thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

Rebound: GLG responds to Flavorwire’s Fave Female Characters

In girl culture, race, Rebound on March 5, 2012 at 4:42 pm

Rebound is a new short-form GLG column that seeks to respond to, critique, and ask questions about current media events and affairs. –Phoebe & Sarah T.

Today Flavorwire published their list of the top ten most powerful female characters in literature in honor of Women’s History Month. The list includes wonderful literary (and filmic) women from Jane Eyre to Hermione Granger and many more. GLG discusses our take below, but we also want to know what you think. Do you like the list? Who would be on your own list of most awesome female characters?

Chelsea H: I’m not familiar with everyone on the list, but those I know I generally approve of. I adore the inclusion of the Wife of Bath – she takes control over Chaucer’s project in a way few of his other characters do, and in fact, I’ve just entered revision stages on a dissertation chapter that deals with her and her self-creation and performativity a la Judith Butler. She certainly belongs here among these greats.

It surprises me that Katniss gets knocked for “boy-related waffling and wailing” more than Jane Eyre does – the internal monologue Jane provides is much more brooding and agonizing over Mr. Rochester than Katniss’s confusion. As I read her, at least in the first book, Katniss can’t understand why Peeta would be acting the way he does – she can’t even fathom that he could have genuine feelings about her given their circumstances. That seems more practical than whiny to me.

I might want to add Sethe from Beloved. Talk about strong and conflicted! Her story is all family and self survival. Maybe Lady Macbeth too – though most of the women on this list are heroines and Lady M. is a “bad guy,” her power is incredible as she manipulates her husband through desire, ambition, treachery and murder. Her downfall at the end of the play, I think, only enhances her power and independence: though she descends into madness, she makes her own choices through the whole story.

Sarah T: Overall, I like the list — special props for including Janie from Their Eyes Were Watching God and Hermione from Why Aren’t Butterbeer and Pumpkin Juice Real Beverages I Can Enjoy On A Regular Basis. I agree with Chelsea’s observation about Katniss getting knocked for “waffling and whining” about boys. She doesn’t really do either! Gale and Peeta are much more likely to wail and whine than she is. Katniss is just indecisive, plus she’s more preoccupied with poisoned berries and flying axes and overthrowing several governments. I’m also somewhat anti-Lisbeth’s inclusion. In the first book, at least, she doesn’t have much of an interior life that the reader can see. She’s a badass for sure, but one-dimensional — she just reads as pure fantasy to me. If I were designing my own list, I’d probably include Meg from A Wrinkle In Time (her powers are her rotten temper and her love!) and Marjane Satrapi from Persepolis, who’s amazingly strong, as this sequence from the movie shows.

Phoebe: I think this list is really interesting and I do not so much mind Lisbeth’s inclusion (I’ve only read the 1st book and not yet seen the movies for fear of the extreme violence) in that I like how bad ass and avenging she is. I felt that rather than one dimensional, she, as a character was just inaccessible and shut off in ways that made sense to me. I also like a lot of the female characters included, especially Katniss and Hermione and Lyra. However, I agree that Katniss’ description seems a bit unfair, given that she does much much more than whine about boys and the ways in which Flavorwire describes her feel reductive. On that note, I think it is interesting that many of the women included are children/young adults.

Lastly (but by no means least), it seems odd to me that the only women of color included are near the end of the list and that most of the female characters are white (Mulan and Janie Crawford stand alone). The list sort of feels a little like the last few years’ Vanity Fair covers of Hollywood’s prettiest actresses, wherein the women of color were a) few and far between and b) hidden under the cover’s flap. And seemingly, all the women are also classically good looking (at least in the photos Flavorwire has) and heterosexual.

I really love all of your additions and second them all. And, if I could extend the female heroines to television and film, I think I would add Kima Greggs from The Wire as she is seriously bad ass but also a compassionate, ethical, and really powerful character.

  1. Um. No Jane Austen? Elizabeth Bennett? Emma Woodhouse? This seems a conspicuous absence.

    And, I don’t know, any female character that Toni Morrison ever wrote.

    Also, Madame de Stael’s Corinne. Yeah, I guess that’s obscure and pretentious, but she was pretty rad.

  2. Meg, yes! She totally deserves a seat at that table. NPR had a story on A Wrinkle in Time today ( and one author gave this lovely nugget: “When I was twelve, I didn’t want to pull books apart, I wanted them to work.”

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