You don’t have to look far to find the criticism against female heroines such as Bella Swan or Anastasia Steele, and I find myself agreeing with a lot of the arguments. Even though books and films such as Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey are entertaining to the masses, they are still influencing young women that indulge in them.
That got me thinking, I’m old enough to know that bad female role models in the media are not a new thing and there is no way that I went through my teenage years unscathed. But I would like to believe that the fictional characters that I was inspired by have helped me become a better person and so these are my top 5 positive female role models from romantic comedies.
- Cher Horowitz, Clueless
Cher is not someone who would typically be on a list like this – she’s rich, white, beautiful and shallow – not exactly qualities one would associate with a role model. But the reason why teenage me looked up to this Betty was because firstly Cher was unashamedly herself – she knew who she was and she took pride in it. I loved the fact that she was seemed like a genuinely nice person (even though she gave Tai terrible advice and tried to turn her into somebody that she wasn’t, she had good intentions), she played to her strengths (arguing better grades, matchmaking, makeovers), she wasn’t as dumb as people thought she was (Polonious in Hamlet quote, holler) but most of all she never ever felt as if she had to settle – Elton was good looking and rich but she felt nothing for him and so she refused him.
As a young girl, I was in awe that someone could value themselves so much that they would believe they deserved more than the norm. Even more amazing was that Cher learnt and developed throughout the course of the film, she learnt that she should not always poke her nose in other people’s business, she learnt to help the greater good, she learnt to judge less, and sometimes people know what’s best for themselves. When I was older and read Jane Austen’s Emma, which Clueless was based off of, I instantly fell in love with the title character because of the same reasoning (even though I know the majority of the audience find her unlikeable).
- Kat Stratford, 10 Things I Hate About You
Oh the sonnets I could write to Kat Stratford. When I was in my preteen era, I was obsessed with teenage romantic comedies. I used to beg my older sister to hire them from the video store for me, and 10 Things I Hate About You was one of my favorites (which I talk about more in my previous post about my top 5 Teen Movies). Kat Stratford was the first fictional character to teach me about feminism, I hadn’t even heard of Simone de Beauvoir or The Feminine Mystique before this film (granted I was 10-years-old at the time and how would I know these things) but this film shaped a lot of how I saw the dynamic between males and females but especially how I learnt to embrace my true self.
The basic Kat storyline went that when she was younger she was pressured by the guy she liked to have sex with him and afterwards when she told him that she wasn’t ready to do it again, he dumped her and henceforth she become rebellious, opinionated and a lot more critical of patriarchalism. This would be easy to interpret as the douchebag Joey Donner and so many others did as if she was burnt by a man so therefore she became a man hater, even though it became obvious that this wasn’t the case later in the film. But to me, it seemed as if the Joey-incident helped to disenchant Kat from the superficial and fake world whereby she tried to fit in with what everyone else was doing and helped her to find and be who she truly wanted to be. She was smart, she was an activist, she didn’t just call herself a feminist, she was constantly arguing and challenging the system, everything about her character in this film made me believe that she was living a feminist lifestyle. When she gets together with Patrick Verona, she brings her walls down and learns to become more approachable and understanding but she doesn’t let go of her core values and beliefs and he accepts that about her.
In contrast to Kat’s argumentative and opinionated character, there was her sister Bianca who was beautiful, popular, and who all the males were lusting after but I never for a second wanted to be Bianca (even though she ended up with my future hubby – JGL), for me, Bianca was not someone I wanted to grow up to be like no matter how desirable she seemed, I wanted to be strong, independent and willing to fight for what I believe in like Kat.
- Elle Woods, Legally Blonde
When I was younger I basically resigned myself to the fact that I was average. I was average looking, I got mediocre marks in school, I was dismal at sports and I didn’t have anything that I was particularly good at or was outstanding in. I was just average, and I was strangely okay with that. I believed that when I would eventually choose a career, I would pick something that I was vaguely good in that I can make a decent salary. Bleak, but those were trying times.
When I was 12, I watched Legally Blonde and for the first time I thought seriously about my future. Here was Elle Woods, who was basically the college-aged Cher Horowitz, head of her sorority, beautiful, dating the perfect guy but she was dumped because she wasn’t smart enough to be someone that he seriously saw himself with, playing into the stereotype that women can either be smart or beautiful – not both. If a woman is pretty and thinks about fashion and social events, she cannot be smart or have so-called serious professions like being a lawyer or a doctor. In the same way, women who are seen as smart are categorized as ugly, unfashionable; and are expected to have a certain type of career. Elle totally lambasted this stereotype and through the course of the film you see her work hard and become a successful Harvard Law Student on her own merit, even using her beauty knowledge to help win her case.
I find Elle to be an inspiration because she proves that we, as women, can not be put in a box, that we can be smart but still love fashion, or trashy novels, we are who we chose to become, and Elle learnt that she could use her leadership and deduction skills (however unconventional they were) to fight for what she believed (as seen in Legally Blonde 2). Plus she tossed aside her douchy ex-boyfriend and became besties with the smart girl he dated after her.
- Laney Boggs, She’s All That
Laney Boggs has gotten a lot of flack over the years, more prominently in Not Another Teen Movie, although when I first watched She’s All That, I had the same criticism. Why was Laney a challenging person to makeover? She’s beautiful, she only has glasses, a ponytail and paint stained overalls, why doesn’t she even need a makeover? This was originally my big problem with Pygmalion, the play the movie was based on, and My Fair Lady, the musical version (even though my girl Audrey Hepburn was fab). While I agree with Henry Higgins educating Eliza Doolittle and teaching her different dialects etc, the entire point of the film was to transform her into a new woman, a better woman, by society’s standards.
Using this premise, She’s All That, uses teen movies’ love for makeovers and the film is basically about Freddie Prinze Jnr’s Henry Higgins, Zack, who makes a bet with his friends that he could turn any girl into prom queen, and Laney is the one picked because she is so hideous (lol) and she has such a standoffish, loner behavior. So why do I like this movie? It’s goes most against much that I agree – a male changing a female into their ideal. But just like 10 Things I Hate About You, this modern spin just happens to put a more positive spin on the traditional sexist literature.
What I like about Laney Boggs is that she’s kind of okay with who she was before the Zack saviour came to her rescue. She was art student, she had her quirky friend Jesse, she hung out with her family, she worked at her falaffel restaurant. But then Zack came and he introduced her to popularity and makeup and petty high school rivalries. It was far more entertaining to watch Laney the Prom Queen wannabe then Laney the Lonely Art Girl but what I did like about this pairing was that Zack actually took an interest in her art and learnt that there was more to life that being top dog of his high school, there are passions and ambitions, and Laney in turn learnt how to live in the now, and have fun and became more welcoming. In the end, the makeover really happened to both of them.
I think Laney is a good role model because she had her own passions and interests and she didn’t care if they weren’t considered cool, she pursued them nonetheless. Before Zack could even attempt to change her, she already forced him to make an effort, to show her his hand before she trusted him even in the slightest, she demanded respect and that’s what she got in the end. The bet began when Zack attempted to change her and all he did was allow her to have a more balanced school life and to open herself up more to new opportunities. But Zack himself was changed for knowing her, he learnt that to think out his future, to focus more on what he wanted in life outside of high school.
- Bridget Jones, Bridget Jones Diary
Known as one of the most relatable heroines in modern literature, Bridget Jones, is so much more than a fat, embarrassing character that one should be ashamed of, I believe she should be revered. I’ve been compared to her many many times – sometimes it’s meant to be an insult, sometimes it just an ordinary observation and each time I have taken it as a compliment regardless of how it was meant to sound.
Between the embarrassing moments and the word vomit and the beauty that is Colin Firth is a character that is so strong and has the immense ability to pick herself up and improve despite all that was stacked against her. Throughout the course of the film and book, Bridget falls head of her heels for her extremely inappropriate but sexy boss, Daniel Cleaver; her parents split up; her backside is shown on nationwide television; she dresses up as a playboy bunny to a party where no one else is dressed up at, and the list goes on and on. But what I find so endearing about Bridget Jones is that she does not hang her head in shame. When asshole of note, Daniel Cleaver, dumps her she cries and has her pity party but she picks herself back up, quits her job, gets a better job, starts to take care of herself better and then after all, snags herself a better man who in fact liked her just as she was.
What I love about Bridget is that she doesn’t go on her whole ‘better me’ trip for a man, yes the dickish behaviour of Daniel Cleaver is the catalyst for her to seek a better self but it was just the jumping point. Bridget improved herself because she wanted a better life, she believed that she deserved more and because she held herself in that esteem, her life improved. Even more than this, I like that even when she got a better job, and uber posh, rich boyfriend, Bridget was still Bridget, she didn’t lose her essence of who she was and that’s inspiring.
Because I know this list could be tons longer, who are your fave romcom heroines?