Are feminist TV characters a thing of the past?

 
 

Television feminists have it rough. At least, what’s left of them. This week, Jezebel.com made a list of 20 feminist TV characters from over the years, and, as it turns out, most are portrayed as nerdy, socially awkward or annoying — and many don’t even exist anymore.

At the top of the list is a character TV execs wouldn’t dream of having around these days: Maude Findlay. Maude, played by Bea Arthur (we miss you, Bea!) was a pro-choice, Democratic voting “political activist who advocated for gender and racial equality” — a role Bea pulled of perfectly.

Next on Jezebel’s list was Married With Children’s Marcy D’Arcy, played by out lesbian Amanda Bearse. My mother and I always adored Marcy when I watched the show growing up (though I always appreciated Peggy Bundy’s leopard print ensembles and Bon Bon addiction). Marcy wasn’t afraid to tell Al Bundy he was a scumbag, and even started a feminist group: FANG (Feminists Against Neanderthal Guys).

The funny thing about Jezebel’s list is that it highlights how progressive some mainstream shows were back in the ’70s and ’80s — shows I couldn’t imagine making it these days:

During the late ’80s and early ’90s, Monday nights on CBS featured an hour-long block of feminist comedy with Murphy Brown and Designing Women airing back-to-back.

More feminists from the TV archives include the possibly gay Velma Dinkley from Scooby-Doo, The Wonder Years’ Karen Arnold, Family Ties’ Elyse Keaton, 90210’s Andrea Zuckerman, Saved By The Bell’s Jessie Spano (ugh) and, of course, Roseanne Conner, who may not have participated in any rallies, but showed how many struggling, lower middle class families have more things to worry about than the latest designer clothes or who the woman next door is sleeping with.

While The King of Queens or Desperate Housewives will never have what Roseanne did, I suppose we shouldn’t get too down on more recent television feminists.

The list mentions my current TV fave Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon as well as Lisa Simpson, Mariska Hargita’s Detective Benson (swoon) and Sex and the City’s Miranda Hobbes, played by out lesbian Cynthia Nixon.

Janice Soprano Baccalieri from The Sopranos, Femme Fatale from the Powerpuff Girls, Gilmore Girls’ Rory Gilmore and That 70’s Show’s Midge Pinciotti rounded out Jezebel’s list, but we can think of a few more:

Grace Under Fire’s Grace Kelly was a single mother who left an abusive relationship and worked on pipelines at the local oil refinery.

Several of the Buffy and the Vampire Slayer characters certainly had feminist qualities. (Buffy? Willow? Tara?)

And Detective Kima Greggs from The Wire. She’s a good cop, a lesbian, took a bullet and goes back for more.

One problem Jezebel acknowledged was the lack of minority feminist characters, with many of the openly feminist characters being upper middle class white women, but that is also likely rooted in stereotypes.

The list is a combination of women who come out as feminists, but also just strong, independent characters. While back in the day these ladies had to shout their feminist beliefs from the rooftops, is it safe to say that today these characters just exist in television shows without the need to do that — their actions speaking louder than a FANG T-shirt?

Who are your favorite television feminists?

 
 

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