Being exposed to mainstream media affects how we view the world, especially when we’re children. We suck up information like sponges and we imitate other people’s behaviour, even if that behaviour is on TV. As kids, we all look up to our heroes, whether that’s a pop idol or a TV character, and we want to be just like them. But perhaps what we don't realize is how much media affects our perception of the world and, more importantly, of ourselves.
I was born in the 90s and, thanks to TV reruns, I was able to catch up with shows that came out when I was too young to understand them. They all have a recurring theme and, whether consciously or subconsciously, they have shaped the way I see myself. These TV shows all have a bad-ass female lead who usually has magical powers or who lives in a world where myths and legends come to life. Now, of course I don’t see myself as a witch or a vampire slayer, but I do consider myself to be adventurous, resourceful in the face of danger, and incredibly resilient. These may not be the adjectives that come to mind when describing femininity, but they are words that, to me, go hand in hand with being a woman.
Firstly, perhaps one of the most critically acclaimed TV shows that couldn’t not make it to the list is Buffy the Vampire Slayer, of course. Her ruthless attitude towards enemies and her witty comebacks was something I tried to (pathetically) recreate in the school’s playground, and that made me feel more of a bad-ass than I really was.
Number two on the list is Xena: Warrior Princess. Who doesn’t remember how tough, brave, and determined Xena was? She fought against forces of evil in ancient times, but she also protected the weak and vulnerable. The whole show focused on morality and redemption of past sins, so it’s no wonder that, with such a strong yet compassionate female character, seven-year-old me thought she was the coolest warrior among all the movies about gladiators, soldiers, and fighters.
Similarly, the three Halliwell sisters in Charmed were witches who also fought against darkness and protected innocent people. Whilst the sisters battled against the Dark World full of demons, they also fought against the modern horror of the dating world, which taught me a lot about seducing and being seduced…Piper, Phoebe, Paige and the late Prue are all characters I will always have in my heart, as they were some of the few that I really wanted to be like; independent, strong and seductive.
Number four. Another witch on the list is Sabrina the Teenage Witch. She is by far the most naïve character on the list, but her determination to use her newly acquired powers and learn from her mistakes taught me to see life as an exciting set of challenges.
On number five, another strong female character that made me see life like a set of exciting challenges was Sydney Fox from Relic Hunters. She was different from the rest as she was probably the one I looked most similar to; brown skin, dark hair, high cheeks, and big brown eyes. I mean, who am I kidding? Chubby lil seven-year-old me didn’t look anything like her. We shared those characteristics, yes, but I was the ugly duckling and she was a mixed Lara Croft goddess. But hey, a girl can dream, eh?
I suppose you could say that all these female characters combine typically masculine and feminine traits. Perhaps that’s why I identified with them; because I never liked choosing. Growing up, my parents never manifested any gender expectations for me, so I grew up with a mix of generally “feminine” and “masculine” hobbies and behaviours, but to me, now, that notion of feminine/masculine behaviour and likes or dislikes seems ridiculous. It’s like those people that try to gender drinks or food.
But I digress. What I’m trying to put across is that I identify as a feminist because I believe it’s a movement about equality, choice, and freedom. Me identifying as one has been partly influenced by these female characters who I used to watch and identify with during my childhood. But they were certainly not the only characters I identified with and not the only ones to influence me.
Having said this, we must not be oblivious to the fact that most of these characters, if not all, are all extremely sexy and attractive. Xena’s breastplates alone have a following of their own. I would be lying if I said this didn’t affect my own perception of self, too. It is widely known that women are subjected to the unrealistic expectation of looking pretty under every circumstance in our everyday lives. This seems quite ridiculous to attain, especially if they’re fighting a three-headed monster. Nevertheless, I have to admit, I have always sought to embody this perception of badass woman in every way, including through my image.
But I don’t consider this to be a bad thing. I have adopted more of an internal bad-ass image. Throughout the years, I’ve learned that you can still be a warrior princess, or a relic hunter, or a sexy witch, even if you are not dressed as one.