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Strong Female Characters

Cognisant

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#1
Two movies that do the "strong female protagonist" really well are the first Terminator movie and Aliens (the sequel to Alien) and I think they both do it in kind of the same way, both Ripley and Sarah rise to the challenge after the men protecting them are killed. Importantly these men aren't bumbling fools, Kyle Reese smacks the T-800 around with a pipe before blowing it in half with a bomb (killing himself in the process), while Ripley has an entire hotshot military squad (including the tomboy Jenette Vasquez) protecting her who by the end of the movie have all died in some horrific manner while fighting the xenomorphs. These deaths establish just how dangerous the T-800 and xenomorphs are, when the T-800 reappears it's a safe assumption that the wounded Sarah is going to die, when Ripley enters the hive we think she's gone mad, that there's no way she can survive where everyone else didn't. These expectations and how they are subverted is what established this characters as strong female protagonists, they need no man because they succeeded without them, indeed they succeeded where the men (and tomboy) protecting them had failed.

I think where many movies fail to establish their own heroines as strong female protagonists is that they try to make the protagonist seem more capable by making the men around her less capable or unreliable or untrustworthy or flawed in some other way, essentially ensuring the protagonist's place in the limelight isn't threatened. But this has exactly the opposite effect to what is intended, the supporting cast gives us a yardstick by which to measure the protagonist's competence and how dangerous the antagonist is, if the supporting cast is a bunch of idiots then the antagonist being better than them proves nothing and the protagonist's victory seems more due to luck or plot armor then their own merit. Or if the protagonist's competence is proven some other way you can end up in a situation where the antagonist dosen't even present a threat, at that point if anything we're sympathizing with the antagonist because we can see the odds stacked against them.

In summary, to make a strong female protagonist surround her with a supporting cast of equally strong or stronger characters and have them fail to an antagonist that he protagonist then defeats, like so:
That scene is so contrived and yet it still works because the Witch-king of Angmar, the Lord of the Nazgûl, the Black Captain, was a well established antagonist. The whole "no man can kill me" shows a certain arrogance, that he assumes only men would have the bravery to face him in battle so it doesn't matter that Eowyn didn't defeat him by being a better fighter or outsmarting him, just having the bravery to be there makes her a strong female protagonist. When she stabs him in the face it's a powerful girl power moment and even though I'm a guy I really enjoy it too because it's not really about her having tits and a uterus, it's about the underdog having the courage to stand against adversity and that's a very universal appeal.
 

Jennywocky

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#2
There are different kinds of strengths as well. Not every female hero has to assume a role that resembles the male characters.

Like Ree from Winter's Bone -- she's young, she's not necessarily a "warrior," she always feels like she's on the ropes and desperate... but boy does she have a hero's heart, and it's exemplified by how intense her love is for her family and how she needs to find out what happened to her father. She just won't freaking quit even when she's put under extreme duress.

Anyway, I really do agree that someone appears more heroic when they are being compared to other heroes, rather than being compared to (essentially) deadbeats and the "game is rigged" for them.
 

higs

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#3
Sure I agree too, but I would curious for examples of strong protagonists where the other characters are useless ?
 

Hadoblado

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#4
Yeah I'm kind of scratching my head at this one. Not that I think you're necessarily wrong, I just can't think of any. Were your thoughts on this influenced by Thunderfoot perchance?

Personally I don't like the 'I am no man' scene as an example. The fact that she's a woman is a punchline. She needed to be saved by a manboychild. Her victory was kind of preordained and a matter of fate, not a result of some competence. She plays as a man, does not excel, then gets the outcome gifted to her. I enjoyed it in the theater but don't see it as her being a good female protagonist.

I agree with your points about Ripley and Sarah being good. I'm not sure that this is 'the' way to show that a character is strong though. In fact, I'd argue that it shouldn't be necessary for them to be compared to anyone in order to show them as strong characters. Like you said, don't lower everyone else to make them feel strong in comparison, but is that really an issue?

I think Game of Thrones offers a strong and diverse cast of well written female characters. The characters tend to grow over time, which I think is the most important thing. You don't need to compare between characters if you can compare within.
 
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#5
Eowyn was fucking great wtf

her story shows her as a competent fighter, and that she does (or tries to do) the things she wants to do regardless of her gendered expectation

'i am no man' wan't just a shallow, 'woohoo wimminz power!' but it actually was a great big fuck you to her uncle, her brother and collectively her society and the expectations forced upon her that forbade her from being able to use her ability and will to fight for her homeland

considering the witch king and his dragon killed dozens (maybe more) of competent fighters beforehand

if you think eowyn sux then you sux
 

higs

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#6
First I agreed with hado but now I CHANGED MY MIND and agree with rb’s analysis
 

Hadoblado

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#7
OOoooh it's a fight then :)

I haven't read the books since before the movies came out, and I haven't seen the movies since... well... since the movies came out also. So feel free to correct anything I say that's wrong.

Her struggle is real. I believe in the books it was better explained, where she was chaffing against the yoke that Aragorn put on her, as well as her family etc. It's not that the issues weren't there.

Okay so first off, she was beaten by the Nazgul - which is fine and expected for everyone.

She was saved by a man.

It was Merry's enchanted blade that caused the witchking to become vulnerable, as ordinarily he is immune to blades.

Eowyn went from being beaten, to being in a position to finish off the witchking as a result of Merry's actions.

She was granted the kill because of her gender and how that works into the prophecy/narrative/fate.

So while she is a strong female character, I don't think this scene is a good way of demonstrating that. She was courageous in fighting the witchking at all, which shows strength, but her victory felt more like happenstance than anything she did other than being courageous. Like you said, that big spook has killed a lot of people, they were all courageous I'm sure. It was the magic fucking sword that made the difference.
 

Cognisant

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#8
Eowyn finishes off the Witch-king and Merry cries out in outrage.
"You bitch, you stole my kill!"
 

Adaire

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#9
NO NO NO NO NO. Merry wasn't a 'Man.' He was a halfling in the same position as Eowyn. He was denied the opportunity to fight and patronised just like her. That's why Eowyn empathized with him and she took him with her into battle. Together they slew the witchking. It's a solid plot point in the extended editions and it is the completion of both of their character arcs. You lot weren't paying attention. This is also why Merry/Eowyn is infinitely better than the Eowyin/discountAragornFaramir that came from nothing. They had a lot of great character moments together.

More could've been done with Eowyn, sure, but if you want a good example of 'strong female character done poorly' you need look no further than Tauriel from the hobbit movies. Poor Evangeline Lilly was at the mercy of such dumb, hack writers. She had all the time and focus that Eowyn didn't, but was just soooo poorly written. On another note idk why we couldn't have had one of the 13 damn dwarves be female. Would've been a great joke/nod to lore, even if they didn't decide to flesh out the character (not like any of the dwarves were fleshed out anyway).
 

Jennywocky

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#10
I think Eowyn's story was sadder overall. It's been years since I reread LotR, but basically she was a woman in a man's world, always feeling shoved on the sidelines and forced into certain expectations for women that she just could not abide by -- it made her miserable. She always seemed to feel less-than and had a kind of undercurrent of bitterness to her. Sure, it was bravery for her to disguise herself as a man (she resolved to do what she could, taking her life into her own hands), and then she ends up face to face with the Nazgul. There always felt like a cored of morbid resignation there -- I think she expected to die, but at least she'd die on her own terms rather than living on someone else's. However, this didn't change the sour undercurrent of her experience, which was simply never being free to be herself but always being forced into another mold. Seeing her, Merry found courage in that too, and they both did something heroic -- expecting death -- and ending up succeeding. I didn't view it as being saved by a "manboychild," the halflings were always underestimated and put down too -- it was more solidarity by minorities who were always put down as "less than" the fighting men of that story. I mean, face it, all Merry did was stab the Nazgul in the calf; Eowyn survived direct combat, Merry would have been crushed in the first round of combat, Eowyn was clearly better than him but it was too much for any person.

But Eowyn still almost dies, only Faramir saves her and Merry, from the wound of killing a great evil. And was the end result a positive? it's hard to tell. On one hand, Faramir seems to 'recognize' Eowyn better than any other man, he respects what she did and realizes she needs someone to nurture her. He is one of the most likable people in the trilogy, he has a deep sensitivity about him even while being accomplished in his own right at war, while ALSO dealing with feeling "less than" his brother. So it makes him able to empathize with Eowyn. At the same time, she seems to become more feminine and maybe dropping back into the expected female role by end of story, which was something she had pushed away for much of her life. It's hard to tell sometimes whether this is her finding herself or her denying the self she thought she was (the warrior, because she grew up in a warrior's world)... but hey, that's like real life, nothing is ever that clear....All in all, there's just a melancholy over her storyline regardless.
 

Blarraun

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#11
Ripley is portrayed as an overman entity beyond all people in her stories. Soldiers are competent but foolish, they fail to organize a successful strategy, they may be strong or capable with weapons, but actually seem like lost children. Ripley on the other hand is a fearless being with predatory instinct and intuitive understanding of the monster. Bishop, another overman of the franchise is an android and second bravest of the whole cast.

There is a strong case to be made that Ripley herself is not human. She is not only established as overman by her intellect, power, bravery and moral rightness (when compared to the side characters including android's creator in the next film), she is also later cloned with the use of alien creature's DNA. This fusion establishes her as superior to man physically.

While it's true that there don't seem to be any deliberately weak people around her, she is just that much superior to them that all other characters are weak and helpless in comparison. So much so that there is a clear divide on non-human overmen being the strong characters and all humans being weak or losing their lives. Note that "human" R doesn't die, she chooses to sacrifice herself, how uber.

The best part about Aliens Ripley imo is her relationship with Rebecca or Bishop and how it helps add humanity to what would otherwise be a demigod.
 
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#12
yeah, make more of them. movies.
women definitely need more encouragement in helping others, humanity, dying for this all great nobel causes. Just make them look superiorrrrr. :rolleyes:
real portrait of strong women in cinema is femme fatale and greedy bitch doing whatever they want to outside of saving the world.
minus dumb moralizing end served to them by directors
 
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#13
i find Eowyn one of the better written female characters in all this discussion, because she still fits into the 'feminine' stereotype in some ways in appearance/dress/certain mannerisms, and it's showing that you can still be courageous and tough without necessarily being a tomboy or as washti puts it, 'femme fatale/greedy bitch' stereotype

i think she much more accurately fits the plight of what females would experience - being patronized and sidelined because they fit the archetype of a female. many female leads are given more 'masculine' qualities, which i don't have an issue with but i think it often just further draws the line in the sand between expectations of the sexes, in the sense that "yes women can be tough as well - just as long as they have tattoos, drink hard liquor, have short hair and a curt dismissive attitude" when realistically, the point is that women can have just as much courage as men without having to adhere to the stereotyped representations of masculinity born from old values the like of which you see in old Westerns.

so i think it's more enjoyable is to see a story that doesn't equate ability, courage, strength and will to act with stereotyped masculinity. the femme fatale thing still has its benefits and appeal in its own right, but i think Eowyn is a much more realistic and better representation of the plight of breaking or circumventing the bonds of oppression (not just female, but all oppression really) in her society than say, a tightly leather-clad woman with tattoos and knives.

also not mentioned yet in this thread is how Eowyn displays lots of other typical feminine 'nurturing' qualities in the books (and the movie too, though she's not a main character so it doesn't get as much screen time) and has a multi-faceted personality, the story removing the often subliminal connection between masculinity and strength, femininity and weakness. she's a great example of a feminine, yet undeniably capable and brave character. she is as brave as, if not braver than her male counterparts - and not because her male counterparts are not brave or incapable, but on the merit of her own bravery and capabilities. and in a sense, she also highlights a positive thing about femininity, in that she shows empathy and acceptance to Merry, a 'lesser' fighter and recognises his courage and desire to fight for what he loves and therefore triumphing where divisive macho-ism would or could not

i'd rather see more characters being written like Eowyn than Aeon Flux, for example.
 

Cognisant

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#14
Ripley is portrayed as an overman entity beyond all people in her stories. Soldiers are competent but foolish, they fail to organize a successful strategy, they may be strong or capable with weapons, but actually seem like lost children. Ripley on the other hand is a fearless being with predatory instinct and intuitive understanding of the monster. Bishop, another overman of the franchise is an android and second bravest of the whole cast.
Foolish is fine as long as they're competent, the overconfidence and lack of strategy was intentionally reminiscent of the Vietnam war to make them seem more realistic.
 

Hadoblado

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#15
I pretty much agree with everything you guys have said.

I think I was focusing more intensely on the specific scene than the overall character and arc. It's probably more useful to view it within the greater context.
 
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#16
I find trying to write "strong" characters retarded. The most interesting characters in movies, video games or whatever, are those who are believable and complex characters where their individual personal internal logic makes sense, whether they are "normal" or twisted.

It's not about how the character is presented to be strong, it's about the general believability of the characters and situation.

At least, imo, in terms of good storytelling strongness is irrelevant. Some people's lives, experiences and choices make them appear strong to the outside world, maybe they're even an idol. But those things are shallow and hollow in the long term.

Striving to write strong female or male character shouldn't even be a thing. It's stupid and the focus is placed on badassism rather than interesting, realistic or relevant.
 

Adaire

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#17
I've always taken it to mean 'Strong character, female,' the focus being on the strength and depth of character, not the simple brute strength. A harder metric to meet.
 

Hadoblado

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#18
There are a lot of things that go into whether I think a character is strong, it's hard to put my finger on it. I think it's a mix of objective strength, depth, growth, and empowerment. Here's a hodgepodge:
- they make their own decisions
- this doesn't necessarily mean complete independence
- they're not copypasted
- the things they achieve are earned (or they at least realise that they are not)
- they grow as a person (so starting off perfect does not make for a strong character)
- extra points if their goals change along the way as a result of personal growth
- their perspective is understood by the reader and is relatable
- it's not necessary for you to agree with their outlook, so long as they have a consistent internal logic

These things are important to me by the end of someone's arc, not at the start.
 

Jennywocky

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#19
The best part about Aliens Ripley imo is her relationship with Rebecca or Bishop and how it helps add humanity to what would otherwise be a demigod.
Which is why whoever wrote the opening for Alien3 deserves to be tortured in writer's hell endlessly and mercilessly for totally Missing the Reason Why Aliens Was Such a Great Movie... *grrrrrr*

Essentially it grounds the movie and provides an emotional impetus for why Ripley is even bothering. (I'm a big fan of Bishop too... a great spin on Ash in the first film.)

I hate all the later stuff about cloning, etc. It should be retconned, it's just convoluted mess that tries to create interest in weird details rather than just a strong character arc.

Anyway.

If I get my brain back in gear, maybe i'll toss in some other strong women characters I can think of. My brain is just fried from work and the upcoming holiday prep. But yeah, I think Hado's got a strong handle on it... and RB's take on Eowyn. Tolkien was a little more progressive than he's being given credit for. I mean, I think some of the best "female fantasy stories" came from Ursula Le Guin (she wrote more than Earthsea, but as far as fantasy goes esp the later stuff it's got a very strong realistic female bent to it -- women who are strong while still remaining wholly women) but of course there are many more out there.
 

Blarraun

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#20
I find trying to write "strong" characters retarded. The most interesting characters in movies, video games or whatever, are those who are believable and complex characters where their individual personal internal logic makes sense, whether they are "normal" or twisted.
Depends on one's definition of "strong character". Internal consistency and being convincing is what makes a person appear strong to me in a story or irl.

When I say strong it is used to convey how great of an impression a character leaves, without necessarily being dominant, winning every challenge, etc. A strong character could be a loser who can't overcome anything major if they make me engage emotionally or immerse in a story because of it.

If I think about the opposite, all the weak characters I can remember are shallow or overcomplicated to the point of being contrived, there's no reason for them to be what they are or do what they do.
 

Cognisant

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#26
FB_IMG_1542766134973.jpg
 
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#27
Depends on one's definition of "strong character". Internal consistency and being convincing is what makes a person appear strong to me in a story or irl.

When I say strong it is used to convey how great of an impression a character leaves, without necessarily being dominant, winning every challenge, etc. A strong character could be a loser who can't overcome anything major if they make me engage emotionally or immerse in a story because of it.

If I think about the opposite, all the weak characters I can remember are shallow or overcomplicated to the point of being contrived, there's no reason for them to be what they are or do what they do.
The sum of a characters traits might be strong, but what I find dumb is to try to create a character that is in sum supposed to be strong, like the goal of character writing is it being "strong". For instance writing a superhero badass character that fight stuff. Like, nice we wrote a strong female character. It's shit.

My point is the focus on "strong" is retarded. People are people, in peopley situations. There's no strong or weak, there are people being people.
 

Hadoblado

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#28
I think it depends on your focus.

Being 'strong' isn't a necessary requirement, but if you care about representation then it's core to the conversation.

If you believe that representation shapes societal norms, and that representation currently is skewed against minorities, then it follows that writing strong minority characters could be one way to positively influence society toward equitable outcomes.

It's okay not to care about that, and a character being weak doesn't make them poorly written. I personally put a lot of stock in media's role in shaping societal norms, so whether a character corrects or further skews this perceived imbalance is foremost among my thoughts when appraising the merits of a character. But this has only recently been the case, if you asked me 5 or so years ago I would have vehemently denied the value in such criteria.
 

Blarraun

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#29
The sum of a characters traits might be strong, but what I find dumb is to try to create a character that is in sum supposed to be strong, like the goal of character writing is it being "strong".
My point is the focus on "strong" is retarded. People are people, in peopley situations.
It is a question of design.

Does a writer have a strong concept for the whole story or a single character? Do they approach the initial sketch top-down or try to have something be more emergent?

Visual medium is more limited so it has to take shortcuts and have visual and musical world building influence how audience fills the narrative gaps. Are you adapting a novel into a film? In which case you probably don't have to worry about realism because the novel's magnitudes slower pace has allowed for every character to play out as a natural consequence, so you have the convenience of picking and choosing the best things to feature. Or maybe you have to present a very dense amount of ideas or emotions in a single episode of anime and with its success secure your funding for the next one.

If you believe that representation shapes societal norms, and that representation currently is skewed against minorities, then it follows that writing strong minority characters could be one way to positively influence society toward equitable outcomes.
So people are enjoying cheerios too much and someone has to hinder their distribution, mix some cheerios with wheaties and subsidize them to increase their market share?

All the cereals have arguably equal opportunity to compete, some appear to win based on merit.
I personally put a lot of stock in media's role in shaping societal norms, so whether a character corrects or further skews this perceived imbalance is foremost among my thoughts when appraising the merits of a character.
Are you saying that the artist's/writer's role or duty is, at least in part, to shape social norms and their audience should be educated by changing one type of content they make over the other?

I find the socialist realism of duty-bound artists dishonest in principle and outcome. Not sure if putting any social obligation on a field of personal expression is reasonable.

To introduce a counterargument cheerios producers and media producers are optimizing their profit, so they would use unhealthy sugar or reality TV if it meant greater popularity. Perhaps limiting sugar use or certain addictive content could be a solution to stop greedy moneymakers from winning by exploiting human bias instead by merit. There is an issue however with controlling the authority which imposes those limits.

What if certain kinds of merit exploit our bias? There are definitely things we are biased towards that are good for us.

I find there should be some ethical obligation placed on every business with regards to how they influence individual lives, environment and society. Without this element there is less limits to wealth acquisition that harms the lowest elements of the hierarchy. This could mostly be a part of the legal system.
 

Hadoblado

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#30
Well... That seems like a different issue - though I must admit that I would prefer to remove systems that advantage established brands.

The way you jump straight to merit is kinda weird. Are you saying that women have less merit and that any difference in outcome is a result of this discrepancy?

Edit: that comes off as a bit accusatory, I don't mean it like that.

I didn't argue for any top-down regulation of artists. I was only explaining what I value in a character (so regulation by demand, free market yadiya).
 

Haim

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#31
Can we not have just good characters. Not pointless/replaceable, have some kind of personality and not so unbelievable to ruin immersion(also not annoying as fuck!).
The insistence of having "strong female" is the same propaganda as having white blonde blue eyes super saiyan German character. It just makes unbelievable characters, as you essentially make a writer write a character he does not understand deeply, it is as absurd as telling tolkien to write sci fi book or harem manga.

Korra is a good example of making a good female character, also Gasai Yuno.
 

Hadoblado

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#32
Nobody's telling anyone what to write. Just because I appreciate jazz more than country does not mean I'm telling all country musicians to switch genre.

Also, women make up over half the population of the Earth. It's not a high bar to have your average author understand them?
 

Serac

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#33
A "strong female character" would probably be someone like Nicole from Rage of Paris (1938). That's a complex character who deals with all kinds of issues while treating men as a bunch of muppets.

Forget this 1-dimensional, I-can-also-carry-a-50kg-machine-gun-and-kill-aliens bullshit
 

Haim

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#34
Nobody's telling anyone what to write. Just because I appreciate jazz more than country does not mean I'm telling all country musicians to switch genre.
But this is what they essentially do.
Also, women make up over half the population of the Earth. It's not a high bar to have your average author understand them?
There are more ants than woman, this does not mean that every author have deep understanding of ants, sure most will probably knows basic behaviors of ants but that would not make a good story you need to know your shit deeply otherwise instead of 1d woman character you get strong 1d woman. Of course if a writer make a good character this is somewhat believable I would not care.
 

Hadoblado

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#35
But this is what they essentially do.
Who're 'they'? Am I 'they'? Are 'they' here?

There are more ants than woman, this does not mean that every author have deep understanding of ants, sure most will probably knows basic behaviors of ants but that would not make a good story you need to know your shit deeply otherwise instead of 1d woman character you get strong 1d woman. Of course if a writer make a good character this is somewhat believable I would not care.
That's not a response to what I said. I said they're half the population of the Earth, not just that there was a large number of them. If you want to drag this into whether we should have a better understanding of people of our own species than... ants... I don't know what to tell you man. Do you really think there's nothing that differentiates how we treat women from how we treat non-human animals? Figure yourself out.
 
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#36
Sansa from Game of Thrones isn't too bad. She's one of the few characters on the show that's grown in a way that seems natural. Daenerys was probably supposed to be similar, but she's too Mary Sue and her confidence and self-righteousness annoys me in a way that's hard to describe. Sansa feels like she's actually dealing with her shadow self in some way.

Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice isn't too bad either. She's feminine, but in a tomboyish way. There's a lot of ego clashing, but she warms up to Darcy.

Claire Underwood from House of Cards is kind of a favorite of mine. She's usually concerned about doing the right thing, so there's a lot of her natural feminine nature in the character. But then she'll get it thrown back in her face, such as with the terrorist they were dealing with, and suddenly she has no qualms about being a hard-ass. I should probably watch the last season. But I miss Frank's character, despite everything surrounding Kevin Spacey.
 
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#37
Jael
 
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