5 Feminist TV Shows to Watch Right Now

We talked feminist TV shows just three months ago, but the networks are throwing new shows at us so fast these days, that we’ve got some new mentions (as well as old favorites) currently making our Top 5:

1. Body of Proof: In ABC’s new straight-up procedural, Dana Delany plays a neurosurgeon-turned-medical-examiner who helps solve murders. But, look at that, this time a woman gets to be the freakishly brilliant, quirkily abrasive one at the center of a broadcast network show solving the crimes! (Thanks, TNT and other cable channels, for pioneering that mind-blowing idea with the likes of The Closer.) Extra points for employing the always-brilliant Delany and giving her character a very real mommy complex: She’s estranged from her preteen daughter after years of dedicating herself to neurosurgery, and awkwardly trying to rebuild that relationship.

2. Game of Thrones: HBO’s is by far the best of the upcoming epic swords-and-sandals series you’ve undoubtedly seen advertised everywhere (along with Starz’ Camelot and Showtime’s The Borgias). I’m not normally into this kind of thing — it’s based on George R. R. Martin’s elaborate fantasy book series filled with about 3 trillion characters, mythical lands, mythical creatures, people with names like Eddard, and a big old war for the crown. (I didn’t even like Lord of the Rings. Sorry.) But the beauty of Game is in the layers — the multi-dimensional characters (no one’s 100-percent good or evil, though some come close on the evil side), the soapy machinations, the tons of sex. It’s also, surprisingly, in the female characters. Martin’s world is, alas, as sexist as medieval England (it matches the costumes), but these ladies are fighting it at every turn, from the conniving Queen Cersei (Lena Headey) to the bent-on-revenge Lady Catelynn Stark (Michelle Fairley).

3. Degrassi: This immortal teen favorite (just renewed for season 11 on TeenNick) has always tackled complex issues, from school shootings to teen pregnancy, like no American show dares. The current run is no different: For proof, see [SPOILER ALERT] the two-parter in which Fiona (Annie Clark) gets sober, testifies against her abusive ex-boyfriend, and discovers she’s a lesbian while making out with transgender classmate Adam (Jordon Todosey). Top that, 90210.

4. Grey’s Anatomy: Yes, we’re still grooving on our favorite post-feminist utopia as Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) struggles with fertility issues, the coolest lesbian couple ever (Sara Ramirez and Jessica Capshaw) prepare for baby (provided they survive that accident), and Miranda (the incomparable Chandra Wilson) parses out power issues with her nurse boyfriend.

5. 30 Rock: This one pretty much always gets an honorary spot. Also, we’re as excited for Tina Fey’s book, Bossypants (out next week!), as we once were for a new New Kids on the Block album.


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Author: Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong grew up deep in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, then escaped to New York to live in a succession of very small apartments and write about pop culture. In the process, she became a feminist, a Buddhist, and the singer/guitarist in an amateur rock band. She also spent a decade on staff at Entertainment Weekly, cofounded SexyFeminist.com, and now writes for several publications, including Women’s Health, Runner’s World, Writer’s Digest, Fast Company, and New York‘s Vulture. Her history of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted, will be published by Simon & Schuster in 2013; her collaboration with Heather Wood Rudulph, Sexy Feminism, will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2013. She is the author of the Why? Because We Still Like You, a history of the original Mickey Mouse Club published by Grand Central in 2010. She has provided pop culture commentary for CNN, VH1, A&E, and ABC, and teaches article writing and creative writing. Follow her on Twitter: @jmkarmstrong

Comments

  1. Sofia says:

    Parks and Recreation should be up here. Not only is the show incredibly funny and heart-warming, but Amy Poehler is a great female lead and her character is a huge feminist. I love that show!

  2. Stephanie says:

    Bones also has a freakishly brilliant and quirky female lead who solves murders….she might not be abrasive but she can certainly be offputting :

  3. Roane says:

    Not sure I agree with your inclusion of Body of Proof – it seems to buy into the stereotype that a woman can’t be successful in her career and successful as a mother.

    • Interestingly, this has come up more than once in stuff I’ve written about television characters: I don’t think it’s unfeminist to acknowledge the difficulties we face in balancing work and motherhood. Nature’s a bitch, and we have to have kids during the same years we’re also usually making our greatest professional strides. Delany’s character was a world-renown neurosurgeon; one can’t think she did that without sacrificing her personal life. Perhaps some world-renown neurosurgeons can do it, but I think there’s value in having a character who has struggled with life choices. It allows for the discussion–she even says something in the first ep about how a man could’ve made the same choices she did and not gotten any flack for it. Just showing superwomen who are perfect as characters doesn’t do us any good. Pop culture is only as good as the discussion it provokes; besides, I don’t need one more impossibly perfect role model to try to live up to, you know?

  4. Bobicat says:

    I was thrilled to find the list of feminis tv shows as I cant take my gender issue glasses off and predictable Hollywood sexism annoys the crap out of me. Ive so far seen 1 1/2 episodes of “game of thrones” and Im so dissapointed. Just what is Not youre average sexist tv-show here? I fear that I may have to give up my tv-addiction but thats probably good.

    • Jennifer Armstrong says:

      I totally hear where you’re coming from, but Game of Thrones is all about the overall arc with the female characters. I wrote a more detailed defense of it here: http://popwatch.ew.com/2011/04/18/game-of-thrones-feminist-or-not/

    • bynz says:

      Bobicat says “…as I cant take my gender issue glasses off and predictable Hollywood sexism annoys the crap out of me.”
      Me too! I can’t believe more people aren’t offended by the blatant sexism or the pseudo-post-equality world depicted in shows and movies. Or that the shows with strong female leads don’t pass the Bechdel test! And to pass these shows or leads off as feminist? Err, female protagonists who are basically men in a women’s bodies aren’t feminist characters. I’m glad that these protagonists are women at all, but for a character or show to be considered feminist, they need to, at the very least, show that these strong women are not operating in some unreal, post-equality world but instead in a world where sexism and double standards exist and that these women rise up despite the challenges they face as women. And feminist works are ones that are about overthrowing patriarchy, not individual privileged women succeeding, but baby steps, right?

      Anyways, I find that these two shows actually do a great job with regard to these issues: The Good Wife and Parks and Recreation (which another commenter, Sofia, mentioned already). The Good Wife has three great, strong female characters who are intelligent, independent and great role models. I don’t agree with one underlying feminist(?) idea that’s hinted about in the third season and again in the fourth, but I still think the show gets it right most times. Parks and Rec has a phenomenal lead who dispels quite a few female stereotypes. (I don’t remember the very short first season all too well but the latter seasons get better and better). Hope you enjoy these shows as much as I do.

      And there’s this other show called The New Girl which doesn’t have the best writing and is only intermittently funny but they have a character actually say that he was told to not be a ‘girl’ and he let them know that that is sexist! In a world of shows that seem to think it’s appropriate –and funny!– to say things like “You throw like a girl”, “Grow some balls”, “You seem to have a vagina”, etc, this is exciting, isn’t it?!

  5. bynz says:

    I haven’t watched all of Body of Proof but it did look promising in the first few episodes. I didn’t find the writing to be very interesting but in the face of a dearth of non-sexist shows, I hope to revisit this series soon; atleast it has two strong women in important roles and sexist ‘jokes’ aren’t bandied about.

    Game of Thrones, though, has a horribly problematic theme around Daenerys Targaryen. SPOILER ALERT! They show her getting raped (I have to disagree with your “consummates their union” take on it, despite how it is in the book) by Khal Drogo and then they get her to fall in love with him? This coping mechanism of a survivor is understandable, but to not indicate to viewers that her love for him is akin to Stockholm Syndrome is highly irresponsible! And the show actually looks upon him benevolently afterword, thereby inviting us to overlook it too. Not addressing the rape basically reaffirms people’s troublesome understanding of consent and this misconception that rape within marriage is a non sequitor. So clearly, the creators and the writers have trouble understanding the concept of consent and this makes me wary of the other messages that they’re sending viewers. Not to mention, the unnecessary “sexpositions” which got really violent and degrading in the second season.

    While I concede that the show does have strong female characters, their handling of Daenerys Targaryen’s rape is so offensive that I can never consider the show to be feminist.

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