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It’s International Women’s Day, and so, I dedicated this post to all the little girls (boys too!) with big dreams. Everyone has role models in their lives that have taught them they can be and do anything. Some of them come from stories, in which through their characters we become powerful, clever, heroic. So here are my childhood inspirations:

Hermione Granger (Harry Potter)

An obvious inclusion, since she’s the gal everyone thinks of when they hear “nerd girl”. She had the intelligence of a Ravenclaw, but chose the valour-valuing Gryffindor instead. She started off as a well behaved model student, but learned throughout the course of the books learned that well-behaved women seldom make history. As the brains behind Team Potter, she was instrumental to their planning and counterbalanced the more rash Harry and Ron. And of course, Emma Watson became a face of feminism, even presenting at the UN!

Fa Mulan (Disney)

The movie made men out of all the kids of 2000. She saved China, got the guy, and brought honour to us all. Her desire to prove her capabilities to herself and to her parents also resonated with me, especially coming from a Chinese family.

Violet Baudelaire (A Series of Unfortunate Events)

Another brainy girl, but with MacGyver-level ingenuity instead of magic. An engineer well-versed in the arts, imagine that. As the older sister, she bears the responsibility of keeping her siblings safe in this crazy world, and her quick thinking got them all out of multiple scrapes. (the marriage loophole was brilliance!) One thing I’ve noticed about girl characters is that they tend to win by guile rather than just brute force, and she’s a prime example of that.

Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup (The Powerpuff Girls)

Yes, three characters, but whatever. While they’re superheroes beating up a wild gallery of anime-style bad guys, they’re still little girls at heart. Literally. Nowadays, Lauren Faust, wife of creator Craig McCracken, went on from this show to create My Little Pony, and we all know how famous that is.

Jade Chan (Jackie Chan Adventures)

Street-smart, savvy to action movie cliches, and always eager for adventure, she made us feel like we too could be Jackie Chan’s sidekick. Obviously, she’s a little girl up against adults with magical powers, but she could hold her own pretty well.

Sakura Kinomoto (Cardcaptor Sakura)

Also known as Sakura Avalon in the English version. What instantly interested me about her was seeing her rollerblade, run, and generally be more than a match for the boys in athletics, and no one questions this at all. She constantly outwits magical spirits across town, and she’s still a girly-girl at heart.

Li Meiling (Cardcaptor Sakura)

Two characters, because anime is good at representing female characters. Like Jade, she’s a fighter, but most of her antics revolve around crushing on Li Xiaolong and being a brat. Normally, people hate this kind of character, but her sheer determination and competitiveness makes up for it. Plus, she frequently switches between hilariously bitchy snark or adorable sweetheartness in an episode, which is always entertaining.

Cindy Lou Who (How the Grinch Stole Christmas)

She’s not just compassionate for inviting the bitter, lonely misanthropic Grinch to the Who’s Christmas party, but brave and smart as well. She firmly sticks with her belief that no one should be alone on Christmas despite the constant mockery from the mayor and skepticism from the town and even beats him in a political argument. Lest you believe a girl of that age and maturity is unrealistic, you shouldn’t. Kids can be surprisingly smart.

Nobody’s Girl (Michelle Wright song)

Yes, I included a song in here, because the titular girl is quite the compelling character. It’s not an anthem of independence, but also illustrates that people aren’t that straightforward. Even if we can be devils sometimes, the saint at our core still shines through. We go through a lot of shit, but become stronger for it. Interestingly, I was surprised by the bright, cheerful music video, since I always interpreted the character to be more melancholy. But that’s the power of imagination for you.

Helga Pataki (Hey Arnold!)

I saved her for last because of how wonderfully complex and human she is. Hey Arnold was a great cartoon since it portrays kids with a level of respect and understanding lacking from the stereotypes of other shows, and Helga’s the secondary main character of the crazy cast (especially compared to the vanilla Arnold). At the surface, Helga’s just an aggressive bully, but internally, she struggles with dealing with her inferiority complex in a dysfunctional family and her crazy, obsessive love for Arnold. She out-tsunderes most anime tsundere characters with her love-hate relationship towards the titular character. She’s the embodiment of us young people; not entirely stereotypes, but sharing a common motive of trying to find ourselves in the world while carrying varying degrees of heavy baggage.

So that’s my list. Obviously, I’ve left off a lot of great female characters, but I wanted to emphasize inspirational characters from childhood who showed me what girl power meant in all her various faces. Sometimes clever, sometimes klutzy. Sometimes bitchy, sometimes sweet. Sometimes cheerful, sometimes sad. Sometimes strong, sometimes crying. And since people are so complex, everyone has their own list of inspirational characters, and I encourage everyone to think about theirs, if only mentally.