(By Martha S.)
You may have deduced by now that gender portrayals are important to me in the media I consume – I am very prone to loving things that feature fully-realized, interesting, multifaceted women (notice I did not say “strong” – strength means many things, and I am just as likely to love a female character who is whiny and evil as I am to love one that is strong and likable). The gender disparity in the materials we talked about last week is bugging me, because I do try to pick media for the show that presents a range of experience and characters and obviously I need to do better. With that in mind, here is a bevy of women who lead in some way, whether successful or not, charismatic or not, likable or not. Because it is important to remember that while there are obviously brilliant and inspiring women leaders in fiction, there are also women who fail, and their failure as leaders does not equal their failure as characters.
Wynonna Earp, Wynonna Earp (2016 tv show by showrunner Emily Andras and starring Melanie Scrofano)
Long have I searched for a show that could ease the Supernatural-shaped hole in my heart, ever since it went to hell and I realized it hated women. Wynonna Earp seems to be doing just that. In brief, the titular character, the great-granddaughter of the infamous Wyatt Earp, is back in her hometown with Earp’s gun and a mission: kill the outlaws Earp originally laid to rest, who are cursed to come back from the dead every time the heir to the Earp name dies and the mantle is passed to a new heir. Wynonna is a booze-soaked, vulgar, rude, and frequently selfish character and I love her – she’s also becoming an increasingly more effective leader of her ragtag support group with every episode. The qualities that make Wynonna worthy of following? Pragmatism, street smarts, efficiency, and a strong sense for when her people need to take a break (also her little sister Waverly is the best and cutest exposition-fountain anyone could ask for).
Mirabel, Arsinoe, and Katharine, Three Dark Crowns (novel by Kendare Blake)
This fantasy YA novel features three wanna-be queens engaged in a fatal battle for supremacy. In the world of the novel, when the queen of Fennbirn dies, the crown is passed on to one of three sisters – each has a magical gift that they use to try and eliminate their competition. In Three Dark Crowns, the perspective rotates amongst the three sisters, who each are raised by a different group of people and trained to rule. It’s an effective story about the people who shape leaders, the influence they can have, and how a potential leader can either mitigate or succumb to that influence. By the end any one of them could be an effective Queen (although you’re getting very different flavors of leadership: clear and direct from Arsinoe, traditional and regal from Mirabel, cunning and grabbing from Katharine).
Eadlyn Schreave, The Heir (novel by Kiera Cass)
Gonna put this out right in front: The Selection novels (of which this is technically #4) are cotton candy novels. They are wonderful fluff. They are full of romance and pretty dresses and sometimes occasionally Cass remembers there’s kind of a story? This is more true in The Heir and its follow-up The Crown, wherein Princess Eadlyn is conducting her version of The Bachelor and also learning how to be Queen. I will also put this out front: Eadlyn is a TERRIBLE leader. She has no sense of how to inspire loyalty, is incredibly entitled, has no work-life balance, and can’t read a room to save her life. She’s intellectually intelligent and completely people-stupid. I would argue that the novels she stars in are actually the story of someone realizing they should absolutely not step into a leadership role, finding an alternative, and implementing that, rather than the story of someone learning how to be Queen.
Dorothy Vaughn, Hidden Figures (2016 film directed by Theodore Melfi and starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae)
I’m singling out Octavia Spencer as Vaughn in particular because she’s in charge of the team that Henson and Monae begin the film working out of. She’s overworked, underpaid, and has no guarantee that she’ll ever get the recognition she deserves – but she still identifies a threat to her staff, learns its ins and outs, teaches her staff the skills necessary to operate the giant computer, and makes them all instantly indispensable. Not only is Vaughn capable, intelligent, and resourceful, but she cares about the women who work with her, and goes extra lengths to ensure they have job security as well. Everyone in Hidden Figures is admirable, but Spencer brings a steely determination to Vaughn that I found incredibly admirable.