Franken Asks Where Are the Fictional Feminists?

Despite a slow start to the job due to the endless recount, Minnesota Senator Al Franken has been an excellent senator that I have been proud to say I help elected (in fact, that’s him kissing my baby above).  From championing Jamie Lee Jones in her pursuit of a rape case against KBR contractors to his open support for emergency contraception access on military bases, Franken in his short career has already shown himself as a torchbearer for women’s rights.

But one thing did surprise me during his recent interview with Feministing.  Senator Franken seems to know surprisingly few famous fictional feminists.

CA: Who is your favorite fictional heroine, and who are your heroines in real life?

AF: First, let me say I was shocked at how difficult it was to come up with a good fictional feminist. I’m a reader, I didn’t think this would be tricky. I asked my wife and my daughter, male and female members of my staff (which includes a couple literature majors), I asked friends of all ages. And it was hard! Do you pick Anna Karenina or does the ending ruin her feminist credentials? What about Simone de Beauvoir’s fictional alter ego – is that really fiction? Do you want to count Hester Prynne? Is Xena really the best we can do? Eventually I decided to go with Jo March from Little Women. Or Ripley from Aliens. The point is this genre is sadly lacking. The feminist heroines who inspire us tend to be real-life women, which is wonderful. But shouldn’t some writers out there seek to fill this void? Let’s see what a feminist heroine can do when they’re not confined to non-fiction format. I’d read it.

I just can’t let this go on, so, to help Senator Franken out, like any good constituent, I have compiled a reading/viewing list of my top ten fictional feminists, in no particular order:


1) Morgan (Mists of Avalon) – In Marion Zimmer Bradley’s immense feminist reworking of the Myths of King Arthur and Camelot, very little happened in Arthurian history that was not either set in motion by or battled by this independent, strong, woman who grew up in the religion of the Goddess and refused simply to be a pawn in her brother the king’s life.

2) Scarlett O’Hare  (Gone with the Wind) – Yes, she was a spoiled debutante fixated on a man she could never have.  But that didn’t stop her from running her own plantation, caring for her family and friends as the primary breadwinner, and always finding a way to meet the needs of those who were in trouble.

3) Anne Shirley (Anne of Green Gables) – Independent form a young age as an orphan, Anne was more interested in expanding her imagination, learning to be a teacher, and trying to outperform Gilbert in classwork than she was in exploring his crush on her.

4)Buffy Summers (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) -If Senator Franken gets to bring up Xena, then I get to rebut with Buffy.  Sure, she was pretty into clothes, boys, and trying to get homecoming queen over Cordellia.  But in the end, she always knew she was the chosen, and the only one who could save the world from unspeakable danger.  And yes, a true feminist is the one who would stab her boyfriend with a sword rather than have the whole world sucked into a vacuum of evil.  Would that Bella girl from Twilight do that?

5) Trixie Belden (Trixie Belden Mysteries) – Many young girls were turned on to Nancy Drew growing up, but my mother introduced me to Trixie Belden instead.  A 13 year old with three brothers and a fledgling detective agency, Trixie was always admonished to act “more like a lady,” which she never did.  And she was always the one who solved the mystery and did the rescuing in the end.

6) Tank Girl (Tank Girl) – She kicks ass, she drives a tank, she has a love affair with a not so bright kangaroo that was really once a very clever, loyal puppy.  Needless to say, Tank Girl Doesn’t need a man for anything.

7) Audre Lourde (Zami, a New Spelling Of My Name) – Of course, Audre Lourde is a real person, but as Zami is considered a “Biomythography” we can cast her as a fictional character.  And from her illegal abortion to her attempts to discover her own sexuality to her eventual battle with cancer, this feminist character was much bigger than life.

8) Belle (Beauty and the Beast) – It’s awkward to ever say that a Disney cartoon has a feminist heroine.  But I think the case can be made for Belle, who disdains the muscular, aggressive Gaston and truly wanted nothing more than to be left alone with her books.  In the end, she is the one who saves the Beast, not the other way around, making a strong feminist icon, at least in the world of Disney.

9) Janie (Their Eyes Were Watching God) – The book starts out with Janie, alone, seen by a neighbor reentering the house she left years ago.  The narrative is a beautiful story of love and loss, through which Janie learns that no man can ever be truly counted on as a protector.  Feminism at its finest.

10) Orlando (Orlando) – Virginia Woolf’s masterful twist in making her male hero into a woman shortly into the story, then letting the character behave exactly the same way he did prior to the change, makes this the true archetype in understanding that the alleged differences in gender or more society’s construction than biological.

Disagree with my picks?  Have others you would like to add?  Put them in the comments!



Kersty E.
Kersty E8 years ago

Now I've heard it all! Not sure whether to laugh or scream at this crazy list of characters. Some I hadn't heard of. But then Buffy the Vampire Slayer a feminist? This proves again how screwed up feminists are. Not many of my female friends care to watch Buffy, but most of the men fantasize about her finding her very sexy. The Beauty and the Beast is an ancient story setting an example of seeing beyond the physical recognising the true values of the heart and soul. Anna Karenina was a married woman having an affair (adulteress to use a good old fashioned term), not a good example for anyone. Orlando a sexually confused young individual. Instead of complaining about what is or is not in old stories, why not write their own?

johan l.
paul l9 years ago

Interesting story!
I do not blame Sen. Al Franken!
Was I asked I would also have had great difficulty in naming fictional heroines.
I must also admit I have never read a book written by a woman unless it was non-fictional!
I am sorry ladies, my loss!.

Janice L.
Janice Lawrence9 years ago

Al Franken is just too funny. I agree with him that Jo March is a feminist heroine---she supports herself with her writing and marries a man who she likes, not because he's rich and/or handsome and/or has position---she could have had that with Laurie. This is also coming from a man who wrote, in one of his books, that he "despoiled" a Roman Catholic. That's his wife, Frannie. Let's ask her if she feels despoiled.

Jonathan Y.
Jonathan Y9 years ago

Dear friends,

It IS whimsical but brings up an important subject. And if you carefully re-read the article, Robyn actually is plugging Sen. Franken, not bashing him.

Franken is being frank. That's why his constituents like him. Being able to say "I don't know" is a virtue because it will show you who your friends are.

When you're honest about your ignorance, your real friends will try to help you out.

Laurel W.
Laurel W9 years ago

Sandra D.: with respect, you seem to have completely missed the point of my posting, and those of others who have responded to your earlier posting. Perhaps you would like to share my cheese, to go with your own 'whine'?

The point you missed was this; this was a light-hearted topic, which people responded to as a whimsical break amid a world of serious issues. You came onto the comments page and asked us all, why are we bothering with this topic when there are so many serious issues to worry about? It wasn't serious enough for you. So why did *you* bother to comment? Why couldn't you just go to another topic? There are plenty for you to choose from, such as the appalling treatment meted out to women in Afghanistan.

When I tried to point out to you that perhaps there was a serious message which you might not have considered, behind the whimsy - that is, that there is a need for strong female role models in fiction and fact, as an inspiration to others - then, you accused me of whining. Which is what you were doing, all along. Duh!

So, again, I implore you; lighten up!

sandra d.
sandra d9 years ago

Geez, Laurel, would you like a little cheese with your "whine". You certainly do not sound as if you are "light hearted" as you moan about what was done to you and so geez, what you could have been if. . . . The only two words I can say to you are:

Oprah Winfrey. Try to take that to a logical conclusion if you can.

As for this being so "light hearted" a discussion, that would seem totally erroneous since, in the process of this "light hearted" discussion, the author bashes a really good senator.

Again, who cares about this stuff, really--except that I must say Trixie Belden was my idol also. I always saw myself as her, and I even believe I attracted my husband, who was very much like her "boy" friend, Jim in the books.

That is the good things that reading can do for you when you are young. Take you out of your own environment to any place you wish to go. Those dreams somehow manifest themselves as reality later in life.

If you want to talk about female role models and praise them, great. Just leave out the good-senator bashing. After all, Minnesota could have Norm Coleman, then you really would have something to whine about--big time.

Past Member
Past Member 9 years ago

I love your list, especially Tank Girl. I'd also throw in Maximum Ride from Patterson's series. She does it all: mom to the flock, killer of evil mutants, cautious skeptic around authority. Okay, she gets a little flummoxed around Fang, but who wouldn't?
There does seem to be a bit of a dearth of classical feminists....Maybe the fashionistas need to promote leather and metal bustiers. They do give a girl confidence.

Emily P.
Emily P9 years ago

I liked the article, and have to say that I was a voracious reader as a child (still am), and fondly remember the Trixie Beldon books...much more than the Nancy Drew ones I have to say...they just seemed more "real" to me.

And I would like to add Anne Frank, it isn't fiction, but should be on every reading list.

Ray S.
Ray Sol9 years ago


Etta Delforge
Etta Delforge9 years ago

Tamora Pierce deserves a mention. Sure, she writes children's books, but isn't that sort of the point?

I've read every one of her books (okay, I'm obssessed) and all of them have strong, capable heroines. She always focuses on equality between men and women (and fighting to get there) but also about racial and gay equality.