Life lessons to learn from your favourite fictional heroine
Bonus: The life lessons they've taught us
Emma Watson’s Belle in the recently released live-action remake of the classic Beauty and the Beast is no regular Disney princess. She is opinionated, strong-willed and finally, a Disney heroine who can fully be a role model to young girls around the world. Watson’s association with the project lent it more credibility, with her refusal to wear a corset to avoid presenting a negative body image and the introduction of Belle’s inclination towards being an inventor.
But while the new-age Belle is heralded as one of the icons of modern feminism, there has been no dearth of strong and empowered female fictional heroines who have no time for society’s conventions. For every simpering and swooning Mills and Boons leading lady, there’s a punching-Malfoy-in the-face-for-just-being-annoying Hermione.
7 fictional heroines and what they taught us
Her mother's one life goal was to find good (rich) husbands for her daughters, but Elizabeth Bennet had other things on her mind. Self-assured and quick-witted, Lizzy Bennet was up to verbally spar with Mr Darcy, or any other challenger, at any given time, much to her mother’s dismay and father’s delight. Her stubbornness was a strength as well as weakness, as we saw in her defiant refusal to accept Wickham’s true character.
What she taught us: Even though it goes against your nature, it’s ok to admit you’ve made a mistake.
Hermione effectively taught a whole generation of little girls that it’s okay to be studious. In a society where women are constantly told that no man wants to be with a girl who is smarter than him, Hermione embodied a revolution of sorts. She was unapologetically nerdy, and stood up for what she believed in with an unrivalled ferocity, even if that meant being at the bottom of the popularity chain.
What she taught us: Never dumb yourself down for a guy, or anyone for that matter.
‘Ahead of her time’ is a common compliment for any Victorian heroine with even a hint of a spine, but it’s perfectly apt for Jane Eyre. To understand the brilliance of Jane’s character, you need to put it in the context of the era she was created in. This was a time when women rarely had agency over their own lives. To rebel against societal conventions and assert her independence despite the hardships she endured makes Jane one of the strongest literary characters ever created.
What she taught us: Never let anyone else take control of your life.
Another example of a woman following her own dreams in a society that actively dissuaded women from doing so was Josephine March. Despite being told several times that her manner was unseemly and her aspirations of becoming a writer were foolish, Jo didn’t let it get her down. Semi- autobiographical, Louisa May Alcott’s Jo grew up to learn to support her ambitions within the constraints placed on women in the nineteenth century. Not to forget, she was the force behind the OG ship wars. Years before #TeamJacob and #TeamEdward were a thing, #TeamLaurie and #TeamFriedrich were already dominating debates around the world.
What she taught us: Having ambitions is not ‘unladylike’.
Just when we had given up hope of seeing a strong female role model for the tween population of the world (who could have blamed us after Bella Swan), Katniss Everdeen emerged as the bow-wielding rebel. Though Katniss, like Bella, had two men fighting over her and a looming threat that placed her at the centre of the book’s universe, the hero of District 13 was no vapid, self-destructive vampire wannabe. No amount of teen angst from Peeta Mellarke could distract her from what she had set out to do. Also, she had no time for the passive-aggressiveness of the 'friendzoned' Gale.
What she taught us: Don’t let any guy, or a dystopian government, come in the way of your goals.
Have you ever felt like you don’t actually belong in the world you’re living in? Or that nobody really understands you, but not in the insufferable ways teenage boys claim while emulating Holden Caulfield? Matilda felt all that and more at an age where most kids are still learning to tie their own shoelaces.
Her family didn't value her intelligence or understand her love for reading. So she taught herself telekinesis to deal with them and the tyrant principal Miss Trunchbull, who forced kids to eat chocolate cake and took an unhealthy interest in the students’ hairstyles and fashion choices.
What she taught us: You can do anything if you set your mind to it.
Princess Leia, Star Wars
Princess (now General, sorry Force Awakens spoilers) Leia was the OG badass. Ever since she was introduced in A New Hope, there was little doubt that Leia would command all our attention. Holding her own against Darth Vader and taking down Jabba the Hut single-handedly, this princess proved that she needed no rescuing. Even years after the rebellion took down the dark side, she rallied forces against the New Order and the wannabe Darth Vader (that he was her son did not deter her) and led the forces like the true boss she is.
What she taught us: When it comes to kicking ass and taking names, never send a man to do a woman’s job.