This year we at Non-Productive.com knew we wanted to do another geek-centric March Madness competition. A few years ago, we focused on Cult TV, and it was a lot of fun, and this time we were on the lookout for something really interesting. When it occurred to us that March was also Women’s History Month, we knew exactly what we should do… Best Cartoon Femme Fatales!
When that was rejected for being too “stupid” we decided to do a competition where we would ask our audience which fictional female characters were the best of the best. Submissions were open to everyone, meaning anyone visiting our site could nominate whichever fictional female character they wished. Using the finest sciences, we sorted all those submissions by the number of times they were nominated, then ranked all the “seeds” in the competition via standard March Madness rules. There were so many awesome characters that we decided to include a bonus round so that we could have twice as many nominees in the contest. Even then, however, we were sad to see some of the characters that didn’t make it to our list go.
It was interesting to see which “division” produced the most amount of quality female characters. We sorted characters based on the media that they came from, be it Comics, Literature, TV, Film, or Games. Certain characters, of course, were prominent in multiple media platforms, but for the most part we had an even distribution across them all (except for TV, which was by far the most represented). We were all very excited by the data and excitement this contest was bringing in, and we hadn’t even started yet!
Each round was packed with neck-and-neck races as well as a few upsets. Some characters lasted far longer than any of us thought possible, while others left us far too soon. Nearly everyone seemed to have deserved a rematch at one point or another. The ties were the hardest thing to deal with, but we persevered and made sure it was our audience, not ourselves, that got to decide who moved onto the next round.
We can never know what truly motivated people to vote the way they did. Perhaps some of us were simply voting for the character perceived to be the most powerful or most popular or most influential. Regardless of why people voted for a particular character, it was interesting to see who was gaining in the polls. Clearly these characters meant a lot to the people that supported them time and again. In fact, whenever we read a comment about someone having difficulty deciding one character over another, the term “heartbreaking” was probably used most of all.
Each round we lost half our contestants, and each round we were pained to see our favorites go, but alas, it has come down to two of the greatest of all time. Buffy Summers, of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Hermione Granger, of The Harry Potter Series. Both characters come from powerhouse franchises that ruled their respective genres for years, and both characters are strong young women doing battle in fictional spaces long reserved for other “types” of characters. Buffy was a cheerleader hero doing battle against the forces of darkness, while Hermione was a bookish sidekick that saved the day more often than she needed saving.
In the end, however, there could only be one…
and the winner is… Hermione Granger!
Tall poppy syndrome aside, Hermione Granger has a lot going for her. The entire Harry Potter franchise revitalized children’s and young adult literature and films for an entire generation, and the after-effects of the success of the series is evident in everything from the “Hunger Games” to basically 90% of mainstream genre fiction today. In fact, the very fact that we have “mainstream genre fiction” might be due to how well Harry Potter was received by the masses.
But she’s not even the title character! we hear you screaming at your monitors from all across the world. Well, that is very true. But what Hermione was able to do was to redefined a very stale trope in fiction since the beginning: The Girl Sidekick. Traditionally, girls in stories of the “young hero’s journey” are at best “assistants” and at worst “romantic interests” – and little else. They are frosting to the setting, they are straw(wo)men. Hermione brought her own personality, ambition, and skills to bear on the world of the books and movies. One could understand why anyone would want to pretend to be her in a game of make-believe, not merely be “stuck” with her because she was the only girl character available.
In most ways, she’s was a far more talented witch than Harry was a wizard, but one didn’t/shouldn’t get the feeling she was cheated out of the starring role of the story. By default, some stories will have a main character, and Hermione shows that a good female character can be worked into any story, regardless of the situation. All too often we hear that female characters are hard sells or that they can’t carry a project on their own – and while all the strong female leads in our contest hopefully throw that concept right out the window, it’s also valuable to consider that characters like Hermione show that good characters can be found anywhere, and if that is so, why not have them everywhere?
This contest has given us all the opportunity to celebrate and support the Women in Fiction we love so dearly, characters that are important to praise loudly and proudly. So long as it is still a challenge to convince publishers and producers to give us art featuring powerful and interesting female characters, it is important for us to show them that this is something we desperately want. Films, shows, games, books, and comics with female leads are not a hard sell, so long as you give us quality. Provide us with boss ladies, and we’ll debate which one is the bossest for months at a time…
For this reason, we’d love it if you shared this story and celebrated the winners, the finalists, and the characters you think were your personal favorites. Let’s keep this positive and uplifting, and take pride in the victories we gained while steeling ourselves to work together for more victories to come!