You might not have realized it as a kid, but a whole load of your favorite childhood cartoons featured feminist characters. There are a ton of smart, strong and sassy women in the animated world, and it’s high time we praised them. Take Lisa Simpson, for example: who didn’t want to be a smart, self-assured girl like her? Or there’s Mulan, officially the most badass woman in Imperial China. She didn’t let arbitrary gender roles and her patriarchal society stop her from saving her family – and her country.
These two aren’t the only cartoon feminist icons out there by any means: in fact, they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Here’s a rundown of TV and film’s most unabashedly feminist animated women. Did any of them inspire you to fight the good fight?
1. Lisa Simpson from The Simpsons
Lisa Simpson is smart, funny, thoughtful, and very politically astute for an 8-year-old. She inspired a generation of young women to take up the saxophone and was a heroine for underappreciated boss women everywhere. Not only that, she campaigns for women’s rights with more ferocity than quite a few grown women. Remember that episode where she tries to take down the Malibu Stacey franchise for its sexist portrayal of women? Or the flash-forward that reveals she becomes President of the United States in a post-Trump world? What a champion. Everyone needs to be more Lisa.
2. Marge Simpson from The Simpsons
Lisa had to get her principles from somewhere, and it certainly wasn’t Homer. Nope: Marge was the original feminist Simpson. She met Homer in a detention served for burning her bra and was an avid activist in her younger days. Sure, she settled into a pretty stereotypical domestic role in her adulthood, but she still encourages Lisa to fight the good fight. She educates Homer and Bart about respecting women when the former is photographed with an exotic dancer. Marge encourages Lisa to be herself and clearly wants what’s best for her. Every single dream Lisa has is supported – she’s never told to limit her goals. Marge Simpson is both a crucial feminist ally and a great mom.
3. Merida from Brave
Brave will always have a special place in my heart. It’s the first ever Disney Princess film that has absolutely no romantic subplot: how awesome is that? It proves that we ladies have a bit more on our minds than having a husband. Indeed, the things on Princess Merida’s mind are mostly to do with fighting, ruling, and being a general boss woman. She craves independence and shudders at the idea of having to marry any of the suitors her parents put forward. Merida wants to make her own choices – a staggering concept in medieval Scotland. She also wants to have the power to fix her own mistakes, which is especially important when you’ve transformed your mom into a bear. Merida is spirited, sassy, and a princess to be proud of.
4. Daria from Daria
If you grew up in the 90s, chances are your feminist awakening was at least partly influenced by Daria. This smart, sassy animated teen schooled us all when it comes to gender equality. Along with her best friend, Jane Lane, Daria challenged misogynist concepts left, right and center. These two women complained about being judged on their looks, being underestimated, and for their smartness being shocking to the rest of society. Have you ever been told you’re “smart for a girl”? This show challenged that ridiculous sexist idea by demonstrating that smartness isn’t reserved for men. Daria had more IQ points than most of the men around her put together.
5. Kim Possible from Kim Possible
Kim Possible was a show that challenged so, so many negative stereotypes about women. Kim may have been a cheerleader, but she wasn’t the airhead that many people would expect. She was clever, strong, and also an actual badass secret agent. She could kick some ass, save the world, and still be home in time in time for dinner. Kim busted the myth that girls can’t be overachievers, and also totally subverted traditional gender roles. Her best guy friend (and later boyfriend), Ron Stoppable, isn’t the center of attention – he’s the sidekick! Kim has to save Ron from danger on a frequent basis and is clearly the more competent of the two. She epitomizes girl power, and Disney Channel-loving girls everywhere lived for it.
6. Charlotte Pickles from Rugrats
Rugrats was a pretty progressive cartoon through-and-through. It covered topics such as adoption; interracial families; religious diversity; transphobia; and harassment. However, it’s most notable for its portrayal of a whole host of feminist moms. Perhaps the most striking is Charlotte Pickles, mom to Angelica. Charlotte is clearly a certified boss woman. She’s portrayed as highly successful career-wise while also juggling some kind of work-life balance. She openly says that she wants to teach Angelica how to succeed in a male-dominated society, and wants to make a mark on it herself. Charlotte is the kind of strong female role model we all need in our lives.
7. Leela from Futurama
Leela may be a one-eyed alien, but she’s everything a human woman should aim to be. Firstly, she’s a total badass in physical terms. She can win a fight against pretty much anyone. She gets Fry out of sticky situations more times than I can count, and is blatantly the most competent character on the whole show. She’s also permitted to be a sexual being without being portrayed as slutty. Despite all of her clear feminist qualities, Leela is still seen as attractive to the opposite sex. This is something that really shouldn’t be taken for granted when it comes to representations of feminist women in TV and film. Overall, Leela is a well-rounded and savvy character who epitomizes the phrase “women get sh*t done.”
8. Princess Jasmine from Aladdin
Okay, let’s be real here: Aladdin isn’t generally great when it comes to supporting feminism. It doesn’t actually pass the Bechdel test, mainly because there’s only one speaking female character in the whole film: Princess Jasmine. However, one silver lining is the fact that Jasmine just happens to be a patriarchy-smashing badass. She rejects her society’s expectations of marriage, stating that she wants to do it for love and not for political reasons. The idea of men standing around and deciding her future just isn’t acceptable to Jasmine – and she makes that well known. Plus, she sends her freaking pet tiger to chase off unwanted suitors. She’s an utter boss, and a total feminist icon.
9. Elsa from Frozen
If you up “I do what I want” in the dictionary, there’s probably going to be a picture of Elsa there. Frozen’s strong independent ice queen is the role model we’ve always needed. She rules in her own right, without the help of a guy. In fact, it’s never once suggested that she needs or even wants a husband, and she’s rightly horrified when her sister decides to marry a man she’s just met. Submission to a man just isn’t on Elsa’s radar. Mostly, she just wants the freedom to be herself, weird ice powers and all – a noble feminist goal. Don’t let anyone tell you to conceal and not feel: do whatever the hell you want.
10. The Powerpuff Girls from The Powerpuff Girls
Once you get past the whole “girls are made of sugar, spice, and everything nice!!” nonsense, The Powerpuff Girls turns into a pretty feminist show. It’s basically three girls kicking a whole load of butt – what’s more feminist than that? They don’t need a man to save them – they’re the ones going about saving everyone else! While all three of the girls are pretty iconic, it’s Blossom that really takes the ‘badass feminist’ crown. She’s constantly challenging gender roles, on one occasion criticizing the other girls for assuming that only men can be physically strong. She also takes no crap whatsoever from the Girls’ male counterparts, The Rowdyruff Boys, quipping that whenever their masculinity is threatened, they shrink in size. Need some ice for that burn, boys?
11. Eliza Thornberry from The Wild Thornberrys
Eliza Thornberry was a true role model for young girls everywhere. She epitomized the idea that women can do whatever they put their minds to and shouldn’t stick to society’s preconceptions of their role. Okay, maybe we can’t all gain the magical ability to talk to animals, but we can be scientists and naturalists if we want to. We can get our hands dirty (quite literally – a bit of mud doesn’t bother Eliza) and shouldn’t worry about fitting the stereotype of being dainty and delicate. Eliza wears what she wants, does what she wants, and isn’t afraid to stay true to herself.
12. Princess Fiona from Shrek
If you need reminding why Princess Fiona is a god damn feminist legend, just cast your mind back to the first Shrek film. She kicks the butts of Robin Hood and his merry men, mainly because he’s an utter sleazeball who doesn’t understand that she isn’t his to rescue. Did somebody say COMPLETE BADASS? While Fiona does initially need to be rescued, that’s more the fault of an evil witch for cursing her (and her parents for locking her up) than a sign of inner weakness. She also learns to accept and own her quirks (if transforming into an ogre can be reduced to ‘quirkiness’) and proves time and time again just how strong she is. While the third and fourth Shrek films didn’t really need to exist, at least they gave us more opportunities to admire this obviously feminist ogress.
13. Rapunzel from Tangled
Rapunzel is another production of Disney’s mid-2000s “oh crap, hardly any of our female characters are feminist” realization. Her main goal isn’t to fall in love or get married. She just wants to see the floaty lights that pass her window once a year. After setting foot outside for the first time in nearly two decades, she also realizes that she really needs to break free of her tower/prison. Sure, she finds Flynn Ryder along the way, but her journey is really about self-discovery and empowerment. Rapunzel fights for the right to make her own choices, and ultimately succeeds.
14. Francine Frensky from Arthur
Not only was Francine every child’s favorite anthropomorphic monkey, she was also the real star of Arthur thanks to her feminist credentials. Francine challenged pretty much every negative stereotype that schoolgirls have to face. She’s good at sports, she’s strongwilled, and she certainly doesn’t take any crap from her male peers. Francine also proves that female friendship can transcend the boundaries of what female friendship ‘should’ be. She’s BFFs with Muffy, the girliest girl on the show, despite being a massive tomboy. There are no arbitrary gender boundaries when it comes to Francine’s sense of self. She does what she wants, regardless of whether society thinks it’s appropriate behavior for a girl. Screw society. Be more Francine.
15. Sandy Cheeks from Spongebob Squarepants
The back catalog of Spongebob Squarepants may not be the most obvious place to go looking for feminist icons. However, it definitely provides one in the shape of Sandy Cheeks. She may be a squirrel who’s inexplicably living under the sea, but she’s an inspiration to us all none the less. Sandy is one of the few actually competent characters on this show. Not only that, she’s a scientist an engineer by profession: way to showcase a female character working in a traditionally male-dominated field! She’s strong both physically and emotionally and is the only character on the show not to fall in love at any point. Where can I learn to be as badass as an aquatic squirrel?
16. Velma Dinkley from Scooby-Doo
Jinkies! How did it take us this long to get to Velma Dinkley, an inspiration for intelligent women everywhere? Considering she’s been getting the Scooby-Doo gang out of all manner of scrapes since the 1960s, she deserves her place on this list. Velma is the definite brains behind Mystery Inc. They’d be pretty lost without her, a fact that the live-action film finally acknowledges. Velma showed young girls everywhere that it’s okay to be bookish and smart. It can even lead to you saving the day on multiple occasions! We love Daphne, too, but Velma is definitely the feminist icon that the Scooby-Doo franchise needed.
17. Mulan from Mulan
Oh, look who’s here – the original Disney feminist heroine! Let’s just summarize all of the ways in which Mulan is awesome, shall we? Firstly, she’s clearly not that impressed by the idea of arranged marriage, fluffing up her interview with the matchmaker mainly because she doesn’t have time for that crap. Secondly, she goes off to FIGHT IN AN ACTUAL WAR, risking her life in a number of ways. Not only could she die in battle, she’ll be executed if she’s discovered. Does this bother our girl Mulan? Not one bit. She proceeds to save China mainly because she’s a hell of a lot smarter than literally all of the hundreds of men around her. Even the Emperor bows to her. Come on!!! Who didn’t want to be Mulan when they were younger? I kinda still do.
18. Tina Belcher from Bob’s Burgers
My god, Tina Belcher has her life sorted out to a FAR better extent than most of us did at age 13. She’s already got a stronger grasp of feminist concepts than most adults and has provided us with some sage wisdom over the course of Bob’s Burgers. She’s the picture of self-confidence, both in terms of her looks and her personality. The rest of the world’s opinions on her don’t matter: she’s happy in her own skin, and not afraid to express it. Plus, she refuses to be underestimated. If you cross Tina, she’ll probably threaten to mow your ass like grass. She doesn’t need men to pay attention to her; she can pay attention to herself.