If March is a month to honor inspirational women, let’s celebrate both the real and the fictional shall we? For your sake, my imaginary friends don’t have to be included.
What originally attracted me to the science fiction and fantasy genre were it’s heroic female characters. Now, I’m sure you’re wondering about the definition of a girl-power moment. A girl-power moment isn’t just a high-kick in stilettos. What makes particular scene or dialogue a girl-power moment is the character’s decision to act based upon her own morality and self-worthiness without apologizing to those around her.
Of course, both male and female characters have exhibited those moments of decisiveness and call to action.
However, in an industry where there’s a history of non-dimensional female characters, as a fan, I enjoy celebrating these strong female characters.
Please be aware; major spoilers are ahead.
1. A Wrinkle in Time – Meg saves Charles Wallace from IT
I first read a Wrinkle in Time when the Spice Girls were trotting around in their platforms. Their use of “girl-power” was becoming this teeny-bop pseudo-feminism, telling us to not apologize for who we are. When you’re in sixth grade and have braces and unaware that anti-frizz serums exist, don’t tell me to have girl- power. Tell me that flannel is no longer in style and that liking Hanson is completely unacceptable.
In a Wrinkle in Time, Meg Murray is a frumpy, miserable teenager like many of us were. Meg, who I believe like many women of my generation, had trouble prioritizing valuing herself. I know some people feel distracted by L’Engle’s Christian viewpoint (I wasn’t raised Christian, so it pretty much flew over my head when I first read it.) However, I suppose discovering your individual strength is essential on both religious and secondary fronts. When Meg is finally able to value herself – her intelligence, her love for her family, her importance in the universe- she gets the strength to avoid conformity and accomplish a more pragmatic goal: saving her brother. After all, heroes can’t save the day without some sense of self-worth.
2. Catwoman’s Philosophy on Life
Catwoman is the riot girl of DC heroines. She’s pissed, frustrated and she’s almost rabid. She resents the this subconscious patriarchy that Gotham (and maybe even the real world?) associates heroism and the recognition of right from wrong. Catwoman in her many incarnations (with the exception of Halle Berry) has many girl-power moments. (I take that Halle Berry comment back. Don’t tell me that you don’t watch it when it comes on F/X.)
However, the moment I had to choose was her appearance in Huntress: Year One where she gives Helena Bertinelli some advice on enacting revenge on the mobsters who killed her family. She spots Helena and tells her to be her own woman and that Gotham needs more independent-minded women. She states the exact reason why she is so resentful of Batman and other “super” men being the determinant of society’s values.
“… I’m not morally arrogant enough to make declarations about being good or bad… I like to see women doing whatever they want and taking whatever they want” (Madison, Ivory. Huntress: Year One. New York, DC Comics, 2009. 118). You know what, Catwoman? We do, too.
3. Buffy the Vampire Slayer – “The I in Team” – Buffy foils Professor Walsh’s Plan to Kill Her
I know there are plenty of other moments where Buffy exerts her power that may strike a stronger chord with you. I bet you even wrote essays on it. (If you did, I would like to read them! Email me.) After all, the moment I chose is not even “apocalypse-y”.
However, if we are thinking about girl-power moments, I have to say that the scene when Buffy reveals to Professor Walsh that’s she alive, defines Buffy for me.
In the beginning of the episode, Buffy initially feels accepted by the Initiative. They embrace who she really is. It feels good, especially after a rocky start to Buffy’s freshman year. However, we see her doubt a few of the Initiative tactics and practices. Her doubts are proven when Maggie Walsh tricks Buffy into a fake recon assignment only to trap Buffy in a cage with two demons.
Maggie Walsh thinks she killed Buffy once for all. But no! Not the vampire slayer! Buffy finds the camera that records the incident and tells Professor Walsh, “ If you think that’s enough to kill me, you don’t really know what a Slayer is. Trust me when I say you’re gonna find out.”
Bam! Girl-power moment! Unfortunately, Maggie Walsh doesn’t get to find out what a slayer actually does due to her being murdered by her own Frankenstein-y creation. However, the audience does see what a slayer can do and that’s just as rewarding.
4. Contact – Dr. Arroway’s Final Hearing
Sometimes I feel that the term “strong women” gets misinterpreted with “not showing vulnerability.” I feel like there’s some belief out there that if a woman cries, she’s suddenly weak. Where did I hear that? Who knows? Well, maybe I told myself that, once.
However, it’s not true. Being strong and putting up a wall are not the same thing. It just means you’re a mental good construction worker.
Jodi Foster shows in this scene that there is a strength that comes with showing the world your vulnerability. Her voice trembles with both intimidation and awe at the universe as she gives her final testimony. She looks powerless and scared (I would be too if I just got yelled at by James Woods), but she uses it to her advantage.
Without any emotional barriers or pretenses, she states that she genuinely believes she had an experience where she was able to travel through the massive expanse, see the connectedness and chaos of the universe, and it was beautiful. Even though the monologue was probably penned by Carl Sagan after eating a pot brownie, the vulnerability Foster shows in this scene draws people in, inadvertently making us believe that she believes. Call me Posh-Spice because that’s a girl-power moment.
5. Alien – Ripley’s final battle.
Poor exhausted Ripley just lost her entire crew and watched the Nostromo self-destruct. Does anything else have to happen? She barely has the energy to pull up her own underwear! Ripley just went through one disaster after another and all she wants to do is go into a stasis for some peace and quiet.
But, no, Ridley Scott jolts us in our seats for a final scare as Ripley finds the Alien on her escape pod. Why is this scene so great? Ripley doesn’t whine about it. She doesn’t roll her eyes and say, “Not again!” to some canned laughter. She doesn’t complain that it’s “too cold” to put on a spacesuit to let the Alien out of the hatch. She gets back into survival-mode in nano-seconds. As someone who sits in the dark and whines for two months when a lightbulb burns out, I appreciate Ripley’s quick transition into survival mode. She is able to overcome any obstacle, even when you think she just can’t face it anymore.
When I first saw this scene, I totally expected to see Ripley die. It’s usually how a lot of horror movies end. You follow the protagonist on a journey and when you think everything is going to be okay, at the last second, the monster gets them, after all. However, to see Ripley be a total badass when you think, “this is it”, is a great example of showing not just a woman with strong capabilities, but the human will to survive.
6. Mockingjay – Katniss decides to [MAJOR HUNGER GAMES SPOILER]
If you don’t want any Hunger Games spoilers, I’m going to have to insist you stop reading right now. This moment comes from Collins’ final book in the trilogy, Mockingjay. So, if you don’t like spoilers, stop reading. Seriously, stop reading. This is a major spoiler.
You’re still reading? Okay.
If the epitome of girl-power is decisiveness without apology, then Katniss choosing to assassinate President Coin, as opposed to Snow, is the epitome of girl-power in YA science fiction. Despite representing the rebellion, Katniss chooses the importance of representing her personal values defined by her loyalty to Prim. After all, saving Prim was the reason Katniss became involved in the Hunger Games.
Katniss trusted her instincts and knew that President Coin was the reason her little sister met her tragic fate. Leading a revolution does not excuse you from your moral responsibilities. (I think.) Coin needed to be responsible for Prim and the other innocent lives that were lost. Katniss knew this, made a choice, and never looked back.
7. Battlestar Galactica – “Resurrection Ship Part 2” – Six Assassinates Admiral Helena Cain
Why is this moment so powerful? It changed my mind about the cylons. For all the devastation the cylons caused for the 12 colonies, this episode reminded us that human beings can do things that are just as unthinkable. It also told us that robots can be worthy of our sympathy.
When Six points a gun at Admiral Cain, it gave Tricia Helfer’s character a potency I actually wanted her to have. Can you believe it? We actually want the enemy to win? What the frack?
I think many of us tend to be stubborn TV viewers. It’s takes an epic transition for us to sympathize with enemy. This moment did it for me, making this an extremely paramount way to change a viewer’s opinion.
8. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King – Eowyn Kills the Witch King
If you can’t tell by now, I love assertive declarations voiced by super heroines! And I know other people do, too because I was not the only one cheering in the movie theatre when I first saw this scene.
No man has ever been able to kill the Witch King. However, disguised as a male soldier, Eowyn finds herself face to face (?), with this frightening creature. He utters, “No man can kill me.” However, Eowyn, though scared, asserts herself. She takes off her helmet, states, “I am no man” and stabs the faceless witch, causing what I like to consider a mini-black hole, but that’s for another top ten list.
This moment was great because it says to me, you can still be scared when standing up to evil, but it doesn’t take away any power you have.
9. Queen and Country – “Operation Broken Ground” - Tara Chace gives Kinney his comeuppance.
I can’t create a list of girl-power moments without featuring something created by Greg Rucka. So, of course I’m going to have to choose a Tara Chace moment from Queen and Country. Chapter 4 of “Operation: Broken Ground” opens with Chace on assignment in Kosovo, recalling a lesson she learned at School. “When someone pulls a gun on you, they say charge at them like a bloody lunatic. It’s the last thing they expect…” (Rucka, Greg. “Operation: Broken Ground” Queen and Country Definitive Edition Volume 1. Portland: Oni Press, 2008. 89. Print.)
This piece of advice comes full circle at the end of the book when Chace approaches an apprehended enemy and states, “… Next time you find someone shooting at you, and you’re unarmed, try running towards the shooter. And pray that shooter isn’t me.” (112.)
I always found Chace’s actions to exhibit her girl-power, as opposed to an assertive declaration. However, this is one time where Chace actually vocalizes her confidence and strength. Therefore, this moment stands out as a pretty good example of girl-power.
10. X-Files – “Beyond the Sea” – Scully overcomes her daddy issues.
A common trend with female characters in science fiction and fantasy is the need for a male figure to validate her strengths. The academic proof I have of this is I like to play a drinking game called, “Take a sip of your cosmopolitan every time a female character says, ‘My father taught me to defend myself’”. I usually end up pretty wasted, probably because I’m simultaneously playing a drinking game called, “Take a sip of your whiskey every time a character says, ‘I just want to make you proud, dad.’”
In “Beyond the Sea”, Agent Dana Scully mourns the loss of her father and we see her regret never knowing if her father was truly proud of her. When she encounters a psychic on death-row who could essentially provide that answer for her, Scully risks putting her life in danger and going against her skeptical M.O. to feel a sense of validation from her father. At the end of the episode, the psychic promises to tell Scully her father’s message right before he is executed. However, Scully chooses to remain by a healing Mulder’s side.
When Mulder asks why she didn’t go to find out her father’s message, she explains she already knew what he was going to say. Her reasoning: “He was my father.” Oh, the emotions! This is a girl-power moment because we see that Scully does trust her instincts that her father loves her. She doesn’t need to seek any validation because, well, she just believes.
On a final note, I know there may be some of you out there who find the term “girl-power” condescending. In fact, there are people out there who feel another female top-ten list to be excruciatingly condescending. It wasn’t my goal to exploit these characters to show that we as a society keep forgetting that women are just as capable of men. Frankly, I’m not that brilliant to create such a definitive list. I just wanted to talk about cool moments utilizing a specific perspective. So, on that note, what do you believe are the top girl-power moments? Please share below!