Feminist TV Shows

Feminist TV is hard to come by. Even in shows featuring the coveted ‘strong female’, she is often the only woman in sight, as if multiple women would somehow disorient us. There is a particular sort of joy that comes in the discovery of truly feminist television. We may not be constantly judging scenes on whether they pass or fail the Bechdel test, but there is a certain comfort when they do. It comes from not having that annoying voice in the back of your head pointing out that the only women in the room are two dimensional and passive. That voice is rarely absent. When it is… it makes for some joyful viewing. I often watch these shows with a silly grin plastered across my face.

Orphan Black

orphan-black

This show smashes the very concept of ‘limited roles’ to pieces. It’s about clones. All of the main characters are played by the same woman, the insanely talented Tatiana Maslany. The other thing? They are all complex and weird and unpredictable. Each takes the stereotype on which she is loosely based and twists it into something unrecognisable. The sisterhood that develops as the show does, the love and tensions between these women, are thrilling to watch.

Oh yeah, and they’re trying to bring down the evil corporation that’s trying to have them killed. What’s not to like?

All of the straight men in Orphan Black are under written idiots. This is a deliberate choice. It is a device to point out the limited roles we give women in television. It is also there as a means of showing how men – even when they are idiots, still work within the privileges afforded them by a patriarchal system. If you’re interested, there is a really great article about this aspect of the show over at Slate. The author refers to men as ‘like so many walking erections.’ It’s a must read. Trust me.

Scott and Bailey

scott-and-bailey

This is a cop show from the UK. Generally speaking, I’m not really into crime shows. Usually because – in the UK, anyway – they are about men, and at a certain point I just got bored of that, you know? Then my brother introduced me to Scott and Bailey. I refused to watch it for ages, because I assumed I wouldn’t like it for aforementioned boredom reasons. How wrong I was.

All of the positions of power in this show are occupied by women. Scott and Bailey are police officers, their DCI is a woman (played to absolutely freaking perfection by Amelia Bullmore, who is also a writer for the show), as are all other heads of departments they encounter. In addition to the women in this show being epic badasses (which they all are), they deal with what are actually some pretty real issues – whether or not to have kids, how to balance work and motherhood (we don’t like to talk about it, but sometimes you can’t), how to deal with the creepy guy who you slept with and who is now kind of stalking you.

Every episode of this is gold. I don’t know that it’s watched much outside of the UK, but it totally should be.

Jessica Jones

jessica-jones

I love Jessica Jones deeply but it has ruined Marvel for me forever. Now I know that they can do better, the utter shit show that is female characterisation in the Avengers movies has become totally unacceptable to me (before I was doing that thing where I pretended I didn’t mind because I loved Robert Downey Jr. so much. I totally mind.).

The entire first season of Jessica Jones is a repeated stabbing of the patriarchy. It covers topics such as abusive relationships, sexual violence and PTSD. It studies women’s agency, and how it can be taken from them. It places a woman as a central character, something Marvel has never done before. Jessica doesn’t spend the entire show being sexualised (cough – Black Widow – cough) – in fact she spends it wearing a pair of jeans so comfortable looking I have been searching for a similar pair ever since. She is an active character coming to terms with the actions of her abuser even as she seeks to bring him down.

It is excellent.

But I will warn you, it will totally un-do all that work you did trying to convince yourself that Black Widow was kind-of-maybe-sort-of okay.

Scandal

scandal

Olivia Pope. Need I say more?

Yes. You might notice something about this list so far. All of the characters I have talked about are white ladies. While there is a growing feminist movement in TV today it is by no means intersectional, a fact that is disappointingly predictable.

But it’s not all bad. Shondaland, exists, after all.

Olivia Pope is a fixer. She sees your problem – a dead body, an unfortunate affair, some illegal action – and she can make it go away. By any means necessary. Growing up, Olivia Pope’s father drilled into her that as a black woman she would have to work twice as hard for half the power. She took that to heart, and if there is one thing Olivia Pope can do it is this: she can work you under the table. She wants power and she is willing to sacrifice anything to get it.

A guy kidnapped her one time. It was super traumatic. He’s dead now. Olivia smashed his head in with a chair.

Olivia Pope breeds presidents. And then she runs the White House without them even noticing.

Olivia Pope is unbeatable.

 

Advertisements

My Top Three Female Characters

I think the need to read about women I related to (and women I didn’t) was part of what drove me toward reading. The girls I read there were real. They made mistakes and they had complicated friendships. They weren’t simply the subplot to somebody else’s epiphany. They were my friends and the people I aspired to be like.

I love female characters. I love to read women with depth, women who are complicated and not a mess of gender characteristics stuck awkwardly together by a clueless author.

Often when I watch television, I find the female characters fall flat. They are so frequently pushed into the same boring gender roles and their friendships reduced to shallow one way streets where the only topic of discussion is dating. Or, worse, the female character is only there to facilitate some guy’s character development and has no storyline of her own.

Unfortunately on TV this can start to feel like the norm.

I think the need to read about women I related to (and women I didn’t) was part of what drove me toward reading. The girls I read there were real. They made mistakes and they had complicated friendships. They weren’t simply the subplot to somebody else’s epiphany. They were my friends and the people I aspired to be like.

So with that in mind, today I want to write about three of the women in young adult fiction who have stayed in my mind long after the end of the story.

Frankie Landau-Banks

From The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

frankie

This book should be required reading for all teenaged girls, I think. Frankie is a sixteen year old girl in the midst of a feminist awakening. She is keenly aware of what the people around her expect and want from her – a sweet, quiet girl who doesn’t want to cause any trouble – and she realizes more and more than she cannot be it for them. She’s smart and adventurous and she wants to be at the heart of the action even when it is in the end at the sacrifice of those things she always thought would make her happy. She is a girl in the process of figuring out who she is.

The ocean stirsthe heart, inspiresthe imgination&

Cather

From Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

fangirl

I so wish that Fangirl had been published in time for my first year of university, because me and Cath had pretty similar feelings going in and reading about hers would have gone a long way toward convincing me that I was not in fact going crazy.

Cath is the suspicious type. She doesn’t let people in much, apart from her twin sister Wren, but since they went to university together and Wren decided to get a roommate who wasn’t Cath they haven’t talked much. Cath is fearful. It takes her weeks to go down to the refectory in her dorm because she doesn’t know how the place operates. She doesn’t get out much. She isn’t a party person.

The reason Cath felt so real to me was that she never lost the deep reservations she had about life. Just because a lovely boy came along didn’t mean she instantly stopped being suspicious about relationships. Just because she made a couple friends didn’t mean she suddenly started going out to the kind of parties that she hated. Just because she left home she didn’t stop worrying about her dad, who has bi-polar and isn’t particularly stable at the best of times. Cath and her stresses came as a pair, and her journey to live her life in spite of them is what makes Fangirl such great reading.

Evie O’Neill

From The Diviners by Libba Bray

the diviners

In case it wasn’t obvious, I’ve recently got totally re-obsessed with The Diviners in anticipation of the sequel being finally almost here.

Evie is everything I wish I was. She’s extroverted, witty, brave and always up for a party. She is desperate to be famous, whatever the cost. She’s also… pretty haunted. She lost her brother in the Second World War and since her already frail relationship with her parents has completely broken.

Evie needs more than anything else to be noticed. She has been lonely ever since her brother died and tries to plug the gaping hole he left behind with the shallow attentions of… whoever she can get to listen. It goes without saying that the need for attention never ends.

But she’s also pretty selfless. She puts herself in positions of grave danger throughout the novel in pursuit of the murderer haunting the streets of New York. She almost dies chasing him, but she keeps going anyway because ridding the world of him is the only way to make people safe.

Did I mention I’m excited for the sequel?

Who are your favourite female characters and why? Let me know in the comments!