We all know Wonder Woman, Princess Zelda, and Leslie Knope are characters worth looking up to, but sometimes awesome female role models can be found in the most unexpected characters. From crybabies to sexual icons, female role models don’t have to be “strong women,” they just have to be honest to themselves!
Sailor Moon is one of those divisive series; people either love it and view it as a feminist manifesto, or hate it and say it’s sexualized drivel. The fact of the matter is, Sailor Moon has one of the most diverse cast of non-cliched female characters in modern popular culture. Sailor Moon herself is one of the greatest role models in the anime/manga: she’s a ditzy, airheaded klutz who loves video games and food and cries at the drop of a hat. But it’s those very qualities that make her relate-able to young women. And in spite of those “negative” traits, Sailor Moon is also determined, hardworking, and will do whatever she can to help people. Sailor Moon is about as fleshed out as a fictional character can get, and all the female characters in Sailor Moon have their own unique combinations of flaws and passions that make them worth looking up to.
Empowered started out as a bondage fetish doodle and grew into a surprisingly successful series of comics about the titular (and ironically named) superheroine Empowered. Emp is self-conscious about her body and lacks confidence in pretty much everything she does, which is something you don’t really see from female characters in superhero comics. But, despite her lack of pride, Emp fights crime in her super-powered alien suit because she dreamed of helping people as a superhero since she was a child. Despite her questionable origin, Empowered has really grown into a complex character, and if you can handle the frequent, but tongue-in-cheek, sexualization of the title character (and pretty much everyone else, male or female, in the comic), you get to see a great example of diverse female characters working to overcome their self-created limitations.[divider]
The main character of Legally Blonde breaks all the rules: she loves pink, shopping, fashion, and hair, while also scoring a 179 on the LSAT and being accepted into Harvard Law School. Elle Woods is a character that smashes stereotypes; just because she’s pretty, doesn’t mean she is stupid or lacks depth. Legally Blonde is also a movie that breaks tropes: Elle’s story is not that of a romance (she drops chasing her ex-boyfriend in the first 30 minutes of the film in favor of showing him how smart she can be), it’s a story of female friendship and dogged devotion to learning. Elle befriends her romantic “rival,” combats sexual harassment, and wins a court case, all while wearing impeccably tailored pink suits.[divider]
So rarely do we get to see women in the media who are “in progress” (usually women play the rigid and annoying straight-man trope to the antics of their male companions), but then there’s Mindy Kaling’s the Mindy Project. The first sitcom to star a South Asian woman (a self-professed “chubby, Indian girl”), The Mindy Project is about an OBGYN who’s pretty much the opposite of how you’d imagine a doctor. Mindy loves People magazine, romcoms, and Michael Fassbender, but she also delivers babies, struggles to compete against the male midwives who work in her building, and works to prove that she is a valuable asset to her office. The show celebrates women that don’t adhere to the Hollywood ideal, but also comments that it’s just fine for women to like traditionally “girlie” things. Mindy embraces her femininity with exuberance, and while she is unpolished when it comes to dating, she an incredibly talented and sensitive doctor.[divider]
Yes, Tina Belcher of Bob’s Burgers is voiced by a man (comedian Dan Mintz), but she’s also one of the most realistic examples of a tween female character on TV. Originally created to be the eldest son of the Belcher family, named Daniel, the character was later changed to be a girl. The rest of the character remained the same, gender was pretty much the only difference between the two characters. Tina is on the precipice of puberty, and she’s not growing up gracefully (unlike the young women on the Disney channel and Nickolodeon). Puberty for a woman is full of weird noises, annoying itches, and odd (and uncomfortable) questions, and Bob’s Burgers doesn’t edit the weirdness out. Despite her “uhhhh”s, Tina is actually a pretty eloquent kid, verbal and inquisitive about herself and her changing body, confident in her budding sexuality (and love of butt-touching), and a really empathic and loving older sister. She’s funny because she’s weird, not because being a woman is weird.