Lashana Lynch is the new 007. Here are 40 empowering female characters I grew up with

Lashana Lynch is going to be the new 007, and I was absolutely stunned that not only a woman was cast, but a woman of colour. There was a lot of talk initially about the new Bond being Idris Elba; however, this is infinitely better.

It got me thinking about how this will affect girls growing up and how much the stories we grew up with shaped the people we have grown to be.

Compelling stories link us in our present to tales that teach us everything from morality to bravery — stories are heavily influential. Women who are part of the current social evolution grew up with mainstream literary and pop culture heroes.

I grew up steeped in stories and fantasy books, and they instilled in me a strong sense of principle and personal autonomy, regardless of societal expectations for my gender.

We all have other influences growing up, but stories definitely played a part. Lashana’s Bond is something I think we’re all looking forward to. I’d initially been skeptical of yet another movie with an outdated Bond Girl who exists perhaps solely to titillate. Instead, we get to see a powerful woman front and centre.

I’ve compiled a list of fantastic characters that I believe in some way factored into shaping the current women’s rights movement.

I didn’t grow up in Pakistan, so I don’t have many South Asian heroines or characters that I grew up hearing about — save my fantastic mum who raised us on red lipstick, high heels and Metallica. I have, though, added a few desi options after asking around online.

1. Polgara the Sorceress

David and Leigh Eddings wrote the Belgariad — a high fantasy series that I’m pretty sure is the first series of books I ever read. Her character taught me how to love, sacrifice and to be proud of being incredibly strong and incredibly powerful.

2. Olivia Pope

From the show Scandal — not a fan of the fact that she has an affair with a married man, but from her, I learnt how to not be a B**** Baby and how to keep moving forward and onwards.

3. Daria Morgendorffer

The bespectacled, unfashionable and perpetually unimpressed queen of the 1990s, Daria was a highly intellectual, pessimist and sarcastic highschooler who was woke before her time.

Teaching us to prize intellect over fashion and drama, Daria likely spawned a sea of women who today are breaking down barriers and demanding their due. I’d like to think I’m one of them.

4. Bloody Nasreen

The violent and smoking girl in her shalwar kameez covered in skulls. It feels like we were teased with the idea of Bloody Nasreen and then she suddenly vanished, but I’ve been told by one of the producers that they are in the process of finalising the script and are to begin shooting the film next winter! And no, they didn’t tell me who they’ve cast: it’s a closely-guarded secret.

5. Meena

From Meena Ki Kahani, a Unicef project created to question all the many unjust practices in desi culture – the beauty of it was that Meena never seemed to associate herself with any country and was just quintessentially desi.

Sweetly questioning the patriarchy, Meena likely helped set the tone for today’s womens rights movement in South Asia.

6. Cher Horowitz

Clueless’ Cher is iconic – and utterly clueless, I think it was important for me to see someone make mistakes and be silly to help me forgive myself for doing the same.

Based on Jane Austen’s Emma, you can’t help but love and hate Cher. She’s a busybody that’s convinced she knows best and ends up being her own worst enemy. Been there, done that.

7. Lessa Ruatha

A Weyrwoman of Pern. From her I learnt to bide my time and to see that ‘stubborn’ is just another word for ‘patience’. And that women, too, have a place with dragons.

8. Ursula

The poor unfortunate soul that didn’t grow up hating and loving this Octowitch. The evil seawitch from The Little Mermaid, she was everything we’ve unfortunately learnt to associate with evil: a single older woman desperate to be young and beautiful, cruel to the young and innocent Ariel and who wears too much makeup.

She’s the OG evil aunty and was a heavy influence on those of us who watched Disney cartoons again and again.

9. Buffy the Vampire Slayer

I love love love Buffy and Xander and Willow and Giles. Buffy was that happy teenager who could marry her weirdness with being young and carefree. I think it was really important for my generation to grow up seeing that. And how she could properly kick butt.

10. Vin Prelan

Main protagonist and eventual myth of the Mistborn series, I loved reading Vin progress from a terrified street-child to a thief and finally to a fierce activist. Her powers matured with her and learning how to manage your strengths and fears is something we all need to learn.

11. Gogi

Gogi
Gogi

I found out about Gogi while writing this list, and I wish I’d grown up with her.

Released in the 1970s, Nigar Nazar's comic book character Gogi has been cheerfully questioning Pakistani society at varying levels about everything from poverty, hypocrisy and feminism.

I’m not surprised at all that the women who grew up reading Gogi’s giggling commentary eventually marched in Aurat March.

12. Maleficent

Humanised in the recent adaptation, Maleficent was the quintessential cruel, powerful and cold villain. Able to conceive of cursing a newborn infant, she was a stark contrast to the bumbling, sweet and warmhearted fairies that loved and raised Sleeping Beauty.

While, yes, none of us really saw Maleficent as a role model, the idea that a woman could be so powerful as to thwart an entire nation with a single curse was a powerful one for us to grow up seeing.

Even if it was utterly unkind. I’m glad that we’re learning to see powerful women in a different light these days and the recent adaptation is incredibly important for young people to see.

13. Shehnaz Gulsher Khan

From the popular drama Alpha Bravo Charlie, Shehnaz brought poignancy to a very male-dominated serial years ago. She questioned norms and demanded that the male heroes address issues they’d rather not.

14. Dana Scully

A legend. The skeptic in the Mulder-Scully duo of the X Files, Dana was voted the most beautiful woman in the world, but that’s not what I remember her for. It’s that she was willing to question her own beliefs and take a leap of faith while dealing with an impossible and often childish partner.

I’d give anything to have her patience and poise.

15. Matilda Wormwood

This little telekinetic genius child is surrounded by so many awful — awful — people, but despite this, she manages to snap her fingers and make all the cruel people dance to her tune. Matilda saved the day, despite terrifying odds — and she’s so tiny!

16. Cersei Lannister

My villain of choice from Game Of Thrones. Not everyone’s favourite character, I think Cersei is a bit of an acquired taste. The sheer ruthlessness with which she held on to power is, though, something we all needed to see.

Despite her madness and cruelty, we needed to see raw power in a woman, and we certainly did.

17. Zoë Alleyne Washburne

Armed with her Winchester Model 1892 rifle, the firebrand militant soldier/activist on the show Firefly was something else.

Perpetually unimpressed, trigger-happy Zoë’s dry humour, sensible disdain and complete lack of patience with stupidity was a brilliant influence in my life. Whether or not I learnt to be like her, though…

18. Cera the Triceratops Dinosaur

From The Land Before Time, Cera is a stubborn, bossy, overconfident and intensely skeptical dinosaur. I couldn’t stand her and thought she was selfish and should have been nicer to Little Foot. But at the end of the day, she was a good friend and a force to be reckoned with.

19. Durr-e-Shehwar

The namesake of the show, Durr recounts stories of her marriage to her daughter, Shandana, who learns throughout the show that a perfect father may not always have been a perfect husband. A lesson we all likely needed to learn in understanding generational gaps and that men are human, too.

20. Jo March

A new adaptation of Little Women is coming out this year and it’s a story that’s been close to my heart. Jo sparked the tomboy in me that I didn’t even know I had. And has been an integral part of the person I’ve become. There is so much to love about this stubborn writer unable to find her voice in a country at war with itself. While she eventually “calms down”, I almost wish she hadn’t.

21. Princess Sarene

From the Elantris series, Princess Sarene was married to a prince far away. When she arrived at his kingdom to meet him, it was only to find that he was dead and she was now a widow.

Confused, freaked out and young, she still manages to handle the messed up politics and seeks to rule in an impossible situation. Definitely someone to look up to.

22. Elle Woods

She’s Legally Blonde and so very, very excited about everything. Makes you want to claw your eyes out. But regardless of the fact that on the surface she seems unintelligent, vacuous and shallow, she’s anything but. She puts in the work and shows up the generic man who left her for someone supposedly better. Love her.

23. Jiya

The award-winning Burka Avenger is still running and managing to teach girls to be politically aware, strong and inspirational.

24. Veronica Mars

The teenage noir show Veronica Mars, that paved the way for shows like Pretty Little Liars, had a strong, sassy and intelligent female lead. Tiny and ferocious, Veronica taught us to disregard what the world wants from us and to question men for their actions and society for forgiving them too easily.

25. Dorothy Gale

From the #WizardOfOz, I still remember my toes curling at the thought of suddenly finding yourself in a new world all alone and making friends with odd randoms. But Dorothy took it in her stride — she was a child all alone believing in a Yellow Brick Road and being kind to everyone she comes across while still making a difference.

26. Lisa Simpson

Who could forget Lisa from The Simpsons? The little woke sweetheart of the 1990s who was perpetually but sweetly outraged.

An environmentalist jazz player who was different but damn good at it, Lisa often found herself exhausted under the steam of her own beliefs and more than anything, I think that growing up seeing her think through these concepts and consider her own biases and emotional health has been an important factor in the growth of global social consciousness.

27. Fa Mulan

I wanted to be a ninja. I collected swords and daggers. I read up on *bushido and absolutely adored Eastern codes of chivalry.

And then I saw Mulan, a character that saved China, all while she was masquerading as a warrior in a male-dominated army. Her sacrifice for her family and her dogged persistence in being a better warrior than anyone else were incredible influences to all of us.

28. Margo Hanson

From the spectacular show The Magicians, she’s everything I wish I was... nonchalant, fun, smart and so unbelievably sassy. And I think I channel her every time I’m in an argument.

29. Amna

One of the three superheroes from Teen Bahadur, Amna was granted the power of super-speed. The only girl in the three brave (bahadur) kids, she was willing to risk her life to save someone, despite having been warned not to get involved. Definitely a win for us women.

30. Elizabeth Bennet

I’ve read my copy of Pride and Prejudice every single time I’ve been bedridden. It’s probably why I’m still single. Mr Darcy just doesn’t exist, but the character I loved most was Liz. That she could laugh her way through any pain or embarrassment. That she had found it within herself to laugh and be positive and principled in the face of her family’s uncertain future. That she embraced being odd in an unkind and dogmatic society. It gave me hope because I’ve always felt odd myself.

31. Annalise Keating

From How To Get Away With Murder, Ms Keating taught me that you can be a broken barely held together mess and you can still be the smartest in the room. It’s okay to be in pain, you can still ensure that everyone will listen to every damn word you say like it’s damned gospel.

32. Katsa

Fanart by Priscilla Bonilla
Fanart by Priscilla Bonilla

From the Graceling series, Katsa’s elegant fighting style and her reputation as a terrifying assassin was fascinating. It was obvious that she was in pain and learning to forgive herself was a predominant theme. We all need to learn that from time to time, don’t we?

33. Lara Croft

She’s the Tomb Raider. I loved Indiana Jones growing up, but could not for the life of me connect with him (well, except in video games ⁠— I never finished Indiana Jones and the fate of Atlantis). And then came along this gorgeous, intelligent well-read and nerdy archaeologist ⁠— who could do martial arts!

Perfect. Absolutely perfect.

34. Clarke Griffin

From The 100.I’m a big Bellarke shipper, but far beyond that, Clarke shows us how to transform from an annoying know-it-all-princess to bloodsoaked queen saving our loved ones. And how you don’t need people to like you for you to do the hard thing.

How Clarke has been vilified for being a leader is something we all need to consider when progressing in our careers. We’re working towards ending the patriarchy but at the end of the day, powerful women are still being attacked just for excelling.

35. Bil Batori

From the popular 1990s TV show Ainak Wala Jinn, Bil Batori was played by the late Nusrat Ara who suffered severe poverty in the later years of her life. Many people were heartbroken seeing her plight, particularly as she had been so influential and so close to the hearts of many children who grew up watching the show.

36. Kat Stratford

From 10 Things I Hate About You, a movie I’ve seen a thousand times and that was adapted from Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. Kat was cut of the same cloth as my sister.

Doc Martens, safety pins for earrings, good music and stomping about whilst perpetually cross, Kat and my sister both taught me to not try to make people like me, and that my anger with society was legitimate and that I needed to be heard.

37. Hermione Granger

The brilliant bookworm and second best friend of Harry Potter, she was perhaps the first character I ever came across that wore her idiosyncrasies with pride and eventually turned in to a force to be reckoned with. I learnt to love what made me odd from her — in particular how much I loved books.

38. Pocahontas

I know the Disney representation wasn’t all that factual, however, she was a brilliant character to grow up with. I learnt to love nature, to study shamanism and to blend my past with my future without fear.

39. Katniss Everdeen

From the Hunger Games, my favourite thing about her was that she was so good at thinking on her feet. And an honest to god athlete. Who doesn’t want to use a bow and arrow? But more than anything it was her desire to stand in for her lost father and sacrifice herself for her loved ones.

40. Kathryn Janeway

The stalwart captain of the Starfleet starship USS Voyager, Kathryn was the lead character on the spinoff series, Star Trek: Voyager. Her ability to command in seriously messy situations is something I still admire and something I think more girls need to see: powerful women making a difference and being respected for it.

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