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Power Grid

10 Non-Costumed, Non-Powered Female Heroines



As much as I love, and spent a significant portion of my adolescence dreaming of, the world of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, one of the easiest things to say about it is that it doesn’t really have many female characters worth talking about. And so when, having not read LotR in a few years, I went looking for quotes about Eowyn, niece of King Theoden of Rohan, I was kind of shocked at how Tolkien absolutely nailed a character imprisoned by the patriarchal structures of her society. I mean, I remembered loving Eowyn every time I read the books, but… well, just look at this quote from Gandalf:

My friend [Eomer], you had horses, and deed of arms, and the free fields; but she, being born in the body of a maid, had a spirit and courage at least the match of yours. Yet she was doomed to wait upon an old man, whom she loved as a father, and watch him falling into a mean dishonoured dotage; and her part seemed to her more ignoble than that of the staff he leaned on.

Aragorn has a line towards the end of The Return of the King, which in the movies is transposed to Grima Wormtongue, in order that the audience understand a bit earlier what Eowyn is all about: she wakes in the night and sees her room in Edoras’ main hall with its trappings as a shrinking box, “a hutch to trammel some wild thing in” that closes around her: a night terror of a metaphor for how her sense of self beats wildly at the cage of her sense of duty.

I mean, this is The Yellow Wallpaper! This is the famous hysteria that plagued Victorian women, and Tolkien, not so long out of the Victorian era himself, nails it. With her cousin dead and her brother banished by her supernaturally senile royal uncle, Eowyn is the only member of her family that remains in Edoras uncorrupted by Saruman’s underling.

As soon as Gandalf et al., deliver Theoden from Grima’s thrall, Eowyn stands a chance at some freedom… except Saruman’s army is set on wiping out her people all together, and her duty as the only woman of the house of Edoras is not as a shield maiden of Rohan, but as a familiar royal face to lead the women and children into hiding in the Helms Deep caverns while the army defends them outside. Finally, once Rohan is called to the aid of Gondor, Eowyn thinks her time has come… but, as the only woman in the ruling house of Rohan it again falls to her to head up the home front while her brother and uncle ride to war. This time, however, she has a friend in loneliness who was also considered too frail for the battlefield: Meriadoc Brandybuck, a hobbit of the Shire.

The two of them disguise themselves as soldiers of the Rohirrim and ride to battle on Pelennor Fields. There, when the Witch King of Angmar, lord of the Nazgul wounded her uncle and king, and prepared to finish the job, Eowyn dared to hinder him. And, as you may have seen in a popular internet meme-languaged .jpg, when the Witch King shouted “come at me, bro,” Eowyn responded:

But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Éowyn I am, Éomund’s daughter. You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him.

So, you know. “I am no bro!” Eowyn wounded the Witch King, leaving Merry an opening to stab him with a blade particularly harmful to his kind, but not before Eowyn herself was hurt. After the battle, recuperating in Minas Tirith, her depression set in again. The great war was ended, any chance for further glory was gone, and the rest of her days looked much as they did from her shrinking bower. At least, until she met Faramir, last living son of the late Steward of Gondor, who also knew a thing or two about spending your life undervalued by your relatives and trapped by society in a role you despised. The two fell in love, married, and cemented an arrangement that allied the race of Man once again after thousands of years. Not bad for someone born in the body of a maid.

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  • DH

    Martha! Zoe! Oracle!

    I like this list. :D

  • Sarah Willis

    I love Zoe’s character so much. Gina Torres is just a perfect balance of sassy, strong, smart, and loyal. Can she please play Wonder Woman now?

  • Joy P

     That would make me the happiest person on earth…please let it be so!!!

  • Rusty Patti

    I’m a list junkie and this is hands down the best list I’ve ever seen. Thank you.

  • Jinxy Blastwave

    I love so many of these characters, but Oracle will always be a favorite because she faced the fridge and won.  There are so many moments from Birds of Prey that I’ll remember forever: the date with Nightwing where she swings on the trapeze, when they showed the flashbacks of Oracle and Power Girl’s disastrous first mission and how Oracle used that failure to make her better at her job, how she took Cassandra Cain under her wing and tried to give her a family (teenage ex-assassins are notoriously ill-adjusted, who knew?), and how we got to see her friendships with Dinah and later Helena grow into something awesome.  It’s so weird to feel so strongly about someone who isn’t real… and yet I’ve spent years with her.  I’ve got friends I don’t care about as much as Babs.  Let’s pretend I didn’t say that…  ORACLE 2012!

  • Kris Rudin

    Awesome list! Ripley! Zoe! Sarah Connor! And Eowyn!! YESS! Just reading this made me feel stronger! :-)

  • Lisa M

    Love the nod to suki!!! <3 great list 

  • Nicki

    So ~SO~ many of my favorite heroines!  Thank you!!!!!  <3

  • mary elizabeth newsom

    Speaking of “So say we all…” Where is Starbuck?!?  I do love this list though, I promise. Though I guess maybe it could be argued that she had… “powers?” Boo. I hate when I refute my own arguments. Starbuck is the best!

  • Anna B

    Ripley is my absolute favorite. She just totally is. I kinda wish Ziva David from NCIS made it in there, but whatever. She isn’t a geek girl so that’s understandable.

  • Francesca M

    You forget Gina Torres is not just an African American woman, she is also a Cuban American.

    Yes otherwise for the most part awesome list.

    I was never a fan of Martha marrying Mickey, in my head she comes home to her pediatrician husband after a long day of saving the world and he gives her footrubs. After all when you’ve walked the earth for a non-existant year, you deserve footrubs.


    It was never the Rimbaldi stuff that bothered me, it was the OMG HOW TERRIBLE the show got after Season 2. First two seasons completely awesome. Last two seasons… ow ow ow. I finished watching them. But all the same ow.

  • Ryan ‘Quavey’ Havers

    Ellen. Ripley. :D

  • Wulfy

    A great list of great heroines.

    I’ll just add this quote from Eowyn here, I love how the one thing that scares her is *not* being allowed to fight monsters.

    “What do you fear, lady?” he asked.

    “A cage,” she said. “To stay behind bars, until use and old
    age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond
    recall or desire.”

  • Emma Jones

    Eowyn is my favorite character in LOTR. I understand why there weren’t many other female heroines in the books (it was based in a time before much feminism), but I was always thankful that Eowyn had such a large role, and that it was dealt with care. Her character is something to aspire towards.

    Also: Martha isn’t my favorite companion character-wise, but if I had to choose someone to be by my side, it would definitely be her. She has the skills, the motivation and the craftiness to stay alive and do what she needs to do to save her friends.

    Zoe and Ripley are also favorite characters of mine.

  • Maxwell LaChance

    I completely disagree with Martha being on the list.  Amy or Donna make much more sense to me than Martha. 

  • ainok

    Definitely a fan of Martha. If not for Donna, she’d still be my absolute favorite companion of all time. She’s *awesome* and just so, so much more capable than Rose. A lot of people seem to forget about her for some reason, but I’ll always be a fan.

  • Amanda Murray

    And Keladry of Mindelan for the Tamora Pierce fans out there. :P  Legit list, though.

  • Jill Pantozzi

    10 Non-costumed, Non-Powered Female Heroines. Yup, Martha qualifies as one of those. Amy and/or Donna only make equal sense, not more.

  • Anonymous

    This! Tamora Pierce’s novels are all GREAT. Alanna is an amazing counter to Bella Swan… 

    I also think Alanna is a great sex-positive character. Like, as a 12-year-old she was probably the first character I had come across who had premarital sex with more than one person. And it was ok! She used protection! 

    Ahhh. We need more Tamora Pierce!

  • Anonymous

    I agree with you about Martha marrying Mickey.  Nothing against him but she was engaged before he came back to the main reality.  As far as I know they never say what happened, it’s like the writers just threw aside the man she was building a life with to make another tired “Smith and Jones” joke.

  • Alyse Middleton

    Love the list, but sad not to see Aeryn Sun from Farscape, she is one of my favorites!

  • Anonymous

    I had no idea of Fina Torres’ Hispanic heritage! Awesome. 

  • Jinxy Blastwave

     Aeryn was phenomenal!  Farscape doesn’t get the respect it deserves.  Everyone’s all nuts about the Muppets, why no Farscape love?  Their puppets fly spaceships.  Spaceships!

  • Mariah Tess

    First off, love the site, love this blog. Just something that caught my attention about Gina Torres…and that is that she is Latin American (not African-American…she’s of Cuban decent, which also can be of African decent. But she considers herself Latin American). Watch this video and see her speaking about her ethnicity (2:15) and the way the entertainment industry (and this country) view Latin Americans. The video is lovely and empowering for Latin-Americans and mixed African/Latin-Americans.

  • Trish

     Tamora Pierce is freaking awesome. Both Keladry and Alanna were great heroines.

  • Trish

    Great list! I agree with someone from above. Would have loved to see the new Starbuck on it. She was a great character. But there are sooo many to choose from. LOVE Ripley and Sarah Connor! 

  • Jasmine Zerbe-Moore

    Eowyn and Faramir were my favorites the whole time, and when I fist read the book and they got married at the end?  Total win :D

  • Francesca M

    Unfortunately Donna did eventually became Powered. Same with Rose. I’ve never been a Martha fan but I give her the edge in this competition.

  • Francesca M

    Thank you for posting that amazing link. Really. I get frustrated when I try to explain cultural ethnicity to people. I have gotten into huge arguments about it. This was great.

  • Anonymous

    What no Sarah from Katsuhiro Otomo’s Legend of Mother Sarah? Oh well nothings perfect.

  • Mariah Tess

    Haha, me too. I’m mixed so I confuse ppl often. But the video is right about us never seeing darker than “white” latinas in show biz. Think of all of the popular Latin American women in show biz…Penelope Cruz, Salma Hayek, Sophia Vargara. Very light skinned. The darker skinned latinas are categorized as African-American. And it’s mostly bc ppl are confused and that’s the first race they associate them with. Michelle Rodriguez – Rayne – could have been on the list (and any number of the Resident Evil characters for that matter). She is sorta darker toned. She is a very niche actress, though. Doesn’t stop her from kicking any ass. I love her. I may be in love with her. Haven’t figured it out yet.

    Milla Jovovich has a handful of characters that could have been on the list as well. Love her. Leeloo, Alice, Violet….

  • Nyssa Hamilton

    Other than Starbuck, as others have already said, I couldn’t help but think of Agent 355 from Y: The Last Man. She is amazing, unpowered, and… well, amazing :-P… Actually almost all the women from that series are uncostumed, unpowered and definitely super-heroines

  • Anonymous

    Princess Peach isn’t on this list? What about Bella Swan? 

  • Anonymous

    There’s a line at the end of the books when Eowyn says to Faramir “would you have the people say you taimed a wild shield-maiden of the North?” (Or something to that effect) And I always imagined her saying that a little teasingly, like ‘Bro I killed the king of the Nazgul, that aint gonna happen.’

    And then they spend the rest of their lives chasing straggling orcs and rebuilding Ithilien and chilling out with Merry and Pippin when they come to visit (which they totally do). And Merry teaching Eowyn to smoke pipeweed  and sharing memories of Theoden and Faramir being all happy and flattered when Pippin names his kid after him….

    Getting a bit fan-fictiony here… but hey, my four fav characters.

  • Siobhan Thomas

     Gina Torres is and always will be my ideal Wonder Woman, glad to see other people who get it too.

  • John Wao

    Eowyn: “But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Éowyn I am, Éomund’s
    daughter. You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone, if you be
    not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch
    him.” = Ripley “Get away from her you B#$@!”

  • Jenn W

    I love this list though I am woefully lacking in knowledge on some of these ladies because I haven’t read/watched their stories (ALIAS and Dr. Who – I know, my geek cred is in jeopardy). Brienne and Oracle are highlights for me. The only omission that I see would be Beatrix Kiddo – The Bride from Kill Bill, I love that character!!

  • Karen Mann

    Love this list but being someone born in the 60′s, I’d add Emma Peel. She was my first introduction to a woman who could handle herself with deadly accuracy in a time period when most female characters were still being rescued by men. 

  • Rose Corcoran

     Seconded! Er… fourthed. Whatever. Agreed! Although Alanna as her magical Gift, so she qualifies as having powers. That was one of the things I liked best about Kel, was she did everything she did without the benefit of magic, just some talent and lots of hard work.

  • Rose Corcoran

     That was the first thing I thought when I finished the list! I woudn’t say Starbuck has “powers”, at least not in the sense that she had any control over them. Starbuck FTW!

  • Eric Lindberg

    Good list. Eowyn and Oracle are two of my favorite characters of all time, female or otherwise. In other news, I cannot stop laughing at the mental image of the Witch-king of Angmar yelling “Come at me, bro!”

  • Beatrix Q Owlington

    Turanga Leela …she’s one of my faves!

  • Jose

    “Eowyn wounded the Witch King, leaving Merry an opening to stab him with a blade particularly harmful to his kind, but not before Eowyn herself was hurt.”
    This is my favorite scene in both the books and the movie.  I believe that this is stated wrongly here.  After the Witch King taunts “Dernhelm” with the prophecy that he can’t be slain “by the hand of man”, Eowyn responds with what you’ve quoted.  He then attacks her with his flying beast, which she slays by cutting off its head.  The Witch King then shatters her shield with his mace, breaking her arm and sending her to the ground.  At that point, Merry stabs him behind the knee, throwing off his killing stroke, and Eowyn kills him by thrusting her sword “between crown and mantle,”  which shatters the sword.

    So it’s Merry who wounds the Witch King and the bad-ass Eowyn who kills him.

  • Natalie Sharp

    As cool as it was that you put Martha Jones here, you forgot one of the best things about her! She WALKED THE EARTH TO SAVE THE EARTH. That’s amazing. Easily the coolest thing I’ve ever seen any companion do. Sure Rose absorbed the time vortex, Donna absorbed the Time Lord essence and Amy remembers stuff… but Donna’s walking the earth was super difficult, dedicated, time consuming, and physically demanding. That’s awesome.

  • Cat Rambo

    Two words: Tank Girl.

  • Sylvia

     Seriously! I mean, I like Alanna and Daine and the rest, but Kel has a special place in my heart for being an unpowered person in a universe where magic is common and routine, and kicking ass anyway.

  • Sylvia

     Wait, Leeloo? The physical embodiment of Life? Super memory, super learning, jumps off buildings, punches through metal?

    I like her too, but she’s definitely super-powered.

  • Holland Dougherty

    Why no love for Carmela Rodriguez from Diane Duane’s work?  Chocolate smuggler, brilliant linguist, and savior of the main characters on several occasions (which she loves to tease her younger brother about).  She saved a whole planet armed only with a ray gun and a backpack full of chocolate!

  • Ividia Kt

    I love Zoe and Sarah and Ripley.  I do have to agree with the commentator above who mentioned Emma Peel.  Along with Zoe, one must think of River and Kylie.

    I must add in Uhura, both the character and Nichelle Nichols for pushing boundaries and staying the course.

  • Adam Whitley

    Although I am forever on team Arya I must give props for including Brienne on the list. 

  • Angel H.

    No Elisa Maza?

  • potatisbulle

     Speaking of Gina Torres and Alias, I wish Anna Espinosa could have been on the list… but of course, she’s a non-costumed, non-powered *villainess*.

  • Francesca M

    Oh man Anna Espinosa.. she was sooooooooooooo AWESOME.

  • Anonymous

    I personally found Martha to be a great character ruined by her dragged-out unrequited love plot. She was awesome, smart, independent, and I love her for about ten minutes before she spent the rest of her time on the series being angsty that the Doctor loved Rose and didn’t even notice her. 

    Then she married Mickey? What happened to the other guy she was engaged to?

  • Mariah Tess

     Touché. It appears that in my excitement of the listing of amazing heroines, I left out a minor detail. Ok, major detail…it’s the reason this blog post exists… *sigh* I stand corrected.

    I’m going to go watch the 5th Element now.

  • Anonymous

    OMG THANK YOU CAT!! I was reading the thread to make sure I didn’t repeat this idea but, I would repeat it again and again! Tank Girl = bad ass chick!

  • Anonymous

    I really dig this list. I will forever heart my Firefly girls (and I would do dirty dirty things to the boys). I’m surprised that Beatrix Kiddo (aka the Bride, aka Black Mamba) from Kill Bill wasn’t mentioned. She’s one a one woman kick ass killing machine who took down the whole gang of crazy 88s, 6 deadly assassins, dug herself OUT OF A GRAVE, and reunited with her daughter (who she didn’t even know survived The El Paso, Texas Wedding Chapel Massacre). I know you can’t have everybody…but, not even on honorable mention?

  • Sylvia

     Good idea. I need to rewatch it soon too. Because Leeloo is awesome. =)

  • Cameron Rene Ramirez

     Princess Peach has super-powered emotions, at least on Vibe Island.

  • medie

    er, Sydney Bristow. Not Sidney. 

  • Jenn W

     Oh, I just thought of one more: Olivia Dunham from Fringe. I know she probably falls into the grey area of “Non-powered”, but her abilities are more like enhanced senses, than true super powers. Anyway, she is one of my favorite kick-ass female characters on TV right now!

  • Anonymous

    I also wanted to add Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) from the X-Files. She may have gone up against the supernatural and the things beyond the stars but, she herself didn’t have superpowers or a costume.

  • Elle

    Yes! Brienne of Tarth and Eowyn! This is great!

  • Rhonda Yearwood

    You forgot Emma Peel!
    She is amazing and was way ahead of her time and paved the way for the other women on this list!

  • Maximus Jacobus

    Ripley stands above them all. I love me some Firefly but Ripley is the best Sci-Fi Heroin if not the biggest Heroin of any creation.

  • Anonymous

    Me too, you’re not alone :) and the Bride! Good call!

  • Anonymous

    Bella Swan, human: moany pain in the a$$
    Bella Swan, vampire: powered up!

  • Anonymous

    LOVE Fringe. and both Olivias :)

  • Tia Cue


  • Tia Cue

    Éowyn !!! FANTASTIC! 

  • Bel

    Pretty disappointing to see Suki and not Katara, TBH.

  • Anonymous

    You should get on board the Doctor Who train. I resisted because I’m not really into sci-fi in general….but this is an amazing show.

  • Shelley Barnard

    I’m dating myself terribly, but I’d love to see Juliet Parrish from the original “V” on this list. Another character who was completely and utterly ordinary until circumstances demanded that SOMEONE stop forward and kick @ss. But this list is so great, I’m not sure who’d you knock off to make room for her…

  • Jenn W

    I can now say that I am officially a Whovian!!!! I got my hands on all the episodes since 2005 and watched them all this past fall. I can’t believe I was missing out on such a great show all this time. I’m caught right up to this year’s Christmas special and I can’t wait for the new episodes!

  • Randomfire27

    I would too, but Katara does technically have super powers. :P

  • ZeonChar

    Can we get lists that don’t make the whole page reload when you click through them?