Strong female characters in literature, media, etc
Jaguar Addams (The Fear Principle series by B.A Chepaitis)- Woman who lives on a planetoid where severe criminals are housed, who teaches them to face their fears to gain redemption from their crimes. Jaguar, during the Killing Times, when suddenly murder increased by thousands of percentages and destroyed society, witnessed deaths, watched her grandfather murdered, was held hostage and raped by the murderer at ten years old, watched him then kill himself, and then was living on the streets for three years before she was rescued. Needless to say, she survived to become a strong woman. She is not without her flaws and deeply hidden insecurities- reluctant to love- but extremely talented and capable.
Cassandra Hack (Hack/Slash comics) Cassie, who was bulled in school, lost her mother after her mother killed and served as cafeteria meals children who had bullied her. Her mother committed suicide once caught; then, she came back as a Slasher, or an undead figure who slaughters people. Cassie had to kill her mother for a second time; after, she made it her duty to find and kill other Slashers. Cassie is smart, strong, sarcastic, and despite having no supernatural powers, risks her life to kick undead butt and save lives, even of people she can't stand.
Buffy Summers, Faith Lehane (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Faith) Buffy and Faith are Slayers, called to rid the world of vampires and other evil beings. Both are strong, both mentally and physically, and both evolve over time from little girls thrust into a very adult situation who often stumble in their dealing with it (massively, in Faith's case) into capable young women who are leaders and role models to other Slayers. Both struggle against their feelings of aloneness and both superiority and inferiority, issues of trust, relationships, and traumatic experiences to grow into women who are constantly working to find themselves and their place in the world, and in Faith's case, to daily continue to earn her redemption of past crimes.
Cordelia Chase, Illyria, Lilah Morgan (Angel)- Illyria is physically strong and capable and in the end, gains some understanding of human compassion; Lilah is no role model, but an example of a female villain who, although she ultimately loses out, played well in her game. Though she had no superpowers, she was intelligent and calculating in reaching her will. Cordelia Chase grows from a self-absorbed, if deeper than she wants to appear, teenager to a thoughtful and mature woman, always more than willing to share her thoughts, however unwelcome they may be to hear.
Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles (The Surgeon and others by Tess Gerritsen) Jane and Maura are examples of capable, intelligent women who, despite being made subject to victimization many times, refuse to be victims. Both are committed in their jobs as a cop and a doctor who performs autopsies, and both have earned respect in male-dominated fields. Jane has been kidnapped by a serial killing stalker who nailed through her hands and killed people in her name; Maura is the daughter of a serial killing woman and her serial killing cousin/lover, though she grew up in an adoptive family. Needless to say both have risen above these circumstances.
Jinx (Jane Imogen Nicola) Kingsley (The Dark Room by Minette Walters) Jinx is clever, capable, and though she comes off as cold, actually very concerned and caring for others. Although she is framed for murder and alternately made to appear as though she is homicidal, suicidal, or hysterical, she ultimately is able to clear her name and solve a murder by her own efforts. I stole my nickname from her when I was thirteen.
Margaret Ann "Legs" Sadovsky (Foxfire:Confessions of a Girl Gang by Joyce Carol Oates) Although Legs is only a teenager, and an emotionally damaged one at that, she is an excellent, if often misguided leader, able to think quickly on her feet and to come up with elaborate schemes (whether or not they work out for her). Legs has taken care of not only herself but also other girls since she was a child, and she has emerged with a fiercely protective spirit towards other females, and a strong sense of a need to care for them and provide justice for their abuse in the face of men. Legs's mother is deceased, possibly murdered, her father is totally abusive and neglectful, and Legs herself is physically and sexually abused, as are most of the other girls she befriends. Legs makes many mistakes, but she is an independent person with an idealistic, generous, and loving heart when it comes down to it.
Rose and Ruby Darlen (The Girls by Lori Lansens) Rose and Ruby are Siamese twins, who together face more trials than most could imagine. Rose and Ruby's love for each other helps give them patience and endurance through very difficult life experiences, and even as they face their own death, they are women who have managed to find satisfaction and independence in their life, and to even appreciate some of the gifts their life has given them.
Hermione Granger, Ginny Weasley, assorted others (Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling) Many Rowling females are strong women- both Hermione and Ginny in particular are intelligent, brave, loyal, and talented, as well as morally righteous. Hermione is the top of her class and in my opinion is a better and more faithful friend to Harry than Ron was, and both she and Ginny are fair to others and yet can use deadly force if needed.
Jeannette Walls (The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls) Jeannette was raised by an alcoholic father and a neglectful mother who deliberately chose to be poor and homeless, despite having four children to raise. She was often near starving and had no appropriate clothing or shelter, and she was also sexually abused; nevertheless, she and her siblings were able to raise money, do well in school, and leave the family to provide for themselves in New York as teenagers. Jeannette is strong, brilliant, and very determined and self-efficient.
Alice Sebold (Lucky by Alice Sebold) – after having been brutally raped, Alice manages to convict her rapist in court and gradually rebuild her sense of self and safety, and even returns to the same school where the rape occurred- all in the eighties, at a time where even her own father in part blamed her for the occurrence. Alice is admirable in her courage and strength.
Amelia Sachs (The Bone Collector and others by Jeffery Deaver) A detective for over a decade, Amelia is the best in her field and dedicated to saving lives. Smart, strong, capable, and compassionate- she, unlike her partner, feels she works best when she can feel empathy for victims- Amelia is not just a survivor but a fighter and capturer of criminals, with equal standing to her male partner and lover. Whereas Lincoln is initially the "mind" while she is his "legs" (he is crippled) she soon becomes a second "mind" as well in solving crimes.
Torey Hayden and Sheila (One Child, Tiger's Child, others, by Torey Hayden)Torey Hayden is a special education teacher and psychologist who has worked with dozens of children over decades. Although she is not always able to help every child, she has improved the lives, education, and self-esteem of many, and in some cases helped save lives. Sheila is one of the children she worked with. Sheila was extremely severely abused, yet eventually her genius level intelligence and fighting spirit form her into an adult woman who is able to take control of her life and slowly begin to work it out into how she prefers it to be.
Kathy Harrison (One Small Boat by Kathy Harrison) Kathy is a foster mother who takes in severely abused and often mentally ill children. She has adopted three daughters, one who has Tourette's syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and bipolar disorder, and she continues to take in as many as six or seven children into her home regularly. More could stand to have her compassion and willingness to help with troubled children.
Echo/Caroline Farrell, Adelle Dewitt, Sierra/ Priya Tsetsang (Dollhouse) Echo is a sci-fi character who gradually grows into her identity not as it is dictated to her, but as she herself defines herself, and quickly becomes a determined and idealistic leader in order to save the world (while kicking butt too). Adelle begins as an ill-informed, self-satisfied villain of sorts, but grows into a woman of steel nerve who also develops compassion for the weak and used; she is eventually called a "shepherd" by Echo, for her leadership of others. Priya was very much tortured and abused, her own identity forced from her in order to be a man's sexual slave, but she manages to overcome her trauma and experience love while also helping to save the world.
Scarlett O'Hara and Melanie Wilks (Gone with the wind by Margaret Mitchell) Scarlett, despite her many flaws, is a cunning survivor, able to do whatever work it takes to get what she wants or needs. In some ways she is a modern woman ahead of her time, running a business (however unethically), working to preserve her family and home (however much they annoy her) and though she may not be a great role model, wife, or mother, she is certainly a strong presence and could be a good leader if given proper influence. Melanie appears weak at first glance and certainly is so physically, but she is when it comes down to it a fiercely loyal person to those she loves, to the point of being willing to kill for them despite her pacifist ways. Melanie is able to subtly inspire and assert influence on others in a way that Scarlett would like to but is incapable of.
Susannah Dean (Dark Tower series by Stephen King) Susannah, despite her missing lower legs, is physically strong and able, and is emotionally tough enough to withstand living for perhaps years in brutal physical conditions. She is a terrific shot, shows more mental toughness than men in many instances, and is respected for her own worth and ability as a gunslinger rather than simply as Eddie's wife.
Clarice Starling (The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris) Though young, Clarice is intelligent and insightful, driven and determined to break beyond the bonds of a traumatic childhood and impoverished early life. She is able to stand toe to toe with Hannibal Lecter and earn his respect, and in a time when female FBI agents were disrespected, she holds her ground and even calls them on it.
Ali Cray, Sadie Green (Judas Child by Carol O'Connor) Ali at 25 is already a doctor; brilliant, determined, and compassionate, though she comes across as brash and bold, Ali has overcome her torture and the guilt of her childhood betrayal to become a woman who has commanded respect and attention for herself, where she was once invisible. Sadie was only a child, but she too was brilliant, a leader, very loyal and loving to her weaker friend Gwen, a feisty child who exasperated many but was loved all the same.
Dana Scully (X-Files) Intelligent and classy female FBI agent, given equal status to her male partner Fox Mulder. Scully often saved Mulder as well as the other way around.
Idgie Threadgood (Fried Green Tomatoes by Fanny Flagg)Idgie was a modern woman for her times; a young adult in the 1930s, she owned and ran her own restaurant, never married, openly dated and was the lover to a woman, and fiercely defended with physical means her loved one's rights. Idgie was rough around the edges but compassionate and a defender of the weak; she was considerably nicer to blacks than other whites of her time and had her views of justice and how she should fight for it.
Lisa Rowe (Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen) In the book rather than the movie, Lisa comes across as neither a sociopath nor genuinely angry or disturbed, but rather as a bored, very intelligent teenaged girl who did not conform to the expectations of women of her era, and so was viewed as crazy and sociopathic rather than simply rebellious. Lisa showed concern towards Susanna and Torrey, and even the very troubled Alice. Lisa had a presence about her that lent itself to silly pranks rather than genuinely harming or hurting people, and in the end she does become a calmer, more centered, and happier person.
Evelyn Salt (Salt) As highly unrealistic as it might be given her nearly 0% body fat, Salt kicks some serious butt and is able to think quickly and with versatility while on the run for her life; she goes for her own personal ethics rather than what she has been programmed to believe and only causes extreme injury or death to those who she feels are deserving.
Maggie Fitzgerald (Million Dollar Baby) Maggie manages to rise above her impoverished home life and terrible family to become a boxing star, despite the obstacles of her age, lack of experience, and lack of money. Most women in her situation would be bitter and give up, but Maggie has determination, grit, compassion, and forgiveness even towards a family that has no class or appreciation for her.
Sidney Prescott and Gale Weathers (Scream series) Sidney is just plain indestructible, she practically has superpowers, she's survived so much. Boneheaded decisions she may make, she still manages to chug along, even as she approaches 35 or so, putting down every serial killer that comes her way and not even totally insane yet from all the stress. Gale is not always especially likeable, because of her sharp wit and fame-seeking ways, but always determined, always self-preserving, and softer and more concerned than even she originally realized.
Trinity (The Matrix series) The very first scene of The Matrix you see is Trinity in all her butt-kicking coolness, and she continues for the rest of the first two movies. Outwitting agents, motorcycle chases, initially she nearly equals Neo in her moves, and never loses her cool. She is fiercely loyal to Morpheus and Neo both and never in despair over their poor odds. The third movie sort of destroys her, but then, it destroyed the whole series.
Grace Hanadarko (Saving Grace) Grace is no role model, and in fact her behavior is often very self-destructive. But she still manages to go from a sexually abusive childhood to become a successful cop with a fierce love and loyalty to her character; eventually she does redeem herself.
Alicia Browning and Deanna Cartwright (Homeroom) Both traumatized by having been part of a school shooting, both Alicia and Deanna try in their different ways to distance themselves from their pain. As they realize that they must accept and feel it to be able to move forward, they are able to truly show strength. Both are smart and compassionate, though Alicia's good qualities are often difficult to see at first, and Deanna in particular gains conviction and independence.
Mariane Pearl (A Mighty Heart by Mariane Pearl) Any woman who has suffered a loss such as Mariane's and still does not back down or feel defeat of spirit, or an impulse to feel bitterness, is amazingly centered and strong. Mariane's account of her husband's life and death shows her own strong spirit as much as his.
Kahlan Amnell and Cara (first five books of Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind) Initially, Kahlan was intelligent, a good leader and negotiator, with good people skills, a compassionate nature, and yet extreme power and capability of battle. Cara was a strong-willed and physically skilled Mord Sith/warrior who was very protective and loyal, just re-learning to love. Of course, after Faith of the Fallen Goodkind destroyed the entire series and slowly made both women a shell of their initial selves.
Temperance Brennan and Angela Montenegro (Bones) Temperance is hyper intelligent and able to physically defend herself; Angela is compassionate and loyal. Both are skilled at their jobs and highly respected in their field and as people.
Minny and Skeeter/Eugenia (The Help by Kathryn Stockett) Skeeter is a woman ahead of her time in her ambition, intelligence, civil rights identifying, and her rejection of her own class values in favor of her morals. Minny gains the courage to leave her abusive husband and is a leader towards her friends and family in her outspokenness and refusal to bow down.
Sarah (The Accused) Despite the enormous odds against her in her situation, her economic status, her lack of education, and in the time period, Sarah stands up for her own rights and successfully files a lawsuit against the men who encouraged her rape. She is determined and courageous.
Gertrude York, Karolina Dean, Nico Minoru (Runaways comics) Teenage superheroes who must live on their own with a group of others like them; they must care for each other and also stop their own parents and other evil supervillains from taking over the world. Gertrude is brilliant, Karolina the heart of the group, and Nico is the most talented.
Jessie Burlingame (Wrong Turn) Jessie would be a good example of a strong woman in a cheesy horror film. Jessie in fact outperformed her male fellow survivor in her actions and decisions; it is not Jessie who is repeatedly beat on by the film's end, and Jessie remains stoic and rational through most of the movie, constantly devising new plans to aid her survival. Even when Jessie is kidnapped by the killers towards the end and Chris comes to save her, Jessie ends up killing most of them herself and does not really require his rescue.
Leslie Burke (The Bridge to Terebithia by Katherine Paterson) Although Leslie is a child, she is intelligent and compassionate even to older and larger bullies such as Janice Avery. Leslie opens Jess's imagination and helps build his self-esteem and prepare him to do the same for his own sisters. Leslie's death is a tragedy, but the strength of her portrayed character seems very real and admirable.
Jean Louise "Scout" Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee) Scout is also a child, but even at eight years old she has a stronger sense of justice and love than most adults. Scout's innocence and friendliness help stop a riot from breaking out and win Boo Radley's attention and affection, and she is respectful and very intelligent; even at an early age one can tell she will grow up to be quite a woman.
Tracy (Almost Home by Jessica Blank) Although Tracy is a teenager, and a very troubled one at that, she is also a charismatic leader and compassionate person. Tracy does all she can to help and save young Eeyore, and she has a profound affect and influence on all the other teenagers she comes across. Tracy has a strong sense of right and wrong even if she herself doesn't always follow it, and although she cannot save herself in the end, she is successful and proud to be able to save Eeyore.
Nearly whole cast of The Secret Life of bees by Sue Monk Kidd: Lily, though a hurting and often immature teenager, is also a smart girl who learns to love herself and others and to move forward and grow into the person she should be, which includes forgiveness of others. Her surrogate mothers, Rosaleen, August, and June are all respectable women who love her and show her patience and kindness, and ultimately help Lily to heal.
Meredith (Such a pretty girl by Nancy Weiss) Meredith is able to protect herself and others from her sexually abusive father by devising a plan to stop his advances. Meredith is smart and mentally tough, while also realistic in her actions and behaviors.
Vanessa, Kate, Oola (Watching Vanessa by Patricia Tiffin) Kate overcomes her alcoholism and begins to turn her life around; all three are able to turn a stalker's tactics onto his own head and avenge themselves and his other victims by their teamwork and cunning schemes. Each develops a better view of themselves and their own power by doing so.
Angel (Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers) A victim of child trafficking, Angel is intelligent but hard, unable to love or understand herself, much less anyone else, or to know a way of life outside her slavery. She eventually is able to find peace, a sense of worth, and forgiveness and the ability to love and forgive through God and hard-earned knowledge through trials.
Alaska Young (Looking for Alaska by John Green)- though Alaska is another character who could hardly be called a role model, she is clever and charismatic, with witty ideas and a leadership tendency. She is very flawed indeed, but well-loved and strong in her personality and vividness.
Maximum Ride (series by James Patterson) Max is only fourteen but already superhuman in her powers, intelligence, and leadership skills with the other children of her Flock. A "bird kid," or a kid who has had wings grafted into her as a cruel scientific experiment, Max leads the other children away from the evil people who wish to kill or capture them for their own gain.
Lara Croft (Tomb Raider) – the first female video game character to have her own game named after her, Lara (especially once she has a breast reduction) is another female butt-kicker who also is intelligent.
Gaia Moore (Fearless series by Francine Pascal) Gaia is a teenage girl born with the gene that causes fear missing; therefore she can engage in highly dangerous situations without fear. She's another who can fight well and defend herself against the evil constantly after her.
Katniss Everdeen (Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins) In the first two books of the series, Katniss is strong, tough, able to fight well and use her wits to survive; she also has fierce love and protectiveness towards her sister to the extent she would die for her. Katniss is very admirable. But in my opinion, the third book reduced her to having things told and done to her, with Katniss rarely actually doing anything for herself, being used as a pawn instead, and then falling into permanent PTSD.
Kate Bishop aka Hawkeye (Young Avengers comics) Although teenaged Kate has no superpowers, she has trained to defend herself after her rape and is now skilled in fighting and archery. Kate holds her own against other teens with powers in battles.
Veronica Ganz (series by Marilyn Sachs) Although Veronica is a child who is unpopular and abrasive towards others, quick to put up a physical fight if she feels insulted, she is also very protective of her younger siblings and is a leader when well encouraged. Veronica is intelligent and tough in positive as well as negative ways, and in a time period (fifties) when females were told to be docile ladies, Veronica goes against the grain.
Sheena Queen of the Jungle- the first female comic hero to ever have her own title series. Sheena was not a victim of others and their schemes but instead defended herself and her home. She was deeply admired by another female on this list, Legs Sadovsky, to the point that she used Sheena as her nickname.
Batgirl- Has her own comics, kicks butt. Enough said. Also one of the few openly gay women in popular entertainment.
Xena- her name is still invoked when people want to talk about a strong or powerful woman, years after her series ended.
Elektra (Elektra, Daredevil) Kick-butt woman with her own series; was in fact the inspiration for the creation of another female on this list, Faith Lehane.
Mystique, Rogue, Dark Phoenix, X-23 (X-Men)All intelligent, with extreme superpowers- shapeshifting, taking another's powers and draining their strength by physical touch, Dark Phoenix's ability to basically destroy the world, and X-23's claws. All are respected and considered important and powerful in their world.
Rune (Hard News and others by Jeffery Deaver) Rune, at only 21, had already managed to live on her own for several years, help nail killers, defend her own life against them, became a reporter for a respected company, have brief custody of a child, and save an innocent man from the death penalty. Only five feet and with a very spunky and childlike personality, Rune is sweet and often naïve but also determined and compassionate.