The fight for equality between the sexes is at an all-time high. While classical literature had strong, attention-grabbing heroines like Elizabeth Bennet and Jane Eyre to begin the battle against the Patriarchy, modern fiction has brought us plenty of feminist heroes who are certain to inspire us for years to come.
1. Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling
Of course, Hermione Granger is at the very top of the list. This witch is the very definition of fierce. Though intentionally off to a rough start with her soon-to-be best friends Ron and Harry (she’s referred to as “bossy” a few times, and Ron even goes so far as to say “Whatever house I’m in, I hope she’s not in it” after their introduction on the train), she quickly shows that her intelligence and decisive attitude make her one of the most valuable friends a person could have. As a matter of fact, she’s often the glue that holds the famous trio together.
Through the series, Hermione develops into one of the most positive icons for feminine strength written in the past several decades… possibly in the entire history of English literature. She is passionate for equality of all sentient creatures, her clever mind and boldness make her one of the most formidable spellcasters in the wizarding world, and she’s loyal to a fault… willing to risk her life (and even breaking the rules) to help her friends. She is strong in every sense of the word and shows that female supporting characters can be so much more than a love interest.
2. Matilda from Matilda by Roald Dahl
A somewhat less magical precursor to Hermione, Matilda is no less of a feminist hero. She makes the best of a horrible home situation by escaping into the world of books, and becomes so insanely intelligent that she gains telekinetic powers when she can find no other outlet. Matilda stands for kindness and equality, and believes that everyone should be treated fairly and with respect… which leads her to take on the horrific Ms. Trunchbull, who is criminally abusive and wrongly withholding her niece’s inheritance to boot. Matilda makes this list because for a very small girl, she taught her readers some very big lessons about how to treat those around you.
3. Lisbeth Salander from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
Lisbeth Salander is not a girl you want to mess with. She defies gender stereotypes from the get-go by being a proficient computer hacker (not a quality normally ascribed to female characters). She’s a survivor of an abusive childhood, and while many authors would have written that in to showcase a woman who is broken, Lisbeth channels that tragedy into an often violent rage. She avoids many personality tropes of female characters in that she has no need to be liked or understood by her audience, and she is not some doe-eyed beauty in need of saving. She is gritty, she is controversial, and she is real in ways that many characters- female or not- aren’t. While she’s not necessarily someone to look up to, Lisbeth Salander is still an immensely strong character who has been often described as a “feminist avenging angel.”
4. Elphaba from Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire
Elphaba is relatable to many women, perhaps most poignantly because she is a strong-minded and opinionated individual who ultimately ends up villainized for trying to do what she believes is right. Elphaba is also unafraid to embrace who she is and thrive in her difference; she does not seek to blend in to achieve success. She is unapologetically ambitious, and a strong icon for those searching for female friendship as well.
5. Daenerys Targaryen from the Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) series by George R.R. Martin
To be fair, there are a lot of feminist characters in Martin’s massive super-hit of a series, not all of them women. But Daenerys is possibly the most powerful of them all… and certainly one of the more universally liked (sorry, Cersei). Sent away from her kingdom as an infant and raised by her often violent (and incredibly creepy) older brother, Daenerys overcomes everything thrown her way. Sold to be the wife of a savage warlord? Bam, she turns the tables and becomes the first female ruler of the Dothraki. She then proceeds to raise three dragons, shut down an entire slave-based economy, and conquer a powerful empire (Mereen), all before reaching age 21 (note that in the books, she was only 13 when she was first given to Khal Drogo).
Daenerys quickly evolves from a shy, submissive young girl to a strong warlord, a cunning political strategist, and a champion for personal freedom. So far it looks like there’s nothing she can’t accomplish… though we’ll have to wait for The Winds of Winter (or more likely, season 7 of the show) to find out just how her story ends.
While there are many, many more strong characters that exemplify the values of strength, gender equality, and general awesomeness, these are definitely five females worth reading about. Whether you are in need of some motivation to kick butt in your own life, or you’re just inspired by incredible characters, do yourself a favor and snag these books the next time you’re browsing your Kindle library or find yourself at a bookstore.