Here’s the thing about pop culture: it has power. Whether we realize it or not, stories have the power to inspire, to move its audience to tears, or even to take action for personal or social change. That’s why it’s so important to portray characters, especially female characters, with more to them than just their bodies, as has been an issue in media in the past. Thankfully, we have been seeing more and more women in pop culture today who are valued for their brains rather than just their beauty. So we’ve decided to compile a list of our top 10 favorite smart women in fiction.
10. Felicity Smoak (Arrow)
Felicity Smoak is the brains behind Team Arrow on the CW’s Arrow. Now, for those of you who have kept up with the show, we’re willing to admit that Felicity has surely made her share of foibles and has done some pretty groan worthy things on the show recently. However! Felicity’s intelligence is pretty incomparable. She quite literally keeps the team together with her mad IT skills, and we’ve seen it time and again: the team would meet insurmountable roadblocks if she weren’t there to type her way through them. She proves that you don’t need fighting skills or superpowers to be a superhero; you just need brains.
Matilda lands a place on this list because of her relentless pursuit of an education. She comes from a family that doesn’t value or appreciate her intelligence. At a young age, Matilda shows her incredible independence by taking herself to the library to learn to read! Her bff is totally her teacher, and later adoptive mother, Miss Honey (sorry, Lavender, we love you, too.) Matilda is the perfect role model for impressionable, clever, young girls (and boys) to fight against those who try to hinder your tenacity for knowledge…. and she has powers, but that’s really just icing on the chocolate cake.
8. Cristina Yang (Grey’s Anatomy)
It might be difficult for some to claim to be the smartest person in the room when the room is literally filled with doctors, but Cristina Yang never had that issue. She is confident about her intelligence to the point of arrogance, often putting off her coworkers but eventually landing her the position of Director of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital. Cristina makes this list because in a world where women are often pressured to choose family over their careers, Cristina is unapologetic in her career goals. She is often seen a cold and unsympathetic, but Cristina refuses to be treated differently than her male counterparts who aren’t expected to show their softer sides.
7. Elizabeth Bennet (Pride & Prejudice)
Elizabeth Bennet is the book worm’s smart girl icon; she’s the snarky, smart heroine of Jane Austen’s famous novel, Pride and Prejudice. What makes Lizzie so admirable is that she doesn’t let the expectations and pressures of society affect her at all. She has pride, particularly in her intelligence, and is unwilling to sacrifice what she knows she deserves just because she doesn’t fit society’s idea of a “prim” and “proper” woman. She knows her worth and shows the rest of us smart girls that if you stick to your guns, others will see your worth as well!
6. Willow Rosenberg (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
Willow Rosenberg starts out as the dutiful bookish sidekick and turns into a badass witch who can bring a slayer back from the dead. Willow’s smarts definitely got the Scooby Gang out of a few scrapes through Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s long run. Willow also seemed to be the voice of reason. Her intelligence and loyalty to her friends, especially Buffy, make her a fantastic character. She sticks around through Masters and mouths of hell to protect her friends and read all of the books.
5. Dana Scully (The X-Files)
Dana Scully is all kinds of smart. She has her medical background alongside her FBI training. She is so smart that her super logical brain won’t believe in what seems to be right in front of her face on many an X-Files episode. As the seasons progress, we see just how intelligent and savvy this lady can be, saving Mulder from more than one supernatural/extraterrestrial situation. Eventually, as she begins to take on a more invested role in the X-Files sans Mulder, we see how her wonderful brain picks apart what truth might be out there. Her evolution as a character really shows that people can and will change if they open up to other possibilities.
4. Cosima Niehaus (Orphan Black)
Cosima might not be as iconic as some of the ladies on this list, but she is on her way there. She and her sestras fight for their freedom from plenty of evil organizations that want to use them as science experiments. Cosima uses her smarts to find a cure for the disease that is killing her and her sister-clones. The characterization of Cosima is inspired by Orphan Black’s science consultant, Cosima Herter, whose official job is to use her Ph.D. in the history and philosophy of science, technology and medicine to help make the show more believable. Cosima is real, y’all! Let’s see: She’s inspired by a science geek in real life, her crew run a comic book store and secret lab in its dungeon, and she falls in love with another lady science geek! Um, where is her spin-off?!
3. Leslie Knope (Parks and Rec)
Every young smart girl who has dreamed of becoming the President of the United States can find their role model in Leslie Knope. Leslie embodies everything we would hope our politicians to be: unwavering in her love of her country and willing to fight to make sure her constituents they are getting the best from their government. Her political stances come from what she believes is right, not from party lines (she was a part of the Young Democrats, the Young Republicans, and the Young Independents in high school), and she isn’t afraid to play ball with political bigwigs. Leslie graduated in the top 5% of her class in high school and graduated summa cum laude in college, and she never shies away from the fact that she is often the most well-informed person in the room. Though Parks and Rec was an obvious parody of the sometimes insane nature of American politics, Leslie reminded us that powerful, passionate women can still make differences.
2. Hermione Granger (Harry Potter)
Chances are when you think of smart girls in fiction, you think of Hermione Granger, the cleverest witch of her time at Hogwarts. Not only is she incredibly bright and studious, she puts her smarts into action. In fact, a lot of Harry’s plans would have failed miserably if it weren’t for Hermione’s quick thinking. She’s the true hero of the series, in our opinion, and the titles could definitely be renamed to indicate that. For example, the second book could be titled “Hermione and That Time She Figured Out There Was a Basilisk at the School Before Everyone Else Did,” but that probably wouldn’t fit on the cover.
1. Lisa Simpson (The Simpsons)
Being 90s kids, The Simpsons was a staple in most our childhoods. That meant Lisa Simpson was a huge influence during the most pivotal times in our lives. She is an OG smart girl and completely unapologetic about it. She’s not afraid to speak her mind and fight for her beliefs, whether that’s being a devout vegetarian or protesting the Power Plant. She loves her family and (usually) supports them during their crazy adventures. She can be judgemental but ultimately comes through with some sage advice. She’s always exploring who she is and trying to be the best version of herself, and no matter how many different personas she’s tried, on she always go back to being herself, and that’s a lesson every young girl should learn early on.