Mulan in Mulan:
Clumsy, kind, and noble, Mulan from Disney’s Mulandoesn’t stick to the gender stereotypes of the older Disney princess films. She of course wants to make her family proud — especially since this is set in ancient China where family honor is everything — but instead of going the traditional route of earning a high-status husband from the matchmaker, Mulan takes her crippled father’s place in war and saves China from the Huns. Not a small feat for anyone, man or woman. In the movie, Mulan bravely saves her commander and uses her wits to create a battle-ending avalanche, causing everyone in her life to recognize that her actions were far more honorable than finding a husband could ever be.
Pai in Whale Rider:
Never heard of this movie? Go watch it immediately! It won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival and the World Cinema Award at Sundance Film Festival. In it, a young girl is born into the lineage of leaders of a Maori tribe. Her twin brother and mother died, and the leadership position is supposed to be passed to a male, so she isn’t accepted by the current leader, her grandfather, who believes she is a curse. But Pai challenges tradition, learning tribal dances and fighting methods, excelling in school, and eventually proving herself a leader, despite being a girl. It’s an inspiring film for any girl who feels her destiny is greater than what others think it is.
Danielle in Ever After:
If you think Cinderella is weak, you haven’t seen this version of the story. Cinderella, whose real name is Danielle, doesn’t bide her time by playing dress-up with mice waiting for her prince to come. Instead, she’s a hard-working girl who loves the servants as family, even risking prison to save one after he’s been sold by disguising herself as a noblewoman who impressively quotes Thomas More, and buying him back for the household. And she doesn’t need any man to save her or her family. She protects her family’s property by knocking a thief (who turns out to be a prince) off the family’s horse, protects the prince from outlaws with her wits and strength, and protects herself when she is sold to a man with ill intentions. Even when she does fall in love and marry the prince (after he earnsher affection), she intends to use her new wealth to build a university and library that anyone can go to.
Aibileen Clark in The Help:
In 2011’s The Help, young girls can see the repercussions of racism and the struggles of the civil rights movement in a story personal enough for everyone to understand. Aibileen Clark is just one of many black house maids who spends her days taking care of the children and households of white women. She is loving and strong, but a new law to have “separate but equal” bathrooms for blacks has made her think about pushing for change. With the persuasion of white writer Skeeter Phelan (another heroine for girls who see injustices happening to others), Aibileen and other maids she’s recruited recount their stories of working in the mostly oppressive households; Skeeter then turns their stories into a game-changing book. Aibileen Clark shows the audience how to be brave in the face of extreme adversity and stand up for necessary change.
Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games:
This smash-hit book and movie franchise features a perfect role model for young girls — minus the whole killing her peers thing. But hey, this is dystopian America. If you have to kill, you have to kill. Katniss is strong and selfless, volunteering for the Games to spare her little sister. She uses her physical abilities as well as her brain to outlast other competitors, and cares more about being herself (and surviving) than the materialism she encounters at the Capitol. It’s no wonder women (and many men) of all ages have taken to this trilogy!
Dottie Hinson in A League of Their Own:
You could probably look to any of the female characters in this film for inspiration (we couldn’t mention this film and not give Madonna’s firecracker character her fair due), but the real all-star here is Dottie Hinson, the catcher on a 1943 women’s baseball team and all-around great girl. She joins the league only so her little sister can fulfill her dreams, though she would rather stay on the farm taking care of things until her husband gets back from the war. She’s serious and doesn’t take any nonsense, but she values her family more than baseball (except for the one time she advises that her sister be traded). This movie shows women breaking down stereotypes and doing what they love, a lesson any girl should take to heart.
Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter franchise:
Of course Hermione made the cut. She may not be the star of the franchise, but without her, can you imagine how few books and movies there would’ve been before Harry Potter died? Routinely saving the day with her expert knowledge of magic, the sharp-witted Hermione is what everyone hopes their daughter will be (minus the whole witch part). She’s incredibly loyal, hard working (have you ever turned back time so you could study more?), and must face the very real insecurities that come with growing up, reaching your goals, and finding love along the way. Her success doesn’t come from a divine destiny — she’s Muggle-born, after all — which proves that working hard can be enough for anyone.
Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady:
Sure, this heroine isn’t just relegated to the movies, but that’s part of what makes Maggie Thatcher (subject of the 2011 biopic, The Iron Lady) so great. This real-life British Prime Minister provides a wonderful example of a powerful woman. And she proves that being a smart, independent woman doesn’t mean you can’t have a husband or children. It’s not always easy in the world of politics, and it’s sometimes a struggle to balance career pressure and your family life. This film doesn’t shy away from those truths. Watching The Iron Lady with your daughters will teach them that they can do anything they want to in life, but that there are sacrifices that come with every decision.