The 12 Bravest Women in Pop Culture to Inspire You

In honor of International Day of the Girl, Babble has dedicated a page to girls everywhere, giving them the tools to take control of their destinies and rise above stereotypes. Find out more here.

Do you remember a time in your life when someone thought you couldn’t do something simply because you were a girl?

The tree the neighborhood boys thought you couldn’t climb? The battle to be heard in your college lecture hall full of loud, opinionated boys? The promotion your boss gave to someone less worthy who “didn’t have to run home to children”? Whatever the circumstance, women in our society — even with our ability to vote, our equal education, and our equal opportunities — have still had to struggle to be seen and heard in one way or another. Personally, I think if women competed against each other less, vied for male approval less, and supported rather than judged each other, we would all have a more equal footing in our often male-dominated world.

To raise awareness of this very issue, last year the United Nations declared October 11 to be the International Day of the Girl. The goal of this initiative is to give people and organizations the opportunity to raise public awareness of the different types of discrimination and abuse that many girls around the world suffer from.

To celebrate this day as women and to empower our daughters, our sisters, our friends — I scoured the world of pop culture to find the greatest women we could all learn a thing or two from. I looked for women that have inspired me, enthralled me, made me proud to be a girl, and ultimately, made me want to be more like them.

There is no room for shrinking violets, mean girls, or vacuous airheads here. The women I chose are survivors who go against the grain. Ladies who believe in themselves and what they stand for. These women, above all, are united by the one word that defines them. The are quite simply — brave. Click through for the 12 bravest women in pop culture to inspire you.

  • Lisbeth Salander from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 1 of 12

    Lesson: We don't need men to save us, we can save ourselves

    Lisbeth Salander is nothing short of a technical genius. The heroine of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo triology, Lisbeth is a a tiny girl with huge strength of character; mess with her at your peril. Interestingly, when the male protagonist Mikael Blomkvist finds himself a tad tied up at the end of the book, it is Lisbeth who rescues him and NOT the other way around. Fearless, uber-smart, and unapologetically fierce-looking, Lisbeth hides amongst the shadows, gathering all the info that she needs to make her move. She is definitely a heroine for the 21st century.  

    Photo credit: Amazon 

  • Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games 2 of 12

    Lesson: You don't have to play by the rules to win

    Katniss Everdeen is a keen hunter and the chief protector of her little sister Prim. During the annual Reaping when the 12 districts choose two teens to compete in The Hunger Games (a fight to the death), Prim's name is chosen but Katniss steps up in her sister's place. During the games, she uses her hunting and archery skills to survive, eventually teaming up with fellow district tribute Peeta to compete together. The two become the victors after Katniss defies the Capitol's demands and refuses to kill Peeta. She shrewdly uses their "romance" to gain support and ultimate victory, proving that sometimes you have to make your own rules in life.

    Photo credit: Amazon 

  • Hermione Granger from Harry Potter 3 of 12

    Lesson: Being a nerd is totally cool

    Would Harry Potter have succeeded in destroying He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named if Hermione Granger hadn't been his best bud? I doubt it. Hermione was always the first person to put her hand up in class with the right answer and the last person to leave the library at night. If Harry was ever in a sticky situation, it was the frizzy-haired, moralistic super-brain Hermione who came to his rescue with a spell she had picked up along the way. A muggle who was easily the best wizard at Hogwarts, Hermione was the heroine of all the Potter books. If you ever thought it was cool to not care about school work, think again!

    Photo Credit: Amazon

  • Peppermint Patty from Peanuts 4 of 12

    Lesson: It's okay to be a tomboy

    Peppermint Patty symbolized the women's liberation movement. Always on her soapbox, she defied gender stereotypes and embraced social norms that had yet to become fashionable in the 1960s when she first appeared on screen. She was the first female character in Peanuts outfitted with shorts and sandals rather than dresses, who also was the product of a single-parent household. Peppermint Patty was a tomboy and proud of it. Which Schultz character did you want to be? For me, it was always PP. I climbed trees, rode bikes, and collected spiders — and it was okay. Why? Because Peppermint Patty said so, that's why!

    Photo credit: Amazon

  • Arya Stark from Game of Thrones 5 of 12

    Lesson: Do what you love in life; you don't have to follow the crowd

    Arguably the bravest of all the Starks, Arya is the polar opposite of her sister Sansa who wishes to marry for influence and power. Arya shows no interest in the womanly arts of dancing, singing and sewing, instead loving sword play, fighting and horse-riding, pursuits not normally chosen by girls. We first get to know Arya when she defends her friend Mycah from weak Prince Joffrey's torments. She has a keen sense of what is right and escapes the castle when it is being purged of Starks. After witnessing her father's unjust execution, she assumes the identity of a boy to save her life. Little Arya has more courage in her little finger than a Dothraki army ...

    Photo credit: Amazon 

  • Mulan from Mulan 6 of 12

    Lesson: Winners use their brains before their fists

    When Fa Mulan hears that her elderly father Fa Zhou, the only man in their family, is to go to war, she decides to take matters into her own hands. She bravely puts on the guise of a man so that she can go to war instead of her father. It is only when she is injured at war that her deception is revealed. She is expelled from the army, but later saves the Emperor's life and defeats the evil Shan Yu by using her smarts to come up with a masterful plan involving fireworks! Mulan is praised by the Emperor and the people of China and returns home safely. 

    Photo credit: Amazon 

  • Elastigirl from The Incredibles 7 of 12

    Lesson: Don't underestimate girls!

    There is nothing more powerful than a mom's love for her kids and her determination to keep her family together at all costs. When Mr. Incredible, ex- superhero, is imprisoned on Syndrome's island - who saves the day? Mr. Incredible's wife, Elastigirl, that's who! She manages to free him, protect her kids, and subsequently save the world. Not bad for your average housewife. Except there is nothing average about Elastigirl and her springy body and boundless spirit. She proves once and for all, to underestimate a woman is the most ignorant thing you can do of all!

    Photo Credit: Amazon 

  • Ellen Ripley from Alien 8 of 12

    Lesson: You don't need to be defined by men

    All action films were predictable: Man saves the universe/his buddies/himself using his strength and skill ... until Ellen Ripley came along. She was everything our action heroes were — and then some. She also had a heart — who else refuses to leave a little girl called Newt behind and battles hundreds of aliens to save her? Oh, and always looks after her cat?! In 2009, Entertainment Weekly ranked Ripley 5th on their list of The 20 All-Time Coolest Heroes in Pop Culture, calling her "one of the first female movie characters who isn't defined by the men around her or by her relationship to them." Not a sidekick, arm candy, or a damsel to be rescued — Ripley paved the way for all the Lisbeths and Meridas that followed, always standing her ground and refusing to be silenced. Go Ripley! 

    Photo credit: Amazon 

  • Jo March from Little Women 9 of 12
    jo women

    Lesson: Stand up for what you believe in

    Jo March is a strong and willful young woman with a big personality and an even bigger heart. A keen writer, she rejects the notion of romance, fearing it would break up her family should she fall in love. Devoted to her Marmee (Mom) and sisters, she sells her beautiful long hair in order to have money to feed the family while their father is at war. Rather than accept a proposal just because it is offered (as was the common thing at the time) she rejects her best friend's offer of marriage as she isn't in love. Jo refuses to compromise her beliefs or adhere to the conventional ladylike behavior of the time, leading her to be described as "an early feminist." She's a girl we all admired and were inspired by. Now where is my copy of the book? 

    Photo credit: Amazon 

  • Merida from Brave 10 of 12

    Lesson:  True bravery is acknowledging your wrongs

    Merida is a free-spirited, headstrong 16-year-old who is a brilliant archer. Her mother informs her that she is to be betrothed to one of her father's allied clans against her will. The clans of Macintosh, MacGuffin and Dingwall arrive with their firstborn sons to compete in the Highland Games for Merida's hand in marriage. Merida then challenges the rules by competing for her own hand. When she wins the contest, she quarrels with her mother and ends up accidentally turning her into a bear. Eventually, showing true bravery, she unites the warring clans and reconciles with her mother. She shows that true bravery is also admitting when you have been wrong, and therefore making amends. 

    Photo credit: Amazon 

  • Erin Brockovich from Erin Brockovich 11 of 12

    Lesson: Street smarts and a ballsy attitude can get you as far as you want to go

    Those who assumed single parent Erin Brockovich was just a trashy loudmouth assumed wrong. Steven Soderbergh directed Julia Roberts in this film, which was based on a true story. Erin badgers her lawyer into giving her an office job (after he fails to win a traffic incident case for her) and soon discovers that Pacific Gas and Electric knew all along that they were contaminating the local residents with the chromium in their water. One of the best scenes in the film is when a snooty lawyer comes in to assist in the investigation and underestimates Erin, who recites every phone number and illness for every member of the 634 plaintiffs. Brockovich proved that although she was no trained lawyer, she was every bit as competent as the rest of them. 

    Photo Credit: Amazon

  • Scarlett O’Hara from Gone with the Wind 12 of 12
    wind 1

    Lesson: Tomorrow is another day (i.e. never give up hope)

    Scarlett may be vain, spoiled, self-centered, and obsessed with the wrong man, but she is also as strong and determined as an ox. She births Melanie's baby alone save for a frightened servant girl, and then travels to Tara, where she discovers her father has lost his mind, her mother is dead, her sisters are sick with typhoid, and the Yankees have burned all the cotton so there's no food in their house. Faced with the threat of starvation, Scarlett marries an older man for his money and soon becomes a shrewd businesswoman. Who else would be brazen enough to visit Rhett Butler and ask for a loan wearing a dress fashioned from curtains? Scarlett never gives up on Tara, on the man she loves, and on herself. 

    Photo credit: Amazon 

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