Excellent Ladies of the Small Screen

I spend so much time writing about things on television which annoy me that I thought it might be nice to take a day off to write, instead, about things on the television which delight me. Today, some female characters on television whom I actually like.

I’ve always had a contentious attitude with a lot of female characters. I didn’t like most women on television, and thought long and hard about why that was, and realized that it’s because they are horribly written and dreadfully portrayed. Women are all overemotional. Or have untreated mental illness. Are domineering, manipulative, and controlling. Are so sex-hungry that they will do anything for teh cock. Etc. Standout female characters are hard to find.

Angela Montenegro, on Bones, is a great example of a female character I love, who happens to be a woman of colour and a member of the LGBQT community, to boot. Why do I love Angela? Because she’s a very skilled artist, and an amazingly talented geek. She has diverse interests. She’s kindly, sensitive, and perceptive, but she doesn’t fall into the “intuitive best friend” trap. She makes a great foil for Bones, but she’s her own person. She makes her own choices and decisions, she has beliefs and she sticks up for them.

The show manages to avoid exoticizing her, instead creating a very rich, full, and human character with a lot of dimension. She doesn’t fit into any of the easy boxes television has created for women, demanding that people view her as who she is. We constantly get to see her doing innovative and amazing things, and being appreciated for them. While we see her emotional side, Angela is not all about her emotions, and I like that.

Dr. Miranda Bailey, on Grey’s Anatomy, is another amazing female character. Who also happens to be a woman of colour. Interesting, that. It’s kind of hard not to love Dr. Bailey, from her lecturing students on why it is not ok to call her “The Nazi” to watching her struggle with her disintegrating marriage. Dr. Bailey is an incredibly strong and tough female character, with the hardening you expect from women in the surgical field, but she also has an emotional side to balance that out. Like Angela, her emotions don’t consume her and become the defining features of her character, but they are a part of her, and I like that the show can depict them in balance.

Veronica Mars, focal character of Veronica Mars, is another kickass female character. When I first heard about the series, it sounded like Nancy Drew for a modern audience, and it didn’t interest me all that much. But it’s about so much more than that. It’s a complex, layered show in which plots take multiple seasons to unfold, and Veronica is at the core of it all, kicking butt and taking names.

She’s a bit inconsistent at times, with the writing getting a bit fluttery, but as a whole, she’s a very strong female character. We get to watch her grow and mature over the course of the series, and she learns some hard lessons, but it’s not a show which punishes female characters for being women, which makes those lessons easier to take, as a viewer, because they aren’t about shaming and humiliating her, but about shaping her and helping her grow. It’s not a show which depicts women as one dimensional and dull; Veronica’s friend Mac is another great example of a female character, actually. Veronica leads a complicated, hard, and multifaceted life and it makes her very appealing to me.

Sookie Stackhouse, of True Blood. Alan Ball did a great job of porting the Sookie of the books to the screen, for the most part, retaining some of her most feminist characteristics and cutting away some of the chaff which weakened her character. Sookie is tough, no-nonsense, and stands on her own two feet. She calls out other characters when they do things which trouble and upset her, she defends people who need it, and above all, she stays true to herself. Sure, she’s sexified, but it’s HBO, and it’s her choice as a character; she’s empowered by her sexuality, rather than demeaned by it, which is a bit unusual for a female character.

Willow Rosenberg, on Buffy. Bet you thought I was going to say Buffy, didn’t you? I like Buffy, don’t get me wrong, but Willow is actually the more exciting character, for me. Willow, again, is a character we see growing and maturing throughout the series. She’s complex and complicated and rich and full of life and dimension. Like Veronica Mars, Willow stumbles sometimes because of bad writing, but she still stays strong, as a character.

Willow is allowed to be complicated. She’s allowed to¬† have multiple interests. She’s nerdy, which is delightful, but that’s not the sole focus of her character. Lady nerds often end up one-dimensional, defined by their nerdiness and nothing else, and Willow escapes and defies that trap. She’s a character who demands attention and respect. I like that about her.

Jaye, on Wonderfalls. A short-lived show, Wonderfalls didn’t get much of a chance to dazzle us with the lead character. But I still love her anyway. She’s the sort of person often deemed a “failure,” the person who comes back to her hometown with a liberal arts degree and casts about restlessly, unable to decide what to do, but that doesn’t define her. As she deals with strange things which go on around her, we watch her character unfold and expand as the boundaries of her reality shift. She still manages to hold on to herself and the people around her, though. I think we would have seen her as a more complex character if the show had aired longer, but I’m including Jaye in this list because she had so much potential, even if a lot of it was never realized.

Readers, are there any female characters on television you loved? I know that I’ve left some off this list, but I wanted to keep it reasonably short…

4 Replies to “Excellent Ladies of the Small Screen”

  1. Do you follow the Season 8 Buffy comic at all? I ask in particular because an issue came out Dec 23rd that focuses soley on Willow and what happens with her between tv season 7 and comic season 8. Just a heads up, you may enjoy it, or at the least find it worthy of discussion. I personally love the depiction of the goddesses – you’ll know exactly what I mean if/when you see it. I literally gasped in awe when I turned to that page! Happy reading.

  2. JCT: I have the omnibus for the first season, and I admit I haven’t gotten through it yet, but now I think I need to dig it out…

    Bailey and Montenegro were the first people that jumped to my mind when I read this. I love that Angela’s sexuality is touched upon, but not ever focused on as if it were a big deal, you see it, she talks about it, and the story moves on. Like it is life in motion. Her character is so well written… And Bailey…this is going to sound weird, but one thing I love about Bailey is that she can break down emotionally, and that is OK, and she can still command respect of all her peers and colleagues, even the men, especially the Chief.

    There was a good stint on Angel where I was in love with the way they had written Cordelia. When I had gone back and watched Buffy and saw how she had grown over the course of the seven seasons there and through the first three seasons on AtS (until the train wreck that was S4), she was one of my favorite characters that Whedon had ever created. She grew in depth and believability to me, on a personal level. She went from damsel in distress to confidant and peer. It’s hard to explain clearly right now, so I will cease in my attempt.

  3. I was about to get all excited about how I just got all into Veronica Mars and she was totally going to be on my list, and then I realized that that’s the whole point, just how small the pool is.

    I don’t know that like any of the female characters on Mad Men, as in wanting to be their friends, but the show does a great job of deconstructing a lot of the female archetypes because it has to, in order to stay true to its honest portrayal of the sixties, and I love that I get to understand these characters and not particularly like them. I especially enjoy the relationship between Peggy and Joan – they don’t understand each other enough to like or dislike each other, really, but they respect each other, and I love to see women having that option, you know? And Betty Draper is a great character for me, even if she’s a lot closer to the trope of the Loving Mom – both the audience and Don have to learn that you can’t put someone in that box and expect not to have any complications. I never enjoy her scenes, because depressed women are too hard for me to watch, but I love that they are there and I think the character is unbelievably important to the show.

    C.J. Cregg! I have to show the C.J. love. She might be the first, or one of the first in political fiction, fictional female characters based on real women in a position other than First Lady. And she’s funny, and good at arguing and loves to do it, and aware of how she has to be hypercompetent, and isn’t supergirl who always miraculously escapes sexist expectations but still calls them out when she sees them, and she sticks up for the other ladies, even when she hates them.

  4. Olivia Dunham from Fringe is a current personal favorite. She’s a very subtle character, usually very professional and pratical, but they also show her have an interesting personality with a lot of different facets.
    Aeryn Sun from Farscape is probably one of my all time favorties though. She’s completely well rounded, emotional, tough, complicated, funny…I could go on but it wouldn’t be very coherent I suspect.

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