Among the multitude of current TV shows spearheaded by central female characters — The Mindy Project, Parks and Recreation, Bunheads, to name a few — only a handful truly portray various incarnations of feminism that speak eloquently about the modern woman. And while some incarnations are inherently comedic, and others dramatic, all seven make for good TV, and great debate. Here are seven ladies on TV who further the feminist movement.
1. Liz Lemon (Tina Fey): 30 Rock
The representation of feminism on 30 Rock is memorable because it mocked and praised, in equal measure, Liz Lemon's attempts to establish gender equality.
She tries and fails to get her beautiful assistant Cerie to wear a bra. Vulnerable after her breakup with the Cleveland-loving Floyd (Jason Sudeikis), Liz buys a wedding dress, telling the saleswoman, "This is my year. I'm gonna buy this dress, then I'm gonna have a baby, then I'm gonna die ... and then I'm gonna meet a super cute guy in heaven!"
Fey's writing emphasizes the importance of picking your battles, and the high likelihood that things aren't always going to happen when you want them to. But she also learns to embrace that she's a smart, successful woman who has attractive qualities, and that someone someday will love her for them. That that person turns out to be not her fantasy-boyfriend, Astronaut Mike Dexter, but a highly realistic regular dude named Criss — played by James Marsden — is something she accepts with grace and joy.
2.Britta Perry (Gillian Jacobs): Community
The prickly Britta Perry is an interesting bastion of feminism because she initially defines herself by raging against the proverbial machine. But while Britta has learned to make compromises —Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) teaches her the value of being a sympathetic bathroom companion, which Britta never learned because she got boobs before the other girls — she isn't above doubting her new path in life. When she discovers that an old protester friend is being jailed in Syria, she finds a new, local tyrant, Ben Chang — formerly a Spanish professor, then a student, and now an unpaid Greendale security guard — and, locked in a cage to protest his authority, she pours ketchup on a plastic globe and is carted away by an over-zealous Chang. But for all her adventures, Britta never seems like she's giving up on trying to be a productive adult, and continues to be one of the most interesting characters on the show.
3. Annie Edison (Alison Brie): Community
Where Britta Perry is ambivalent and wears stripper boots, Annie Edison (Alison Brie) favors cardigans and is committed to scholastic and career success. But her earnestness often results in hilarious debacles, including a complete breakdown at a Model United Nations debate.
When Britta accuses Annie of exploiting her cleavage for fundraising, their oil-drenched wrestle objectifies them for the cheering male crowd. Annie’s lessons in feminism come about in heartwarming ways: her assertions of maturity, in the face of the study group and other, bolder women, lend credence to the development of her character. Still, Annie's insecurity rises to the surface at a bar on Troy's 21st birthday: she's hot enough to get in without her (fake) ID being checked, but for the evening she concocts an alias who celebrates waywardness and mocking her friend Annie's inane desire to work in health-care management. It’s Troy who reassures her, saying that she expects herself to be better than everyone, "which is cool."
4.Claire Underwood (Robin Wright): House of Cards
At first glance, Claire Underwood is built like stainless steel: sleek, no outer blemishes, and long-lasting. Claire represents feminism in its cruelest form: achievement and equal footing with a dominant husband has cost her a family, a more relaxed life, even physical affection. Her career as head of a non-profit provides respect and direction, but quietly Claire wonders if she is a pawn to her Senator husband Frank (Kevin Spacey) and other powerful males in her life. The visual depiction of Claire's menopause, leaning into the cool of her open refrigerator, is a stunning metaphor for her burgeoning desire to assess hidden desires. But her deep-rooted darkness, which she sees in Frank too, allows her permit his affair with a reporter (Kate Mara), only so long as Zoe can be trusted to bolster the couple’s ambitious machinations.
5. Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara): House of Cards
House of Cards has been the target of some criticism because, detractors say, its two main female characters are either cold career women or slutty career women. Kate Mara plays the latter, an ambitious reporter who denigrates readership numbers and journalistic ethics in favor of getting the story. She finds a willing mentor in Frank Underwood, who feeds her leaked documents and half-truths which land his political targets in hot water. But the echoes of an Electra complex, coupled with how discarded she feels after sex with Frank, begin to drain her. What causes interesting complications in Zoe's story arc is her need for actual affection — which may weaken her feminist impulses, in the eyes of some viewers — for which she turns to an old colleague. When he later blurts out that he loves her, Zoe's demeanor betrays surprise but not reciprocity. Where Claire is acknowledging the pull of latent motherhood and physical desire, Zoe refuses to let anything get in the way of her success.
6. Joan Holloway (Christina Hendricks): Mad Men
The rapidly rising tide of feminism in the 60s reveals itself in two potent forms at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce: office manager Joan Holloway wields her beauty with pronounced precision, inducing practically everyone to her will. Her presence is evidence of the agency's modernity, sex appeal, and image management; with a man she is proof of a veritable conquest.
But her setbacks seem rooted in the totality of her control: her fiance, jealous of her sexual appetite, rapes her in Don's office; later, he forces her to sing for their dinner guests. When a married Joan is propositioned by a businessman whose approval is holding SCDP hostage, she uses the crushing moment as leverage, demanding a 5% stake in the agency and a partnership. To outside eyes she has achieved the impossible. But only Joan and the partners know that in order to resurface from losing Lucky Strike, the agency whored out its most respected female asset.
7.Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss): Mad Men
When we first meet Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss), there's no indication that this graduate of Miss Deaver's Secretarial School has any ambition beyond not losing her job. But she is observant and self-aware, and this is not unnoticed by the creative department. From initial "assignments" to eventual takeover of an alcoholic colleague's accounts (and his office), Peggy establishes herself as the prototypical career woman of the 60s.
Her unplanned pregnancy — courtesy Peter Campbell's (Vincent Kartheiser) drunken insistence — only propels her further into work. When encumbered by others' expectations, her boyfriend Mark wants to be "her first," her mother wants her to get married, her boss Don Draper (Jon Hamm) wants her work to excel — Peggy draws upon the intensity of social liberation raging outside the office. Her triumphs, small and large, eventually give her the confidence to leave the agency for a senior position, at another firm, that gives her the respects she deserves.