The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Celebrating the Fearless Females of TV

Written by: Beth Woodward, CC2K Books Editor

ImageFor part 2 of our TV/Book Section switcheroo, Book Editor Beth Woodward celebrates the female television characters that have broken the mold through the years.

As anyone who has read my articles knows, I am constantly looking for portrayals of strong, interesting female characters.  In that regard, television is kind of a mixed bag.  On the one hand, throughout television history, there have been depictions of female characters that break the mold. 

Since the beginning, television has always had complex, compelling female characters that challenged the norms and mores of their times.  Not to say that all television’s portrayals have been great–Edith Bunker, anyone?–but percentage-wise, I think it’s easier to find mold-breaking females on TV than in the movies.  And to celebrate that, I’d like to talk about some of my favorites, the characters that have resonated with and inspired me through the years.

Lucy Ricardo (played by Lucille Ball), I Love Lucy, 1951-1957

Sure, Lucy was a housewife, and sure, Ricky did have that chauvinistic male thing going on.  But for 1951, this was pretty progressive.  Ricky might have tried to tell Lucy what to do, but Lucy usually ignored him and did what she wanted anyway.  And isn’t it fitting that her most memorable moments–Lucy doing a TV commercial, Lucy and Ethel working at the candy store, Lucy stomping on the grapes in Italy–happened without Ricky?  Unlike many other shows of this era, Lucy was the real star.

Mary Richards (played by Mary Tyler Moore), Mary Tyler Moore, 1970-1977

At the time Mary Tyler Moore debuted in 1970, most female characters on television were housewives.  But Mary was different.  Mary was making it on her own, a television producer in the big bad world of Minneapolis.  She’s not looking for a man to support her.  She’s making it on her own.  It doesn’t sound so revolutionary in 2010, but in 1970, it was huge.  And yet…maybe it still is revolutionary.  Where are the Mary Richards of the television landscape now?  Many female-centric shows focus on the woman’s love lives, not their happiness within themselves, without a man.  And given that more and more of us are waiting longer to get married–if we ever bother at all–I think this is a message we need to hear more of.

And as long as I’m being honest, I’ll confess: I listen to the Mary Tyler Moore theme song every time I need a lift.  Someday, I’ll go to Minneapolis and toss a beret over my head.  But for now, I’ll just have to settle for watching Mary.

Buffy Summers (played by Sarah Michelle Gellar), Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 1997-2003

Our esteemed TV editor, Phoebe Raven, and I share a love of this particular show–and with good reason.  Buffy might have started out as a spoiled, slightly vapid high school student, but through the years she grew into a strong, confident woman–and not just because she could kick the ass of any vampire, demon, or god that came along.  She was self-assured, responsible, took care of her sister, and saved the world–a lot.  I remember, when the series aired, that the later seasons, with their darker tones, were not as well-received.  But I’ve been rewatching the series recently, and, in retrospect, they make sense as part of the painful path on the growth into adulthood.  Of all the series I’ve ever watched, this had some of the best character growth.

Veronica Mars (played by Kristen Bell), Veronica Mars, 2004-2007

I didn’t catch Veronica Mars until about a year ago, when I impulse-bought the DVD of the first season–unfortunately, by then, it was already cancelled.  I just wish I had discovered it sooner.  Veronica may have been high-school aged to my college graduate, but she was exactly the kind of person I always wanted to be: strong, independent, forceful.  She uses her brains, rather than brawn, to survive.  She doesn’t let anyone push her around.  She’s fiercely loyal to those she cares about, but everyone else can pretty much go to hell.  Yes, she’s exactly who I want to be.

Juliet Burke (played by Elizabeth Mitchell), Lost, 2004-2010

Lost had such fantastic characters all around that it’s hard to pick just one.  So why did I pick Juliet?  To me, she represents the ultimate survivor.  When she’s essentially kidnapped by the Others and taken to the island, she makes the best of it–even when creepy Ben wants to date her.  And when she gets an opportunity to escape with the Lostaways, she takes it, accepting their resentment and mistrust.  And when she inadvertently travels back in time to 1974, she and reformed con Sawyer start a loving, committed, adult relationship.  You always get the sense that there’s unfathomable depths underneath her calm demeanor, and her death was one of the most harrowing scenes on the show.