Top 5 Strong Female Leads
As a young girl, I always thought to myself, “I should’ve been a boy.” This was not only because I thought I was the coolest “tom-boy” on the block, rocking my oversized basketball shorts and ponytail, but also because I also knew that deep down if I were a boy my life would be easier. Luckily, I also loved to read, and the books I read showed me the power of being a woman. The books I grew up on showcased strength, bravery, ferocity, boldness, compassion, and everything else that it means to be a woman; above all, it made me proud to be one. There are times, even now, I catch myself thinking, “if only I were a man…” But how does that saying go again? “Nothing worth having comes easy.” Sounds about right to me. And in that case, women have a lot to look forward to.
Full disclosure: my intention was to post this on International Women's Day...over a month ago now. But alas, this thing called “life” got in the way, and as far as I’m concerned, every friggen day should be about celebrating women. So without further ado, below are five female characters who have helped make me into the woman I am today:
1. Hermione Granger - Harry Potter
Anyone who knows me, knows I am a die-hard Harry Potter fan; so of course, Hermione Granger is at the top of my list. However, what most people don’t know is that originally, my mom read the first Harry Potter book to me. My brother had to read it for school and the only way she could get him to read it was if we all read a chapter together before bed. I remember not liking Hermione at first. Like most people, even Ron and Harry, I thought she was a bossy, annoying, know-it-all.
Reading the novels for myself, years later in high school, I saw Hermione in a different light. She was brave, loyal, and wasn’t afraid to speak her mind (hmm, it’s almost like she was a Gryffindor or something). As someone who was a walking doormat in high school, I was in awe of her ability to stand up for herself, even if that meant she ended up sitting alone in the common room. Most importantly, I saw Hermione’s obsession with school and books for what they were: an insecurity. Hermione was born from non-magical parents which meant she felt she had to work twice as hard as any other witch or wizard to prove she was good enough. Most people reading this are like, “duh, how’d you miss that?” But I did. I saw her at face value, as an irksome teacher's pet, rather than the bold, passionate, dedicated witch she was. It opened my eyes to not only view the women in my life differently, but everyone, and encouraged me to look past my initial judgment to look for the motivation. To look for the magic.
2. Katniss Everdeen - The Hunger Games
Katniss Everdeen, the Mockingjay, sparked a fire in me that can never be extinguished. She shook the world with four simple words, “I volunteer as tribute.” It seems silly now, but The Hunger Games is my first memory of ever reading or watching anything with a strong female lead. At the time, I had no idea how revolutionary that was. I was too busy thinking, “NO, DON’T EAT THE BERRIES!” Now, I realize how lucky of a generation we are to have grown up with books like The Hunger Games. The generations before us didn’t have the girl on freakin’ fire as their idols or hanging from their bedroom walls. And what a pity that is.
A scene that still stands out in my mind to this day is Katniss shooting an arrow through the apple of the pigs mouth in her private session with the Gamemakers. It was as if Katniss shot me instead, waking up something deep inside me. I was jolted by her unwillingness to go unnoticed, to be ignored—her ability to make a statement without saying a word. Throughout history, women have been taught to be seen and not heard, to draw as little attention to themselves as possible, and do as they are told. This scene goes against all those sentiments; and in turn, injected my veins full of hope. Katniss taught many young girls, myself included, about sacrifice, passion, pain, and bravery. She started an entire revolution, by simply doing what she believed in and playing the game, her way. I don’t think I’ve ever been the same since. She took control of her life, and inspired me to do the same.
3. Miriam and Laila - A Thousand Splendid Suns
Unlike most high schoolers, I actually completed my summer reading lists. Such a nerd, I know, but in my defense, my summer reading lists consisted of books that actually changed my life. For those of you who are unfamiliar with A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, first of all: what have you been doing with your life thus far? Second of all: go buy an extra-large pack of Kleenex and get familiar with this masterpiece.
This is a heart-wrenching tale of two women whose stories collide due to terrible circumstances. Set in Afghanistan in the 1960s, after a traumatic childhood, our first protagonist, Miriam is forced into an abusive marriage with Rasheed. Her inability to have children only makes matters worse. Chaos erupts throughout Afghanistan, and we are introduced to the young, intelligent Laila, whose family is torn apart by the ravages of war. When her lover and childhood best friend, Tarqui, dies, Laila is left alone and unexpectedly pregnant. She agrees to become Rasheed’s second wife, in order to save herself and her child from further devastation. Miriam is initially threatened and jealous of the much younger and beautiful Laila; however, once her child is brought into the world, a bridge between the two wives is formed and together they face hardship, heartbreak, and most of all love. I’m dying to tell you all the twists, turns, and beautiful details that make this novel so profound, but no spoilers here. You’ll have to find out for yourself.
It’s hard for me to express how much of an impact this book has had on me; not only as a reader, but also as a human being. Miriam and Laila taught me one of women’s greatest strengths that often goes unnoticed: sacrifice. The abuse these women tolerate for the love of their children and each other, brought to light an entirely new tier of bravery. I now notice every day just how much mothers sacrifice of themselves for the sake of their children; actions that are expected, but not respected nearly enough.
These characters also showed me how much stronger women are when we stand together. When Miriam was riddled with envy towards Laila, their lives were so much more difficult; however, once they realized just how similar they were, they were able to take weight off each other's shoulders by sharing their burdens. They were able to find the beauty, even amidst all the ugliness. They found purpose within each other. Can you see how high school me, during the time period when we are surrounded by gossip, rumors, and “popularity” contests, may have been moved? The same still rings true today. You’ve heard it before but I’ll say it, yet again, for the people in the back: ladies, we are stronger together, when we lift each other up, instead of tearing each other down.
4. Vianne and Isabelle Mauriac - The Nightingale
When WWII began, and all the men went away to become soldiers, what happened to the women? They had to survive and persevere. The Nightingale, a historical fiction by Kristen Hannah, tells the story of two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, as France was invaded by the Germans. Vianne, whose husband is drawn away to fight, is forced to allow German soldiers to live in her home with her young daughter. As each day grows darker, she uses her cunning and motherly instincts to endure. Isabelle, on the other hand, is a rebellious teenager, looking to make a name for herself. She’s outspoken, fearless...and completely reckless. She quickly learns that war is no game, when she joins the Resistance falls madly and hopelessly in love. Both sisters, separated by time, ideals, and circumstance, bonded by love, sacrifice, and the strength of womanhood, prove there is more than one way to be brave.
Of course, initially, I was drawn to Isabelle’s character; she fearlessly put her life on the line to save others while actively fighting for what she believed in, time and time again. Her bold, unwavering personality was everything I wanted to be in life; however, a big part of growing up, I’ve learned, is accepting who you are and separating that from who you want to be. I have accepted that I will never be an Isabelle. I will never be the loudest in the room. I will never be spontaneous or impulsive (what can I say, I’m a planner). For years, I thought accepting these facts about myself meant accepting that I would never be brave. Vianne taught me this was not the case. I call this power that Vianne and I hold “quiet bravery.” We do not need to shout to be heard; we let our actions speak for themselves. We make the impossible choices and sacrifices no one else is brave enough to make. Although scared, we face our fears regardless. It is easy to recognize the "Isabelles" of the world and commend them for the gallantry, but each and every woman has a fire burning inside of them: the bold, the reserved, the mothers, the solo acts, the rebels, the warriors, the thinkers, the doers, the leaders. To be a woman, is to be brave—let us recognize the light ablaze in each of us.
5. Jo March - Little Women
Ah, the March sisters. I admire them all for separate reasons, but Jo (the OG “I don’t need no man”) has a special place in my heart. The above quote from Little Women says it all. As I reluctantly grow into adulthood more with each passing day, I find Jo’s childlike imagination and playfulness to be something I yearn for, while her fierce, unmatched passion to be something I strive for.
This year, more than ever, I appreciate how much courage it takes for Jo to choose a different path than others—a path more lonely than the rest. It would have been easy for her to accept Laurie’s marriage proposal. Not only would she have been set for life financially, but it was what everyone expected of her. Instead, she stayed true to herself, true to her dreams, and her own happiness. Deciding to be alone is one of the bravest choices I’ve seen women make. It is not easy and not expected of us—but for some of us, the hunger and longing for our wildest desires outweighs the pains of loneliness. And as some of you may have guessed, Jo and I’s passions are one and the same. I may not be writing on the floor by lamplight, but to me, these blog posts are my scribblings—in hopes that someday they may become something greater.
Mare Barrow - The Red Queen
Tris Prior - Insurgent
Clary Fray - The Mortal Instruments
Annabeth Chase - Percy Jackson & the Olympians
All of my non-fiction female heroes/authors. (For the full list, check out my “Actually Helpful Self-Help Books” blog post.)
You know the joke every book nerd makes that goes, “My personality is based off of whatever book I’m currently reading at the moment.” Well, I hope that’s true. Or at least, I hope that the strong female characters I read about, and fill the shelves of my soul with, are rubbing off on me a bit. As a kid (let's be real, even still to this day), I thought to myself while reading these books, “I want to be just like them when I grow up.” I may not have gotten my Hogwarts letter yet, or started my own rebellion, but I know for a fact that I have closed these books and walked away feeling a little stronger, a little braver, and a whole lot more proud to be a woman.
I would like to give a special shout-out to the women who inspire me on a daily basis: My mom, my best friends, my professors, and my mentors. You have shown me that magic does exist in real life, and it lives within the hearts of women. You have taught me it is possible to be strong and soft at the same time. You have shown me that true bravery is being honest, and vulnerable, and bold enough to be who you are. With all of you by my side, I am fearless.
We’ve got a lot of catching up to do…
What I'm Reading:
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid - Some of you who follow my Insta may have peeped I rated this book at 10. That’s right. Booktok was hyping this one up so much that I just had to give it a try (mostly to see if Booktok recommendations can be trusted). My friends, I was not disappointed. My book club buddy and I could not put it down. I may just have to add Evelyn Hugo to my Top Strong Female Leads. This novel is such a refreshing take on female sexuality, power, and fame. I’m a sucker for old Hollywood—ugly sides and all. I cannot recommend it enough. If you predict the plot twist, be sure to let me know (but I probably won't believe you).
Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness - After a short break, I’m moving on to the second book in the All Souls Trilogy. The cliffhanger at the end of the first book had me itching to find out what happens next. I’m waiting to give my full review until I finish the series because I am still conflicted.
What I'm Watching:
Another Round on Hulu - This foreign film about a group of male teachers, who have realized with age they’ve grown boring and unhappy, decide to test the theory of maintaining a 0.05% BAC to improve their work and social lives, piqued my interest. The results of the experiment take you on a very interesting, deep, colorful journey. I highly recommend watching, with a drink in hand, of course.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League Cut on HBO Max - Yes, I did sit through this four-hour-long movie (plus, watched Man of Steel and Batman vs. Superman because I totally forgot everything that happened). Considering the original Justice League is one of the first and only movies I lost interest in half way through and turned it off, never to return, Snyder’s version by far blew the original out of the water. I would definitely say it’s worth it, but Marvel still has my heart. Sorry DC fans.
What I'm Listening To:
What a Life by Scarlet Pleasure - This bop played throughout the final scene of Another Round (mentioned above) and it has been stuck in my head ever since. It is my new dance anthem. Give it a listen.