08 Mar International Women’s Day 2020: 5 Favourite TV Shows Featuring Inspiring Female Characters
It’s always been important to me to stay inspired and to mark International Women’s Day 2020 I’m celebrating some of the female characters I’ve found inspiration in.
They are just some of my all-time favourite on-screen female characters. Whether it’s through their strength, their sense of humour, their optimism, their style, all of the following characters have inspired me in one way or another.
I binged on Mad Men like no other tv series was binged before. I mean, it was unprecedented levels of binge-ing. Seriously, I went from season 3 to season 6 in less than a month – it was insane. And somehow that wasn’t enough. Every day I want to watch Mad Men all over again.
Anyway, in case you don’t know, Mad Men is set in 1960’s New York at an advertising agency on Madison Avenue. Advertising professionals got called “Ad Men,” but the ones who worked on Madison Avenue at the time called themselves “Mad Men” because of the particularly hedonistic lifestyles they led. Our protagonist, Don Draper, being a particularly notorious one.
But this post isn’t about beautiful Don Draper – it’s about all the beautiful female characters in Mad Men that put up with so much sexist bullshit. I had to keep reminding myself that the overt sexism presents an accurate picture of the 60’s but goddamn, it’s infuriating to watch at points. It also makes you consider the legacy of dried up sexist ideals that still somehow crop up in one form or another.
I gathered through Mad Men that the 60’s weren’t an easy time to be a woman, especially not a career-driven woman or indeed a woman who aspired to do anything other than have kids, prepare meals and keep a pristine house and stiff upper lip. Although the show was filled with jaw grindingly awful sexist dialogue, it was also filled with absolute fist in the air developments like…. *SPOILERS INCOMING*
- When Joan chooses the single mum life and absolutely nails it MEANWHILE is a successful Account Executive AND looks consistently impeccable. You’re my hero, Joan.
- Watching the ups and downs of Peggy Olson’s career as she rises through the ranks as a skilled copywriter and finds her voice in an industry over-ridden with massive male egos. Mad Men spans the entire decade of the 60’s and seeing the evolution of Peggy is one of the best parts of the show for me. She started off as a quiet but driven receptionist and worked her way up to being a no bullshit, cigarette toting, whisky drinking Copy Chief. You’re also my hero, Peggy.
- And last but not least, when Betty finally stops caring about Don and finds herself a better husband, who is there for her and gives her a (kinda) better life. And let’s not forget the scene where she decided to very calmly shoot her neighbour’s birds with extreme precision, in her nightdress, cigarette in her mouth. You too are my hero, Betty.
Broad City is a comedy show about two best friends Abi (left) and Ilana (right) and their lives as gals in their twenties surviving in New York. Their frank, hilarious discussions about sex, relationships, politics, work and everything in between makes watching the show like catching up with friends.
For me, Broad City is such a groundbreaking show through its unfiltered presentations of women. It doesn’t feel restrained by societal ideals of femininity, rather what shines out is individuality – without pretension. I’m naturally quite a reserved person and I find Abi & Ilana’s frank, ardent and hilarious discussions incredibly inspiring – they inspire me to be more forthright in my own ideals. This is a show that celebrates friendship, equality and individuality without judgement.
Season 5 was the final season of Broad City, and having now watched all episodes, I miss it dearly. If you’re upset about it too and need something to fill that Broad City hole in your life, I can’t recommend the Guys We Fucked podcast enough. Sure, it’s not a TV show but I find it to be like Broad City in podcast format.
The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Another show on this list set in NYC… I’m picking up on a theme?
I really wasn’t sure about Kimmy Schmidt when it was first released in 2015. After watching the initial trailers I thought it seemed really cringey and I didn’t want to go anywhere near it. Then all my friends started watching it and told me it was amazing. I reluctantly climbed aboard the bandwagon and to my surprise, really loved it.
Written by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, Kimmy Schmidt is about Kimmy’s reintegration into society after being imprisoned in an underground bunker for 15 years with three other “mole women.” Understandably, reintegrating into society after that length of time is no easy feat and makes for many hilarious but also heartfelt moments.
I love this show through how it manages to balance comedy with genuine, emotional engagement, without being totally cringey. Don’t get me wrong, there is totally an element of cringe to Kimmy Schmidt but it’s a manageable amount of cringe that at points actually enhances the comedic quality.
The title integrates the idea of “unbreakable” and this is an important thread in the show. Kimmy’s optimism and strength enable her to deal with life’s problems (and there are many for a woman who has spent most of her life underground). I can get very bogged down by the curveballs that life has a tendency to throw and Kimmy Schmidt is very life affirming through its optimism, vibrancy and (literal) moments of singing and dancing.
Oh, as you can see above it also has a brilliant opening sequence.
Killing Eve is a BBC thriller based on the Villanelle novels by Luke Jennings. It follows MI5 agent Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) who is tasked with capturing female serial killer Villanelle (Jodie Comer).
I’ve always loved villains in tv shows and movies. Cersei was my favourite character in GoT and Scar was my favourite character in The Lion King. Both of these statements have caused uproar in the past. Look, I just love a good villain, ok?
And Villanelle is a great villain. From her lack of inhibition in life to her skills of deception and fluency in multiple languages, there is a lot that I find inspiring about Villanelle. Oh, and how could I forget her fashion sense?
For me, watching Villanelle on-screen is a similar experience to playing a video game like Skyrim or Fallout or GTA, where you forget the mission and choose to destroy things and kill characters. It’s cathartic.
Alright look, I’m not saying that her ability to undertake cold-blooded murder is inspiring but we can certainly learn a thing or two from Villanelle’s resilience, resourcefulness, directness and intelligence. She’s also very funny.
I’ve already talked at length about how great GLOW is. In fact, back when season 1 was released I wrote 3 reasons why you should watch it!
I love GLOW for the ways that it showcases the highs and lows of female friendship. Ruth and Debbie’s relationship is fraught with complication but somehow, despite all that has happened between them, that bond they have is proven to be more important than the romantic relationships they have with men. Time and time again they’re there for one another. It isn’t all sunshine and daisies by any stretch, but that’s one of the reasons that makes it so compelling. It’s complicated and real.
GLOW is also extremely empowering. It has an eclectic cast of women who each have their own complex stories. It isn’t really about the wrestling, but the wrestling is what has brought them together and becomes a catalyst for exploring many issues from career development for women to body image issues.
One of my favourite quotes from Debbie, back in season 1, when she’s talking about how wrestling has changed her life –
“You know what the craziest part of this whole mess is? I actually like wrestling. I don’t know; it’s like I’m back in my body and it doesn’t belong to Randy or Mark, and I’m using it for me, and I feel like a goddamn superhero.”
Caitlin Moran’s book How to Build a Girl talks about the importance of staying inspired to develop your own sense of self. This quote feels like a pretty good way to wrap up this post. Happy International Women’s Day!
“You go out into your world, and try and find the things that will be useful to you. Your weapons. Your tools. Your charms. You find a record, or a poem, or a picture of a girl that you pin to the wall and go, “Her. I’ll try and be her. I’ll try and be her – but here.” You observe the way others walk, and talk, and you steal little bits of them – you collage yourself out of whatever you can get your hands on. You are like the robot Johnny 5 in Short Circuit, crying, “More input! More input for Johnny 5! as you rifle through books and watch films and sit in front of the television, trying to guess which of these things that you are watching – Alexis Carrington Colby walking down a marble staircase; Anne of Green Gables holding her shoddy suitcase; Cathy wailing on the moors; Courtney Love wailing in her petticoat; Dorothy Parker gunning people down; Grace Jones singing “Slave to the Rhythm” – you will need when you get out there. What will be useful. What will be, eventually, you?
And you will be quite on your own when you do all this. There is no academy where you can learn to be yourself; there is no line manager slowly urging you toward the correct answer. You are midwife to yourself, and will give birth to yourself, over and over, in dark rooms, alone.
And some versions of you will end in dismal failure – many prototypes won’t even get out the front door, as you suddenly realize that no, you can’t style-out an all-in-one gold bodysuit and a massive attitude problem in Wolverhampton. Others will achieve temporary success – hitting new land-speed records, and amazing all around you, and then suddenly, unexpectedly exploding, like the Bluebird on Coniston Water.
But one day you’ll find a version of you that will get you kissed, or befriended, or inspired, and you will make your notes accordingly, staying up all night to hone and improvise upon a tiny snatch of melody that worked.” – Caitlin Moran, How to Build a Girl