Pop Culture Feminist Icons are Everywhere, If You Know Where to Look
By Becca Feldman
The age in which we live is amazing. Everywhere you look there is another example of a strong willed woman. Now more than ever, the representation of the fairer gender is one of the most important things to think about. Having strong role models in our pop culture inspires and teaches young women how to be strong willed and intelligent members of society. Nevertheless, in order to continue to have strong willed and intelligent female members of society, we have to make sure the women (fictional or otherwise) that we put on pedestals deserve to be there.
One example of a strong fictional female is Shuri, the princess of Wakanda in the Marvel Universe. She was recently introduced into the MCU in the smash hit Black Panther, which is more than just a superhero movie: it breaks all of the barriers. Just, like, all of them.. In the film, she is so much more than just T’Challa’s (the protagonist’s) little sister. She is the brain in charge of the Wakandan Design Group. She creates all of the tech for her older brother and the Dora Milaje, The elite, all-female royal guard and protectors of Wakanda. Shuri is exactly the type of fictional role model we need; but that doesn’t mean we don’t need real life role models as well.
When I say magic, the first thing I think of is Harry Potter. The books, and movies.Harry Potter inevitably leads me to my favorite actress in the film: Emma Watson. Watson is mostly known for her portrayal of beloved Harry Potter main character, Hermione Granger. After the eight Harry Potter movies were over, she decided to use her fame and influence for good. She became the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador in July of 2014 and in September of the same year, she helped launch the UN’s HeForShe campaign. This campaign calls for the male population of the world to step up and do their part towards ending gender inequality. Her full speech can be seen here. I think that one of my favorite things that Watson said during her speech was, “How can we affect change in the world when only half of it is invited?” She then extended a formal invitation for the boys and men of the world to be involved in ending gender inequality once and for all. It is fortunate for us that young women, such as myself, have Ms. Watson as a role model, both off and on-screen.
Emma once said, “Young girls are told you have to be the delicate princess. Hermione taught them that you can be the warrior.” Hermione Granger is no damsel in distress; not only can she save herself, more times than not, she is saving everyone else. In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, she helped Harry and Ron with her advanced knowledge of Herbology, realizing that the trap they had landed themselves in was Devil’s Snare and knowing exactly what to do. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, she used her time-turner, which was to be used only for educational purposes at first, to save Sirius Black and Buckbeak the hippogriff from their unlawful and unfair executions (and soul extraction in Sirius’ case). She also punches Malfoy (one of the antagonists) for bullying her and her friends consistently. Hermione is also not afraid to stand up to herself. In Harry Potter and the Order of The Phoenix she organized Dumbledore’s Army, a group of students at Hogwarts who would be taught real Defense Against the Dark Arts by Harry Potter. She also told Ron that, “Just because you’ve got the emotional range of a teaspoon doesn’t mean we all have.” As you can see, there are plenty of reasons that Hermione is a good role model for young women, inspiring them to help others, do good, and, occasionally, break the rules. Of course, she would rather you not, “…come up with another clever idea to get us killed or worse… expelled!”
Women in the media and pop culture have an amazing opportunity to effect real change in global conversations about important topics. Shuri, a princess from a secret African nation, shows us that age doesn’t matter when it comes to ingenuity. Emma Watson, a famous actress from the age of 10, shows us that having celebrity status doesn’t mean you are immune to being responsible for changing the world for the better. Hermione, a magic prodigy from a non-magical family, taught us that in order to be yourself, you have to be yourself and must use your brain to get yourself out of sticky situations.These women can serve as inspiration to all girls and women. These women serve as an inspiration. They remind us that one day, each of us will be able to say, in the words of an ancient female inspiration: “I declare/That later on,/Even in an age unlike our own,/Someone will remember who we are.” (Sappho, Come Close)
Becca is fellow in Kol Isha, NFTY-NAR’s NY Teen Feminist Fellowship.