15 Feminist '90s Movie Characters Who Taught Empowerment & Equality

by Meg Kehoe

I’m not going to lie — growing up in the ‘90s was awesome. Children of the era got to experience the wonders of epic Nickelodeon programming, floral denim overalls, light up tennis shoes, and so much more. And though the ‘90s are considered to have happened before the “Golden Era” of cinema, the movies of the ‘90s still left a pretty big impact in the world of film. In fact, whenever I’m feeling the nostalgia blues, putting on a ‘90s flick always cures what ails me. And my personal favorite? Films that feature most feminist movie characters of the ‘90s.

As a budding young feminist, female representation in books and movies was important to me, even if I didn’t quite realize it at the time. I loved Spice World with a passion, but action flicks where women were so often portrayed as the side piece? Not so much. The following women in film were role models for me, to a certain extent. They acted as beacons of light in an otherwise muddied era of females in film. They taught me to stand up for myself, to never settle for less than I deserve, and to do things my own way, regardless of the cost. To the following characters, I issue a thank you, because I’m still thinking of you after all these years.


Sarah Bailey of 'The Craft'

While most of the girls in the girl gang that is The Craft could be considered feminists (Hello, ladies binding spells on a rumor spreading jock), Sarah's the only member of the crew who knows where to draw the line. This feminist flick might be a little extreme, but it offered teenage girls a tale of feminine power and provided a platform for feminist-minded topics (domestic abuse, cliques, racism, attempted rape, slut-shaming, body image) that didn't often get spoken about on a regular basis in the '90s.


Cher Horowitz of 'Clueless'

Whether it's accepting her friends' sexuality or standing strong in her own choices when it comes to her body, Cher Horowitz was a beautiful role model for budding feminist teens of the '90s. She valued herself, her friends, and never judged them for their decisions. When she found out that her dreamy crush Christian was a "cake boy" she opened her arms to him rather than feeling slighted, or bad-mouthing him.


Louise of 'Thelma and Louise'

When women were hungry for feminist characters who paved their own path, lived dangerously, and did what they wanted, Thelma and Louise delivered. Particularly Louise. The instigator of the road trip, she pulls Thelma from an unhappy home to take her on the trip of a lifetime. The film is ultimately about sisterhood, and along the way, the ladies take care of a potential rapist, a slimy truck driver, and outwit more than one male cop. Where Thelma needs some coaxing, Louise is strong and dedicated to their cause.


Clarice Starling of 'Silence Of The Lambs'

Considered one of the greatest thrillers of all time, The Silence Of The Lambs brought viewers Clarice Starling. Working in a male dominated work place, Clarice faces overt and subtle oppression . She is determined, brave, tenacious, and independent. She is a character who is not defined in one ounce by her gender, and all of her attributes are, simply, human.


Dr. Ellie Satler of 'Jurassic Park'

The unsung hero of Jurassic Park is Dr. Ellie Satler. When sh*t hits the proverbial Jurassic fan, Ellie doesn't take the back seat. She takes control of the situation, leaving Hammond stunned when she says, "We can discuss sexism in survival situations when I get back."


Marge Gunderson of 'Fargo'

Marge Gunderson solves the murder, because she's smart and hardworking. She's pregnant throughout the duration of the film, and yet it doesn't stop her from getting the job done. Imagine that, a pregnant woman still able to do her job, and do it better than the men she finds herself surrounded with. Thank you, Coen brothers, for the wonder that is Marge Gunderson.


Matilda of 'Matilda'

A particularly young and promising feminist, Matilda is an actual genius. Her intellectual curiosity knows no bounds, even when her parents try and take it from her. She is kind and wise, coming to the aid of anyone who needs her help. Moreso, her relationship with Miss Honey is one of the most defining parts of the film - proving that strong, intelligent women can find solace in each other, and not need male counterparts to make them whole. Viva la female friendship!


Kat Stratford of '10 Things I Hate About You'

Compared to most of the other teen films floating around in the '90s, 10 Things I Hate About You was an anomaly. Kat Stratford is a strong and independent woman, and when the film opens, she portrays what's often perceived as a stereotypical feminist. She blasts Joan Jett from her car, reads a lot of Sylvia Plath, and sneers at the popular girls in their carefully highlighted coifs and crop tops. Her approach to feminism was strong, and wasn't sugar coated. Through the movie the audience sees her bend and reveal a more nuanced character than was presented initially, a human character, with flaws, and insecurities, and questions, and a crush. Above it all, she tells her sister, "I'm a firm believer in doing things for your own reasons, and not someone else's."


Roberta of 'Now And Then'

My personal favorite on the list, and the first tomboy I ever saw on screen, Roberta from Now and Then was a stark contrast to her friends Chrissy (who reminds Roberta that she's a "lady"), and Teeny (who spends a lot of time practicing acceptance speeches in the mirror), and a welcome one. Grappling with being the only girl in her household, Roberta's brand of tomboy feminism shed light on the idea that it's possible to be a strong, independent woman, no matter what the decade.


Elise, Brenda, and Annie of 'The First Wives Club'

Three lifelong friends brought back together by tragedy? A no-brainer for a feminist flick. The women use their brains and each other to get even with the men who scorned them, and eventually use their anger and sadness to create a nonprofit organization dedicated to aiding abused women. How awesome is that?


Sidney Prescott of 'Scream'

When viewers first meet Sidney, she's recovering from the tragedy of losing her mother, and trying to lead a somewhat normal life. Picking up the pieces and creating a positive world around her, Sidney stands up for herself with her boyfriend, successfully outlives half the cast, and does mostly without help from anyone else. She proves herself as the heroine of her own story in the first film and, spoiler alert, goes on to successfully survive each of the sequels. Badass.


Rose Dawson of 'Titanic'

Trapped in a life where women are meant to be silent and married to whomever their mother chooses, Rose goes a different direction. Along the way, she defies her mother, carvse out her own path, and does exactly as she pleases. Including throwing a priceless gem into the ocean, because that's what she felt like doing. Get it, girl.


Buffy of 'Buffy The Vampire Slayer'

You know what's a tragedy? So many people don't realize that Buffy The Vampire Slayer was a film first. Just as in the show, Buffy was the stuff of feminist dreams. Though reluctant at first, Buffy grew into her ass-kicking ways, and did so on her own terms.


Leilana Pierce of 'Reality Bites'

Lelaina Pierce just got it. After graduating as valedictorian from college, she met the stark reality of having to be the assistant to a real jerk, putting her dreams on hold. While refusing to sit back and let life happen to her, Lelaina challenged the men in her line of work, and did everything in her power to get exactly what she wanted.


Idgie Threadgoode of 'Fried Green Tomatoes'

Idgie from Fried Green Tomatoes is a hot-headed tomboy with a heart of gold. She challenges gender stereotypes, teaches her best friend Ruth how to be a strong individual, and rescues her from a horrible situation. Women in the film are expected to be prim and proper, obedient through and through. Idgie refuses to stand for this stereotype, and urges others to do the same. Through Idgie's story, Evelyn becomes empowered in her own right. And if that's not feminism at its finest, I don't know what is.

Images: Touchstone Pictures; Giphy (15)