It's important that kids have both male and female role models to help dispel harmful stereotypes and reinforce their understanding of the fundamental uniqueness and equality of each person. At the heart of this is personalism and it encourages kids to emulate what's best in people who come from a wide range of backgrounds with different personalities and physical attributes.
For a long time, female representation in television and movies lagged far behind male representation, making it harder to find suitable role models that are worthy of admiration. Thankfully, there are now a growing number of great female role models on television and in movies that all kids can admire and emulate.
Of course, what constitutes a role model is subjective. As parents, my wife and I look for role models that reinforce the lessons that we teach our kids and display behavior that corresponds with an approach to life that aligns with our understanding of morality, human flourishing and a life of joy.
Role models show that strength and compassion are not opposites. They prove that women can pursue and achieve excellence, while still valuing relationships and other people. They teach kids that real courage is not bravado or a lust for recklessness, but perseverance and determination in the face of serious obstacles to achieving what is right and just.
Here are seven fictional role models that can inspire kids of all ages.
1. Wonder Woman
In the DC universe's most acclaimed film, Wonder Woman declares, "I'm willing to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves." Upon fully realizing the implications of free will and the human capacity for both goodness and evil, she concludes that "only love can truly save the world."
In response, she says, "So I stay, I fight, and I give, for the world I know can be." When she realizes the brokenness of the world and human person, she responds not with cynicism (as so many do), but with a renewed commitment to love and building a better world.
Wonder Woman is recommended for kids age 7+ and has a PG-13 rating.
Moana breaks the "curse of the good girl" by breaking from conventions out of love for her people. She loves and respects her parents, but her sense of mission or call leads her to heroically undertake an adventure to save the world. She has a strong sense of identity, which is linked to who she is unique as a person and her duties. She is wholly comfortable in her own skin, indifferent to the superficial. She displays courage and compassion and refuses to turn back in the face of difficulties, even when Maui wants to give up. And it is her empathy and compassion that ultimately brings out the best in Maui and saves the world.
Moana is recommended for kids ages 4+ and has a PG rating.
3. Katniss Everdeen
In the Hunger Games series, Katniss Everdeen is willing to risk her own life to save her sister in a selfless act of love. Throughout the films, she refuses to surrender her integrity and ultimately has the wisdom and will to do what is necessary so that the revolution will succeed and serve all.
The Hunger Games is recommended for kids age 12+ and has a PG-13 rating.
The Disney character Mulan is a great role model because she does what is right and courageous, despite serious social pressures and strictures. Her sense of morality extends beyond legalism and conformity. She also has a real sense of authenticity.
She knows that being herself would break her family's heart—she's sensitive to that, but ultimately willing to put the good of her family above their immediate desires. While there is pressure to focus on her physical appearance and manners to win a husband, she thinks that men should be more interested in having a girl with a brain who speaks her mind. And it is her courage and her wits that ultimately save the day.
Mulan is recommended for kids ages 5+ and has a G rating.
In the Harry Potter series, Hermione is daring and courageous, brilliant and hardworking, compassionate and caring. In our society, many with innate intelligence (or those with affluent backgrounds who imagine they are inherently intellectually superior) take pride in their intelligence and treat it as though it is an accomplishment they have earned. This can lead to hubris and a lax work ethic.
Hermione is naturally gifted and it takes her some time to be confident without looking down on others who are less intellectually gifted or engaged. But she is always hard-working; she utilizes her intellectual gifts to reach her potential. And she uses these gifts to serve others.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is recommended for kids age 7+ and has a PG rating.
Star Wars has a number of strong female characters with many admirable traits, including Leia Organa and Jyn Erso. In the latest trilogy, we are introduced to Rey. Rey is fierce and fearless. She is her own knight in shining armor. She refuses to selfishly sell BB-8. She resists the temptation of the amoral pursuit of power. Instead, she holds fast to her sense of what is right and never surrenders her integrity.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is recommended for kids age 10+, and has a PG-13 rating.
7. Doc McStuffins
The Disney Junior character Doc McStuffins is smart, considerate, and caring. She communicates her feelings and encourages others to do so, as well. She also has fun and can be silly. In our culture, there is too often a failure to treat kids in a way that is appropriate for their age and stage of development.
On the one hand, adults too often strip kids of their joy, energy, and silly fun, trying to turn them into boring, bourgeois adults. On the other hand, they infantilize kids, failing to give them space to try new things, make mistakes, assume responsibilities, and achieve accomplishments that they are fully capable of making. Doc shows that kids can be really serious and responsible when curing toys or helping others, while still having fun and being a kid.
Doc McStuffins is recommended for kids ages 2-7.