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a mite whimsical in the brainpan ([info]tigerkat24) wrote,
@ 2009-04-27 20:10:00

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Entry tags:battlestar galactica, character ranting, doctor who, dresden files, fandom, firefly, history, jane austen, listy lists, meme sheep says 'baa', musings, squee!, vorkosigan saga, west wing

Women I Admire
I finished reading a biography today, about the same time as Miss Cam sparked a new meme here after this fandom secret and this long discussion bordering on wank (randomly, I love how everyone pulled out their favorite female character icons in that thread). It was fortuitous timing, so now I'm going to tell y'all about women I admire, who may or may not be fictional. I'd stick with fictional women, but again, the biography. I do hope you'll talk about women you admire, too. I think we can't talk enough about women we admire.

1) Jane Austen. I finished reading a biography of her today, and I was struck by how lonely she seems to have been. The way this particular biographer read her letters implies a less close relationship with her sister than everyone assumes, and she doesn't seem to have had many close friends--two or three throughout her life. Now, this may be attributable to this particular biographer's biases, or her other friends may have been lost to time and her burnt letters. However, she never did marry or have children, and she spent her life almost entirely alone but for her sister and her mother. And yet she was smart, witty, and an amazing author: she produced six novels of unparalleled greatness, with unforgettable characters and plots. You only need to look at the current "Austenmania" to see how relevant she still is, even nearly two hundred years after her death. I admire her so much for being so lonely and still being so amazing, and I do hope she knows how much respect and admiration people still have for her. It's not for nothing that her fans refer to her, with the utmost respect in their voices, as "Miss Austen."

And yes, I do happen to think "Miss Austen would not approve" is the most scathing denunciation one can deliver. Don't you?

2) Laura Roslin. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I watch too much Battlestar Galactica. Regardless, she's one of my favorite fictional characters on TV ever. She's strong and intelligent, sometimes too ruthless, sometimes too soft. She walks a very fine line, even for BSG's black and grey morality scheme, and yet she still retains the viewer's respect and admiration, because she admits to her mistakes (and there are many of them). She's a strong and canny politican, a caring and gifted teacher, surrogate mother to most of the characters on the show. And still, she never, ever loses her femininty or her strength, even when she's, oh, I don't know, dying of cancer. She's an incredibly inspirational character, and I love seeing her with Bill Adama; I love seeing that she can let go enough to fall in love and have this mutually supportive, loving relationship. It's very rare to see a woman in power with that kind of relationship. She's intelligent, makes mistakes, self-depricating, self-centered, kind, ruthless, sometimes very feminine, sometimes very masculine, and just one of the best and most well-rounded characters I've ever seen. I believe that her storyline was one of the best-crafted and best-acted of a very well-crafted and well-acted show.

3) Claudia Jean Cregg. Over seven seasons, she goes from White House Press Secretary (at which job she excels) to White House Chief of Staff (at which job she also excels). Like Laura Roslin, she's a brilliant and inventive person; like Laura Roslin, she never gives up her femininty or core beliefs. She doesn't compromise when she thinks she's in the right, but she also never tries to pretend she was in the right when she knows she wasn't, or that she didn't make a mistake when she knows she did. She's a feminist, a blazingly intelligent woman, compassionate, good with people (for Christ's sake, she's managed to stay friends with Toby for a long time, and if that doesn't mean she's good with people I don't know what does). She has great integrity, great style, great composure, and is played by the always-amazing Allison Janney. CJ is another of my very favorite television characters, and I will never, ever get tired of watching her do what she does so very, very well.

4) Karrin Murphy. This includes, by extension, all her soulsisters in television in books, but I always find myself describing them in terms of Murphy; it seems I see her as the sort of ur-awesome, so she gets the place on the list. I love Karrin Murphy in part because she is a deeply flawed woman. She has intimacy problems, and problems sustaining a relationship. She can be hair-trigger, and she sometimes jumps to conclusions. She hurts deeply, and she can and does lash out at other people with no reason. And yet, for all that, she is Harry Dresden's very best friend and loves him dearly, and probably the most intimate relationship he's got right now is his relationship with her. She's not afraid to revise her conclusions and to admit her mistakes. She can and does apologize for hurting people, and she will look at and condemn her own motives if they were wrong. She's smart, fast, extremely badass, and capable of loving very deeply. She's loyal, quick on her feet, a fabulous shot, and protective without being smothering. She's aware of her flaws, and compensates for them without being overly defensive. For every prickle, she's got one soft spot, and she's no longer afraid to show them. I love reading about her, love roleplaying her, love writing her, and I think that more than anything is the mark of a great woman.

5) Barbara Wright. Argh, Doctor Who was hard. Doctor Who has always been very, very good about strong female characters, and at least five other characters came immediately to mind (Evelyn, Sarah Jane, Romana, Donna, Ace...), but I chose Barbara because she was the very first female companion, and she often gets overlooked or dismissed as a "screamer," when in reality she was anything but. For starters, she's a history teacher, and it shows in her knowledge (which more than once saves somebody's life) and in her compassion (ditto). She's extremely competent, and very rarely needs to be rescued--in fact, I recall one serial where Ian spent three episodes trying to get to her so he could rescue her, and ended up running into her on her way home, having just rescued herself. Again, she's just smart (are we sensing a trend here?). She's a beautiful woman, and seems fully aware of it and her sexual power, and yet she never misuses it. She thinks on her feet very well, she instinctively moves to help people rather than to hurt them, she never becomes bitter or cynical, and she manages all this while carrying on a very sweet and chaste love affair with Ian Chesterton. Is it any wonder the Aztecs thought she was a goddess?

6) Abigail Adams. Back to real-life women who were made of serious awesome. Abigail Adams married one of the greatest men of their generation and made him even greater through her advice and intelligence. During his presidency, John Adams referred to her as his strongest and most constant political advisor. And for all of that, which you can find in any history book, Abigail Adams was still stronger. She lived through nearly twelve years on her own, raising four children, giving birth to two more that died, running a farm, and surviving a war without the assistance of her husband, and still she had time to write him often. She was a savvy political thinker, a woman deeply in love, a New England housewife both frugal and practical who could still manage the royal courts of both France and Britain. She negotiated the rocky times she lived through with remarkable grace and tact, and negotiated an at-times rocky marriage (come on, John, five years away?) with equal grace. Family legend has it that John was never the same after Abigail died, and was certainly never as productive or passionate again; I find this very easy to believe.

7) Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan. Who saw this one coming? Another very smart and savvy woman, unafraid to question her mistakes or her assumptions. She gave up her home and friends to marry a man who had been until very recently her enemy in war, and stuck with him through a thirty-five-year (to date!) relationship. She raised a fragile son to think he could do anything, and look at what he has done (for those of you not familiar with the Vorkosigans, the answer is, more or less, everything). She took in a son she didn't even know she had and helped to change him from a bitter and angry copy of her first son into his own person. She raised a recently orphaned little boy to be a wise and intelligent supreme ruler. And for all of that, she would have been amazing on her own; meeting her husband just gave her the perfect partner and made them both that much stronger. She made commander and then captain entirely on her own merits, and currently is Vicerine of Sergyar in her own right. This woman essentially made two planets grow up and stop bickering; she managed an entirely unfamiliar political landscape (with unexpected landmines) with intelligence, diplomacy, and the occasional cutting-off of heads (never undeserved). Currently she is deservedly feared by half the aristocracy, equally deservedly adored by the other half, happily married, and the matriarch of what looks to be an extensive clan. I look forward to more acts of awesome in later books.

8) Queen Elizabeth I of England. Alternately adored and ignored by her father, her mother murdered, Elizabeth grew up in a very uncertain political atmosphere, where her every move became politically charged. She was a brilliant child, and picked up on this very early. She became an extremely canny politican very early on, and survived not only her father's displeasure, but her sister's dislike and the revolts held in her name but without her knowledge during her sister's reign. When she ascended the throne at the age of twenty-five, she took one look at the options available to a reigning queen (marriage or invasion, essentially), said, "no, screw that" and went on to become one of the most effective monarchs in English history. She was formidably intelligent all her life, ruthless and canny, and one of the most universally beloved sovereigns England had known, and she returned that love in equal measure. She never supressed or subverted her intelligence or her ability for anyone. She was beautiful when she was young and knew it, and used her sexuality as ruthlessly as she used anything else in the pursuit of her people's good. Historians have not always been kind to her, in particular immediately after her reign and in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and yet she still has a devoted and dedicated circle of... I hate to say "fans," but it does seem the most appropriate appelation. She's still remembered and idolized today.

9) Kaylee Frye. Kaylee is a savant, brilliant with mechanics, and still richly feminine. She's a sweetheart, bordering on naive, and is never forced by bad writing or bad acting to become something harder or more cynical. She never loses her sense of wonder, a quality all too rare in today's cynicism-driven world. She's bright, sunny, sweet, and heartfelt. But my favorite quality about Kaylee, the one that made me choose her above all the brilliant and well-drawn women of Firefly, is her unashamed and even joyful sexuality. Kaylee feels no shame in being sexually active, nor should she. She approaches sex as pleasure and fun, not as something that should be shameful. This is another terribly rare quality in today's world, and I'm so glad to see it in a female character who is clearly meant to be admired and loved. It promotes the idea that women's desire is not something shameful, not something alien to be hidden away, but something to be celebrated and enjoyed. Kaylee's easy sexuality is fun and warm, and when coupled with her sweet, sunny nature, it makes her somebody that no one can hate.

10) My mother. You'll forgive me if I don't get too specific about this, but it's true. My mom is one of the smartest people I know, funny and fun to be around. She's articulate, confident, and not afraid to be herself. She started her own company and weathered a divorce with relative grace, and she's a very tactful and smart person. She's always worked, but she's always had time for me and my brother, and she's always balanced work and family so well I never knew most women struggled to keep them balanced until I started taking sociology classes. If I can be even half as wise and articulate when I get to be her age, I'll have done good. If I can be even half as funny and clever, I'll never lack for company.

Looking back at these women, and at the ones who didn't make the list (Zoe Washburn, Inara Serra, Dana Scully, Virginia Wolff, my Doctor Who gals), I can see a couple of trends. I tend to admire smart women, who can maintain strong and loving relationships, but neither quality is a deal-breaker if it's lacking (Kaylee, Karrin Murphy). I admire women who are women, not men with breasts. I admire women who aren't afraid or ashamed of their sexuality. I admire women who are more than competant, women who hold their own and demand respect. I admire exceptional women who aren't afraid to be exceptional.

I feel like today, most women and girls are afraid to be exceptional. I don't know why this is so, or why women get boxed into subordinate roles that they aren't comfortable with or happy in. I feel like every girl should know that she can be exceptional, and I feel like these woman are a good start.

In short, I admire exceptional women, and I have every intention of being one.

What women do you respect? Why do you respect them?

ETA: Honorh talks about the same thing here, and so does selenay936.

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