From a tough attorney who cries herself to sleep at night, to a girl of steele who wears cute dresses and loves watching cat videos, to a ruthless assassin who is still hung up on her ex, television has finally started embracing the fact that women are complex creatures. Here are 10 contemporary shows that get female characters right…
Donald Trump may not have gotten the memo, but a woman’s purpose in life is not to be nice to men. In branding his opponent Hillary Clinton as a “Nasty woman” the then Republican candidate exposed himself as an ignorant misogynyst for all the world to see. Despite his sexist and shameful remarks about women from all walks of life, the man was democratically elected as President of the United States – what kind of message does that send? How is his shockingly low opinion of women going to shape the way women are treated in the US and abroad?
The next four years will be a time of trial and strife for those fighting for equality. But it’s important to remember that pop-culture, not politics, has always been the most effective carrier of social change. Alas here’s to the shows that celebrate femininity in all its wonderful complexity, in its empowering glory, in all its shades and hues.
Never underestimate the power that women hold. The 100 offers a plethora of badass females who will stop at nothing to ensure the survival of their people. Since the show is set in a hostile post-apocalyptic environment these ladies have got no time for relationship drama. Not surprisingly, it is very refreshing to see female characters navigate issues other than will-they-won’t-they on a regular basis. And since there are no romantic rivalries between women, there are many great moments of sisterhood and female alliance. More importantly, The 100 praises women in position of power: they are cast as warriors, political leaders (the native Grounder tribe is structured as a matriarchy), mechanics and scientists. What is more, men do not question their expertise or leadership, or if they do it isn’t because of their gender.
Breaking into a man’s profession isn’t the end of the feminist’s journey, it’s the beginning, as Pitch’s Ginny Baker realizes when she becomes the first woman to be drafted into the Major League. With millions of eyes watching her every move, Ginny is feeling the pressure to succeed, not just to prove the haters wrong, but as a trailblazer for young girls everywhere. And if that wasn’t difficult enough, she also has to deal with sexist media coverage, a nude picture hacking scandal and teammates who struggle to see her as an equal.
Sometimes your study group ends with you murdering somebody and having to dispose of the body. When that happens, you want a professor who cares as much about her students as Annalise Keating, because this badass bitch will get your charges dropped – even if she has to seduce and/ or blackmail several government officials to deliver. But don’t let the high heels and power-wig deceive you: underneath the figure hugging sleeveless costume is a vulnerable woman who’s afraid of being alone.
Speaking of total bamfs (if you’re not familiar with the term, it stands for badass motherfucker), haaave you met Lagertha? The fiercely independent shield maiden turned Earl is not somebody you want to mess with. A model for self-respect, Lagertha leaves her first husband Ragnar after he cheats on her. Her zero tolerance for fuckboys further manifests itself whenever she kills a man who tries to abuse her in any way – brutally, unremorsefully and without hesitation. And boy does she look smoking with her clothes drenched in the blood of her enemies…
5. Jessica Jones
Jessica Jones introduces the audience to a dark and twisted heroine who must confront the man who repeatedly raped her and held her captive. Netflix’ second Marvel show treats us to two layered, realistic female characters in Jess – never mind the superpowers – and Trish, who have a completely normal, supportive friendship that extends past guy problems. Like any best friends, they would do anything to help each other out, even if it meant going up against a sociopathic uber-villain who can control minds.
It’s possible for a woman to be a total badass and a goofball. Because news flash: women aren’t just one thing. More importantly, don’t ever let anybody tell you you can’t do something because you’re a girl or that wearing cute dresses makes you less tough. Supergirl‘s Kara Danvers is a reminder that just because a woman enjoys watching cat videos or eating ice cream or because she gets awkward around her crush, doesn’t mean she isn’t also relentless in bringing bad guys to justice.
At the heart of this lush teen drama about the early years of Mary Queen of Scots are three compelling female leaders: Mary, her mother-in-law Catherine de Medici and her cousin and political adversary Elizabeth I. Despite the admittedly terrible writing, the show does a great job of highlighting the importance of female alliances in patriarchal systems – in order to shatter the glass ceiling, we need to set aside petty rivalries and get over our jealousy. Furthermore, it demonstrates how women inspire each other to become more independent and confident and that together we can achieve great things.
8. Emerald City
Tarsem Singh’s gritty re-imagination of the beloved Frank Baum fantasy tale is not just visually stunning, but crawling with complex female characters. Chief among them is Dorothy, a Kansas nurse with mommy issues who is swept away to Oz by accident, but feels compelled to help its oppressed people; there’s West, a bisexual drug-addict witch who manages a whorehouse while her sister South runs the nunnery; and there’s Tip, a transgender girl – if you will – who cripples the first boy who kisses her because he does so without her consent. Personally, I can’twait to see which one of these kick-ass females will be the Wizard’s downfall. After all, the powerful ruler of Oz is a child-murdering despot who can’t keep his dick in his pants and has stripped all witches of their power to make sure they can never challenge his position of power. You know, patriarchy 101…
Behind every great Musketeer is a feisty powerhouse woman in a pretty period dress. From Queen Anne, a young woman caught between her duty to her country and her own hopes and desires, to Constance, a penniless girl trapped in a loveless marriage yearning for a life of adventure, to Milady, a ruthless assassin for hire, who is incredibly fragile in her affection for her ex-husband, this show is all about female empowerment. Among the feminist issues the show tackles are the double standard by which marital infidelity is judged, domestic abuse, rape, and women’s education.
Just to be clear, Quinn and Rachel are the absolute worst. As producers of a Bachelor-esk reality show the twosome consciously and cruelly manipulates female contestants to fit into certain character archetypes – the wifey, the whore, the nutcase, the old hag, to name a few – that have become established in these sort of television programmes. What’s worse is that they’re both victims and perpetrators of the patriarchal system: Rachel is passed off as damaged goods by several love interests because of her mental illness and past trauma, while Quinn has had to sacrifice motherhood and marriage to succeed in her profession.
Runners-up: Veronica Mars, Orange is the New Black, The Crown