Who Run the (Literary) World? Girls!

March is Women’s History month, and in the spirit of celebrating women and empowering role models I keep close to my heart, I’ve made a list of all my favorite female protagonists. Even though they’re all fictional, I still find inspiration and strength in reading about these characters.

My favorite kick-ass female protagonists

  1. Celaena Sardothien in the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas. What I love about Celaena is that she manages not to sacrifice any of her femininity or personality even after she’s earned the title of greatest assassin ever to have terrorized the Kingdom of Adarlan. She could probably single-handedly take down the entire Royal Guard but also, she loves shopping. And going to balls in pretty dresses. And she’s terrific at banter and flirting. That kind of behavior sometimes irritates me, but I also don’t think strength should be a character’s only personality. Or that in order to be perceived as strong, a female character must act in traditionally masculine ways. I like that Celaena can do her nails and kick bad-guy butt at the same time.
  2. Lyra Belacqua from The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. Lyra Belacqua is unstoppable. There is a quote that comes to mind which I think suits her character perfectly and it is “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” It doesn’t matter how many times someone tells her to stay out of trouble or how many different authority figures tell her the journey is too dangerous, Lyra’s unquenchable curiosity leads her inexorably onwards, even if that means hurtling toward an uncertain territory. But she’s no fool and she’s so sure of herself that even the adults can’t outwit her or hold her back in The Golden Compass. I admit I haven’t read the rest of the series yet but I can’t wait to finish these books.
  3. Kestrel from The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski. In a lot of fantasy novels, the protagonist is strong because she is powerful and she’s got more magic than everybody else. Though I adore magic and superpowers in fantasy, a small part of me has always felt that in those stories, magic is something you’re born with and not something you earn. Though the setting of The Winner’s Curse is fantastical, there is no magic, and Kestrel is powerful because she is clever. Not only is she clever, she’s also compassionate, and capable of looking beyond her own interests to see  how every advantage she was born with came at the cost of another people’s freedom. My favorite part of cheering on for Kestrel is that each one of her victories and close calls feel so earned.
  4. Inej from Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. Kaz is a hard man to love, and Inej does not put up with it. I have watched so many female characters fall in love with men who were just so distant and withdrawn as to be downright mean. But in Six of Crows, *spoiler alert*, Inej questions Kaz, questions her own loyalty to him and how far she is willing to go for him, and then draws the line. I’ll never forget when she says to him “I will have you without armor, Kaz Brekker, or I will not have you at all.” It’s so fierce and self-assured. Inej knows what she deserves and will not take any less. I can’t wait to see how she’ll make Kaz prove himself to her.
  5. BONUS (since it's not technically from a book, haha!) Rey from Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Is there anything this girl can’t do?! She’s a pilot, scavenger, starship engineer, and kick-butt, Jedi Force-wielder all at once! I’ve heard people criticize the movie for making Rey too powerful, and for how it was unrealistic that she so quickly mastered the Force. But my response to that is that movie and book culture has seen its fair share of men-who-can-do-it-all, and I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to see finally see a woman just utterly kill it at everything she does. Besides, this is fiction and I don’t think we always need to cut back on our heroes. I love Rey precisely because she can do it all, and that’s a role model I can get behind.  
And speaking of role models... Daisy Ridley is not such a bad one herself. When an Instagram user criticized her casting as “setting unrealistic examples for young girls” because “real women have curves,” Daisy responded both wisely and calmly with “'Real women’ are all shapes and sizes, all ethnicities, all levels of brave. I am a ‘real woman’ like every other woman in this world.’ She then proceeded to urge others on the internet not to harass the original poster, and to spread kindness in the world.

Well, Swooners, who have I missed? Who are some of your favorite female protagonists—and no spoilers, please! I look forward to reading your suggestions! 

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Anna P.

Well, this goes without saying but I LOVE to read. I write in all caps when I'm excited which is …

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