13 Female Protagonists Every Child Can Learn From
When I was a little girl, I was a feminist. I didn't define it, but I did know that just because I was a girl didn't mean I couldn't do whatever the boys were doing. I still wear a shirt that I got when I was 6 years old that says, "Girls can do anything!" as a reminder, and hopefully a noticeable statement, of the feminist I've become and have always been. Whether you have a child, plan on having a child, babysit, or just want to pass along the message, there are 13 female protagonists every kid of every gender should be introduced to right now, so they can have their own unintentional (or intentional) feminist awakening.
I'm not sure exactly who sparked my lil' feminist power, but I do remember paying attention to every leading lady on TV and in movies, and every kid should be looking up to these characters today. The effect that a female protagonist can have on not just little girls, but kids everywhere, is a powerful and important lesson. It shows that, in a society where male-dominated film and television is still an issue in Hollywood, these women, young and old, can inspire and have inspired tikes like me to grow into confident human beings, take advantage of their full potential, and not be afraid to stand up for what they believe in.
1. Mary Poppins
It would be criminal to not start with Queen Julie Andrews and her role as magical nanny, Mary Poppins. Her whimsical ways and worry-free days watching over Jane and Michael Banks teach the children that there's more to life than making money and being a bore. You can sing, you can dance, you can make up words that eventually make it into the dictionary. Self-expression is the most important lesson, and Mary Poppins was and always will be Madame President of Self Expression.
2. Princess Leia
Princess Leia Organa is definitely the most badass of the bunch, refusing to be the damsel in distress that most Disney princesses were written as before and during the release of the Star Wars films. Her good heart and clear head help save the galaxy more than once, and, while she does end up falling in love with bad boy Han Solo, finding a man is never more important than her family and protecting the galaxy.
3. Lisa Simpson
This 8-year-old little lady is going to rule the world one day (if she ever actually ages). Lisa is not only the smartest of the Simpson family, but she's one of the smarter characters ever written for television. Her constant reminders, and questioning of, gender politics make her one of the longest running feminists on TV. Lisa continues blazing a path for not only Springfield, but for kids all over the world to pay attention and say, just like Lisa, "As a feminist, virtually anything a woman does is empowering."
4. Hermione Granger
Sassy, sweet, caring, and the brightest witch of her age, Harry Potter's Hermione is one of the more influential female characters in literature and film. Her take-no-sh*t attitude from 11 to 18 years old helped save the wizarding and Muggle world, and brought us an evolutionary protagonist who taught us bravery, wit, and friendship like no other. Between her work for house elves and Dumbledore's Army, and now for the Ministry for Magic (according to Cursed Child spoilers), Hermione is one of the most hardworking and inspiring characters to come through pop culture.
5. Sandy Cheeks
Spongebob Squarepants' Sandy Cheeks, a squirrel from Texas living in Bikini Bottom, is not only one of only three main female characters on the show, but she is for sure the most influential. Her love for sports, science, adventure, and friendship make her a very well-rounded character let alone woman. Sandy teaches all of us that the stigma of weak women in a male-dominated sports world, or the lack of women in the male-dominated STEM field, doesn't really exist, and gals are just as strong and smart, if not stronger and smarter, than guys.
6. Mia Thermopolis
The Princess Diaries' Mia is not just the lead in a story about an unlikely heir to a throne, but a story about believing in oneself and the personal growth that comes with it. As a princess-to-eventual-queen, Mia shows us that living humbly and not being afraid to be yourself has its rewards. That doesn't mean that we will all fall into a line of royal blood, but that does mean that not following the herd and simply being you will bring you more happiness than pretending to be something you're not.
Based on the story of the actual Chinese female warrior, Hua Mulan, Disney's Mulan is about a young woman defying gender norms to protect her family. The rights of women in combat is still an issue being argued today, so imagine the lack of support for Mulan when going to fight against the Huns in ancient times. But, even without that support, Mulan shows us that women should be taken so much more seriously in fighting for family and country than they are. And just because she does so under the guise of a man doesn't lessen the bravery it takes to do so.
That's So Raven's Raven Baxter doesn't just show us the future. Her psychic abilities warned her about what was coming but also taught her, and us, to understand that whatever happens happens. Sure, you can fulfill your ultimate destiny, but you can't change what the universe has planned for us no matter how hard we try. That might sound grim, but, as we learned along with Raven, everything works out for the best if you have a positive outlook on whatever future you do see.
9. Viola Hastings
She's The Man's Viola has one goal: prove to everyone that she's a woman with a good foot and an equal opportunity. When the women's soccer team is cut from her high school, Viola offers up the idea to play on the men's team, and is, annoyingly, laughed at. In the same vain as Mulan, Viola's mission isn't to be one of the guys and add to the stereotype that men are better than women at sports; it's to show that where there is passion there is a way of achieving it. Viola doesn't give into gender norms placed on her by her mother and her coach, and proves that women can do whatever they want.
10. Mrs. Incredible
Elasti-Girl aka Helen Parr aka Mrs. Incredible is a great mom, wife, and, oh, a superhero. Her ability to save the world and raise her kids at the same time gives a whole new meaning to the term "Super Mom." Even though she settled down, had some super-kids, and lives a content life with her family, her beliefs are still the same. "Leave the saving of the world to the men? I don't think so." And whether that's literally saving the world, or saving her family's world, she pulls it off with grace and aplomb.
11. Leslie Knope
Government Goddess Leslie Knope is the definition of girl power. Her idols are Madeline Albright, Hillary Clinton, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and her goal is to basically be them, but she made our goals to be Leslie Knope. Her fierce passion for being a just and uncorrupt politician helped us see that good people are out there, and being just naive enough to believe that other people are good, too, is the most important lesson that Leslie taught us. Kids might not understand the government mumbo-jumbo that comes with Parks and Rec, but seeing a woman of such power is enough to help break down a stereotype of "men-only" government.
12-13. Abbi & Ilana
I know, I know, Broad City is not for kids. But I felt it would be unfair to leave out two trailblazing ladies in the world of female empowerment just because of their dirty language and mostly sexual situations. When the time comes for kids to watch Abbi and Ilana do their thing, the most important statement they can take from the show is that women are not, don't have to be, and have never had to be, "lady-like." These gals are crude, awkward, sexual best friends making their way through NYC one relationship, job, and nickname for "vagina" at a time.
All of these leading ladies represent the epitome of feminism, from being confident in their positions in the world to finding ways to inspire other women to be confident in themselves. Every kid can learn a thing or two from each protagonist, and learn that women have just as much power, bravery, and strength as men.
Images: Buena Vista Pictures; Giphy (12)