Women in the Lead: Female Characters Who Don’t Need to be Saved

It seems that for as long as there has been a camera, capturing fantastical worlds and stories for the big and small screen, there have been female characters in very specific roles. The damsel in distress, desperately in need of the strong, handsome cowboy to ride through the wild west to rescue her. The princess locked in a tower by an evil witch, waiting for her prince to come riding in on a white horse. The same story told a myriad of ways, but all portraying the female character as secondary to the male lead, and with little to offer in terms of power and strength, apart from her place at his side.

Well, it is now 2019, and I call bullsh*t. And it seems that many film and television studios are also seeing the strength and promise of empowered female characters, as more and more new titles no longer feature a strapping hero ready to save the day at the helm. Instead, this time, the princess saves herself.

In the time of #Metoo, of female empowerment, equal pay and strength in what was once thought as the ‘weaker’ gender, more and more strong, capable and kick-ass female leads are finding their way onto the screen. As with many recent social movements, we are urged to look away from the expected, break our prejudices, and allow for the endless possibility of something more than the status quo. What is now finding its way into entertainment, started within society as a whole.

No longer are women being told they have to be focused solely on finding a man, marriage and children. Women are writing their own narrative, paving their own paths and breaking down barriers to career and life like never before. Female CEOs at such companies as IBM, William Sonoma, General Motors show that being at the top of business is no longer a male only position. The sky is the limit for what women can achieve, but it starts with showing young girls that anything is possible. Which is where many of these films and television shows showing real, relatable and powerful female leads bring the call for action full circle.

While there are quite a few recent and upcoming releases we want to outline, it’s also important to look at a few of our old favorites. The ones who first showed that women don’t have to be a side player, nor the one needing rescuing. They contribute more to a story line than their gender alone: their minds, their wit and their undeniable power to persevere is a story within itself.

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For instance, look at Hermione Granger, from the ever popular Harry Potter series. She is not the lead character, nor is she probably considered even the second. In many readers minds, she is considered the tertiary role to Harry and Ron’s debauchery, and yet, could Voldemort have been defeated without her? The answer is unequivocally no. Her wit, book smarts and courage are as necessary to the tale as Harry’s bound fate with the He Who Should Not be Named. She showed young girls enthralled with the world of Hogwarts that studying hard, being loyal and staying true to yourself are just as valuable as bravery and more than a little luck.

For Hunger Games fans, there are few female characters as relatable and strong as Katniss Everdeen. She wants nothing more than to protect her sister and provide for her family, but within the first chapter of the story she finds herself thrown into a world of battle, death and strategy. She adapts as best she can, growing from the quiet girl from the Seam into the force to be reckoned with that leads a rebellion. The male characters around her never shadow her, nor does she fall to their sides and let them lead. She is strong and capable, and she quickly begins to see that within herself. Of all young adult literary heroines, Katniss is the epitome of the princess saving herself at every twist and turn.

These type of characters were like diamonds in the rough, elusive and fleeting in much of the entertainment world when compared to the number of male led stories. Until recently. Over the last 3 years, we have seen an uptake in female led films, taking traditional male roles and turning them on their heads. And if anything, they prove that gender means nothing when compared with strength of character and determination to set things right.

When the Wonder Woman remake hit theaters in 2017, social media swelled with excitement from women worldwide. Finally, we were getting a movie with the entire focus on the journey, character and purpose of a woman, apart from a man. Steve Trevor does not guide the direction of the film nor does he save the day. It is all Diana, played by Gal Gadot, navigating a world beyond her wildest imagination with wild curiosity and a natural inclination to see the best in everyone and everything around her. She is not yet jaded by the wars of the world, and as she learns of the fragile fate of humanity, steps in to set the course right. Women around the world gravitated towards the familiar retelling, singing the praises of having a lead character to look up to. The film, and Gadot’s portrayal, empowered women to take on the world, just like Diana.

Then, came Captain Marvel in 2019, and the reception held much of the same anticipation. Women wanted to see kick ass female characters on the big screen, apart from male roles, and we were finally getting what we asked for, and this time, in the Marvel world. The character of Captain Marvel was multifaceted, taking on a transformation several times during the Marvel Comics period. Portrayed as both male and female characters over the years, it was wondered by many which gender the film producers would take on. When it was announced at Comic Con in 2016 that Brie Larsen would be championing the iconic role, needless to say women everywhere united behind her. The character of Carol Danvers is strong and capable, but has a touch of vulnerability in her amnesia and attempts to control her emotions. She is a multifaceted character, genuine and realistic, even within the fantastical Marvel universe. Unlike many of her male cohorts, she is told to hold back her power; a power which is stronger than any of the boys. She is the key, and rather than relishing in her power, she learns to respect it.

But there is one show in particular that triggered my desire to speak about all the super-heroines that came before. Taking a coveted role and turning it on its head, creating a character for the post #Metoo era like no other.

Batwoman (not Batgirl…BatWOMAN) is an upcoming series on the CW network featuring the incomparable Ruby Rose as Kate Kane, aka Batwoman. This is no shrinking violet falling into a world unexpected and having to adapt by chance. Hell, no. From the very first episode, Kane kicks ass and takes names, and we can’t freaking wait. Following a new story line of Bruce Wayne’s cousin stepping into his iconic suit after he goes missing in Gotham, the story is the LGBT, super hero mecca that we’ve been waiting for with baited breath. Kane seeks out to rescue her love, Sophie, all the while dodging her fathers fears and expectations of his ‘little girl’. And Kane knows damn well she is not only equal, but beyond capable to her cousin in vanquishing evil throughout Gotham…all she needs is the right fit.

Acknowledging the beauty of the suit, she cannot deny it still requires a few adjustments before it officially reaches perfection.  “It will be [perfect]– when it fits a woman.” And she is not about to let a man take credit for her efforts, stating ‘I’m not about to let a man take credit for a woman’s work.”

Batwoman comes to our screens on CW this fall.

It is hard to say what is influencing what more: society forcing production companies to give female roles their due, giving us our strong, capable characters of our gender who are not reliant on their male counterparts; giving voice and power to young girls who are now able to look up to these characters and see themselves and who they wish to be.

Or, is it because of roles such as Batwoman, Wonder Woman and others that women are finally saying #enough and smashing the patriarchy on their own terms? Finally seeing themselves represented clearly, honestly and accurately can turn a tide, and empower a generation of women to take on the world.

Because we can take on the world, we are enough, and we are no longer the princesses sitting in our ivory towers waiting for the prince.

We are the queens, getting up and taking what we want ourselves.

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