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GIRL POWER! Empowering Pop-Culture Role Models for Girls

GIRL POWER! Empowering Pop-Culture Role Models for Girls

Modern heroines — from video games, popular cartoons, and revived characters of our own childhood — are inventors, wordsmiths, and unafraid to speak up for themselves and what’s right. Meet — and introduce your little princess to — the 21 coolest girls around.


Princesses have come a long way from their damsel-in-distress roots (thank God!) and are now keeping company with girls who lead in the most surprising (and empowering) ways.

Modern heroines — from video games, popular cartoons, and revived characters of our own childhood — are inventors, wordsmiths, and unafraid to speak up for themselves and what’s right.

Meet — and introduce your little princess to — the 21 coolest girls around.

WordGirl PBS


Need some help with your vocabulary? Word up, it's WordGirl, a PBS superhero, is here to help! Becky Botsford, a mild-mannered 5th grader, crash-landed on Earth as an infant from Planet Lexicon. She’s a crossword puzzle wiz, has memorized the dictionary, and understands most hieroglyphics. In her world, crime doesn’t pay, but knowing the right word for any situation is priceless!


Koki from Wild Kratts PBS

Aviva Corcovado and Koki

PBS is also home to Aviva Corcovado and Koki of the Wild Kratts, a biology-based show that teaches kids how the small things they can do make a big impact. Aviva, an engineer and inventor, designs all of the tools and products that the Kratts use. Koki runs the computer database, which she uses for research, and the communications system, which helps the Kratts intercept and interpret villains’ messages. Nothing like kids just assuming girls can be tech geniuses, right?


Bella and the Bulldogs on Nick

Bella Dawson

Bella Dawson breaks many stereotypes as a cheerleader-turned-quarterback in Bella and the Bulldogs. At first the Texas team isn’t thrilled to have a girl on the field (to say the least), but they eventually accept her, realizing her many contributions. That doesn’t mean that it’s always easy for Bella to juggle her commitments to the team and her female friends.


Girl Meets World family Disney Channel

Riley Matthews

For those who miss the hit ‘90s TV show Boy Meets World, Cory and Topanga Matthews are back in Girl Meets World with their 13-year-old daughter Riley, who is a role model to her younger brother, gets good grades, and is a bubbly and upbeat teen. She may make mistakes, but seems to learn from her actions — a skill even some adults could benefit from.


Nancy Drew

When Edward Stratemeyer conceived the Nancy Drew character in the 1930s, he wanted to capture the female audience that was reading the Hardy Boys books. Little did he know that the 16-year-old sleuth would capture readers’ hearts for decades, most recently through her new Interactive computer games, which will celebrate the heroine’s 85th anniversary this year.  


Fátima Ptacek voice of Dora the Explorer

Fátima Ptacek & Dora from Dora and Friends: Into the City

Dora had to grow up as all children do, but she’s still as friendly, curious, and clever as ever. Now, she’s just learning social skills, becoming more involved in her community, and giving back to others. Fátima Ptacek, the Queens resident who voices Dora, is starting new adventures of her own too. The freshman at Avenues: The World School in Chelsea is also a gymnast and has her sights set on an Ivy League legal education. 


Quvenzhané Wallis at the Oscars

Quvenzhané Wallis

The youngest actress to receive a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress and the first Africa-American child actor to earn an Oscar nomination, Quvenzhané Wallis starred as Hushpuppy in the film Beasts of the Southern Wild. She is also known for the hit 2014 remake of Annie


Mo'ne Davis on Sports Illustrated cover

Mo’ne Davis

It wasn’t long ago that telling people they “throw like a girl” was an insult. Last year’s Little League World Series and 13-year-old pitcher Mo’ne Davis changed that perception by throwing 70 mph fastballs to send her team to the World Series. She then became the first girl to throw a shutout in World Series history and landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated.


Malala Yousafzai advocate for education

Malala Yousafzai

In 2009, Malala Yousafzai began writing an anonymous blog for the BBC expressing her views on education and life under the threat of the Taliban — which banned television, music, and women’s rights to education — in the Swat District of northwest Pakistan. Her profile increased when she received accolades including Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize and a nomination for the International Children’s Peace Prize. In 2012, Taliban leaders met, voted to kill her, and made an attempt on her life. Since surviving the attack, she has become a global advocate for millions of girls being denied an education. She also started the Malala Fund.


Selena Gomez for UNICEF

Selena Gomez

Cast in the children’s series Barney & Friends in the early 2000s, Gomez became a household name with the Disney Channel series Wizards of Waverly Place. Outside of her acting career, she formed July Moon Productions and launched the “Dream Out Loud” clothing line made from eco-friendly or recycled material. Gomez also works with UNICEF, becoming the youngest ambassador ever at age 17.


Demi Lovato performing in concert

Demi Lovato

Demi Lovato may not be your top choice for a role model, with a history of personal struggles including various mental health issues, an eating disorder, and addiction to drugs and alcohol. But, unlike some starlets, Lovato has sought help and turned her life around by going to rehab, choosing a sober-living facility upon release, and writing about her struggles for Seventeen. Without open dialogue such as that sparked by Lovato, how will our girls know that their problems are not insurmountable—and that they are not alone in whatever they may be struggling with?


Tavi Gevinson

Best known as the founder and editor-in-chief of Rookie Magazine, an online publication, Gevinson shares information on pop culture and feminist discussions aimed at teenage girls. She appeared on the Forbes “30 Under 30 in Media” list in 2011 and 2012. In 2014, she was named one of “The 25 Most Influential Teens” by Time.


Emma Watson giving He for She address

Emma Watson

Most will recognize Emma Watson for her role as Hermione Granger. Her most notable role of late, however, is as the United Nations Women Goodwill Ambassador where she has been a key spokesperson for the IMPACT 10x10x10 program and the #HeForShe campaign, which encourage key decision makers from around the world to make gender equality a priority. 


Ban Bossy on Instagram


Sheryl Sandberg created LeanIn.Org to empower all women to achieve their ambitions. She then teamed up with the Girl Scouts of America to “Ban Bossy” through a public service campaign designed to help girls flex their leadership muscles and become more assertive. Reaching teens—girls and boys alike—on the social media platforms they are on: brilliant. And what #dialogue has ensued! 


Always #likeagirl campaign


Always, the much-loved Procter & Gamble brand, kicked off the #LikeAGirl campaign to help girls everywhere build their confidence. Instead of using the words “like a girl” as an insult, the brand hired American artist Lauren Greenfield to create a campaign to show that doing things #likeagirl is awesome. There’s a reason this campaign has gone viral. 


Smart Girls

Amy Poehler founded Smart Girls, which began as an online show for young girls, but evolved into a place for information, comedy, and community. Smart Girls emphasizes intelligence, imagination, and curiosity while encouraging girls to volunteer, become involved in their communities, and expand their worldview while being true to their wacky, weird selves.


Girls Who Code

Girls Who Code believes that the more girls are exposed to computer science at a young age the more likely they will be to work in technology and engineering fields in the future, which will be key to their success. After all, the U.S. Department of Labor projects that by 2020, there will be 1.4 million computer specialist job openings. Girls Who Code, which was founded in NYC in 2012 by Reshma Saujani, aims to provide computer science education and exposure to one million young women by 2020.


Girls on the Run race

Girls on the Run NYC

In 2006, Girls on the Run Manhattan hosted its first program for girls in third through eighth grade. The goal? To teach life skills and unleash confidence while establishing a lifelong appreciation for health and fitness through interactive lessons and running games over the course a 12-week season that culminates in a 5K run. In 2011, the organization became Girls on the Run NYC, offering the program in Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens.


Girls Inc. Westchester

Girls Inc. Westchester helps middle- and high-school aged girls make good decisions, solve problems, and lead others. The organization, which has served nearly three thousand girls since 2008, offers programs focused on STEM, violence prevention, safety, media literacy, health, sexuality, and economic literacy. Through these programs and other workshops, Girls Inc. Westchester hopes to instill strength, boldness, and a passion for learning in its young members.


Did we miss your daughter’s favorite heroine or girl-focused group? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter! 


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Amber Greviskes

Author: Amber Greviskes is a frequent contributor to NYMetroParents. She lives in New York, and has also contributed to "Parenting" and "BabyTalk" magazines. See More

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