behavior, attitude, or success should be emulated, especially by those younger than she. Do I want my daughter to look up to The Bride or emulate Trinity or long to be Lara Croft? No. All three of them are feminine forces to be reckoned with, for sure, but they're forces meant to be, for the most part, relatable to the men rather than the women in the audience. I suppose the best way to begin to define just what makes a great female role model on film is to first define what does not.

So, firstly, I'd say if the role is an object and/or more relatable to men than women, that's not a great role model. The very conceit of populating a film with a female roles that are objects of desire (for both the men on screen and off) undermines the characters ability to connect on any level deeper than the unfortunately usual thought that women are for men to chase. Second, if a female character is, herself, chasing after a man throughout most of the film and that's the direct reason for most of her actions throughout the film, a role model she is not. If a female character is only there to be chased after by a man and though she may resist at first, but then realizes that he's what she's wanted all along -- not a role model. If a female character could easily be changed into a male character, she's definitely not a role model. We're different after all, women and men. So, during the development process of a script, if the words "that character there could be a girl" are ever uttered, what is actually being said is "we need more boobs." And that's not something to be proud of.

The above are just the main tell-tale signs of superficial female roles. And, for the most part, the female roles in rom-coms and action movies and sappy romances usually fall into one of the above categories. They also have something else in common: for the most part, these roles can be found in movies that are rated R or are at least intended for adults. On one hand, this makes sense as role models are most necessary for younger, more impressionable audiences. But on the other, doesn't everyone, always, no matter their age need a role model? Though, that's a discussion for another time. So, when looking at some of the most well written, best female role models, I was drawn to characters that are accessible to a younger demographic. And my criteria, if it were to be boiled down to its nucleus, is the question, "Would I want my daughter to follow in her footsteps?"

Hitting theaters on October 2nd of this year, Drew Barrymore's directorial debut Whip It has a couple stellar examples of what makes a great female role model, but it's the main character who is most representative. Bliss is at the perfect age to explore her self-agency and growth beyond the insular family unit. The internal struggle between what has always been expected versus who she's becoming, wants to become -- basically the movement from child to adult. Over the course of the film, Bliss enacts more and more control over herself and struggles with how she's always been perceived versus how she wants to be. Though not all of her actions are admirable, it's her imperfections that make her worthy of emulation. Striving to become one's own person, succeeding at and following through with one's goals, and focusing on what makes her, specifically, happy -- these are all elements of great weight. Choosing one's own path, following one's dreams is an admirable trait and Bliss is very much a great role model.

For many of same reasons as above, Coraline, the titular character from Henry Selick's stop-motion film, is also a great example. Struggling to relate to her new surroundings and her family while attempting to venture out on her own, she's a character who's rich with merit.

My next example is the character Evelyn Carnahan (played by Rachel Weisz) from The Mummy. Though The Mummy is ostensibly an action film and Carnahan is an action heroine, she's strong and intelligent and a great female role model in ways that most other action heroines are not. She's fun and ambitious and is usually the one in control. Her brains are what allow her to succeed, not her brawn, and she's able to embark on a relationship without losing herself to her significant other. In The Mummy Returns she's an excellent mother and an equal to her spouse; challenging and adventurous and understanding. A great role model, and a rare representation of a character that is able to connect with all ages.

This next film's characters are not only good role models, but also stand pretty much alone amidst a group of mostly male characters over this company's entire filmography. Pixar has been chastised in the past for their lack of female characters, and rightfully so, but with The Incredibles the company at least attempted and to some degree succeeded in creating a couple memorable female role models. Again, for many of the same relatable reasons as Bliss and Coraline, Violet is a great (though less deep) character. Her struggle with her self-confidence and embracing her talents and what makes her unique is an issue that I was happy to see explored. The equitable relationship between Helen and Bob Parr (Elastigirl and Mr. Incredible) is equally refreshing. Especially Helen's struggle with finding the courage to reclaim the woman she once was before her family and the confidence she gained from doing so. Though these issues are definitely not at the forefront of the film, both of these female roles are memorable and worthy of discussion.

The last example I'll provide is somewhat disputed. Hermione Granger of the Harry Potter films has elements that are certainly fit for emulation. Her ambition and intelligence and focus are all great traits. Her confidence amidst her peers is as well. In the most recent film, Half-Blood Prince, the conflict and representation of her character's burgeoning love life is honest and heartfelt and rings true. But, as David Ehrlich pointed out via Twitter, "Her blind ascription to a mirthless set of values shows a weak personality and suffocates any sort of fun out of her." And he's right. She's unwavering and most often unyielding. The rules and ambitions she abides show no flexibility and are, for the most part, her personality. There are glimpses of something more in Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince (and, having read the books, she cements herself as a definite role model at the series conclusion), but there are only pieces of her that qualify thus far.

More representative of a great female role model in the Harry Potter series is Ginny Weasley (seen in the top photo). She's shown taking full agency over her own sexuality, she's athletic and strong, she's accomplished and smart and driven, she's fearless and resolved, but flexible. Though her presence is somewhat lacking in the films, she remains a great role model.

The above are just a few of my contemporary examples. Examples of strength and ambition, self-confidence and sexual agency, determination and intelligence, able to define one's self without the presence of a male counterpart and engage in equitable relationships without losing one's self in the process. Which characters that are not mentioned fit this criteria? Which characters would you most readily show your daughters? Princess Leia? Dana Scully? Ellen Ripley? Sarah Connor? Or is my definition of a great female role model in need of revision? It's your turn. And please, leave your misogyny and chauvinism out of the text box.

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I don't know if I agree with the idea that because someone "subscribes to a mirthless set of values" they are a weak role model...

Alex on Oct 1, 2009


I would say Hermione is a much better role model than Ginny. I don't think her values, or dedication to said values demonstrates a weak personality. In fact, I'd go the opposite way. But you must also realize that she changes quite a lot throughout the series, eventually becoming very comfortable in her own skin, and really she often steals the spotlight from the titular character, by being so resourceful and intelligent. I know my own little sister looks at Hermione as the sun and the moon because she is a girl who knows what she wants and who is dedicated, ambitious and ultimately the key to Harry's ultimate success. I've also had this talk before, concerning the Bride as a role model and I'd have to say that I believe she is. Of course her actions are not at all in tune with what we percieve as just or right, but she doesn't live in our world. She inhabits a world where acts of vengeance are typical. Her reactions to the murder of her adoptive family and friends are very true to who she is. She may be a killer, yes, but she is persistent, she is intelligent, she is calm under fire and at the end of the day she put her entire life on the line and rexamined her life in an instant for her unborn child. She may not be Rosa Parks but she's not to be discounted.

Adrian on Oct 1, 2009


Rather than read a few hundred words from me, watch Sigorney Weaver's portrayal of the character Ripley in the original Alien movie. Tell the studios to watch what she does - and then have their characters act like that.

votre on Oct 1, 2009


The only reason people feel they "need" role models, either for themselves or for their children, is because parents have been dropping the ball when it comes to setting an example. Have been for decades. Personally I think it's embarrassing for any parent to encourage their child to find a role model, regardless of sex (or lack of a spouse). Your child is supposed to look up to you and you alone. If you don't have it together enough to be a good role model for your own children, shame on you. But I'm a realist, and I know that people are gonna continue to screw up. For those with deadbeat parents, or no parents at all, I still say forget about finding a role model. It's nothing wrong with saying that a person has good qualities, but to specifically choose someone to emulate is tantamount to worship. And then, when that person screws up somehow (and they will), those who look up to him/her are crushed. Meanwhile, the role model (who often never asked for that job in the first place), already suffering from their own mistake, has to endure the venom of said followers, wondering why all the criticism is being launched at them for being nothing more than human. I know that you mentioned fictional characters, which is marginally different (and much sadder). But I stand by my opinion. Appreciate Hermione's intelligence--don't try to be like Hermione. Marvel at Ripley's strength and willpower, instead of trying to fashion yourself after her. In the end, you can only be yourself, anyway. Steal a little bit from everybody and be happy with the results.

NadaNuff on Oct 1, 2009


That was one of the best articles I've seen written on the subject. Female action flicks don't do exceptionally with females(the opposite of what you think it would be) because they're geared to a male-oriented demographic. I would hope that one day a "Transformers" type movie is made with a female character in Shia's role and does as well. As for role models, I think that's the kind of movie that will bring in as many female fans as males ones. A character's struggle that is distinctly female yet is something a male audience member can identify with in broad strokes. Easier said than done, I guess.

WayneAnthony on Oct 1, 2009


As for Hermione Granger, its important to note that the Harry Potter films focus solely on Harry's viewpoint of the story. The novels have bigger stories for everyone and even some characters who never made it to film. Her status as a female role model should be based off of JK Rowling's written depiction of her and not her portrayal on screen (which is done well by Emma Watson, but the character on screen is a bit different than the character on page.) Hermione has her flaws, she can be a bit overbearing and she definitely can be a headcase sometimes. In the novel though, she freely admits that she lets her emotions get the best of her. It is her unwavering devoution to her friends that redeem her. (Spoiler Alert) She was tortured by the Death Eaters, but does it to protect Harry. She organizes the entire plan of attack durinig the 7th Novel. The central theme to the Harry Potter series is love and without Hermione's love and devoution, Harry might not have succeeded. She thinks for herself, she's not afraid to be smart and to study, and she doesn't really fit in with the other girls at Hogwarts because she refuses to conform to the norm of what women in todays society (both Wizard World and Real World). I think she definitely should be considered a role model. As for Ginny, I think she is portrayed as more of an ideal girl (to Harry at least) role model in the novels because Harry eventually falls in love with her. Hermione is flawed, which is her beauty but Ginny has this aura around her of being Harry's ideal girl and shes sort of perfect in a sense. Hermione mothers Harry, whereas Ginny loves him because she just does and had since book 1. Harry rides in on a stallion in book 2 and saves Ginny which just cements that feeling of love between them because she admires him. If Ginny didn't end up with Harry, I think she wouldn't be that ideal role model type of girl.

????? on Oct 1, 2009


Great topic. I can't really give an overall vibe on what makes a great female character. That'll take some time - but one female character that I loved and felt she was the perfect role model was Rashida Jones as Zooey in I Love You, Man. I think she personified traits that both made her a woman to be admired by younger woman as well as desired by men. She allowed Paul Rudd's character Peter the independence he needed to find a friend, yet she wasn't insensitive nor a pushover when issues came up towards the end. She was sweet, supportive, level-headed, and at the end called up Sydney because she knew Peter was his husbands best friend and that he needed him, regardless of the shadiness she felt towards him. That's what I can think of right now. What guy didn't fall in love with her after watching that. She was as critical to the role as Sydney!

Nick Sears on Oct 1, 2009


Hermione is there for the sex appeal. While your definition isn't bad and pretty spot on, it's so blatant obvious that duh...Webster's defines a role model as "someone you'd want your kid to look up to." The "isn't bad" is that this is a stretched encyclopedia entry of what came out of a dictionary and seems to lack any opinion of your own. I love the attempt by you Alex to write like Chris and I respect you a bit more for the attempt but bring something to the playing field. It's actually a bit ironic that you use "to fuel the fire" and yet there's never really a fire. Maybe it isn't ironic 'cause here we are once again and there's no fire. While disagreeing with you on some selections, maybe but whom one selects as a role model is not the same what a role model is. People may just perceive differently as to whom they want their kid to look up to. Maybe they want their daughter to be like Lara Croft? The concept is still the same though. Anyhow, I would say...Liv Tyler. Two of her characters, well one actually, stood out to be interesting and the other is more obvious. Arwen is ambitious and is a fighter. She loves Aragon it doesn't stop her from doing her duties, from saving Frodo, and standing up for what she believers in. Now yeah, they toned her down after the first movie where she made an impact but she's a great female role. The was Grace Stamper. She held the same idea of standing up against what she believed, she loved who she wanted. Here's the thing, she still loved her dad; she stayed with him and stood by him, given she worked for him, it was more than that. In a time where divorces are so regular and even late in a marriage, seeing that and the story behind the movie of her actually working with her father again. That's really what that movie was about. It was a love story. It wasn't about saving the world or how the roughneck gets the pretty lady. It was the relationship of a father and daughter and how despite everything they loved each other and she did care about him and he would do anything for her. I think I put more thought into that than normal as I am to be a father in 9 months and having a daughter or son even, although I have the feeling it'll be a girl, has deepen my thoughts on such matters. Ok, I'm done.

Tra la la la la di da on Oct 1, 2009


I love your examples. There are so few movies that show women who are self-assured without emasculating the male in some way. Thank you for these great examples.

Catherine Cole on Jul 2, 2012


Great thought-generating essay. I think even though action heroines can be interchangable with males, it could be argued they ascribe to an Amazonian-woman or Giantess fantasy. What we consider to be role models nowadays for women fits into a somewhat defeminized package of values: girls must ultimately be smart to succeed. Although promoting intellectual pursuits for girls is great, (although by college stats, guys need more encouragement), I feel something is fundamentally lacking and dishonest in what could be called the 'New Girl'. I'm not sure what it is but the portrayels feel false or created with clear points hit, like a yogurt or tampon commercial, "Look, your a strong, active, smart women who also has the ability to procreate; buy our product." I got this feeling especially watching "He's Just Not That Into You." I realize others have spoken mainly of dramas and action, but cheap comedies can also be a cultural barometer. There's a few female-driven non-romantic comedies coming through the pipe. I'll be curious to see their performance, if they create a new wave of comedy, and change the game of post-feminism.

Brandon Ogborn on Oct 1, 2009


speaking of cheap comedies.... and commercials....and movies... all make the male look stupid, idiotic, weak, brow-beaten, emasculated! I hate that none of you are seeing what terrible things are being done to the male image, just to boost the female ego. Why can't a woman be portrayed as self assured without making the men out to be fools? I have a son and a daughter...I don't want to see either looking at these jokes of humanity and finding role models in them.

Catherine Cole on Jul 2, 2012


@ Nick Sears, I also found Rashida Jones character in I Love You Man to be a great example of middleground. Well played, Sir.

Brandon Ogborn on Oct 1, 2009


I find that when movies are made with the idea in mind of making a character a role model, the portrayal does not come across as well as it should. It tends to feel shoved down your throat, and less like a real person you might try emulating. I think this is why the action heroines and the like never appeal to me as role models. Everyone expects them to be a role model - but normally their "imperfections" or "flaws" are something that's unrelatable. It's a rare occurance for a girl to dress up in pleather and go kill bad guys while maintaining her day job and a stable relationship. Movies that I've loved with strong female characters have been more in the vein of Whale Rider and North Country. Obviously, those woman faced huge obstacles that they had to overcome, and at times, didn't think they'd be able to make it through. Each made mistakes and had to rely on others to help them achieve their goals. Neither thought they could do it on their own. I think what really rang true was their self-consciousness. Whale Rider, is particular, hit home with me. North Country has multiple female characters, only some of them role model-worthy, and while the story was enormous, there were also females in the film that detracted from the overall effect. In Whale Rider, all of the females know how to work their situations. Pai, clearly, is the obvious role model, but I found her grandmother to be a real role model. The grandmother knew that her husband was the leader, and that he was set in his ways and unlikely to change, but when she knew he was not right in what he was doing, she made a stand. Her stand might have been merely to let him sulk and not attempt to rectify the situation he had created for himself, but she knew what could make him realize he was in the wrong. She worked within her situation without going over the top, which I feel like is something many films have their characters ultimately do. The other film that comes to mind actually probably does fall under the action category of sorts, but I adore Sophie in Howl's Moving Castle. She had to realize throughout the course of the film that her actions do have an effect, and that she can not expect to rely on anyone but herself, but that she herself can make a difference. She uses her skills and talents (and in a body unlike her own, and being a housekeeper, neither of which are glamorous) to break the curse put on her. Yes, she falls in love and ends up happy with the hero in the end, but Sophie came to love and act on her love for more than just him. She became a mother to Markl, and a good friend to Cal. These relationships are equally as important as her relationship with Howl, which I think is something not often highlighted. Why should a role model be required to be in love and happy with their love? It's nice to have that, for sure, but it won't necessarily happen for everyone, or it may not happen quite yet. Friendships and family should be a huge part of everyone's life, and I think Howl's Moving Castle depicts that quite nicely.

Emma on Oct 1, 2009


Great discussion! I think my biggest beef with female "role models," particularly in action movies, is that they're motivated by some sort of maternal instinct. Ripley in Alien was fantastic, but Ripley in Aliens was motivated by protecting Newt, which pissed me off. Same with Sarah Connor in Terminator 2. It was like the audiences (mainly male-dominated) were uncomfortable with a female character who kicked ass just to do so, without any outside influence, so their characters had to be softened for the sequels. Bleah! As a librarian, I LOVE your inclusion of Rachel Weisz's character in The Mummy! I agree that she was a very good role model. But, again, in the sequel, she was motivated by maternal instinct, which left a bad taste in my mouth. As over-the-top as the Charlie's Angels movies were, I think that they portrayed women as not only strong and sexy, but also intelligent and fun-loving. I really appreciated that. I remember reading somewhere that Drew Barrymore, who directed? produced? both of the Charlie's Angels movies, specifically didn't want the Angels holding guns, so she made them martial arts specialists. I thought that was a nice touch.

boriskat on Oct 1, 2009


Yeah but #12...you're referring to sequels and not the originals.

Tra la la la la di da on Oct 1, 2009


6's point was awesome

rena on Oct 1, 2009


I love this discussion! One of my (move character) role models was also played by Rachel Weisz: Tessa Quayle in The Constant Gardener. I haven't seen the movie in forever, but I just remember being incredibly inspired by Tessa in a way I rarely am when I watch movies. While her husband, the diplomat, is completely oblivious to/accepting of the poverty and corruption surrounding him in Africa, she's secretly taking on multi-national corporations for exploiting the people. Awesome. My one interjection here is that the theme of "female role models" seems to be framed as 'role models for females' when it could be framed as 'female role models for all movie viewers.' You ask, "Do I want my daughter to look up to The Bride or emulate Trinity or long to be Lara Croft?" and define your main criteria to be "Would I want my daughter to follow in her footsteps?" While I agree that positive female role models are important for girls and women, strong female characters should/can be role models for boys and men as well. Why not consider what kind of women you'd hope your son would look up to as well? Thinking back on my own youth and personal experience (so this is kind of just anecdotal and maybe I'm overlooking major examples that say otherwise) I feel like girls are fairly used to identifying with male characters and often have male role models. Starting with kids' movies, films marketed at children of both genders often have exciting, cool, adventurous, high-achieving, funny (etc.) male leads that boys and girls can admire. But movies with women (or *girls*) as leads are mainly marketed toward other women and girls. It's kind of like male characters have this advantage as being accepted on almost gender-neutral terms; thinking of my childhood, it seemed as though girls (and boys) would go see Home Alone but boys would get made fun of if they loved Harriet the Spy. I look forward to the day when boys and men embrace female role models just as women already embrace male role models.

Toni on Oct 1, 2009


I disagree. There are no really good male role models coming out of hollywood or anywhere else. As far as good female role models, my son can name several women that he thinks are strong and he admires..... I think you are way off base. There need to be good male role models...and a good role model for a woman doesn't have to be super strong or in charge...she just has to be sure of herself.

Catherine Cole on Jul 2, 2012


The idea of a role model, female or otherwise should come from a place of inspiration. I would assume that you are refering to positive role models in this case and i will work off that assumption. we all feel that we lack certain elements in our lives that impede our ability as a human to realize our true potenttial. if we could just change this or that, that we would be able to fly to unsurpassed heights. this painting of our desires on others and the creation of characters that do that for us is the imprinting of our innermost insecurities and realization that we arent all heroes. Laura Croft , Wonder Woman, Trinity, are all representations of the Helenic Ideal that comes from Greek mythology. hera was the god of war, the legend of the amazonians.. the race of warlike women that existed soverign without male interferance. the Deification of Joan of arc and Elizabeth of england. we imprint on these women the acheivements that are wholly denied to them in our male dominated society. Who are the women that are idealized? amelia erhart? what could have been is tied to the adventurer, Nelly bly the brave investigator and reporter? we always look for what we dont have in our role models and we often find it or manufacture it. its good that girls, women have the benefit of this aspect of our society that didnt exist 30 years ago. I would offer that in the movies, we offer very few role models. hollywood is too busy trying to draw people to seats. the venal aspects of our society is what they will push everytime and it is extremely rare to see any positive role models for women. How does Megan Fox become a celebrity? dont get me started on positive role models for boys.

goliad on Oct 1, 2009


Amen! I'm right with you on all of this..... and I want to start a campaign on positive role models for boys, myself. Men have been more and more emasculated throughout the years. I want my son to see good role models besides men good at sports. Also, if you want you daughters to be treated well and chose good mates, give the boys someone admirable to emulate.

Catherine Cole on Jul 2, 2012


Some great comments. Of all of them I would say that #4 really strikes me, you come off a little harsh but at the same time you have a very valid point in regards to the flawed "Role Model" and I completely agree with you that a parent should strive to show/portray the best of what they would hope their children can grow to be. But I must say that I somewhat disagree with your view on what a positive role model is considered and maybe that's due to people trying to "become" that person that they admire as you point out and not simply admire the amiable qualities that person represents. I really like the point you make such as "Appreciate Hermione's intelligence–don't try to be like Hermione. Marvel at Ripley's strength and willpower, instead of trying to fashion yourself after her." and again I completely agree that you need to be yourself but honestly don't we all admire or fashion who we are from what we see in good fiction or even in real life? Of course I wanted to be Luke Skywalker and of course my little girl wants to be Ariel but it's not until we grow up and realize that it's simply the qualities that those characters represent that we found ourselves most likely to love and then nurture in our own lives as adults. As for strong female characters that I've found fascinating here are but a few I can think of off the top of my head and sadly there should be more! 1. Princess Leia 2. Hermione Granger 3. Dorthy Gail 4. Elizabeth Bennet 5. Fanny Price 6. Anne Shirley 7. Arwen 8. Eowyn 9. Ariel 10. Marion (Raiders of the Lost Ark)

Ira Owens on Oct 1, 2009


Well written article! It leaves much food for thought. Having a role model is not the same thing as putting a person on a pedestal. (#4) Big mistake! But that is learned through life. Yes, parents should always be good role models, but through life we learn that they too make mistakes. And every role model we may have will make mistakes. That is called "LIFE" I know my mother lived each day striving to be a good role model. She was & is for all that know her. But we who loved her most, love her because was a better person because of those mistakes (lessons, I prefer to call them.) I agree, be true to yourself, learn from all walks of life, & be the best you can be. Keep the good influences in your life & the not so good, discard. My favorite Love Story:THE NOTEBOOK she followed her heart: I still want to believe in "happy ever after" Great comment #15 female role models definitely teach young men. A mother is just as much a role model to her son as she is her daughter. Could go on forever, but back to work.

Barbara on Oct 1, 2009


When she's kicking multitudes of alien ass! Otherwise, there's no such thing as a good female role-model. Some feminist or someone is always going to complain about a female character being a stereotypical/cliche this or that.

SlashBeast on Oct 1, 2009


I disagree about Helen Parr's story being a side note in The Incredibles. It was one of the three tentpoles, and she's a brilliant role model because she's strong (not as an action hero, but as a person) yet also flawed. Lilo from Lilo and Stitch was another good one, strong-willed and compassionate, but again also flawed. For me the flaws are important, otherwise these role models cease to be human. On another note, while woman and men are different, they're nowhere near as different as the common populous believes. Studies have shown that men and women are near identical except for factors attributed to customs, upbringing, religion and other outside influences... The emotional differences are often sited as huge gulfs between the sexes are actually almost statistically insignificant, and getting smaller all the time as society evolves.

Mark on Oct 1, 2009


#17 Marion Ravenwood! Now there's a good role model. And yeah, she the love interest, but she rises above it and becomes so much more. She and Indy were really equals. Awesome choice.

Mark on Oct 1, 2009


Yeah I mean obviously I don't want my little girl to be able to drink an entire bar under the table but Marion was such a great character and a really tough gal. My biggest disappointment in the last Indy movie was that she didn't punch him in the face the first time they were re-united! What a missed opportunity!

Ira Owens on Oct 1, 2009


Almost anything with Meryl Streep. She's created a gold mine of great female role models Julie & Julia The Hours The Bridges of Madison County Silkwood One True Thing Music of the Heart The River Wild Doubt (even if she's the villian)

Reub on Oct 1, 2009


Dana Scully and Princess Leia have always been my role models. I also love both Hermione Granger and Ginny Weasley, because they're young girls who we got to see grow up and mature into young women. It's cool to see role models for younger girls who aren't on TV. There are HP movies, but I'm more into the books. Although I did enjoy both girls in the latest HP film. But back to Dana Scully. I grew up watching The X-Files and I could not ask for a better role model than Dana Scully. She worked on the field and did a kick ass job at it, but she was also brilliantly smart with her science. I loved her. As for Princess Leia, she's the exact type of girl you love to see in summer blockbusters. She's feisty and can snap back at the guys, but she can also take care of herself.

Molly on Oct 1, 2009


You know come to think about it I really like Pam from "The Office" as well. Her character has undergone some really great development and she's someone who has become a stronger person from personal struggles on the show. She's smart, funny and had to make some tough decisions in her personal life, Jenna Fischer does a great job with playing that way. My 2 cents.

Ira Owens on Oct 1, 2009


Wow, what a great and refreshing article. I agree on pretty much everything, particularaly the part about Hermione. A lot of people I know say she's a great role model (along with Ginny Weasley of course), but I don't know - there's always been something lacking with her for me and I think you've pinpointed why.

Linds on Oct 1, 2009


Meryl Streep was definitely NOT the villain in Doubt. She was the heroine. I'm astonished you could come to that conclusion.

NadaNuff on Oct 1, 2009


Hey, I read this blog all the time and was totally bowled over to see this essay. And speaking as a woman, that does make me kinda sexist! But seriously, dude, good to see this up here. Thank you. Something to think about: Ripley is widely recognized for being an outstanding female action hero. Is she perhaps so unique among the characters mentioned above because she has no romantic interests in Alien?

Leaux on Oct 1, 2009


#4 hit it right on the button, regardless of whether or not the point comes off as harsh or blunt and to the point. First, this discussion needs to be pointed in the right direction. Virtues and morality are subjective, there is no finite line as to what we can or cannot judge as a good role model regardless of sex. As soon as people can accept that fact and go from there, then the ideals and notions of what a role model can be, or should be becomes easy to answer... As far as movie related characters as role models, as long as you as the individual relate(truly relate)and not just go along with the in crowd to the set virtues and morals then so be it. But one must remember that these characters are fictional, and are portrayed thru the eyes of another, and not necessarily their own set of virtues and morals. But of virtues and morals designed to be attractive to the audience for the sake of making money... the irony in that is fascinating... @ #28 Ripley's character is a very wonderful character indeed...but have you ever noticed in the Alien movies, specifically the first 2, the men portrayed in the movies are all Beta male oriented? There is no "real man" ideal from Hollywood in the movie, which only enhances her character image on screen. The sad cliche on action hero's follow the time and tried rule... The female action hero needs to save a child or a group of weaker people, and the male action hero almost always does what he does for the sake of a woman. When the ideal role model I personally would have for my children would be to follow someone who does what they do simply because they believe in it, and have love and passion for it.

nicc on Oct 1, 2009


#4: "Appreciate Hermione's intelligence–don't try to be like Hermione. Marvel at Ripley's strength and willpower, instead of trying to fashion yourself after her. In the end, you can only be yourself, anyway. Steal a little bit from everybody and be happy with the results." Basically everything said there, I agree with. I was fortunate enough to have an entire family of role models, but the key to that was pulling from everyone's best attributes. You will never get anywhere far if you focus on being exactly like someone else.

case on Oct 1, 2009


And Luna? She's should be here, she's wonderful.

David on Oct 2, 2009


sweet! i love women! equality = love movies are crucial to this process. sure parents have the most influence on their kids, but most parents are pretty clueless about a lot in life. we have kids too early in some ways. we become parents in our 30s. it's kids raising kids. we need a guiding force in the media in order to explore psychological territory that is oftentimes missed by parents. and a shared experience in movies is a great place to do this. women and men are essentially the same. ok, great, we're equal (although i'm leaning towards women being superior at this point lol). now shouldn't we be treated equally? i hope that my future daughter will: recognize that balance and equality within society = survival. know that the power to change her reality lies within herself. understand that the love she shares is replenished with more than that which she gives away. devote herself to learning. realize that the ability to create life is at the core of every human being therefore making everyone a creative person, first and foremost. and that she must always nurture this gift. be a leader and an agent for progress. recognize that women are arranged in a hierarchy based on their physical appearance and that this practice fragments them into small groups. unite these groups. look at her ability to create life as an opportunity and not a limitation. understand the importance of a healthy body and mind. become aware of the inherent conditioning that is forced upon men and women. realize that a person's sexuality is precious and fearlessly promote this moral within society. give all her love and knowledge to her children. love her partner as if they were her. help. splice on splotzle. laugh a lot. hahah well it's 5:30 a.m. and i should get to bed. so yeah these would be cool to see in a character and would begin to constitute a positive role model imho. thanks for the inspirational comments and thanks to Brandon for saving the world! 🙂

Kalladin on Oct 4, 2009


#17 and #23 have good lists. Agree with the last sentence of #4's comment. Off the top of my head, I'll add Eve from "Wall-E" to the list. Strong, values and moral driven female - yes, yes, I know what you're thinking. Who else... M from the Bond series Vesper Lynd from Casino Royale Madolyn (Vera Farmiga) from The Departed Clarice from Silence of the Lambs Lisa Fremont from Rear Window Dr. Grace Augustine from Avatar Pam Landy from the Bourne Series Evey from V for Vendetta Maggie Fitzgerald from Million Dollar Baby Julian from Children of Men Sheryl and Olive Hoover from Little Miss Sunshine Maddy Bowen from Blood Diamond Marla from Fight Club. Summer from 500 Days of Summer kidding about the last two.

Keith on Jan 11, 2010


Neglected to say, "Great piece, Brandon Lee Tenney." I have become a fan of your work. Keep up the good work.

Keith on Jan 11, 2010


Also, as #31 said, Luna is wonderful. Also, how could I forget Shosanna from Inglourious Basterds. Definitely. I just keep coming up with more, but I'm going to stop there. Need to sleep before class tomorr...err, a few hours from now.

Keith on Jan 11, 2010

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