My Favourite Women on Page and Screen: Volume One (continued)

Teenage Girls: Part 2 of 2
Part 1 here.


Katniss Everdeen
Suzanne Collins
Book Trilogy/Film Series: The Hunger Games (2008 – 2010; 2012 – unfinished)
Portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence

Since we’re about to be hit with the new instalment from the Huger Games film series, it seems like a good idea to start with Katniss Everdeen: terrible name, pretty awesome person.

Katniss is a product of everything that’s happened to her, but in a slightly different way than we’re used to seeing. Often, we see Strong Female Characters – women who’ve been subject to abuse, oppression, poverty, etc – who then become unfeeling badasses. Which is not inherently a bad thing. But Katniss, while physically strong and easily filling the badass role with archery and hunting skills, actually feels remorse for every murder she’s forced to commit. And while it doesn’t stop her from committing them – motivated by a need to live in order to provide for her mother and sister –  she does suffer for it in a refreshingly human way.

Katniss is intelligent, instinctively using what she knows of the Games and the Capitol to her advantage to keep herself alive. But even so, she remains empathetic, able to connect with people she sees as needing her help. She’s most likeable in these moments, both to the audience of the Hunger Games themselves and to us. While I didn’t find myself engaged at all times during the books, and even less so in the film (so far), Katniss’ blend of lethal capability mixed with deep compassion kept me invested in her and her story.

Love Interest: Love triangle with Peeta Mellark (fellow tribute and surprisingly good orator) and Gale Hawthorn (childhood friend and rebel. Didn’t want her to end up with either of them. Oh well.


Nani Pelekai
Film: Disney’s Lilo and Stitch
Portrayed by Tia Carrere

Supporting character in my favourite Disney animated movie, Nani is the nineteen year old sister and legal guardian to Lilo after their parents have been killed in a car accident. Though the film is largely concerned about a mini alien invasion, the real heart of the story is their relationship.

While Nani clearly loves Lilo, she struggles in her new role as a parent. Lilo is smart, funny and loveable, but has been left with a fear of abandonment after her parents death, and can’t fit in with the other girls her age due to her ‘weirdness’ and her family’s poverty. Nani, also grieving and hounded by social services, is put in the hard position of trying to discipline Lilo while understanding why she is the way she is. At the same time, she has to find a way to provide for them both on her wages as a waitress, and then her subsequent unemployment.

At the same time, Nani is given her own personality beyond ‘caretaker figure.’ She’s wry, clever, short tempered, proud, and honest. She doesn’t hold herself back emotionally, whether it’s refusing to be fired quietly or admitting to a friend when she and Lilo are barely holding it together. But above all, she protects Lilo from the grim reality that faces them: separation and foster care, whatever the cost to herself.

Nani feels like real, warm young woman trying to make the best of a pretty terrible set of circumstances. It was also a refreshing turn from Disney to have a deep, interesting relationship between two female characters.

Love Interest: David, co-worker and close friend. Is clearly interested in Nani romantically, and it’s strongly implied to be mutual. However, Nani prioritises Lilo over her own love life and he respects this.

Note: This refers only to the original Disney film, as I have seen none of the sequels or the TV show.


Sansa Stark
George R. R. Martin
Book/Television series: A Song of Ice and Fire Series/Game of Thrones (1996 – unfinished; 2010 – unfinished)
Portrayed by Sophie Turner

In a book (and subsequent TV) series where nothing nice ever happens to anyone, Sansa has a fairly bad run of it. When we meet Sansa, she’s a fairly naive young teenage girl. The eldest daughter of a powerful and respected Lord, she’s bought into all the songs about beautiful ladies and princes, and thanks to her so-honourable-it-literally-kills-him father, believes all knights to be brave, gallant and genuinely good men.

Sadly, Sansa has been born into a world where Everything Is Terrible and is swept into a political minefield she, to begin with, doesn’t understand at all. Caught between what she’s been taught and what she’s being told; between her father who engages far more with his sons and his ‘tomboyish’ youngest daughter and the disarmingly charismatic Queen, Sansa puts her trust in the wrong people and sees her family and home ripped apart. Fairly literally.

As opposed to the other awesome young women in ASIOF/GOT, Sansa doesn’t have the option of taking up a sword or raising an army. But she does have her own moments of pure badassery. This is a thirteen year old girl who was determined to throw her sociopathic fiancee and king to his death and go down with him, who meets the eyes of people who – as far as she knows – murdered her entire family and convincingly lies to them every day. And gets in the odd bit of snark. She might not be fighting with real weapons, but she’s using everything she’s ever learned – from both sides.

Sansa’s journey is summed up pretty accurately in a quote from one of her chapters in Book 3: A Storm of Swords: ‘My skin has turned to porcelain, to ivory, to steel.’ We see her put up thicker and thicker walls with each new book. She’s an interesting character to me in that she’s resourceful and strong in a way not usually seen. She’s a victim of real (emotional and physical) abuse trying her best to survive, punished for listening to and believing the rules of the land she was brought up in and now dealing with it in the only way she knows how.

Love Interest: A teenage sociopath, a gay knight, and a slew of creepy older men. Fingers crossed for Book 6. 

Honourable Mentions: Arya Stark and Brienne of Tarth (like many of the characters she was aged up in the show, but in the book it’s implied that Brienne is probably still a teenager). Both interesting and well loved characters in both the books and show.

tumblr_mevysgNJ6j1qazkdco1_500As someone in the process of writing a book about a young woman, I think it’s important for me to know what characters I’ve responded to in the past and why. Not so that I can pick and choose my favourite traits and flaws and tie them up neatly in a new Frankenstein-ish character, but so I can understand what makes a character feel real, honest and interesting.

I took to twitter and asked my followers to tell me which teenage girls in books, TV and film had been important to them over the years. Here are their answers, mixed in with a few more favourites of my own:

April Ludgate (TV; Parks and Recreation)
Veronica Mars (TV; Veronica Mars)
Jane Lane, Daria and Quin Morgendorffer and Jodie Landon (TV; Daria)
Raven Baxter (TV; That’s So Raven)
Princess Bubblegum and Marceline the Vampire Queen (TV; Adventure Time)
Sally Draper (TV; Mad Men)
Lynda Day (TV; Press Gang)
Cordelia Chase and Willow Rosenberg (TV; Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
Rory Gilmore, Paris Gellar and Lane Kim (TV; Gilmore Girls)
Catherine Hassi Barahal (Books; The Spirit Walker Trilogy)
Anne Shirley (Books; Anne of Green Gables)
Georgia Nicolson (Books; The Confessions of Georgia Nicolson)
Mia Thermopolis (Books, Films; The Princess Diaries)
Claudia Kishi, Kristy Thomas, Mary Anne Spier, Stacey McGill, Dawn Shafer, Mallory Pike and Jessi Ramsey (Books; The BabySitters Club Series)
San (Film; Princess Mononoke)
Kat and Bianca Stratford (Film; Ten Things I Hate About You)
Bliss Kavanagh and Pash (Film; Whip it)
Juno (Film; Juno)
Janice Ian (Film; Mean Girls)
Mulan (Film; Disney’s Mulan)
Tiana (Film; The Princess and the Frog)
Merida (Film; Brave)

Have we left out any of your favourites? If so, get in touch and tell me all about them!

Excuse Me?

There are much worse things to be in school than a pasty brunette with a weird name and a monotone. But as The New Kid in a rural West Australian beach town in the late 90’s, it wasn’t exactly a scream. On the Year 6 social ladder I was just a few rungs above those kids who still ate their boogers and/or hair, and that one kid who still unabashedly did both.

I was a pretty shy kid, a big fan of fantasy novels and without enough control of my voice to sound cheerful or friendly even when I wanted to. I made a few friends, but I was always one of the weirder kids in the group, and I didn’t make much of an effort to talk to kids unless they talked to me first.


But in 1998, toward the end of the year, something odd happened. Someone came up to me at school, and told me to say ‘Excuse me.’

‘Excuse me?’ I asked, genuinely bewildered.

‘Oh my god!’ they laughed. ‘Taiwan sounds exactly like Daria!’ (Taiwan was one of my New Kid With Hard Name nicknames. The other was Girl.)

I had no idea what they were talking about, so went home and scoured the greatest resource known to humankind: the TV Guide. And there, in the ABC after school programming, right after Feral TV, was a show called Daria. I made a note, and the next time it was on I sat down with a big glass of Milo (before I was lactose intolerant) and a Pop Tart Apple Danish (before they were discontinued in A Terrible Food Decision) and fell in love. And here, fifteen years later and eight years older than Daria ever was, I still am.

Daria was an incredibly interesting show. While it was a solid and entertaining episodic comedy with a great cast of characters, for me it really hit its stride when it became more of a serial dramatic comedy – i.e. when they abandoned the usual ‘everything goes back to normal by the end of each episode’ cartoon formula and really embraced the idea that Daria was a flawed teenager who was growing up.


I say flawed (and all the best characters are), because for all her smarts, Daria was just as crappy at being a teenager as the rest of us were. She had inappropriate crushes (seriously, your best friend’s brother and her boyfriend are off limits, kids), she had ridiculously high expectations of the few people she really respected (Jane always, Tom often, Jodie occasionally), she was a clingy, jealous friend and she was terrified of having her comfort zone shaken. And, probably her most annoying trait, Daria was an intellectual snob, and she could get pretty mean about it.

But these flaws made her real. She wasn’t just some super smart, sarcastic kid who breezed through high school hating everyone and laughing at them behind their backs (though she did a fair chunk of that, too). Over the course of five seasons and two movies (three years, I think, in USA high school time) Daria was forced to confront many of her flaws and face the consequences of her actions, particularly in the later seasons. Tom and Jodie call her out on her (largely real world untested) high morals, expectations of others and snobbery. Jane calls Daria out on her negativity and occasionally stifling friendship. The beautiful scenes with her workaholic mother toward the end of the series help her to see she judges people unfairly just because she deems them less intelligent than she is, and Brittany and Quinn eventually, and with increasing frequency, surprise her with their insight on certain topics.

Daria grows as a character, and over those three in-show years we see that terrifying, exciting part of our lives when we navigate leaving our adolescence behind and prepare to join the world of the ‘grown up:’ when suddenly your parents start to look like people and the notion of moving out goes from exciting to ‘holy shit I don’t even know how to write a cheque’ (for any youths reading, that used to be how you had to pay rent before internet banking was a thing).

But what I love most about the show now, as one of the aforementioned grown-ups (but stuck firmly in the generation who has to keep moving back in with their parents) is the core friendship.


Above all, Daria is a show about two misfit girls who are made for each other. Whether you ship them romantically or just love them platonically, there’s a reason episode one, Esteemers, focuses on Daria meeting Jane and why Is It College Yet? ends with Daria and Jane talking about their future in Boston. Jane is the first, and most important relationship in Daria’s life. We see from flashbacks and back story – and her time on Beavis and Butthead – that Daria’s never been one to spend time with other children, and when she did it was under sufferance. Daria wasn’t in search of a friend on her first day at Lawnsdale High, and if she hadn’t met Jane it’s clear she would have continued on in her role as snarky loner and courtside commentator (of life!). But Jane and Daria have the cutest of meet-cutes, and Jane unknowingly sets Daria on a course to personal growth. Daria’s entire journey couldn’t, and wouldn’t, have happened without Jane.


Jane was, to put it bluntly, awesome. She lived the life every teenager wanted: free of parents and supervision, with a cool older brother in a band with a hot friend (how did Jane and Jesse never make out? How?). But Jane also had her flaws, and she captured the other side of being a straight teenage girl. Jane was well keen on the boys, and she had no idea how completely awesome she actually was. She often experimented with her personality and role in high school society, occasionally letting boys influence the way she acted and dressed, or neglecting her friendship with Daria in favour of spending time with the guy of the moment – most notoriously Tom. These are totally normal, high school girl things, and at the same time they challenged Daria’s need for constancy and exclusivity. It was supposed to be her and Jane against the world, but Jane kept buggering off into it and often dragging Daria with her. Which is exactly what Daria needed.

Daria and Jane supported each other and hurt each other in a way only someone you love can. Daria stealing Jane’s boring as bullshit boyfriend Tom caused their biggest, and longest rift. The time they spend apart during this is heartbreaking, as this is the point in their relationship they both come to realise just how much they need each other.

Daria hug

By the end of the series, Daria has been instrumental in pushing self-doubting Jane to apply for and be accepted into the college of her choice whereas Jane has nudged Daria out of her comfort zone and into the real world, forcing her to reassess certain long held views and readying her to interact with a whole new cast of (forever unseen) characters at college.

‘I’m not much for public speaking, or much for speaking, or come to think of it, much for the public. And I’m not very good at lying. So let me just say that, in my experience, high school sucks. If I could do it all over again, I’d have started advanced placement classes in preschool so I could go from 8th grade straight to college. However, given the unalterable fact that high school sucks, I’d like to add that if you’re lucky enough to have a good friend and a family that cares, then it doesn’t have to suck quite as much. Otherwise, my advice is stand firm for what you believe in, until and unless logic and experience prove you wrong. Remember, when the emperor looks naked, the emperor is naked. The truth and the lie are not “sort of” the same thing. And there’s no aspect, no facet, no moment in life that can’t be improved with pizza. Thank you.’
– Daria, Is It College Yet (or, let’s watch Ceinwen cry for 82 minutes)

Daria was not a perfect show. While Daria had personality flaws that drove the narrative and were addressed by the show, there were some (presumably unintended) issues such as tokenism (though this was occasionally pointed out in show by Jodie), a lack of POC characters in general, a lack of LGBT characters, a lot of fat shaming and Daria’s occasional privileged White Feminism (as the ‘good’ and undeclared kind of feminism vs. ‘bad’ man hater straw feminist Ms Barch – who has some of the best lines to this day). It was pretty damn progressive as far as white 90’s entertainment goes, but re-watching (or watching for the first time) in a 2010’s context (what is this decade even called?), it’s important to bear in mind that Daria still had a way to go.


But for eleven year old me, Daria gave me something I hadn’t really had before: representation. While there wasn’t exactly a dearth of lady characters and even protags in kids/teen shows (I had a healthy addiction to Home and Away just like everyone else), none of them really felt like me. Daria was me. And the bits she wasn’t, Jane filled in the gaps. Between the two of them, I found a confidence in myself to be a little more outgoing at school. If there was hope for Daria, there was hope for me, and I embraced the fact I’d never be popular or ultra-hot or fashionable and just got on with it. And as a result, I had a pretty good time in high school. I felt comfortable with who I was, and while I think that’s something I probably would have come to eventually, Daria Morgendorffer and Jane Lane gave me the combat boot kick up the arse I needed to get there sooner.

I re-watch Daria at least once a year (with the original music and in all it’s LQ VHS glory) and it reminds me of what’s important to me as a writer: interesting, fully formed, individual women and girls; significant, positive relationships between women; and representation – not just of women who look like me, but women who look like the women I know and love and see every day in the real world but almost never on my screen: women of colour, gay women, disabled women, trans women, poor women, women with mental illnesses and combinations of the above and more.


Representation matters, and I’m pretty sure a now thirty year old Daria and Jane would agree with me.