Girls on Film (and Video): Where To Find Female Characters Who Go Beyond The Obvious

As a UK politician recently pointed out, the media situation for our girls leaves something to be desired.  The pickings are slim, and the girls who are featured often reinforce exactly the same values—ones we’d rather not highlight. There are some exceptions: Dora the Explorer is everyone’s go-to, and  Ni-Hao Kai Lan takes the same model and translates it to Mandarin. There’s Strawberry Shortcake with her hottie 3D makeover. And the new Samurai Jacked-up My Little Pony has some good stuff going for it. But I find it hard to get past the problem of sugar-and-spice associations.

I’d like my daughter—and my son—to see strong female characters who don’t seem all cut from the same cloth. If you’re looking for something a little different, you may not be able to get it on your current television channels.  But we are lucky to live in an age of almost unlimited media access, with most of the whole history of movies and TV a google or a download away.  Take advantage of this and broaden your family’s horizons with these 10 finds, featuring a wide range of female characters who don’t fit the mainstream mold.

  • Charlie and Lola 1 of 11
    Charlie and Lola
    In this UK export, little sister Lola's imagination drives the narrative while big brother Charlie plays the straight man. Bonus: great design and a remarkably pleasant soundtrack.
  • Cockaboody 2 of 11
    Animation giants John and Faith Hubley handed their daughters a tape recorder and turned their real life interactions into what could be the most authentic movie about being a kid ever.
  • Peanuts 3 of 11
    Lucy and Patty may be questionable role models, but the fact that they get to be jerks just like the boys in the gang means they're seen as equals. Gender issues get addressed, too, though not always as we might address them today.
  • YummyFun Kooking 4 of 11
    YummyFun Kooking
    This little known DVD cooking show features a cute kooky host who makes fantastical food...and a pair of sisters with pixie cuts to help her fix and enjoy it.
  • The Magic School Bus 5 of 11
    The Magic School Bus
    Miss Frizzle takes the quirky inspirational teacher to a whole new level, and the fact that girls are equal players in the intellectual investigation is a non-issue.
  • Electric Company: The Original 6 of 11
    Electric Company: The Original
    Even with the occasional moment of old school role play, the women in this 40ish year old show seem way more empowered than the self-conscious faux street girls in the contemporary version.
  • Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm 7 of 11
    Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm
    Shirley Temple isn't the most obvious icon of feminist empowerment. But those ringlets and tapdances provide a counterpoint to the way girls are uniformly represented today.
  • The Secret of Kells 8 of 11
    The Secret of Kells
    Forest sprite Aisling saves the day in this dramatic, award winning indie feature. Note: there are some scary parts.
  • Free To Be, You And Me 9 of 11
    Free To Be, You And Me
    Many parents grew up with the LP version, but this started as a TV special, now on DVD. Yes, it's dated. But the original egalitarian media project still has a lot to teach us, and kids are still happy to sing along.
  • My Neighbor Totoro, or really, any Miyazaki movie 10 of 11
    My Neighbor Totoro, or really, any Miyazaki movie
    Superstar Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki proves, in just about every one of his movies, that it's more than possible to make a great film with a strong girl as a protagonist. It would be nice if the American studio who distributes his films could learn from his example.
  • Fraggle Rock 11 of 11
    Fraggle Rock
    From a girl power perspective, Jim Henson's otherworldly utopia puts Sesame Street to shame. The main posse features two rad females: Red, a wired sports fanatic and Mokey, a dreamy artist. Rumor has it there's a Fraggle film in development.

If you have some picks of your own, please share!

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