They’ve fought aliens and evil empires. They’ve found themselves trapped in societies that favored men. They’ve gotten down to business to defeat the Huns. These are the woman warriors of fiction who thrill us, make us cheer, and inspire us to attain even a fraction of their fortitude. Disclaimer: this list is by no means exhaustive. I might need to write a sequel because I know there are some whom I excluded.
10. Lizzie Bennett, Pride and Prejudice/Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Most of the characters on this list have been from science fiction, and with good reason: science fiction’s inherently speculative nature made (and makes) it a natural breeding ground for progressive attitudes about gender roles, especially in more utopian settings like Star Trek. But that doesn’t mean that women from our own world and our own past can’t be awesome. Take, for instance, Lizzie Bennett of Pride and Prejudice. Though she’s restricted by the strict social rules of the Regency Era, she’s fiercely independent with an arsenal of caustic humor that makes her in many ways the lone voice of reason in a world of love dodecahedrons and rigid manners. She wasn’t in command of a starship and she didn’t exactly have the benefit of robot suits or weapons (well, unless you read P&P&Z, in which she dispatches hordes of undead with a katana and a musket), but she still managed to keep her head and get what she wanted in world where the odds were stacked against her from birth.
9. Samus Aran, Metroid. In a time when most women in video games were in other castles or sitting around waiting to give the hero plot-relevant items, Samus, clad in orange and yellow armor, was busy blasting aliens to little bits. The best part of it all is that unlike Lara Croft, her being a kick-ass female character isn’t presented as “HEY LOOK! SHE’S FIGHTING AND SHE’S A GIRL! OH, AND LOOK AT HOW HOT SHE IS”. In fact, the idea to make Samus female came halfway through development of the first game as a fun plot twist. She was simply a badass space bounty hunter with a plasma gun who just happened to be a woman.
8. Ellen Ripley, Alien. Before Mrs. Weasley, there was another strong mama bear who didn’t hesitate to call her adversaries bitches and let them know who’s boss. That strong mama bear was Ellen Ripley (played by the patron saint of badass women in Sci Fi, Sigourney Weaver), who went above and beyond the call of maternal instinct by donning a robot suit to fight a very dentally-endowed alien queen. Mommy’s a little busy right now because she’s protecting your ass from a fearsome extraterrestrial creature that reproduces by making people’s chests explode.
7. Hermione Granger, Harry Potter. Though, like Lizzie Bennet, she isn’t exactly an action girl per se, Hermione uses her intelligence and skills in magic to help save Hogwarts (and the rest of the wizarding world, come to think of it). The other reason I love Hermione is the fact that she develops from an admittedly insufferable know-it-all kid to a confident, resourceful young woman. She also manages to do all this world-saving and such while maintaining an impeccable academic record. Now that’s something to put on your Common App essay.
6. Zoe Alleyne-Washburne, Firefly/Serenity. One of two Firefly ladies on this list (I know, I can’t help myself), Zoe is probably one of my favorite characters in a TV show. She’s the ultimate blend of snark, sexy (“Have you ever been with a warrior woman?”), and asskicking. She’s also a great example of a strong, independent female character who doesn’t lose a lick of her original strength and independence after landing a man and getting married. Of course, it is hard to settle down and be a housewife when you live on a dinged-up spaceship, being constantly pursued by Reavers and the government, and with an arsenal of weapons at your disposal at any given time.
5. Trinity, The Matrix. She does become somewhat less badass in the Two MoviesThat Don’t Exist (except for that car chase in the first of the Two Movies That Don’t Exist), but not only does she demonstrate how to accurately hack a computer, but she fights her way through a corporate building lobby with lots and lots of guns, saves the hero’s butt, and wears very non-breathable fabrics during grueling fight scenes without sweating like a hog.
4. Mulan, Mulan. After years of pretty pretty princesses, Disney finally gave us the badass female protagonist we’d been waiting for. Mulan definitely has its flaws (the East Asian Studies major in me shudders at the historical inaccuracies; though to be fair “Let’s get down to business to defeat the Xiongnu” doesn’t have the same ring to it), but Mulan is one of my favorite female characters Disney’s featured. She’s brave, she’s resourceful, she’s individualistic, and has fascinating eyebrows. She’s also remarkably one of the few women in Disney whose storyline isn’t completely centered around getting a guy. And even more remarkably, her requisite Disney Female Character Song of Wanting Something is not about wanting to get a man. Sure, she gets the allergic-to-shirts Captain Shang at the end, but he’s not her ultimate goal. Almost singlehandedly saving the presumably Ming Dynasty from takeover by northern nomadic peoples (just you wait till 1644), advancing the potential for women to be involved in Chinese imperial politics (well, about that…), and getting down to business with a guy who’s as badass as you just as an incidental to your plan to bring honor to your family and prove yourself to be something more than what society expects of you? Now we’re talking, Disney.
3. River Tam,Firefly/Serenity. You’ve seen the xkcd strip. You’ve seen her gun down three men with her eyes closed. You’ve seen her nearly kill everyone in a bar after watching a Dada-esque candy commercial. You’ve seen her standing atop a pile of corpses of Reavers she slaughtered singlehandedly. Oh, and she’s a mentally unstable (to say the least) super-genius who probably weighs 90 pounds soaking wet.
2. Princess Leia, Star Wars. Sure, she had a pretty improbable hairstyle, but she’s probably the only character in Star Wars to outright insult Darth Vader and retain all her extremities. Not to mention she was running a multi-system rebellion against the Galactic Empire at age 19, lied to a high-ranking military official to protect her home planet (well, that didn’t exactly pan out the way she wanted), disguised herself as a bounty hunter, and strangled a morbidly obese crime lord who had taken her as a sex slave. Oh, and she trains to be a Jedi in the Expanded Universe novels. What the hell have you done with your life?
1. Eowyn, Lord of the Rings. One of the most common criticisms I hear about Lord of the Rings is that it’s a total sausage-fest. True, but at least Tolkien makes up for it with Eowyn. The evidence? When confronted with the Witch-King of Angmar (that’s the dude with the really pointy metal crown thing and the big winged beastie for all you movie-watchers), who declared that he would not die by the hand of a man, Eowyn responded with “But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Éowyn I am, Éomund’s daughter. You stand between me and my lord and king. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him”. Then she proceeded to smite his ass, risking her life in the process. Of course, she was a bit more concise in her filmic incarnation (“I am no man.” *STABBITY*). I place her as the number one most badass female character because while she’s by no means the central character of Lord of the Rings, and while she isn’t the only female character in LotR (can’t forget Arwen or Galadriel), she stands out as a strong, independent woman with considerably more agency than most women in fiction (especially fantasy) at the time; remember, this is 1955 we’re talking. So we salute you, Eowyn, daughter of Eomund, for your achievements in being an awesome, kick-ass woman in fiction.