9 Feminist Characters That Went There This TV Season

by Emily Krauser 10:45 AM PDT, May 15, 2015
Photo: ABC

There's something going on with female characters on primetime these days. They have something to say, they're not afraid to say it and they're standing up for themselves.

It's hard to believe that's still a big deal in 2015, but we're still living in a time when men who wield their power are celebrated as assertive but women doing the same are considered bitchy. Lucky us!

While feminism is still on its long, rocky road to not being a "bad word," there were a number of moments during the 2014-2015 TV season that made it clear that there's nothing wrong with being a strong woman who knows what she wants. Cheers to these eight female characters who went there:

1. Olivia Pope, Scandal

Shonda Rhimes owns Thursday nights. This isn't news. But the decidedly pro-feminist speeches that have taken over Scandal? Even for Shondaland diehards, season four has seen a noticeable increase in take-no-prisoners monologues from its leading ladies.

In the season premiere, ultimate white hat wearer Olivia publicly praises a legislative assistant for coming forward after being sexually harassed by a senator. "Kate chose to be a hero to the next girl who thinks she doesn't have a choice when it comes to sexual harassment in the workplace, a workplace where somehow, women still make 77 cents to every male dollar," Olivia explains.

And with that, White House Press Secretary (and Olivia BFF ) Abby Whelan admitted that Olivia won the president his Equal Pay bill. It's a high pedestal to sit on, but Ms. Pope has done nothing but command from it.

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2. Abby Whelan, Scandal

Speaking of Abby, she, like Olivia, has had no shortage of jaw dropping monologues this year. The moment that stood out most, however, was in episode 16, when Abby explains to boyfriend Leo Bergen that she's writing a letter of resignation because she is the one who will have the biggest fallout from Leo's hooker scandal, not him.

"I stand at the most powerful podium in the world, but a story about me ain't a story unless they can report on the fact that I'm the girlfriend of DC fixer Leo Bergen," Abby says. "It validates me. It gives me an identity. A definition. They can't fathom the concept that my life doesn't revolve around you... It's horrifying: Property of Leo Bergen. Tell me, when they write articles about you, Leo, how often do they mention me? Do they talk about your clothes? Write about your thighs? There is a difference."

Abby done brought it! Only being known as "the girlfriend of" is demeaning for every woman, especially when they've worked hard to be known for all of their accomplishments.

3. Kimmy Schmidt, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

While being trapped in a bunker for 15 years will severely handicap your pop culture references, it can't break your spirit -- at least, not Kimmy Schmidt's. She is a Lisa Frank kitten personified. From telling her boss Jacqueline Voorhees to listen to her women's intuition or a room full of plastic surgery addicts that "changing your outside isn't going to fix what's wrong inside," Kimmy spits out 140-character words of hard-earned, optimistic wisdom.


Her best feminist moment in a series full of them came from the realization that she had been sucked into yet another cult: SpiritCycle. She bursts into her exercise class to reveal that their spin leader Christopher isn't a toned cycle guru but a pimply-faced, squeaky fake who sits on a toilet behind a monitor to hide his IBS.

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"Why do we keep doing this to ourselves?" Kimmy asks."Replacing one stupid male authority figure with another, like Days of our Lives replaces Roman Bradys? Is [Christopher] different than any guy who tells you he'll make you richer or prettier or safer if you just let him make all the decisions?"

Like the Netflix sitcom's brainworm theme song declares:

4. Fawn Moscato, New Girl

Councilwoman Fawn Moscato was created to be the anti-Jessica Day. She is a blunt, sexual dynamo who lets her (now ex-)boyfriend Schmidt know exactly what she wants in their relationship -- especially the bedroom. She even went as far as telling him, "I'll call you when I need you."

We bow down, Fawn.

Despite being a scheming politician, Dawn took Jessica under her wing -- to teach the doe-eyed elementary school vice principal how to manipulate people, but still. While dishing out these life lessons during a golf outing, Dawn explains, "I never wear underwear in networking scenarios. It gives you a secret, an edge. Besides I firmly believe that power emanates from the vagina. So why block it?"

This advice came back to bite Fawn in the ass, literally, but what she's saying still holds: You are a woman. Own it.

5. Rayna James, Nashville

The reigning Queen of (Fictional) Country puts her family first while being deeply devoted to her career, so much so that she left the record company she had been signed with to form her own indie label for female artists. Rayna also had the wherewithal to break up with her fame-hungry fiancé Luke Wheeler (on their wedding day!) in this season's winter finale.

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That was bold, but so was the speech she gave two episodes earlier during the CMAs. Rayna had already racked up five awards, including one both she and Luke were up for. A drunk and angry Luke screamed at Rayna in the bathroom, "The only reason your album went gold was because you realized it on the day I proposed to you."

We still wish Rayna had ripped Luke a new one for such a sexist statement. Instead, she gave this speech at the end of the night that included this: "This one is for... all the female artists out there who are paving the way for generations to come. And to my man, my love, Luke Wheeler, I share this with you babe. What's mine is yours. And to all the men out there, just remember we’re never trying to take anything from you, there’s plenty of sunshine for all of us."

That speech didn’t forgive Luke for what he did -- thankfully, he does apologize later -- but it did point out that women have every right to take pride in their achievements. Nashville isn't perfect, but this season it has tackled feminism head-on and allowed its ladies to keep stressing the importance of ambition, self-respect and equality. Bye, Luke!

6. Leslie Knope, Parks and Recreation

Photo: NBC

We felt all of the feels when Parks and Rec wrapped for good earlier this year. The series had a way of being goofy while still making major statements in brilliant one-liners, and it never shied away from portraying the women of Pawnee as strong, self-assured and independent.

The sitcom's leading lady Leslie had all three of those characteristics and then some. By the end of the show's run, she was the Regional Director of the National Park Service Midwest Region, a working mother of triplets and devoted wife to nerdy, loyal Ben Wyatt. She lives and breathes public service, her role models are Hillary Clinton and Madeline Albright and she founded the Pawnee Goddesses, a Girl Scout-like troop with a motto that includes "enemies of fairness and equality, hear my womanly roar!"

So it made perfect sense that in the season seven premiere, Leslie got overly excited about the idea of turning land from the wealthy Newport family into a national park. "This could be my crowning achievement!" she exclaimed. "I could retire! I mean, I wouldn't. I'm going to work until I'm 100 and then I'll cut back to four days a week. Oh god, I'm already so bored thinking about that one day off."

That sentiment is pretty much everything you need to know about Leslie.

7. Sarah Manning, Orphan Black

The clones of this BBC America drama didn't all start out as powerful, assertive women, but nearly every one of them is now, and Sarah is at the top of that list. She is fiercely protective of her daughter Kira, stepbrother Felix and sister-clones, especially her maternal twin Helena.

In-between the plot twists and addition of new clones, Orphan Black does an impressive job of showcasing Sarah's strength. She is constantly fighting back despite the seemingly endless hand of crappy cards she's been dealt, and the most effective trick in her arsenal is using her sexuality to gain the trust of her enemies and manipulate them.

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And that's exactly what she used in the season three premiere when she strangled a high-powered member of the Dyad Institute with a belt and screamed, "Do you recognize me now?"

Photo: BBC America

Damn, girl.

8. Mimi-Rose Howard, Girls

Mimi-Rose is everything Lena Dunham's Hannah Horvath is not -- a successful, independent artist secure in her sexuality. Though the character only had a five-episode guest arc, Mimi-Rose left her mark -- namely when she explained to her pouty, egotistical boyfriend Adam that she couldn't go for a run "because I had an abortion yesterday." She made the decision entirely on her own, which sent Adam into a tailspin.

Was her reveal tactful? No, but the conversation was realistic (in the way that any conversation on Girls can be realistic), which is more than most shows can say about the ways they deal with abortion -- if they deal with the subject at all.

Post-fight, Mimi-Rose explains that she cares about Adam but doesn't need him. "No, I don't need you. But I love coming home and knowing you're behind the door, and I love watching you bend down and watching you pick something up because you use your body in a really strange way," she says. "And wanting you like this, that's better than needing you, because it's pure."

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There’s something unnerving about Mimi-Rose's ability to do what she wants and only share the information she feels like sharing, which is exactly what makes her necessary -- a self-confident woman on TV shouldn't be unnerving.

9. Tina Belcher, Bob’s Burgers

The Belchers are TV's First Family of Feminism. Bob and Linda Belcher are equal heads of the household, loving and supportive towards one another even during their most absurd schemes. You'll never see Bob call Linda crazy, despite the fact that she's done things like flash her boobs to bring a talk show to a halt and create games like Freezerdome, an ice skating battle held in their frozen basement.

Their son Gene is also inherently feminist, spitting out gems like, "This is why I'm only friends with women," after watching two of his male classmates wrestle on a beach, and declaring, "I was born to be a mother!" while taking care of a flour baby.

But it's oldest daughter Tina who has gotten the most attention for her refreshing awkwardness (she has a love of butts, horses and erotic can-fiction) and being given one of the best lines ever during season three: "I'm no hero. I put my bra on one boob at a time like everyone else."

This season has been no different. It was delightfully perfect when Tina wore a brand new look to school -- one sparkly plastic bracelet. She started to second-guess herself before deciding, "No, if you want to dazzle, you’ve gotta take razzles. That’s a dazzling way to say risks."

Even Tina knows that best moments in life come from doing something bold and unexpected -- the sparklier the better. What's more empowering than that?

See? Feminism isn't a bad word!