Between books, film, TV shows, comics and more, there’s an entire universe of women outside of our own that girls look up to every day. I have yet to see “Wonder Woman” only because I never go to opening weekends, but I’ve been chomping at the bit. Seeing this film’s take on Wonder Woman making such an impact on women, men and children everywhere has left me thinking about all the female characters from books and films I’ve looked up to in my life.
1. Elizabeth Bennet, “Pride and Prejudice”
This is an obvious choice but a necessary and deserved one. Full disclosure: I had my mom read books to me until I was in the sixth grade. I read on my own, but she always had just the right timbre that could send me off to sleep in no time. She began reading “Pride and Prejudice” to me one evening after countless nights of having to read “Harry Potter.” I finished the book as I entered seventh grade. In ninth grade, “Pride & Prejudice” with Kiera Knightley came out and I went on a windfall. I watched it literally every night with my mom and began reading Austen’s other works. I’ve seen the other adaptations by now, but the 2005 version will always be my favorite. Knightley’s portrayal of Elizabeth Bennet had a huge role in my attitude and demeanor as a teenager in high school. I wore the badge of Bookworm with the highest honor just like Bennet, and I focused on bigger things besides getting asked to Homecoming or going on a date (although those things happened and they were awesome).
I understand that marriage was a huge deal back in Austen’s time, but fighting those social customs must have been exhausting and risky. Similarly, I fought for myself to have a bright future even in high school. My hometown is a very simple place, and it’s great to raise a family, but I had a feeling it wouldn’t have much to offer me and that I would grow out of it. It’s still a pleasant place to go back and visit, but I wanted college, experience, different people and to be proud of myself. My mother always taught me that I may be on my own for a period of time in my life and that I should learn how to love and take care of myself. She was absolutely right, and that’s probably why I associate my mom with Austen’s Bennet.
2. Éowyn, “The Lord of The Rings Trilogy”
I was 11 when I was first exposed to J.R.R. Tolkien and it was in the form of the film “The Fellowship of the Ring.” My brother had the torch on this particular Friday night Blockbuster visit so we all settled in for part 1. If I remember correctly, I sat on the edge of the couch for the almost-three hour film, and immediately went on the internet to find out details about the next movie. When “Two Towers” came out, I was swept away again, but by a totally different story.
When Éowyn so blatantly dissed Wormtongue, clearly a dangerous “man” with immense power, I was wondering when she would turn into a damsel in distress, but she never did. In fact, throughout the rest of the trilogy, she became one of the most important characters in Tolkien’s message of bravery and courage in the face of danger and uncertainty. I still see very much of myself in her: telling me I can’t fight will only make me commission my own horse and ride into battle… so to speak. Doubting my abilities to complete a task will only push me to figure out how to get it done. While Arwen was a beautiful example of selflessness throughout the story, Éowyn’s rebellion against the customs of her time and stepping up to be on the frontline in Middle Earth’s biggest war made Tolkien’s small group of female characters come full circle. BEST BADASS MOMENT: Killing the Witch-king of Angmar while also giving her uncle comfort that he’d been good to her and his people.
3. Hermione Granger, “Harry Potter”
I don’t doubt that Hermione would be an obvious choice for many people as an influential character. As you read above, Harry Potter has always been a big part of my life. I was teased by friends for being a book nerd, a grade nerd, and a nerd in general. School and learning were high on my list of interests so I couldn’t help but get excited when the teacher wanted to use my essay as the assignment example, or when my project that I’d worked on without help from my parents earned an “A.” Hermione was shameless in her love and dedication toward school, even with Ron’s constant pestering and Draco’s persistent asshole complex.
I was a bit of a chicken as a kid: I preferred the sideline view rather than being in the action, unless it was something in which my friends were involved. Hermione encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and be a creative problem solver. She dived right into the problems Harry faced when up against Voldemort. Let’s also not forget that, for their benefit and for the good of the cause, she completely erased herself from her parents’ memory so she could help defeat Voldemort. I call my mom when I’m inconvenienced by a drawbridge making me late, so just think about what it would mean to have to erase yourself from your parents’ lives just to protect them.
I have some amazing women in my life and I will never discredit them for inspiring me to become the person I am. But there’s something powerful in reading stories about other women who embody characteristics you want for yourself, or teach you that it’s okay to be the things you want to be. It’s been said that reading can improve empathy in people, which is something it seems this world could use a lot more of.