Badass Characters: Volume 1

In honor of International Women’s Day 2017, let’s talk about our female representation through popular movies and television shows – one’s that we like. The most popular television shows on right now consist of the Big Bang Theory, Supernatural, Criminal Minds, SVU, etc. Bernadette Rostenkowski-Wolowitz has a PhD and quite the lucrative job at a pharmaceutical company while appearing to be quite soft and feminine, a contrast you don’t find often represented. You can be feminine as fuck and educated as fuck and rich as fuck. But what feminist isn’t at least a little disappointed that the androcentric writers of the Big Bang Theory has her married to Howard – who consistently harassed women, made sexist jokes and is a firm representation of benevolent sexism. Amy Farrah Fowler is a neurobiologist obsessed with Sheldon loving her and Penny’s main character attribute is “ditzy”.

Supernatural has like, zero, women, except for Satan’s mom and God’s sister, Criminal Minds has Derek Morgan whose “talk to me, baby girl” makes me cringe. And then there’s SVU, which tries so hard to represent all political viewpoints that it gives you whiplash – and for a show that is mainly about rape victims, it doesn’t always feel that feminist.

Although there’s a lot wrong – there’s still some good. Hence, the beginning of the new series I’m doing (probably – if I remember to keep posting these) highlighting some cool as fuck characters that deserve to be appreciated and have their character development applauded. Without further ado:

Badass Characters Volume I:

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No. 1: Leslie Knope //  Parks & Recreation (2009-2015) // “You know my code, hoes before bros. Uteruses before duderuses. Ovaries before Brovaries”

Parks & Recreation was pretty cool for several reasons: 1) it affirmed to the audience that local government is truly accessible; if those weirdos in Pawnee could state their peace, so can you. 2) guised as a mockumentary and comedy, the show highlighted sectors of government, using its platform of comedy to educate its audience about their own government and political process. 3) Leslie. Knope.

Amy Poehler plays Leslie Knope, a devoted gal pal, a declared feminist, a hard worker, a woman who literally, like, LOVES waffles. She spends a lot of conscious effort disbanding the “boy’s club” of politics, she never lets a remark about “a woman’s place” and gender roles go unrefuted. Leslie Knope uses sarcasm to call people out on their privilege, sneaks out of the hospital when incredibly ill to attend a meeting and redefines the adjective “hard working”. Perhaps a line that is so easily drawn and disappointing with female characters that are presented as feminist is that they seem unsupportive of women who do embrace traditional roles – a group of women that Leslie also continuously protects. She calls Men’s Rights Activism “ridiculous” and “nothing” and takes criticism of her feminism well – as evident of her leadership of the Pawnee Goddesses when she corrected herself in not allowing young boys to join her wilderness group of Pawnee girls.

Although Parks and Recreation is presented as silly – important issues are addressed through the medium of Leslie as she battles sexism in politics, having to dodge questions about her appearance while campaigning. Classism and obesity are battles that are fought through comedy, with Leslie Knope and group of lovely gal pals. Plus Galentines Day is the best.

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No. 2: Olive Penderghast // Easy A (2010) // “Yes. Yes, I am a big, fat, slut”

Easy A is easily classified with Mean Girls & The Duff to be a fairly fun commentary on being a teenage girl. What makes this heroine pretty badass is her shamelessly embracing female sexuality, standing up for the right for a girl to do whatever the fuck she wants with her body while embracing such a wit, intelligence, integrity and maturity.

Olive Penderghast is strong and independent. A lot of Hollywood depictions of high school kids tend to ignore that they are, indeed, children and that not everyone is having sex with each other all the time. That’s what makes Olive unique in the teenage girl movie world – she’s a virgin. Olive spends weekends alone singing pop songs that she would publicly shame (her hypocrisy is another quality that makes her pretty cool and well developed, I think) and although she stands up against the notion that everyone’s judging each other all the time – she kind of is judging people all the time. Rhiannon’s parents are too hippy, Marianne is too Christian and Micah’s kinda dumb.

The fact that Olive embraces judgement and stands up against slut shaming in her Ojai Valley high school without hesitation regardless of whether or not people were accurately representing her remains to be brave. She decides to exploit her reputation for profit to prove to the school that she couldn’t care less about their antiquated opinions on sexuality. Olive proudly displays an A on her clothing in allusion to the Scarlet Letter.

Olive proves to be selfless, sacrificing her reputation for a greater cause and even to save a teacher’s job. She’s opinionated, she likes to study and learn, is independent and sweet; she corrupts the smart/attractive binary by spouting relevant facts and literary terms while being tirelessly courted. Olive both understands and loves herself – but also feels the pressure to hide her unconventional traits, and encourages others to do the same. Olive isn’t perfect at all – but who actually is?

It’s part of what makes her so bad ass.

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No. 3: Tiana // Princess & The Frog (2009) // “It serves me right for wishing on stars. The ONLY way to get what you want is hard work.”

The most important in this edition of Badass Characters, in my humble opinion is Tiana’s role as a Disney princess. The main character attributes of Tiana are her ambition, determination and hard work. No one is going to prevent Tiana from owning her own restaurant or from pursuing her dream of being a professional chef; “fairytales don’t come true, you have to make them happen”. The idea of dating and dancing is declared trivial to Tiana; why let anything get in the way of owning Tiana’s Place? AND – an even bigger bonus – she was actually written by a person of color.

Her persistence and frame of mind highlights the difficulties of coming from a poor and primarily black community in New Orleans, Louisiana. Tiana is intelligent and independent in a climate that deems her none of those things at all; she’s denied the opportunity to own her own restaurant after being told “a little woman of your background couldn’t handle it”. Tiana’s clever, capable and caring. As a workaholic, she’s put through trials and eventually turns to the wishing star. She later regrets this act, narrating to herself that her dream will only surface as reality through hard work; not depending on a frog/prince/arrogant as all hell man.

There are problems with the movie as a whole, as Tiana’s life wishes are answered when sent a man and the movie depicts voodoo as evil (among many others). but I find Tiana to be extremely refreshing.

Young girls are looking up to a determined woman of color – learning that they can do anything they want to if they work hard enough. And in a political climate like ours today, it’s important to be reminded that things will only change with our persistence; with our ambition, determination, and devotion. Tiana teaches us nothing should get in the way of our goal; that we are independent and intelligent, caring and super fucking funny.

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