Girls Need Role Models

"I think the major problem here is that women were clamoring for 'strong female characters', and male writers misunderstood. They thought the feminists meant Strong Female Characters. The feminists meant Strong Characters, Female."

Media has had a bit of a struggle with trying to come up with rounded female role models, particularly in children's programming; while female characters are allowed to be strong, they're not allowed to have flaws outside of a very limited list of cute ones - they still have to be perfect in almost every way. You can show a female character being slightly ditzy, but you can't have her burp or fart, let alone show any serious flaws. It is really hard to have a character without flaws who is also rounded.

Therefore, we get a lot of female characters who are drawn as overly perfect, with "Girls Need Role Models" as the justification. The writers can point to Female Character X and say "Isn't she a good role model for young girls?" Well, yeah, in a really superficial, plastic sort of way. A 'good' example in the same way that an unrealistically 'perfect' Barbie doll is a 'good' example of how to be a woman. Obviously, the best way to remedy the problem is to make female characters of all kinds more common — that way, flaws really aren't that big a deal.

Compare You Are a Credit to Your Race, Women Are Wiser.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Naruto is an interesting case. Throughout the series, several characters who are mass murderers, serial killer wannabes, abusive to family members, and so on manage to become model citizens overnight through Epiphany Therapy, and are accepted as close friends and forgiven by their victims. Furthermore, the Child Soldiers environment and nature of chakra and ninjutsu (being a weaponized form of ninshu, a way of connected one's spirit with everyone rather than physical and spiritual energies,) makes it difficult to anaylze how accurately one can relate to these characters. Although a real-life Heel–Face Turn takes years of therapy at best, the fandom generally holds Willing Suspension of Disbelief here, including acceptance of the title character Naruto's refusal to give up on bringing his friend and rival Sasuke back to his senses despite taking the brunt of Sasuke's violence. When lead female Sakura got together with Sasuke in the end after Sasuke's Heel–Face Turn, though, Willing Suspension of Disbelief went out the window for many social media bloggers, with some saying it was encouraging women to enter or stay in abusive relationships.

    Comic Books 
  • Wonder Woman was created by a psychiatrist that thought this. Of course, the kinds of girls he had in mind were into bondage and swinging, but it's the thought that counts.
  • Debra Tate wanted Amy Rose portrayed as an example to young girls in Sonic the Comic which led her to becoming a Adaptational Badass with Improbable Aiming Skills, also with her crossbow and wiser than her fellow Freedom Fighters.
  • Comics and music critic Douglas Wolk once wrote a series of reviews under the secret identity of clueless Comics Journal intern Jess Lemon. "Jess" tears into a Vampirella/Witchblade crossover when her apologist brother claims that it has strong female characters: "When people say they want strong female characters, they don't necessarily mean strong in the sense that they can lift things."
  • The original Larry Hama-penned GI Joe comic from Marvel is well regarded by feminists, citing that the female character's gender was not a focus, and the fact that their gender did not define them or their positions on the team.
  • In Runaways, most of the team consists of girls, with two boys at the most in the line-up (this receives several lampshades). All of them have powers or skills of some sort and all are able to think on their feet and take down villains. And while they have various issues they deal with, they're about on the same level as the guys, in terms of angst.
  • Besides the lead character, polymath adventurer Gina Diggers, Gold Digger features a wide amount of distinctive and compelling characters who happen to be female, and has made it an ongoing mission to feature equal opportunity treatment for both genders.
  • In an issue of X-Men: First Class (nothing to do with the movie), Professor X seems to think that Jean Grey could use a female role model, so he arranges her to job shadow Sue Storm of the Fantastic Four.
  • The creative team of A-Force are not shy about the fact that this is their goal when writing an all-female offshoot of The Avengers.
  • Dynamite's Swords of Sorrow series is advertised as the first comicbook series to be handled by an all-female staff and characters. Sounds inspiring enough, but the #1 issue looks like this, making the whole "all-female team" seem less like progress and more like a gimmick.
  • Zig-zagged with She-Hulk. At times, her comics have been criticized for their rather gratuitous fanservice, which some feminists understandably take issue with. At other points in the character's history, though, she's been primarily defined by her intelligence and fun-loving personality, and she's known for being one of the most well-adjusted superheroes on Marvel's roster. Though she's definitely got her personal hangups, she views her powers as a blessing, and (unlike her cousin Bruce) she's almost always been able to control her powers and work through her issues in a healthy way. Notably, she also balances superheroics with a career as an attorney, and she's universally respected for her legal prowess and unabashed idealism.
  • Harley Quinn is a rather famous subversion of this trope. On one hand, she's primarily known as (at worst) a villain, and (at best) a manic, clownish prankster with a destructive sense of humor, who doesn't take anyone or anything seriously. On the other hand, she's also famous for being a battered victim of domestic abuse who successfully manages to break free of her bastard boyfriend the Joker, and many modern writers have used her stories to drop some very important anvils about abusive relationships. And on the other other hand, a key element of her backstory is that she was a talented clinical psychologist before she met the Joker, and still retains enough of her training to remind her foes that she's far more intelligent than her childish exterior would suggest. In short: she's proof that interesting female antiheroes can still be good role models for girls in spite of their flaws.

    Fan Works 
  • The Mary Sue phenomenon is suspected to be directly caused by the lack of female role models in fiction. When teenagers try to remedy the fact that there are no interesting female characters in their favourite works, it is to be expected that the result will not be as well-rounded and realistic as a female character included by the original author might have been.

    Films — Animation 
  • The Barbie movies have done a good job at creating strong female leads, as well as subverting all of the most common complaints about the Disney Princesses. The heroines always have interests and hobbies, and female friends with whom they pass the The Bechdel Test, and one even features a girl saying she cannot marry the prince because she has to travel the world and pursue her dreams first. Of course, some still complain about the pink, sparkly, princess clothes, as if that undermines any social progress. There is also tendency towards Cliché Storm and Tastes Like Diabetes, for which the criticism is more warranted.
  • Disney Animated Canon:
    • With all the flack Disney gets for Cinderella, you'd be surprised to learn Walt actually hired a man to make the film more feminist. Or maybe not be surprised at all to learn that he didn't hire a woman.
    • Beauty and the Beast: Belle, who was well-read when no one else cared for it and had the courage to stand up to a terrifying creature when he was roaring and yelling at her. Despite some damsel moments, she was also proactive in rescuing her father from the Beast.
    • Pocahontas is not open to the idea of an Arranged Marriage, teaches a Green Aesop to her love interest, and manages to stop an entire war just by appealing to her father as a daughter. She also chooses to stay with her people rather than going to England to be with John Smith.
    • The main character of Mulan. She took on the burden of going to war, was one of the best fighters, saved the day and the romance was underplayed. Not to mention, the only time she wore a fancy dress was a disaster and she never wore makeup, either in the movie or the merchandise. Although this can be counted as a subversion as she started out as a demure farm girl and a Butt Monkey to everyone else in the army until she Took a Level in Badass. And the reason she joined the army in the first place is for a genuinely humane (and/or selfish) reason to protect her father or escape from her strict hometown life. In the marketing (some at least), she's been Chickified to the point that some of it describes her as "getting ready for the ball and waiting for her prince!" Even in terms of her eventual relationship with Shang, it's her capability as a soldier, not her girlish traits, which attract him to her.
    • Tiana of The Princess and the Frog had to deal with being the first African-American Disney Princess on top of this trope. She has a specific goal, (as opposed to "finding love" or "more") which she works her ass off to achieve despite the disadvantages that come with being a black woman in 1920's New Orleans. But of course she gets criticism for being too much/not enough like the other princesses, for wearing a sparkly dress in the promotional materials, and getting married.
    • In Wreck-It Ralph, we have Sergeant Tamora Jean Calhoun, who commands her troops, shoots down Cy-Bugs, and is Badass as hell. Then there's Vanellope Von Schweetz, who is a Plucky Girl and Badass Driver. At the end, it seems like she's going to be yet another Disney Princess, but she rejects the dress and becomes a PRESIDENT instead.
  • Brave:
    • On the first day of June, 2009, a female writer at NPR wrote this blog post. In it, she innocuously mused aloud that, since Pixar created so many memorable female characters in their films, it would be nice if, for a change, one of them was the lead rather than a supporting character. And while 2012's Brave does have a female lead, she's a princess, and the writer wanted something more original upon hearing about it. Hilarity ensued. This thankfully level-headed writer summarizes the "Pixar Needs Women" debacle very nicely.
    • Once the movie was actually released, Merida was notable for independence, resourcefulness, skill in combat (particularly with a bow), and being the first Disney princess whose movie doesn't even have a romantic subplot — rather, it involves her efforts to avoid an Arranged Marriage. Unfortunately, the fact that she antagonizes her mother and winds up threatening the entire kingdom in her attempt to avoid it made her the movie's Base-Breaking Character, with some viewers seeing her as a lovely role model and others seeing her as unsympathetic, whiny, and selfish. In other words, exactly like the flawed teenage girl the original female director and writer had intended her to be. Moral: do not be a female character with flaws you need to overcome - you need to be all righteous ass-kicking, all the time or a you're a bad role model. It was in fact this very mindset that led to Brenda Chapman having her film taken from her out of concern that it wasn't "action-oriented", and thus it would fail to attract boys (who are still the favored demographic).
  • In an interview, Rihanna — voice actress of heroine Tip from Home, reveals why she was inspired to be a part of the movie:
    "I think it was important to both me and Dreamworks for this character to be as realistic as possible," she said. "We wanted little girls to feel empowered. Little girls of any size, shape, race or color. It didn't matter, we wanted girls to feel strong and brave, empowered and beautiful... like they can do anything."
  • The adult animation equivalent with Team America: World Police. Lisa and Sarah are portrayed to be at least two-dimensional, and just as Badass as the men in Team America, and their genders are never once brought up in the film.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Liz Hoggard openly invokes the trope in her review of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, noting that what makes Alice a "good role model" is that "she is not girlie". "Girlie" in the review refers specifically to the archetype of the Damsel in Distress. A role that Alice does not fall into despite being quite conventionally feminine. At no point is it claimed that Real Women Don't Wear Dresses.
  • Down with Love might be done comically but Barbra Novak is the heroine of all women around the world by having taught them to be equal, self-reliant citizens of the world.
  • Andie Anderson from How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days wants to be a serious journalist.
  • Sara Melas's boss in Hitch says that she is so good at her job.
  • The Powers That Be that worked on the film of The Hobbit were fully aware of this trope. Many fan eyebrows were raised on the revelation that Evangeline Lily would be playing a film-only character called "Tauriel," and she is an "elf warrior-maiden." Granted, the alternative is to abide by the book, which hasn't got a single female character to its name, but fans were still prickly — not least because "elf warrior-maiden" are three prime Mary Sue buzzwords.
  • Quentin Tarantino claimed, in a rather amusing exchange with a local film critic, that girls aged 12+ should watch Kill Bill.
  • Paige Morgan from The Prince And Me is an intimidating pre-med student who dreams of working with Doctors Without Borders.
  • Star Wars:
    • Princess Leia is often hailed by fans and critics as a breakthrough female role model. Let's count the ways: In the first movie, she has a rather traditional "role" — the object of a rescue — but acts absolutely nothing like any female has in a similar role in a movie — she takes over her own rescue mission, for one thing. In the second movie she busts herself and her friends out of a heavily-guarded stronghold with a BFG before doubling back to rescue her brother. And then by the third movie, she winds up rescuing her lover from a Hutt. Repeat: the princess rescues the pirate from a dragon. Which she then kills barehanded, while said lover is incapacitated. And she drags her brother on a shoot-'em-up speeder chase after the bad guys. Basically, Leia broke just about every single rule regarding female characters in the whole book.
    • Padme Amidala has her big career, can fight with the Jedi and clone troopers and refuses to even be with Anakin throughout Attack of the Clones even if she does wear pretty dresses.
    • Rey, the central character of the new trilogy starting with The Force Awakens, has been instantly praised as this.
  • In the Twilight books, otherwise the utter antithesis of this trope, nerdy Eric is class valedictorian. In the movies it's changed to Jessica.
  • One review of The X-Files: Fight the Future cites Scully as a great role model for young girls, as she's "[i]ntelligent, strong, and determined."
  • In an interesting comparison, the movies of Michael Bay tend towards macho Rated M for Manly and Stuff Blowing Up popcorn movies. Most of the women tend to be exceptionally attractive and the movie makes sure we know that, even the extras. BUT, when you isolate those female characters from the revealing clothing and explosions, they all tend to be rather strong willed, intelligent, with a personality and relevant to the story beyond being a Damsel in Distress (even if barely). Yet this is often lost because, well, the women are also exceptionally attractive. This creates an irony that these women don't come across as the typical "Role Model" for girls because they are surrounded by testosterone. For example:
    • Liv Tyler's character Grace in Armageddon is basically the girlfriend and eventual wife of the hero, A.J. When her father Harry disapproves she has this rather long monologue yelling at him about what he expected when he took her on these long oil drilling sessions, and, surprise, she fell in love with an oil worker. Beyond that she is also shown being very savvy with investors.
    • Kate Beckinsale in Pearl Harbor is a nurse fueling the Love Triangle, but when the attack happens she is front and center doing triage on the wounded, using her lipstick to mark the ones they can save versus the ones who will just get morphine to ease the pain when the die.
    • Megan Fox in her two Transformers movies sometimes proved to be more resourceful than her love interest, the actual main character Sam. She has a checkered past working with her dad stealing cars, and is also aware of her own tendency to go after bad boys, admitting she can be rather shallow. Her car stealing and Badass Driver skills come in handy in both films.
    • Rosie Huntington-Whitely in the third movie may have the role of Damsel in Distress during most of the second act, but she remains aware of her surroundings and pays attention to the budding feud between the Big Bad Duumvirate, which gives her some VERY valuable information that is useful when she is rescued. Even when that happens, Sam fails to get right TO her, but she instead takes off like a rocket and jumps out a window when the opportunity comes.
  • Nancy Thompson from A Nightmare on Elm Street is widely praised as a Final Girl who actively takes it into her own hands to defeat the killer. Her actress Heather Langenkamp sees her as a role model, and her documentary I am Nancy focuses on her fandom. Since the first movie, ordinary teenage girl heroines became a staple of the franchise. One of the reasons the remake is so widely reviled is because its Final Girl lacks those heroic traits..
  • The film adaptations of Harry Potter tend to do this with Hermione, although some of it is a little overblown by the fandom. One such moment is a scene from the first book, where the boys are trapped by Devil's Snare. In the book, Hermione freaks out and Ron has to yell some sense into her. In the film instead it's Ron who freaks out, and Hermione stays calm.note . The third film is notable in that Hermione is given a few more action scenes she didn't have in the book. But this is lessened from the fifth film onwards; when the children are held captive by the Death Eaters, Ron struggles against his while Hermione does nothing. In the final films, Hermione is still prone to making mistakes along with the other two.
  • Brie Larson said this was one of her major reasons for wanting to do Captain Marvel.

  • Subverted in Animorphs. Initially, Rachel is the obvious choice as the feminist role model in the series (strong-willed, good-looking, personable, bold, courageous, capable in combat, etc etc), with Cassie acting as her meek best friend. However, by the end of the series, Rachel is miles away from a Mary Sue, her "bold and courageous" personality ultimately evolving into that of a sadistic action junkie. Cassie, on the other hand, while proven to be smart and capable, remains a relatively passive character uninterested in leadership qualities, stemming from her belief in nonviolence. This makes her an atypical feminist character in that while she can take a more active role she simply chooses not to.
  • In an interview regarding her novel Bridget Jones' Diary, Helen Fielding remarked upon the idea of a comic female protagonist being controversial for this reason, whereas no man ever took Bertie Wooster as an insulting stereotype of the entire male gender. A derogatory stereotype of English fecklessness, sure, but not a stereotype of men.
  • Tamora Pierce says that this is one of her primary reasons for writing. All of her protagonists are strong Action Girl types in her Tortall Universe, and she mercilessly defies the Not Like Other Girls trope by having, in her Circle of Magic series, a seamstress as one of the main characters (among other deconstructions of the attitude). In- and out-of-universe, Kel in Protector of the Small is a role model for being thoroughly Badass Normal, inspiring girls to think they can also do great things without gods or magic to help.
  • Clearly one of the aims of the Kiki Strike books. Indeed, in the first book, Inside the Shadow City, not one of the major characters is male.
  • The American Girl series is made for this and in fact has a magazine specifically dedicated to this.
  • The Dear America books created a generation of female history nerds.
  • Harry Potter:
    • Hermione Granger, the series' female lead, is naturally brilliant, and supplements her intelligence with tons of hard work and research, making her an extraordinarily talented witch. Rowling balances Hermione's talent by giving her an inability to deal with failure, a great deal of stubborness, and a surprising ruthless streak.
    • Ginny Weasley, on the other hand, has most of the same strengths—intelligent (if not to the same extreme), naturally gifted with magic, an Action Girl, brave (it's the Hat of the Gryffindor House, after all), etc.—along with a few Hermione doesn't share like athleticism, but has none of the flaws. Rowling has gone on record as saying that Hermione represents who she feels she, Rowling, was in school, whereas Ginny represents who she wishes she had been.
  • One of the most famous role models for girls, Nancy Drew, started as something of a subversion. Her creator, Edward Stratemeyer, was actually something of a chauvinist (although this was 1929; his belief that women belonged in the home wasn't exactly uncommon). The only reason he allowed the series to go to print? He saw that girls were reading the Spear Counterpart The Hardy Boys books and realized there was a market. The one saving grace was the series' first ghostwriter, Mildred Wirt (later Benson), who decided to put more into the character than what Stratemeyer outlined on the page.
  • Pride and Prejudice's Elizabeth Bennet is an intelligent, lively, attractive, and witty young woman. Considering she's from Regency England and her family is troubled financially, matrimony is her only option to secure her future. Nevertheless she refuses to marry for money without love or reason twice.
  • BJK White places his books "squarely in the sub-sub-genre of 'Girls Kicking Arse'."
  • Kir Bulychev fills his stories with strong women. Alice, Girl from the Future has Alisa Selezneva and Irina Gai, Intergalactic Police has Kora Orvat, and The Mystery of Urulgan has Veronica Smith, Peggy, and Nina.
  • Phryne Fisher; as her creator Kerry Greenwood has said, "But Phryne is a hero, just like James Bond or The Saint, but with fewer product endorsements and a better class of lovers. I decided to try a female hero and made her as free as a male hero, to see what she would do."
  • The Hunger Games which, aside from the main character, Katniss, also included fleshed-out and strong characters such as Rue, Johanna, Clove and to some degree Foxface, Mags and even Prim (who, despite being treated as the Damsel for most of the series, still got moments to shine). Rue's main role in the Hunger Games was to fuel Katniss' desire to win the Games and she gets killed off about halfway through the first book. Clove is a psychotic Knife Nut who likes causing people pain and she gets violently killed for gloating about it.
  • Strongly invoked in the first entry in the Artemis Fowl series - Holly Short is bluntly told that her commanding officer is harder on her because she's the first woman in LEPrecon forces, and many elf girls and women are looking to her to succeed.
  • The Discworld universe has a lot of Deliberate Values Dissonance on the subject of female empowerment, but women's rights seem to be advancing rather more quickly than they did in the real world of the equivalent era. Most of the protagonists are either not chauvinistic or at least eventually realize the error of their ways. Those that don't are mainly the ones that are the butt of most of the jokes (Fred and Nobby, for example). The wizards tend to fall into the "Humorously Politically Incorrect Seniors" category.
    • The female Sgt. Angua, while for a long time being The Smurfette, is probably the third-most capable officer in the Watch after Commander Vimes (the focus character of the Watch books) and Captain Carrot (Memetic Badass and King Incognito). Being a werewolf, she's also the most physically powerful officer after troll Sgt. Detritus.
    • Male and female dwarfs traditionally look alike, dress alike, and act alike; it's mentioned parenthetically that a major portion of dwarf courtship consists of discreetly finding out exactly what sex your intended is. After exposure to Ankh Morpork culture many female dwarfs are beginning to adopt some human standards of femininity (but draw the line at shaving off their beards).
    • Women traditionally can't be wizards, but men traditionally can't be witches; witches are almost invariably shown to be the more effectual and Closer to Earth of the two. An early book portrays a girl who determines to become a wizard; when she pops up again much later as an adult she reveals that she achieved that, but ultimately decided witching was simply a superior kind of magic.
    • The Tiffany Aching books have a few witches who also know some wizard magic, but it turns out fireball throwing isn't that useful for what is basically a local nurse and vet.
    • Male aristocrats are usually depicted as arrogant, racist, sexist, classist, snobs; female aristocrats are almost always shown to be practical, no-nonsense go-getters who aren't afraid of doing the hard work of actually managing the household/estate on a day-to-day basis.
    • Pterry himself claims he's never had much luck writing female characters who weren't tough, resourceful and competent, either overtly or beneath superficial self-doubts.
  • L. Frank Baum's Land of Oz series is full to the brim with active female heroes, royalty, soldiers, witches, and villains. Hell, one of the few male protagonists of his books turns out to have been a female all along, and spends the rest of the series as the quite feminine Princess Ozma. Baum himself was active in the early stages of the feminist movement (at the time called suffragists), and was connected to many movers and shakers of the cause, including Susan B. Anthony.
  • In Masques the heroine Aralorn is a clever, strong-willed woman who would be a good role model for girls ... if there weren't the fact that she's surrounded by males, and is, implicitly, better than the default woman in that world. (She sometimes says that she's not a "typical" woman.) Rather typical in the works of inexperienced authors who aim to be feminist, but haven't really figured out how to do it, yet.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Miss Brooks of Our Miss Brooks was television's first example. Miss Brooks is clearly intelligent, competent and caring, although more than that, very human. A teacher's organization even gave her an award for humanizing the American schoolteacher.
  • Originated with the lead characters in the sitcoms That Girl and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, though it was arguably justified at the time (late 1960s/early 1970s).
  • The whole premise of Ugly Betty. Compare with the original Soap Opera version, where some of the heroine's actions are somewhat questionable, and its point was to invert the Beauty Equals Goodness pattern in soap heroines.
  • In the premiere of the Bionic Woman reboot, a little girl sees Jaime outrace a car and thinks out loud that "it's neat a girl can do that." Lampshade Hanging, or an anvil so large it has the gravity of a planet?
  • Joss Whedon rather famously complained about how everyone kept asking him about his "strong women characters." He noted that no one ever asked a TV producer about "strong male characters," and concluded with the idea that when people stop making a big deal about positive female role models (that is, when it's no longer done for artificial reasons but just because "why not"), that will be a good thing. (Which is a little ironic, when you consider that he once said, "I can't seem to write a series without a teenage girl with superpowers." Hey, everyone has their niche.) In its abbreviated form:
    Interviewer: Why do you write these strong female characters?
    Joss: Because you keep asking that question.
  • Power Rangers usually manages to bypass this problem as most teams have two females on them, so one can be the role model while the other can be a little quirky. For example, in Power Rangers RPM, Summer is the stereotypical role model, while Gemma is a lot goofier and whackier (not to mention freakin' insane). Unfotunately, seasons with only one female teammate can suffer. Tori from Power Rangers Ninja Storm strayed into this trope from time to time.
  • Mariska Hargitay of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit claims (or The Other Wiki claims for her):
    "I get letters saying, 'I want to do the right thing like Olivia. I want to be strong like Olivia. My friend did this, but I didn't do it because of Olivia.' For me, when a television show has that kind of positive effect on young people, it is great. I think it is a good thing that we are shedding light on darkness. I think it is a good thing to make young girls aware."
  • Dr. Temperance "Bones" Brennan. An ass-kicking anthropologist who wears jewelery, skirts and high heels while beating the shit out of bad guys, and whose best girlfriends are a similarly ass-kicking African-American coroner isn't defined by her race, who once had a comfortably relaxed affair (and is still best friends with) the man Brennan is now in love with, and a free-spirited Eurasian artist who believes in love while still being a Lovable Sex Maniac. And for that rare creature, the female teen on the Autism Spectrum, the fact that a woman with huge social problems can not only be accepted as a friend, lover and boss, but does so on national television, is enormously comforting.
  • Female crew members on Star Trek have always been more than tokens, whether it's Lt. Uhura in The Original Series, Dr. Beverly Crusher in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Kira Nerys and Jadzia Dax in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, or Captain Janeway and B'Elanna Torres in Star Trek: Voyager. How much of this was lip service and how much was actually being more than a token varies from series to series ... Uhura's main function on the show was to say "Hailing frequencies open, Captain." Still, since this was the 1960s and she was not just female but also black, it was progress of a sort.
    • In fact, Nichelle Nichols (Uhura) was so bored in her (non) role that she thought about quitting after Season One. Martin Luther King Jr convinced her to stay and keep being a role model for African-American girls.
    • Of Star Trek: The Next Generation's original three female leads, two (Counselor Troi and Doctor Crusher) were in traditional "nurturing" female roles, and one (Tasha Yar) was an Action Girl. Unfortunately, actress Denise Crosby's departure from the show left them with only the former two until the introduction of Ro Laren, never more than a tertiary character. Later Trek shows were always cast with an eye toward giving the female crew members more varied roles.
  • In Smallville, Lois Lane in general. She's a dedicated career woman and heroine who stands up for what's right and helps protect her loved ones as well as innocents. Chloe Sullivan started out an Intrepid Reporter and progressed to Voice with an Internet Connection master hacker Oracle. In either role, an indispensable ally to Clark Kent. See also, Allison Mack's interview on the subject of Chloe.
  • The women of the BBC's Robin Hood were intended to be this. Didn't work out so well. At the beginning of the show the writers, directors and actress all gushed about how their take on Maid Marian made her a strong, intelligent, kick-ass female role model...and so she was...until the end of season two in which she's hit in the face with the Distress Ball, taken prisoner by the Sheriff, dragged to the Holy Land in chains, offers herself up as a reward to Guy of Gisborne if he kills the Sheriff for her, and is finally stabbed to death by Guy in a death scene that was specifically shot to suggest rape. The second season finale also had Djaq, an equally cool and kickass female character, be Put on a Bus and the third season tried to replace the loss of these two female characters with Kate...except that they apparently thought that "shrill, whiny female who acts like a bitch to everyone around her and keeps on needing to be rescued" equaled "strong female role model" in her case.
  • 30 Rock's Liz Lemon is universally praised for being a well-devolved, proactive protagonist that can withstand being mocked for her own social awkwardness and chronic overeating. Her boss Jack Donaghy even considers her his only worthy protégé. Some find it difficult to believe Tina Fey would ever be Hollywood Dateless, however.
    • Jenna Maroney is probably the clearest example of what happens when women don't have role models.
  • Absolutely Fabulous is a Sadist Show based around a cast of female Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonists. According Jennifer Saunders herself, the characters were made to have few, if any, redemptive qualities whatsoever, making Women Are Wiser a complete impossibility. Most of these Rich Bitch characters were prone to pratfalls, Cringe Comedy, Zany Schemes, comic Hubris, and outright violence, all played for unabashed buffoonery rather than Soap Opera style drama (First Law of Tragicomedies rarely applied on this show, except for the occasional Hope Spot). The show seemed to take place in a Black Comedy Ladyland where The Smurfette Principle was inverted, and the only male characters about were usually Love Interests or Pet Homosexuals, allowing female characters to fall into embarrassing situations without a man swooping in to protect them.
  • Sherlock:
    • The writers may well have had this trope in mind when they introduced Watson's girlfriend Sarah into the show, an intelligent doctor who helps crack the Chinese code and takes out a hitman with a plank of wood, to off-set the female characters of the first episode (a bitchy police officer, a ditzy morgue worker with a rather pathetic crush on Sherlock, and an aide to Mycroft who barely looks up from her Blackberry). And of course, Adler is on her way... and she's sparking the same debate due to her portrayal in "Scandal in Belgravia."
    • Mrs. Hudson is a strong female character, and obviously not defined by any little girl role models.
  • The Trans Atlantic Equivalent of Sherlock, Elementary has this with Joan Watson (Gender Flipped John Watson played by Lucy Liu), the foil to the erratic Sherlock.
  • Amongst the younger female characters of Downton Abbey there is Sybil and Gwen. Whilst Mary and Edith partake in the The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry, Anna pines hopelessly after Mr Bates, and Daisy is relentlessly manipulated by Thomas, it comes as a relief to watch Sybil and Gwen form an inter-class friendship based on Gwen's desire to become a typist and Sybil's interest in women's emancipation.
    • In the second season, Anna is easily one of the most competent characters (if Bates had listened to her and told the police from the start that his wife bought poison, he likely would never have been arrested). Edith also undergoes some Character Development after seeing how devastated convalescing soldiers are because of the war.
  • Stargate SG-1's Major Samantha Carter has been cited as one of the greatest female roles in science fiction for a very good reason - she always held her own with "the boys", and aside from one rather embarrassing speech in the pilot episode (after which actress Amanda Tapping put her foot down and said, "Okay, women don't talk like that,"), rarely made a big deal about being a woman unless someone else made an issue of it first. She was smart, she was a badass Action Girl, and she was a real character with real flaws and real emotions. And on top of that, she had one of the firmest friendships in the show with Dr. Janet Fraiser, which was based not on mutual romantic woes but on common interests and real regard for each other.
  • An odd inversion - according to producer Rick Sigglekow, Shining Time Station introduced series regular Billy Twofeathers because they felt that boys needed role models.
    He played the straight man to balance the antics between Schemer and Stacy. We also thought that he was a good role model for boys, who really don’t see that many grounded men on television. So many men on kids TV are buffoons or bad guys, although I think that’s changing.
  • Agents of Shield has Skye, Simmons and May. Skye started out as The Chick but eventually developed into a very capable agent, May repeatedly demonstrates that she is the best fighter on this team or any other and Simmons is a proper genius. All three have saved the day on multiple occasions, each using their respective talents. Bobbi, Maria Hill and Agent 33 later show up and pretty much prove that two X chromosomes are a superpower in this universe.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In the mid-1970s, feminism was hitting the mainstream in a big way and the producers of Doctor Who decided to give the Doctor a feminist as a companion (Sarah Jane Smith) in order to appeal to this. Of course, the political opinions of the individual writers were all over the scale and so whether or not her feminism was portrayed positively or properly researched was heavily Depending on the Writer, though the character came across as likeable, strong and independent due to solid acting, generally good writing and the actress's impressive chemistry with both of her Doctors.
      • A particularly clueless stab at feminism is "The Monster of Peladon", where Alpha Centauri is inexplicably derailed into a Straw Misogynist just so Sarah can argue with it, despite it never having had any problems with Jo. Sarah later gets to introduce the Queen of Peladon to 'women's lib', explaining it's "when women don't let men tell them what to do", and apparently the Queen who is in charge of the planet and has lots of obedient subjects had never thought about that concept before.
      • In "Robot", Sarah gets to handle a huge chunk of the plot on her own, as she was still a familiar character after the Doctor's regeneration. Tied into her feminism when she is allowed to put a nerd in his place for wanting her to dress the way he likes, instead of the admittedly hideous outfit she was wearing.
      • "Pyramids of Mars": Due to a feminist Director On Board who was adamant that Sarah was not allowed to be silly, Sarah ends up doing some rather out-of-character things like being a crack shot, a skill there is no way she could ever have learned. Elisabeth Sladen wanted to play the scene as being a lucky shot, but the director refused.
    • The following female companion, Leela, was similarly intended to be a role model for young girls. Producer at the time Philip Hinchcliffe had a little girl living next door who was a fan of the show, and was upset when he asked her which character she identified with the most and said "the Doctor" rather than "Sarah Jane". This led to Hinchcliffe conceiving of Leela as a strong and intelligent Action Girl who came from a gender-equal society, could stand up for herself and was sometimes shown even to be as clever as the Doctor. Contemporary criticism focused on her Stripperific outfit and accused her of being shallow Parent Service akin to Top of the Pops dancers, as well as on how violent her character was - which goes to show the sexism of the day, as Leela had a lot more to her than that. (Later criticism tended to suggest that the Pygmalion Plot, the Doctor constantly putting down her intelligence and a Strangled by the Red String departure were probably not the best ways to write a feminist icon.) Leela also addressed the long-time Who problem of the female companions being the Doctor's subordinates for show structure reasons - though this was done by making her the Doctor's willing subordinate and student, rather than anything so wild as having them be equal.
    • Leela's successor Romana was also intended to be a role model for young girls - after the mixed success of the Action Girl, the decision was made to instead give the Doctor an equal to contend with in the form of another clever, funny superintelligent Time Lord. When she regenerated she became even closer a female counterpart for the Doctor, with her own sonic screwdriver and scarf, and she would even occasionally take over main character spotlight from him. From a feminism standpoint she may have been one of the most successful companions in the series' history.
  • Arrow has been fairly successful in introducing, smart, capable women who also aren't immune from making terrible decisions, having their own problems, and not being defined by their relationships to the male characters. Counting Felicity as Mission Control, by Season 4 Team Arrow consists of two men and three women, and a bunch of other women in key supporting and guest roles.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • Evidently the mindset of Tina Ferrari and Ashley Cartier in GLOW, as they had segments dedicated to giving advice to any women/girls who might have been watching.
  • Jim Cornette is an odd example, as he admitted to "Stone Cold" Steve Austin to being used to seeing more value in having valets and female managers cat fight than try to make them into actual pro wrestlers, yet with the exception of Smokey Mountain Wrestling (which still had Sergeant Rock in his personal stable), he was an advocate for women who were primarily wrestlers in every company he had any degree of creative influence on, even TNA, where he was the one to deliver Spike TV's directive on no male on female violence.
  • On paper, the WWE Divas are obviously there to be role models to girls being touted as "Smart, Sexy and Powerful". In practice, it's just a marketing slogan someone came up with in 2009.
    • Women such as Chyna, Trish Stratus and Lita were heavily promoted as role models for girls. Chyna competed in the men's division (Older Than They Think: As it took them a lot longer to get Jacqueline back to doing so even though her name was made in Memphis fighting both women and men), Lita wasn't afraid to stand out amongst all the busty blondes and glamorous Divas (she was a bit of a tomboy punk), and Trish started out as eye candy before dedicating herself to improving as a wrestler and became one of the standouts of the women's division during her stay there.
    • The careers of these women heavily influenced many of the next generation of women wrestlers. Natalya Neidhart who comes from a prestigious wrestling family has said she never considered wrestling until she saw Trish performing simply because she had never seen big female stars in wrestling. Ditto for Madison Rayne, who belongs to a company that frequently likes to take shots at WWE due to a complete lack of good ideas. Lita was also this for current Diva AJ Lee and there's even a video clip of a teenage April meeting her at an autograph signing. So essentially WWE creating these role models for young girls helped create their next generation of female employees.
    • Molly Holly spoke of this trope in her shoot interview. She has said that a lot of wrestlers hated being baby faces and didn't like the pressure of being role models for children. However she said she loved being a positive role model for young girls which is why she hated being a heel.
    • Speaking of Lita, she has cited this trope as the reason she never posed for Playboy. She felt it would be wrong as she had a huge fanbase of young girls (plenty of wrestlers have said she would often get so many presents from fans at tapings she would have to leave some of them behind). Subverted with her heel turn and the "Live Sex Celebration" with Edge.
    • Despite having no problems showing her assets and being a heel for most of her career, Terri Runnels also turned down Playboy for a similar reason, though it was due to the effects it might have on her daughter.
    • Beth Phoenix claimed in a promo that she wanted to be cheered by all the little girls in attendance, though at the time she was more like an Anti-Role Model, being a narcissistic bully.

    Video Games 

    Web Comics 
  • Shanti from The Green Eyed Sniper is a nurse who runs a hospital in enemy territory, as she hates her own country's politics of aggression. She is secretly an assassin, targeting only criminals that her government won't touch (such as corrupted politicians, war criminals, powerful pedophiles, and slavers).
  • Parodied by Hark! A Vagrant here and here, as part of a joint project with Carly Monado and Meredith Gran.
  • Cheer! takes four male-football players-turned-female-cheerleaders who were used as a series of gags in The Wotch and develops them into likable characters. All of them have interests and goals they pursue and all of them are devoted friends to one another.
  • Girl Genius also features a female polymath adventurer as the lead character, and has quite a few distinctive strong female characters. Some of them are extremely nasty though, and as such not exactly role models.
  • Ann Walker in But I'm a Cat Person starts out looking like this: a blind young woman making her way in the sexist, man-dominated business culture of the 1960s. Later... not so much.

    Web Original 
  • The ladies from The Nostalgia Chick take from Absolutely Fabulous in this regard. You've got Slapstick Knows No Gender, plenty of Black Comedy including rape jokes, neuroses, pretentiousness, egos, stalking and just plain hilarious evil all round. And with that in mind, you can understand why Lindsay Ellis would get pissed off when the Women Are Wiser Misaimed Fandom keeps on popping up despite all of this.
    • They also discuss how the concept of "strong, independent women" is used to sexualize and objectify women in movies, specifically in the Female Superheroes and Charlie's Angels videos.
    • Also of note, Lindsay has lamented on her personal blog how hard it is to write female characters that both defy typical stereotypes but also won't be judged more harshly than male characters will. This is noted in her review of The Little Mermaid as well: later Disney Princesses are better role models, but at the same time it feels as if Disney is trying too hard to achieve it.
  • Rebecca Stone from Demo Reel has some serious issues and is allowed to be funny, but unlike the other Ax-Crazy Broken Birds of That Guy with the Glasses, she's a Plucky Girl with several angry feminist rants, has partaken in over forty jobs so doesn't just go for the intentionally pathetic and bash movies, and only beats on two people because they hurt her boyfriends.
  • In an interview on the Star Trek Online fan podcast The Foundry Roundtable, Terilynn Shull of Massively remarked that, particularly in a military or quasi-military setting like Starfleet, the best way to write a "strong female character" is to take the word "female" out of the mental equation entirely and just write a strong character. In other words, make the fact that she has two X chromosomes an afterthought when she's on the job.

    Western Animation 
  • Kim Possible was pitched with this trope in mind — a girl who "can do anything!". Which is apparently not a good thing.
    Joss Possible: Ron here is afraid of practically everything, but does he let his fears keep him from sidekickin'? Let's face it, Kim. You can do anything. So facing all those dangers and villains, well, it's just like you say. No big. A fella filled with that much fear always chargin' into action with you? Seems to me that's a true hero.
  • South Park:
    • The show may not typically have strong female characters in focus, but at least it took a moment to point out the problems with our "real life" role-models, using the example of Paris Hilton. Mr. Slave gives a heart-felt entreaty to parents to point out to their daughters which role-models they should follow and which they should revile.
    • A few Day in the Limelight episodes focus on female role model-style characters e.g.: Wendy's Moment of Awesome when she beat the crap out of Cartman due to his mocking of breast cancer sufferers.
  • The DVD commentary on The Boondocks points how many critics complain about the lack of "perfect" Black females. The crew points out that a change in gender does NOT make you perfect.
  • According to Paul Dini, this was the major reason Batgirl became a main character when Batman: The Animated Series was revamped as The New Batman Adventures despite only appearing in a handful of episodes in the previous series. The execs felt the renewed focus on Batgirl and Robin would maximize the number of both male and female viewers.
  • Darla "The Geek" in the animated series of Sam & Max: Freelance Police was originally meant to be male. The sex change occurred because the TV network asked for a positively-identified female character.
  • The female heroes in Teen Titans and Young Justice won positive response for actually having relevant roles in the ongoing storyline and even getting their own plots and episodes devoted to them. However, the pilot episode of the latter was sharply criticized for focusing on the four male members of the team and not including any women until the final few minutes.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender churned out strong female characters by the boatload. Starting with Katara, the headstrong waterbender from the Southern Water Tribe who freed Aang from the iceberg, every female character that followed was more badass than the one before. Even the female villains introduced for Book Two were well rounded, interesting and not to be trifled with. The most badass female character in the show was a twelve-year-old blind earthbender who could, quite literally, rock your world.
    • Katara starts as a rather typical example of The Chick, but later events force her dark side to come out later on. She also, despite much pressure from the fan base, remained indifferent to All Girls Want Bad Boys and ended up with someone who was a Wide-Eyed Idealist like her. Ty Lee also has her Moe qualities, but this comes more from feeling unwanted as a child than her gender role.
    • You've also got Mai, a rich pampered girl but powerful fighter who grapples with her loyalty to her country, fear of her "friend" and doing what's right and saving her exiled boyfriend. You've also got Suki whose the leader of her all female fighting group, and Yue, a princess who will sacrifice her happiness and mortal life to protect her tribe.
    • The sequel series, The Legend of Korra, continues this trend, with the creators taking the risk of pitching a female protagonist. It's paid off.
      • And beyond Korra, the hot-headed main character, let's look at the others girls who join her. There's beautiful and apparently prissy Asami....who is nonetheless a powerful fighter, intelligent strategist and able to run her father's company. Lin, daughter of the aforementioned Toph, who is the Chief of police and will do anything to protect the city, Jinora, the clever little air-bender, and Ikki, her quick-witted Motor Mouth sister.
  • Averted with pretty much every female in KaBlam!, Loopy gets into dangerous situations and quickly jumps to conclusions, Thundergirl is an idiot (as with the other members of the Action League), and June is plain bossy.
  • The Angry Beavers ultimately lampshades this with Treeflower, whose answering machine informs callers that she's on another adventure inexplicably changing her career and personality. For a girl who went from Hippie Chick to bouffant-wearing executive to snowboarding superhero etc, dotdotdot, it's not that hard to believe.
  • Lampshaded in an episode of Clerks: The Animated Series, where Dante and Randal read a couple of letters criticizing the show for its complete lack of female characters. After reading one that asks if they're afraid of women, Randal simply answers "yes" and moves on to the next letter with no further comment.
  • And Transformers has Arcee. She was penned as a 'forceful female autobot' and her bios state that she's 'not just a girl robot', and yet she's pink, a "Naked Princess Leia", and only picks up her gun twice. This has caused many female viewers of the original series to complain about how Arcee needs to 'put on some pants and pick up a gun'.
    • The IDW Comics, however, have taken steps to correct this by making Arcee an Ax-Crazy berserker. This does not help. Additionally, this trope was invoked in one of Arcee's origin stories, where the Autobots built her in response to feminists calling them sexist (despite Optimus's claims that Cybertronians are asexual). However, when Arcee was built, the Autobots still received flak for giving her pink armor.
    • Transformers Animated, conversely, has Arcee as both a teacher and a spy who was supposed to teach an Autobot of Mass Destruction what it meant to be an Autobot. Sadly, her relationship with male medic Ratchet tends to make other people complain all over again. At least she wears pants.
    • Transformers Prime seems to have struck a nice balance between Badass and Cool Big Sis (helped by making her color scheme blue with pink highlights). She is valuable for her speed and skill but too lightly armed to make a dent against bigger opponents, and is emotionally sensitive to the point of isolating herself when someone hits a sore spot. There is a scene in the pilot movie where she convinces Jack to come back to the team because she had recently lost Cliffjumper and had grown attached to him. Coming from a "male" Autobot it would seem rather "touchy-feely" but it hit just the right tone with Arcee.
  • This led to Joe Murray's creation of Dr. Hutchinson on Rocko's Modern Life.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • When Lauren Faust created My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic she did indeed intend for the series main cast to be appropriate role models to the shows young audience. However, her idea of creating good female role models wasn't to make each and every main female character flawless, but rather to make each and every one of them different from the others, thus pushing the message that there are many different ways to be a girl. Among the main cast is a brash athlete, a strong-willed farmer, a smart magician/librarian, a fun-loving baker, a shy and sweet animal raiser, and a sassy but elegant tailor.
    • The show also goes as far as to include male role models that, while less pivotal, often play a large part in the female cast's lives. Twilight Sparkle often has her assistant Spike aid her (if occasionally buffoonishly) and looked up to her older brother for much of her childhood. Big Macintosh similarly, while having eccentricities, is portrayed as an intelligent and hard worker (a planned episode would have revolved around his altruism towards his younger sisters, Applejack and Applebloom).
  • Recess, has Gretchen and Spinelli, the 'smartest' and 'toughest' girl in school respectively. While they excel in traditionally male fields (science and wrestling) this isn't made a big deal of. They are valuable, complex characters in their own right, and notably neither of them take on the 'Chick' role in the Five Man Band. In one episode their bus breaks down, and out of six main characters (4 of them male), it's the girls who fix it. As the top-rated comment stated:
    "When I was kid I didn't notice that Spinelli and Gretchen, the girls, were the ones who knew about cars. Someone had to point it out to me. To this day that's not how I think, thanks Recess".
  • Lauren Faust has said this was a major reason behind the creation of the Super Best Friends Forever shorts on the DC Nation block. The Black Lightning shorts focusing on his superpowered daughters, Thunder and Lightning, sprang from a similar mindset.
  • 1980s British animation Pigeon Street portrayed the lives of ordinary people living on an urban street, with a good mix of age, race and sex. The character most people remember is Long-Distance Clara, the lorry driver with a kickass theme song.
  • Kitty Katswell in T.U.F.F. Puppy being kickass Action Girl and the most competent and sane agent in T.U.F.F.. With a sensible and stylish Spy Catsuit go with.
  • Princess Sally Acorn was initially developed as something of a Royal Brat and a tactical opposite to Sonic (in both strengths and flaws) in earlier points of Sonic SatAM and its comic adapatation. As both medias developed however, Sally gained more spotlight and abilities, and her original comedic flaws became more and more nuanced to the point she was clearly the most competent and sane of the team. This was taken to an almost hypocritical extreme, since to accustom Sally's boosted role, other female leads such as Bunnie were downgraded into ineffective extras.
  • Thomas the Tank Engine's early attempts at new characters seemed to befit this. Most engines in The Railway Series novels were male, the only females existant were two diesels (both were fairly arrogant and incompetent) and immobile coaches that needed to be carried around. The show created a larger number of female engines such as Emily and Rosie that are often as prominent and "really useful" as the male characters. It should be noted however, that this is treaded on surprisingly carefully. Gender is rarely refered to in the show and almost all of the engines, male or female, have defining strengths and flaws.

    Real Life 
  • Inverted in this article. With regards to math ability, it argues, what girls don't need is role models — specifically bad role models: female teachers who are math-anxious themselves.
  • Why Strong Female Characters Are Bad For Women takes issue not with this trope, but the definition of "strong female character".
    • Here's another one arguing that "Strong Female Characters" are, in a way, just as limiting as traditional female character types and that having more varied or, more the the point, more female characters should be the real goal.
  • According to this video presentation, it's boys who are now desperately in need of role models at a young age.
  • Moral Guardians often go after young females of a certain age if they make certain mistakes (Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus) in the media or present what is considered an overly-sexualized image. This is not an issue for young male artists, the implication being that young males don't need good wholesome pure innocent role models.
  • A number of British Newspapers have run articles in recent years taking issue with sexualised performances on TV shows (in particular The X Factor and Britain's Got Talent)... almost all performers criticised are female, and a lot of those are declared as "setting a bad example" to young girls.
    • Of note is the Daily Mail's response to an X Factor performance by Rihanna and Christina Aguilera.
    • In June 2013 the Daily Mail ran a hatchet job article on Rihanna entitled "Pop's Poison Princess", with most of the criticism largely invoking this trope, going to the point of accusing her fashion choices of encouraging rape. Rihanna responded later that day, declaring the article's author a "sad, sloppy, menopausal mess".
  • This is one of the more prominent (out of many) reasons why Miley Cyrus' Hotter and Sexier image is getting such a backlash from Moral Guardians. Especially after the 2013 VMAs.