A Non-Comprehensive List Of Strong Female Role Models (And What We Can Learn From Them)


I’ll start with an important statement: I could easily compile a list of men who I personally know and admire or who I admire from afar — actors, creators, writers, etc. who conquer the world with wit, smarts, and charisma. We rightfully praise our fathers, grandfathers, brothers, uncles, teachers, and coaches who display admirable qualities and for whom we are truly grateful. In no way am I saying we should diminish their contributions. Men, we thank you for what you do.

But too often have I heard women young and old state with pride that they hardly have any female friends and that they prefer to surround themselves with males because “Guys are sooo much less drama, right?”

1. I can attest that this is a complete myth. Big girls don’t cry. Men often do.

2. This is a sad stereotype about women that must leave forever.

We (men and women) traditionally facilitate this nasty notion that with women come dramatics. While I’m sure our gender has had a fair share of moments to satisfy the claim that we live to fight and gossip, we must stop looking down on women as if this bias is fact. I admit that sometimes I need to step away from the estrogen pool and watch a group of grown men sing Seal on a crowded karaoke night or scream the lyrics to a new Kanye song while dropping their pants until they sink another shot according to beer pong house rules. But I will never surrender to the claim that hanging out with a group of women is a less legendary outing than kicking back with men.

There’s nothing wrong with laughing at ourselves for fulfilling the occasional “basic bitch” moment. But a lot of women are afraid to take sisterhood seriously. We don’t want to hail the power of femininity for fear of being labeled feminists, a title that has become an accusation rather than a proud declaration. We #mancrushmonday the men who shape the world. We allow Marty Scorsese to continually avoid making films where women are anything more than whiny broads because we love his insane macho antiheroes. We declare that so-and-so is “the man” for doing something clever or funny or wicked neat-o.

But where do the women come in? What do we make of the great women who have happened into our lives?

For you ladies who haven’t stopped and taken stock of the strong women around you, do so immediately and recognize them as your role models. If you do so, you will unlock a strange bond of admiration that can only form between two women. This bond contains an electric current that sends a jolt of pride to your heart whenever you witness said woman kicking ass out in the world. The bond is exclusive to women because in that woman’s “epicness,” you see deep down what you could be one day too. Your feel a connection to her deep in your veins, even if she’s not aware of said bond due to a large fan base or your procrastination in telling her how awesome she is.

Take out a piece of paper — real paper — and write down the wonderful, strong women you know or know of. Stop and think about what it is about each one that you admire. She can be someone you’ve known your entire life. Someone you met a week ago. Your boss. Your bartender. An actress, writer, director, politician, artist, musician, athlete, mime. A favorite character from a book, play, film, television show. Write her down. She matters.

I’ve recently followed this process for the women who have shaped me into the woman I am or embody the woman I strive to be. The women who make me better, or make me want to be better. I’ve naturally included my mother, grandmothers, aunts, and various family members. But then there are those not connected by blood — the real, fictional, and famous women I admire who wound up a part of my life through the magic of the cosmos. The women who we don’t always remember to thank because we don’t see them every day or at every family gathering.

Here I take time to praise those women in no particular order in hopes that it will inspire you to do the same:

Gwen Stefani, P!nk, Florence Welch, Helena Bonham Carter: For breaking the conventions of “dress for success;” For proving that massive talent can lurk beneath an appearance many may want to dismiss as ridiculous; For proving that age does not dictate when one should stop rocking; For slapping on a pink mohawk, showing off her powerhouse of skill, and telling haters to blow her (one last kiss); For proving that you don’t need a stylist or a false display of grace to earn your accolades.

Adele, Mindy Kaling, Rebel Wilson: Not for proving that size doesn’t dictate skill or success, but for insisting that the discussion of a woman’s body shouldn’t even take place when it comes to her intelligence and talent.

Kristen Wiig, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tina Fey, Aubrey Plaza: For refusing to accept the notion that women aren’t as funny as men; For proving that comedy writing is not a man’s world; For taking back female stereotypes and making them into lovable, relatable characters; For refusing to compromise one’s own style, awkwardness, or personality quirks to fit the conventions of a funny woman; And while I don’t really connect with Tina’s humor, I will forever praise her for writing a film so powerful that it tore apart the darkness of “girl world” and has taken over 10+ years of pop culture.

Amy Poehler (and Leslie Knope): For embodying the way we need to support, fight for, and care for our own gender; For making every girl out there want to be the “Leslie Knope” of whatever she does; For proving that even people with the busiest schedules can take time to preach self-confidence to young girls; For being fearless about looking completely ridiculous if it results in some joy for others; For having no shame about treating herself to waffles when she damn well pleases; For making awkward and brainy look super cool and fun.

Tina Belcher: For never letting a person shooting down her questions or ideas stop her from writing, believing in unicorns, pursuing love, or feeling like a strong, sensual woman; For being as confident as we all should be in our most awkward moments in life.

Lisbeth Salander, Beatrice (Much Ado About Nothing), Judith (Old English poem, “Judith” ): For being just a small sample of fictional females throughout English lit who take shit from no man and use a strong will, a solid code of ethics, and her brains to survive; For illustrating that intelligence and resourcefulness can help overcome a lifetime of oppression or a society of inequality.

The Wife of Bath: For at times appearing to be a tough broad in your time, a brassy woman who ensures she is listened to and who works cloth and men to thrive, and at other times leaving me completely unsure of what Geoffrey Chaucer wanted me to make of you (and the tale you told). You’re a mystery wrapped in an enigma, and I totes respect that.

Queen Elizabeth I: For telling just about every man in her court and in her kingdom that they have no goddamn control over her womb or her love life.

Emma Thompson, Anna Kendrick, Jennifer Lawrence: For reminding the free world that a woman need not always be serious to garner respect.

Zooey Deschanel, Emma Watson (and Hermione Granger): For reminding the free world that classy, nerdy, and/or quirky are very sexy and awesome things to be.

My girlfriends: For showing that a beautiful, self-sufficient woman can bloom in the face of adversity, loss, and mistreatment; For proving that even the tiniest gal can thrive at a “man’s job;” For knowing there’s always an opportunity to be kind over confrontational; For teaching that no face is too stupid for a photo and it’s better to laugh through a bad day than grumble about it; For knowing a woman should never be ashamed of a selfie if it makes her feel good; For reminding me that procrastination is healthy for the soul, especially if it involves baking and/or bonding; For maintaining the sacred judgment-free zone in female friendships.

My English-major classmates: For insisting we accept that what we love makes us stand out, and that standing out for that love is wonderful, not uncomfortable; For showing that solidarity and support for each other is good, and putting down an eccentric idea or plan is poison for a creative mind; For standing together in a world that shoots down a major and a passion that so many call impractical; For challenging and praising each other and always having a new recommendation to broaden the minds of fellow English nerds.

A supervisor and a department head: For demonstrating that age is for chumps by hopping on a golf cart and keeping up with people 40 years her junior; For proving that the best way to work is to find a perfect balance of friendly customer service and a sarcastic remark to keep your team smiling through the sweat; For passing on the secret that cookie bribes will always ensure a job gets done; For promoting the fact that a day of true hard work should always be rewarded with pizza.

High school teachers who became friends (or colleagues in my spurt as a substitute): For deciding a diagnosis is not a cease-work order if your passion is strong enough; For showing that rooting for someone is sometimes the nicest, simplest thing you can do for a young person; For knowing there is no moment of frustration in your day that can’t be morphed into a moment of laughter later; For demonstrating the importance in celebrating even the smallest of daily victories; For being there to help those high school girls who want advice, because lord knows we all needed it at one time.

My English professors: For never shooting down a weird project, weird interpretation, or any of the weird things that come up in a typical English classroom; For actually pretty much saying, “This is a weird, cool project, but how can we make it weirder?”; For proving wrong anyone that says a woman must choose between motherhood and careers/scholarship; For pushing a student out of her comfort zone because you know it will help her in the long run; For demanding the best because you know someone is capable of it; For saying “IT’S OKAY!” when we realize in a panic that we have no clue what our future plans may be; For never passing on an opportunity to slide sarcasm into a discussion; For proving how infectious big energy and passion for something can be; For teaching (subconsciously?) that the best style of work is super-smart professionalism with a dash of immature fun.

Any female writer who has contributed to transforming and innovating literature: For doing exactly that; For leading me to believe that maybe one day I could do that too.

This list is in no way comprehensive — that would take an entire novel. But no list of this caliber should be simple enough to condense into one article, anyway.

But whatever you do, ladies, never forget a pivotal piece of recognizing a woman as your role model: tell her. Whether it’s a handwritten letter you slip under her office door, a heart-to-heart over coffee (or wine — hello), or a tweet at JK Rowling for her inspirational road to success, tell her the impact she’s made.

featured image – Saturday Night Live