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Vargas: Strong female leads are necessary for developing minds

Alani Vargas, Columnist

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I love strong women. I was raised by one, I surround myself with them and I would like to think that I have become one as well. I also tend to watch television shows and movies with confident and powerful female leads.

If you know me, you know that I am a huge “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” fan. I could go on about the philosophical meaning behind certain storylines or the various metaphors hidden within seemingly mundane aspects of the plot. I don’t think I have ever been as devastated by a show ending as when I watched Buffy’s triumphant smile fade away in the last shot of the series.

And that was not the first show I’ve watched with a kickass female lead. There was also “That’s So Raven,” which features a funny, headstrong and highly capable teenager who doesn’t let others shape her into a more palatable form. There was also “Kim Possible” — the Spider-Man of Disney Channel — who always saved the day and came equipped with witty rebuttals to villains. And, of course, there was “The Powerpuff Girls,” who don’t need an explanation for their toughness — they are part Chemical X for goodness’ sake. These young women were the foundation for my self-image.

When children see something, oftentimes they will try to recreate it. That’s why there is a strong argument against allowing younger children to play violent games and watch violent movies; they might try to mimic these violent actions later on or become desensitized to the very real violence happening on their screens. The same can be argued for gender roles, especially the “damsel-in-distress” roles frequently played by women.

Even in advertising and toy branding, there are countless examples of women and girls being limited to stereotypical gender roles or body types. The visibility of these biased ideas inevitably leads to the shaping of young girls’ minds. A study done at Oregon State University found that after girls played with Barbies, whether they were dressed as a doctor or not, they thought they could do fewer types of jobs than boys could.

Seeing women in peril on the big screen is definitely not something new. Damsels in distress are found in ancient Greek mythology, as well as many fairy tales and movies from the dawn of filmmaking until the present. This trope turns female characters into catalysts for their male co-stars to flex their heroic muscles, oftentimes manifesting in tremendous journeys to save the girl.

This is where strong female protagonists change the game. When girls watch shows with a woman or girl at the helm — or at least on equal footing as her male counterpart — they have something inspiring to look up to. When I watched Blair Waldorf choose her fashion career over dating Chuck Bass in “Gossip Girl,” I pumped my fist in the air. In high school, after reading about dry Englishmen and naive women, I clung to the fabulously terrible character that is Lady Macbeth. She was strong, didn’t take “no” for an answer and orchestrated the death of a king. As “bad” as she was, she was still awesome to me.

Recently, we have been seeing an uptick in heroines featured in movies. This might be because audiences are getting tired of the worn-out plot of the damsel in distress. For example, “Frozen,” the ninth highest-grossing movie of all time, features a strong female heroine who holds her own without a man by her side.

I want my little sisters to see themselves in shows and movies through fair representation of strong, young women fighting for themselves and those whom they love. I want them to know that they can help themselves without the help of a man or anyone else for that matter. Yes, there are instances where we need to ask for help, but it shouldn’t be the only form of saving grace we should have as women.

When I watch Brooke Davis in “One Tree Hill” take control of her sexuality and her own path, I feel empowered myself. So I can only imagine what a little girl will feel when she watches Doc McStuffins diagnose and then cure all of her patients or sees Agent Carter keep her own and often outshine her fellow officers. Seeing more strong female leads is something all girls can benefit from and will make for stronger people in the real world.

Alani Vargas is a Medill sophomore. She can be contacted at alanivargas2018@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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