You might’ve seen real Muslim women breaking the glass ceiling, notably some of our own in, say, a non-fiction book about growing up in a post-9/11 world. But let’s delve into the realm of fiction for a second for some much needed inspo.
Growing up, I was always drawn to stories of strong women battling against the odds to succeed. Here’s my top 10 badass queens of literature (in no particular order) for you to check out and get inspired by!
1. Liathano – “Crown of Stars” series, Kate Elliott
Liathano, or Liath as she’s often called in the series, is a rare phenomenon in fantasy fiction – a mixed race character. As a girl who fits the “mixed: other (please specify)” category, I cannot tell you how comforting it was to join Liath on her journey of self-exploration.
Her identity is a mystery and the quest she goes on to find out who she is will resonate with anyone trying to “find themselves.” When she discovers the power and “fire” she has within herself – enemies beware!
2. Elizabeth Bennett – “Pride & Prejudice,” Jane Austen
Elizabeth is my favourite of all Austen’s heroines. She is witty, knows her own mind, and will not succumb to pressure from her family to “settle” in marriage. She is humble enough to know when she is wrong, but has confidence in her own morals and will not compromise them for any man – whether it’s a pretty face in a uniform or a cousin with property next to Rosings Park.
3. Celie Johnson – “The Color Purple,” Alice Walker
Celie is an iconic character who overcomes horrendous personal circumstances to find inner strength and self-acceptance. The abuse she suffers at the hands of Mister is hard to stomach but, trust me, SPOILER: Celie ends up wearing the trousers! If anyone does not cry at least once while reading this — then you must be about as heartless as a barista that serves lukewarm coffee.
4. Elphaba – “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West,” Gregory Maguire
Wicked tells the story of the Wicked Witch of the West’s early years before she assumed her famous title. Elphaba is a strong community activist who even turns to acts of terrorism to support her cause.
I really related to the focus on her appearance as a negative because, although I’m not green, people make a lot of assumptions when they see a girl in hijab. Elphaba’s story perfectly illustrates how our lives take unexpected turns and how choosing to stand by your beliefs can, sometimes, paint you as a villain.
5. Jo March – “Little Women,” Louisa May Alcott
The entire story is a celebration of sisterhood and the magic that can happen when women support and encourage each other. But it was Jo’s feisty passion for writing and doing things differently that stole my heart as a young ‘un.
6. Lisbeth Salander – “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” Stieg Larsson
Lisbeth is the definition of badass. She’s an expert computer hacker with a photographic memory and a strict moral code. She’s an abuse survivor, anti-social, and fierce as hell.
7. Beatrice – “Much Ado About Nothing,” William Shakespeare
Beatrice is the original queen of bants. Her wit and lightning-speed comebacks are #goalz for any millennial girl. Beatrice challenges the stereotype that intelligent, opinionated women are unattractive and will never find love. The glimpses of vulnerability simply enhance how likeable her character is.
8. Ifemelu – “Americanah,” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Ifemelu is a Nigerian who spends 15 years living in America. She becomes a successful writer and blogger and, when her fellowship at Princeton university ends, she decides to move back to Nigeria.
I found Ifemelu’s confidence of self very refreshing — and it inspired me to have more certainty in my own strengths. Her exploration of race and identity is so multi-faceted and mesmerising, I’d be very surprised if you don’t whizz through this book in one sitting!
9. Lyra Belacqua – “His Dark Materials trilogy,” Philip Pullman
Some people see Lyra as a brat. However, I always saw her as incomparably brave, considering the challenges she has to face and the horrors she witnesses during her travels.
She is a stubborn 12-year-old but, then again, what 12-year-old isn’t stubborn? She saves lives, makes friends with a polar bear warrior, and has a skill no one else has – she can read an alethiometer, a truth-telling device.
10. Jane Eyre – “Jane Eyre,” Charlotte Brontë
Jane is one of the most complex and self-aware heroines in literature I have come across. Overcoming many harsh experiences throughout her childhood, Jane grows into a kind, introverted, yet passionate woman who isn’t afraid to tell it like it is.
You are guaranteed to love her and genuinely wish her a happy ending… I’m not giving away any spoilers!