I recently came across an excellent comic on the website Heroic Girls – an organisation dedicated to empowering girls by advocating for strong role models in alternative media, particularly comics. It was about how boys are taught to look up only to male characters and heroes, and any who look up to women are ridiculed and told to stick to male heroes. Meanwhile, girls are allowed to look up to both male and female characters; apparently there’s no problem crossing a gender boundary in that direction. So strong female characters are only the domain of girls, meaning that boys don’t get to appreciate strong female characters as they grow into men, only women are allowed to see those messages of female strength. This has further implications in life, where the lesson that liking female-led stories is embarrassing becomes internalised and the belief then can emerge that women themselves are embarrassing and inferior. See the full comic here.
Obviously, this is a shit lesson to learn, and we should all be looking up to all characters and heroes without fear of embarrassment. To this end, I think it’s worth taking some time out to identify some female characters and heroes that are inspirational, people that one aspires to be. The earlier boys can do this, the better. I’ve picked three of mine below, but this is obviously by no means exhaustive. And I don’t care about comics (which is the primary focus of Heroic Girls) so I’m looking to different areas of pop culture and the world. I’ve decided to pick a fictional character, a real world star visible in the media, and a personal one. I’m also just focusing on contemporaries here, don’t take this to mean that there aren’t more women throughout history that I don’t look up to as much or more than those below. These are women that have inspired me and continue to do so in my lifetime. They aren’t the only ones but they’re very much on my mind these days.
Okay, so you might think I’m cheating right out of the gate – this is kind of as much about the actor and the behind-the-scenes stuff as the character, and it’s also from the ‘60s, soooo not exactly contemporary, but fuck it, it’s my blog. Anyway, I’m constantly rewatching Star Trek, so it’s always relevant to my life.
This is definitely one I didn’t get the first time watching Star Trek. She was just a character, kind of in the background – as was everyone in TOS that wasn’t part of the trifecta. I liked her, but didn’t necessarily feel that much more. And yes, I’m white, so the significance was lost on me first time round. But since learning about everything that Uhura and Nichols did on the show and the impact she’s had means that I view both the character and the actor with a completely different lens now.
Uhura was the most prominent black woman in a non-subservient role at the time, which was so important to see that Martin Luther King told her not to leave the show when she confessed she was planning to. A young Whoopi Goldberg ran screaming about the house, “There’s a black woman on TV and she ain’t no maid!” She inspired the first African American woman to fly into space, Mae Jemison, to take up a career in the sciences in the first place. Her and Shatner tricked the studios into the first onscreen interracial kiss. It’s all good stuff! Every time I watch Star Trek now, this is what I think about, and although they may not have been all too good with the treatment of women back then, they were still making giant leaps (get it? That’s a moon landing reference. CAUSE SPAAAACE). I think we can all aspire to be like Nichols and Uhura, realising the power of inspiring others because of your work.
Definitely contemporary! Megan Rapinoe is on my list for a very similar reason to Uhura/Nichols: she’s a walking protest and she’s inspiring people through her work. During this year’s World Cup, the narrative of Rapinoe vs Trump was enthralling, as was hearing her talk about how she lamented the fact that she feels like she can’t sing the national anthem anymore, not with President Shithead in charge destroying families at the border and instilling all flavours of hatred across the country. As a proud lesbian living in a country where being gay perhaps feels less safe than it has done for some time, she can’t be proud of this United States and so can’t sing the anthem. She joined Colin Kaepernick’s knee-taking stance for league matches in the USA and didn’t lose any enthusiasm or energy for protest on the world’s biggest stage. Having the world’s most powerful politician slag you off on Twitter because you said you wouldn’t go to the fucking White House must be scary – thinking about returning to that country – but she stuck to her guns, and went and won the bloody World Cup. Rapinoe, I dramatically salute you, American-style.
She did this all through her work, by being a really good footballer who simply stands up for herself and for other LGBTQ+ people, shows the world that they exist and that they will be heard, that they are contributing to the country’s success even if the vile ball of hate that is apparently human in the White House thinks they’re disrespecting the country. Megan Rapinoe won the World Cup, the Golden Boot, the Golden Shoe, and my fucking heart (among many others the world over). She was an absolute delight to watch on the pitch, always an exciting player and a great leader who fully deserves her success, and she was a fucking boss off the field. Being Megan Rapinoe is something to aspire to, for everyone, regardless of gender identity. All my instincts are to support an underdog in sport, and to never cheer on the reigning champions. It was impossible to follow those instincts and I was thrilled that they won the biggest prize, I wasn’t even made that they beat England (it was a cracking game and it was bloody close!). Thank you, Megan Rapinoe, you made this World Cup. (The rest of the US team were also a delight to watch and all deserved to win.)
Specifically my wife. Told you there would be a more personal one.
So yeah, the third one absolutely has to be my wife, to whom I have been married for almost a year now. She’s a daily inspiration to me, someone I look up to all the time, who is one of my all time heroes. She’s so incredibly strong, but she’s not afraid to show her vulnerabilities, to let you know when she’s hurting and she needs help. She’s assertive and proud of her accomplishments, but wants to know more about others. She’s funny as hell, she makes me laugh and smile every day, and she knows when to be serious and to take life by the horns. She builds me up and keeps me in check, and she listens to me when I do the same in turn. She’s a fighter, but also a slacker when the occasion calls for it, a great person to have in the home. She will always stand up for what is right, she will always help a friend, and she knows how to ask for help in return, she knows exactly what she needs and she's not afraid to admit it when she makes a mistake. An all round good egg really. Truly, my biggest hero.
I only picked three here, so I wanted to note a few others that are women to look up to (again this is not an exhaustive list, I’ll have forgotten plenty from my own repertoire, and will remember just after publishing this). From both the real world and fictional characters.
Dana Scully, X-Files
Greta Thunberg, climate protesting LEGEND
Captain Janeway, Star Trek: Voyager
Kara Thrace, aka Starbuck, Battlestar Galactica
Granny Weatherwax, Discworld
Naomi Osaka, tennis player
Ellen White, England football player
Annie Norman, Bad Squiddo Games
AND MANY MORE