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The 5 Most Under-appreciated Female Heroes

What happens to female characters who don't fight like men? They don't get the cult followings they deserve.

by
Leslie Loftis

Bio

March 29, 2014 - 10:00 am
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Editor’s Note: This article was first published in in December of 2012 as “The 5 Most Underrated Pop Culture Heroines.” It is being reprinted as part of a new weekend series at PJ Lifestyle collecting and organizing the top 50 best lists. Where will this great piece end up on the list? Reader feedback will be factored in when the PJ Lifestyle Top 50 List Collection is completed in a few months… Click here to see the top 25 so far and to advocate for your favorites in the comments.

Recently, I argued that we like heroines who act like men and so writers construct stories enabling women to physically compete. So what about the female characters that don’t act like men?

If writers don’t have a female character fight for herself and by herself, then we typically ignore them. Sometimes we ridicule them. If given the opportunity, we rewrite them. Then, we complain that there aren’t enough of them. There are many, and the comment thread on the last article mentioned a few. These are my favorite five.

5. Princess Buttercup, The Ignored Heroine

In The Princess Bride, Buttercup lives on a farm and falls in love with a quiet and dedicated farm boy. The boy, Wesley, goes off to seek his fortune so he may marry Buttercup, but his ship is attacked by the Dread Pirate Roberts. Buttercup despairs for Wesley’s death. Years later, the prince of the land choses her as his bride. Powerless to refuse him, she agrees. Soon, Wesley returns and rescues her and the land.

Targeted by an evil prince for her beauty, but with no physical way to resist him — no superpowers — Buttercup relies on her courage and wits to keep the prince and his henchmen at bay until help arrives. With Wesley’s help she escapes and together they save the kingdom from a needless war. But she got rescued and does not physically fight. She engages in elegant verbal sparring, of which I’d provide a video clip, but I can’t find any of those scenes online. They aren’t popular enough that anyone thought to upload them. I’ve rarely seen Buttercup mentioned as a feminist favorite even though The Princess Bride‘s cult following rivals Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s. Strong-willed and spirited she might be, but she’s just not manly enough to merit much attention.

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All Comments   (8)
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Ever read any scifi by Cherryh? Or for that matter the Dragonflight books by McCaffrey?
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
If I am remembering the correct title, my brother read Dragonflight books. I skimmed a few with him, but I was older and busy with other things at the time to really get into them.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
" ... she put on her Homecoming dress and went to face her death."

See, this is why the left can't really love Buffy. At least, the lefties I know don't like her ... ymmv. Buffy has two things going for her (1) supernatural powers of strength and martial prowess and (2) traditional duty. The traditional duty part of it is WHY she is a hero. The supernatural part of it is merely HOW she is a hero. Her devotion to duty and her sense of honor are a lesson and an inspiration for anyone who is struggling with the unfair vicissitudes of life in our fallen world. Personal sacrifice, or as Pope John Paul II called it, self-donation, is never popular among the devotees of popular culture and is a value that feminists outright despise. This is why they can only notice Buffy's supernatural strength, not her strength of character. Now speaking only about the TV series (I understand there is a comic series, but have never seen it), the choices Buffy made in her personal life were many times very wrong, on many levels, but remember that she was a Socal girl from a broken home to begin with and her mother dies in the middle of the series ... as parent of a 17yo girl, I find I have far less influence than I wish I had ... so I can see a young woman making many bad choices. But she keeps her heart, her honor and duty, in the right place and keeps trying. Have to give her credit for that. It may be that once she is freed from her supernatural burden, she might settle herself down in the other areas of her life. I choose to believe she's smart enough to figure that out.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
"I think if she punched Han or sliced Jabba up rather than strangling him, we’d have more respect for her."

Ms. Loftis, I disagree. Leia strangled the blob with the very chains of her slavery. There is nothing more awesomely cosmic-justice than that. It merits infinitely MORE respect than some random fist- or knife-fight. And that's not even touching the issue of resourcefulness under pressure ....
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
You added a "should" to my statement. I don't think that punching to slicing "should" earn her more respect, but that it would earn her more respect. It is a statement against the viewers, not Leia's character.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
The irony is that Buttercup became an evil scheming wench who greased her vile Democrat husband's murderous path to the presidency.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
I suspect you'll think she's off-topic, because she is a trained fighter, but Paks from "The Deed of Paksenarrion" books would be my #1 fictional heroine. Her "deed" in the end isn't an act of martial skill, but of self-sacrifice. Great books -- there are cliched bits, but they're done so well they're more comfortable than jarring.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'm sick to death of the politicization of gender. Years ago when I was a teen, in the paleo-dawn of civilization - 1975, I spent a summer working at the YMCA at a summer camp. Boys were not harassed for having boyness, and girls were not harassed for their girlness. Yet we all managed to play softball together in the evening, we dated each other, we swam together, and people did things or ran things based on what they could do and what they enjoyed, not on their gender. We could use more of that. The left talks a lot about tolerance. Maybe they should try it sometime.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
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