Strong Girls, Stronger Women

stb-jaylah-3While previewing the DVD for Star Trek: Into Darkness (as if I didn’t see it in the theater and wasn’t buying it myself 5 days later), I realized that Jaylah, the lead female character, is everything I want my daughters and granddaughter to be: strong, brave, smart, resourceful, a planner, a leader, and even when emotionally wounded, she never, ever gives in. Surely one of the strongest female leads ever, without losing her femininity in the process, like Grace Jones as May Day in A View to a Kill, or Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It may even be safe to say that Jaylah’s the strongest female lead ever in Star Trek itself – and no, not even Uhura, who, although she could kick butt, was often saddled with lines like, “Captain, I’m frightened.”

And that made me start thinking on who the strongest female leads might be. By strong I don’t mean nastiest or most vicious goal-driven women, no Joan Crawfords or Cersei Lannisters or Erica Kanes. I mean women or girls who started out ordinary, but when faced with impossible odds, had the grit and determination and education and smarts to work their way into survival.

First on almost any list is Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley, from Alien. While you can say it ec93835d9542a13ce50f467297565f63already took guts and grit to be a warrant officer aboard a deep-space ship, finding out your mission was a suicide run to bring back an alien life form and you’re its food can either send you screaming in helpless panic (as Lambert did), or make you hike your bra straps and shoot first. Ripley is a real woman – no makeup, no unrealistic sexy uniforms, and not afraid to be pushy when she needs to be. And almost 40 years later (can it possibly be that long?) Alien still holds up on every level of film making; truly, a masterpiece.

katniss_prim_hugKatniss Everdeen is also a favorite for strongest female: just sixteen at the start of The Hunger Games, Katniss is already a survivor, having raised a sister and cared for a dysfunctionally depressed mother following the death of their father, in a world where people are kept in line through fear and starvation. Sacrificing herself to the Hunger Games to save her sister is just the start; surviving the Hunger Games not once but twice, surviving on luck, wits, and the smarts acquired through a lifetime of survival makes Katniss a formidable – but sympathetic and realistically feminine – heroine.

Sarah Connor of Terminator fame would round out my top three: a simple waitress who thought she was minding her own business until she’s hunted down by a terminator from the future – because when push comes to shove, Sarah will become a serious survivalist to save her son – a son who will grow up to be the leader against the machines that take over the world. Sarah is thrown into an impossible situation but comes out on top through sheer determination and a survival instinct that won’t quit.

Why so many women from science-fiction? That’s a good question. Perhaps it’s because “strong” women in literature or film are often seen as detestable power-hungry ladder-climbers who will use murder or sex to achieve their goals, and it is only in the realm of “fantasy” that women are allowed to be every-day humans, both strong and vulnerable at the same time, without boob jobs and fake nails. Yet the real world is peppered with incredibly strong women – Anne Frank, Malala Yousafzai, Margaret Sanger, Harriet Tubman, and so many more. Not one of them is sexualized by the media, either.

turn_me_loose_it_s_ashleySo, to be fair, there are literary women who also struggled against formidable odds: Scarlett O’Hara’s entire world was ripped from her by the Civil War: her income, her inheritance, her mother, her husband (whether or not she wanted him alive) wind up Gone With the Wind. She takes charge in a time and place when genteel women did not do that, and through guile and determination pulls her life and the lives of her family back together. And as the anti-Scarlett, I would include Mammy, who carried on through war and starvation, caring for former slaves and slave-owners alike, facing the same dangers as Scarlett but with even less means or social approval. In The Color sofiaPurple, yes, Celie has to survive an ugly life, but to me Sofia is far more of a tough cookie, taking her lumps and even prison because she won’t take the abuse anymore. Sofia is limited by society, but she’s every bit as tough as Katniss.

And moving further away, I would also nominate Maria, from West Side Story. She’s sixteen and stands between two warring gangs for love. The Sharks don’t frighten her. The Jets don’t frighten her. The police don’t frighten her. She gets in the face of each and every west-side-story-1961-dvdrip-moviecenter-avi_snapshot_02-16-56_2016-07-21_15-39-34one, standing up for what she believes in. No one is telling Maria what to think or do.

I could add more – Elizabeth Swan, Marion Ravenwood, Molly Weasley, Natasha Romanov – but if you’re looking for role models for girls and teens, real women who aren’t villainous or overly sexualized or vacuuous but incredibly strong and resourceful, there are plenty to choose from.

Susan’s Top 15 Summer Films

Sure, there’s dozens of great huge summer blockbusters to watch, but chances are you’ve already seen quite a few of them. Here’s a list of great films that take place IN the summer.  Some are great to watch with your kids and some are definitely for the older crowd. Which is your favorite?

1.   What About Bob?  (PG) A man follows his psychiatrist on vacation and drives him crazy.  And you thought your job was rough!

2. The Sandlot  (PG)  Kids.  Baseball.  James Earl Jones.  ‘Nuff said.

The Sandlot              Jaws           Caddyshack poster.jpg

  3.  Jaws  (PG, but I’d think twice about under 10) The original summer blockbuster, the one that started it all.  Thirty years later, those special effects still hold up.  You’re going to need a bigger TV.

4.    Caddyshack  (R)  Yeah, it’s got the predictable plot, the bad language, the potty humor, and I hate the stupid puppet – but you’ll still laugh yourself silly.

5.     Field of Dreams (PG) – The greatest baseball tribute movie. It’s not too late to cut a diamond in your lawn for playoffs. If you build it, they will come.

     Field_of_Dreams_poster          vacation            stand by me

6.    National Lampoon’s Vacation (R for language) – the mother of all summer vacation movies, who can’t relate to long trips with grumpy kids, relatives you can’t stomach, and things going bad every inch of the way?  Don’t you wish reality ended as well it does here?

7.     Stand By Me (R for language) – a fantastic coming-of-age movie for the 11 & up crowd – and it was written by Stephen King.

8.     Deliverance (a very adult R) – classic dark 70’s story of friends taking an ill-fated rafting trip that will make you fear the sound of banjos. 

Deliverance_DVD       west side       porky

9.  The Parent Trap  (G) – A Disney Classic of two separated twins who find each other at summer camp and decide to get their divorced parents back together. Watch the Haley Mills original; Lindsey Lohan’s not the role model people hoped she would be.

10.West Side Story – (Not rated, but I’d give it a PG if you object to guns and knives) Oh, to be in America, dancing on a New York roof in the heat of summer!  A classic story and a film that can never be reproduced, with a soundtrack that’s among the best musical scores ever. Make your kids watch it now, so when they have to watch it in highschool, they’ll be ahead of the game.

11. Porky’s  (R)  The American Pie of its day, full of juvenile sexual banter and potty mouth as a group of Florida teens tries their best to sneak into a strip bar. You will laugh until you cry.

12.Addams Family Values (PG-13)  Wednesday and Pugsley go to summer camp, with the inevitable twisted chaos that follows the ooky Addams family.

adams            super 8            sunshine

13. Super 8 (PG-13)  A group of kids plan to spend their summer filming a movie, and get far, far more than they bargain for when they stumble upon a government secret.

14. Friday the 13th  (R) The original slasher movie that sent everyone scuttling away from lakes and summer camps. It doesn’t matter where you watch it; Jason will find you.

15. Little Miss Sunshine  (R)  A quirky little film about a quirky family trying to hang together as they pin their hopes on their daughter winning the Little Miss Sunshine pageant – without any clue what it’s about.