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May 13, 2008

5 (un)Real Role Models

From Hillary to Miley to Condi to Britney, I find most discussion about female role models in popular culture pretty idiotic. There's always some big "controversy" brewing in the media about women in the limelight: Too emotional or too robotic? Way too sexy or too pear-shaped in a pantsuit? Overly assertive or too demure? Too many dates or too many pounds?

Despite all the controversy and chit-chat about prominent women in the media, there's one arena in which pop culture has gotten it right: fiction. In recent years, movies, books, and TV shows have presented us with some amazing female characters deserving of our admiration. In their honest depictions of the complexity of what it means to be flawed and human, these fictional women are as real as it gets. So here's my personal toast to 5 great female characters and the traits that make them work emulating:

Brenda Johnson (from TNT's The Closer) - She can deal with corpses, perverts, and chauvinism, so it's obvious that she's a cool cat. But what I really admire about detective Brenda Johnson is her demonstration of the fact that sweetness and smarts aren't mutually exclusive. Constantly relying on her southern-bred manners, Brenda is sweet, kind, and polite in a world that's often rough and rude. Brenda shows us that we need not sacrifice the kindnesses of "femininity" passed on to us by our mothers and grandmothers to still be smart, savvy, and very good at what we do.

Marge Simpson (from TV's The Simpsons) - "Poor, poor Marge!" I've often thought as I've watched Marge tough it out with her dope of a husband. But the reality is that Marge exemplifies what it means to live as a giver of grace. She doesn't love her dysfunctional family begrudgingly; her care, attentiveness, and forgiveness are given freely and generously. Her grace springs from devotion, not duty. Despite his annoying idiocies, she sees something in Homer what no one else can, and she forgives and forgets, and forgives and forgets, and forgives and forgets again.

Hermione Granger (from the Harry Potter book series) - Through the ups and downs of life as a "muggle" in a wizard's world, this feisty adolescent exemplifies what it looks like to be courageously loyal. Hermione shows us that loyalty to our friends and loved ones doesn't mean backing down or going along - it means speaking one's mind, sticking it out through arguments and misunderstandings, and if needed putting one's life and limb on the line.

Juno (from the movie Juno) - She's an offbeat teen who's gotten herself into quite a mess: pregancy. But despite (temporarily) losing her boyfriend, disappointing her parents, and being abandoned by any real friends, Juno remains her quirky self and presses on with her decision to carry her unplanned pregnancy to term. The social isolation she faces as her pregnancy becomes more and more obvious is painful to watch, but it doesn't seem to faze Juno herself. I admire Juno because she is unswerving in her determination even when she stands alone.

Precious Ramotswe (from The #1 Ladies' Detective Agency book series) - As the first lady detective in Botswana (who's proudly "traditionally built"), Precious navigates a variety of mysteries and crimes. Through it all, Precious remains unruffled, constant, and steady. She chooses to live in a simple way, enjoying tea with friends, anchored in the beauty of her surroundings, and assuming the best in others. It's not that her life is problem free or that a cup of red bush tea instantly solves all her problems; rather, it's that Precious has a sense of who she is and what she can do in this world. She isn't bowled over by the unexpected; she isn't stressed out, worked up, overscheduled, or overburdened. Precious takes what comes her way, does her very best, and keeps her spirit calm.

Of course, I don't admire everything about these fictional women. But what I do, I admire deeply.

Who are the women (real or fictional) in popular culture that you admire? What do you admire about them?

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Thank you, Kelli, for showing us the depth and complicated dimensions of these women. Marge Simpson is actually the only one I'm really familiar with. So often, public discussion about women in the limelight is unbelievably shallow and tends to focus on their image, not their inner life, character or personal story. Why can't a woman "just be" without being over-analyzed and over-sexualized? Let's get real.

I do like Precious Ramotswe. Also her assistant, Mma Makutsi.

I love all of the women you mentioned, Kelli. Another that comes to mind for me is Mariam from the novel A Thousand Splendid Suns. Her amazing sacrificial love after a tremendously difficult life moved me to tears. I can only hope that I would have the courage to love like she did. Thanks for sharing these with us.

I am a huge fan of Det. Brenda Johnson, and although she's not around anymore, I loved Claire Huxtable. She was no-nonsense, accomplished without being too self-absorbed, and she adored her children.

A few real, but mostly unknown, women I admire:

Nancy Pryor: works in an inner city ministry in Los Angeles, travels to difficult places in the world to share the gospel, supports her husband as a pastor, is a mother and grandmother, all while fighting a constant battle with multiple sclerosis.

Tricia Beeber: has worked with and raised to adulthood a low-functioning autistic son; is just graduating from law school so she can become an advocate for others with special needs children.

Ray Hood: After great success in the corporate world as a premier diversity advisor, she has stepped aside to form a not-for-profit to build wells in her ancestral home of Ethiopia--to bring natural water and living water to devastated areas.

I love your perspective on role models.

i couldn't agree more about Hermione Granger. She is Just, Loyal, Brave, Logical and stands for what is right. Her idealism does not fade away when encountered with real problems but she rises above them and find a way to fight against them.

I admire Juno most because I am pro-life / anti-abortion. She has the admirable qualities of a strong and courageous young woman.

I adore Ivanova from Babylon 5. She has an interesting relationship with God, her Jewishness and the whole rest of the world.

She is tenacious, loyal, feminine, flawed and tough.

Why would you pick women who are obviously not Christians and have no concept of who Christ is? Marge Simpson? Please, get a life. The woman from Harry Potter the book that includes witchcraft? Another loser.

I've always admired Cinderella. Not for marrying her prince, but for her outlook on life. In most adaptations, she is happy despite her circumstances, is good to animals & people--whether they're nice to her or not--and lives in the moment.

Even after the ball, when it would seem she'll never see her prince again, she doesn't pout or feel sorry for herself or complain that she deserves more, but she embraces the magic she enjoyed with a song ... & gets back to work. And she's patient, waiting for the prince to come to her rather than trying to make something happen.

It's not on anymore, but I really liked Sydney Bristow on the TV show, Alias. I loved having a tough, super-smart, compassionate, uncomplaining, adventurous woman to watch every week. And, wow, could she ever kickbox!
And a quick shout-out to author Julia Alvarez who portrays some of the most beautiful, courageous, loyal, and strong women in her novels...many of them immigrants trying to bridge two cultures. (In the Name of Salome, and How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents are two of my favorite of her novels.)

While she may be a bit cynical (and who wouldn't be with her job), I admire Olivia Benson from Law and Order: SVU. She's tough but she has a lot of compassion for the victims she helps, as well as for her fellow officers. She also seems to know how to keep a measure of femininity in a very masculine world. She is very much a team player and is not only a good working partner for Elliot but she's his friend as well. She respects her supervisor but isn't afraid to put her own ideas out there as well.

I absolutely agree about Hermione and Precious. My real favorite is Jessica Fletcher from Murder She Wrote. She not only is intelligent, seems always to say the right thing at the right time, is kind and caring even in the midst of all the nastiness that might be going on, but she manages to keep her cool, no matter what.

Thanks so much, ladies, for adding so many fine ideas to this list of women to admire.

One person who commented was upset by my choice of non-Christian women, so I guess I'd like to add a note that the women I admire MOST in my life are devoted followers of Jesus (like my mom or some of my favorite writers like Madeleine L'Engle or Flannery O'Connor).

But I do think that admirable traits can be found in a variety of people, Christian or non-Christian. My grandmother, for example, exemplified for me a powerful devotion to creativity -- from pottery to cooking to watercolor painting. She was not a Christian -- in fact her belief system was WAY off base. But I have been shaped by her and her love of creative expression I still find very inspiring and admirable as I remember her.

I believe we can find God's image in all people; his fingerprints are on every human being. I believe God can teach us things about himself, about values, about character through any type of person. (Hey, he spoke through a donkey in the OT!)

Thank you again for adding such great names to the discussion.

(It looks like there are several more of you who secretly want to be a detective/CIA agent like I do!)

Kelli, I would have to say that you are one of the people I admire the most in my life right now, though you are not fictional. Your dedication to Christ and your amazing ability to show grace in your daily life, is something that I strived to be. Thanks for your example.

Gosh--good one, Kelli! Here's my list: Hermione Granger (as you said, Kelli), for her intelligence, loyalty and strength, Arwen from Lord of the Rings, for her bravery, skill and ability to come through in crunch times, Meg Murry, from A Wrinkle in Time, for her ability to, despite her fear, unconditionally love and believe in, her family, and Lucy from the Narnia series for her faith, hope, and loving spirit.

I've always found myself thinking the same way you do about Marge Simpson. If I end up becoming a wife and mother one day, I would love nothing more to be HALF the woman she is. That woman is the glue that holds that completely dysfunctional family together and she seems like the kind of parent to whom you can talk about anything, and will always be there to tell you how proud she is of you no matter how badly you manage to screw up.

Kudos to you for recognising her! I think she's lovely.

Hermione isn't a muggle . . .her parents are muggles.

I don't see why people would pick someone such as marge simpson. a drunk drug addict who though has many qualities also has many downsides to her personality. I understand that nobody is perfect but her christian values are non-existent

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