Words: Emily Mullen
Marking International Women’s Day with some punchy female characters
March 8th is undoubtedly a day to celebrate real women who have strived for representation and gender parity. But there’s something to be said for the progress that fictional characters have made too. While most of us can easily untangle the real from the fictional, the subtle weaving of stereotypical female character arcs, attributes, and storylines can be harder to untangle. With viewers more than twice as likely to see a male actor in a speaking role over a female in popular films, we still have a way to go for the old adage of “being seen not heard” is disproved. Over the years strong, mouthy, non-stereotypical female characters have appeared, thanks to the trojan work of directors and writers alike. We’ve collected our top female characters on screen for your empowering pleasure:
Being a kickass vampire-slayer is certainly enough to involve Buffy Summers in any top female tv characters list, but the Slayer’s antics in Sunnydale go beyond just simple avenging. Both physically and mentally strong Buffy played by Sarah Michelle Gellar doesn’t take guff from anyone certainly not men or vampires for that matter. Despite her supernatural abilities, Buffy was never shy about showing her vulnerabilities, which is no doubt why legions of female fans loved her then and now.
Monstrously unlikeable Lena Dunham’s Girls protagonist Hannah Horvath is a lot of things, but she could never be called two-dimensional. While we would never like to align ourselves with her whiny, self-righteous, and privileged interactions with the world, we have probably displayed something resembling them at some point in our lives. There’s a lot to be said for a female character who is portrayed as deeply selfish and fallible as this TV heroine has.
Before she stomped into Central Perk on that fateful day, Rachel Green had it all, perceived success in the form of limitless credit cards, family approval, a non-endangering shopping addiction, and of course Barry the dentist. Which made the unraveling of all that and the slow realization that she would have to look after herself even more endearing. The mystifying decisions that she takes and her constant surprise at her own achievements are probably truer to real life than once thought.
While countless Game of Thrones characters have commented on Daenerys Targaryen’s undeniable beauty throughout the series, it’s irrelevant to what she is. Targaryen’s steely sense of worth and unshakeable dedication to her mission make her. Standing away from the other female characters who have been continuously traded for political gain throughout the series, Emilia Clarke’s character peels back the gendered power imbalance and creates her own twisted version of it.
The hero to Don Draper’s anti-hero, Peggy Olson shoves it to the American-dream in Mad Men. Starting out in the murky waters of 1960s office culture, the character played by Elisabeth Moss consistently kicks back against the outright injustices of the time. She’s not your glamorized sexy kitten, oft loved by drama makers, but an ordinary woman who works her way into being extraordinary.
While lovingly referred to as Fleabag, the character in Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s series doesn’t even have a name. That just makes it all the better to interchange with our internal monologs with. Flawed, awkward, and really ridiculous, the character of Fleabag makes you want to claw your face off with mortification and want to be her best friend at the same time. An oft-used phrase but everything from her tense relationships, terrible comedic timing, and regrettable hook-ups make her seem very flawed and refreshingly real.
A strong, powerful criminal defense lawyer and law professor Annalise Keating is the leading character in the drama series How to Get Away with Murder. For six seasons Viola Davis has portrayed Keating’s dogged determination which ultimately led to her success in winning the trial. Hard-working, fiercely protective, and balanced in the face of intense public scrutiny, Keating is a firebrand of a character.
The breakout star from HBO’s Euphoria is undeniably trans actress Hunter Schafer, who played the lead character, Jules Vaughn. Though street-smart the suburban town’s web of drama, beef, and on-off-relationships is an adjustment for Vaughn. While struggling with a vast array of problems and self-destructive tendencies, her haven from this appears to be looking after her friends’ welfare. Setting aside her own problems and concentrating on others is a noble exercise for this character.
Of course with the benefit of hindsight and knowing all that we know now about female rights, the climate crisis, the state of geopolitics (to name but a few) we now know that Lisa Simpson while the butt of seemingly every joke in The Simpsons, was ultimately right. The ardent reader, orator, environmentalist, Buddist, a precociously talented musician, and all-around bastion of social justice, was more progressive than we ever knew or gave her credit for. More than that, the eight-year-old was often the (unheard) voice of reason in the midst of her family’s and Springfield’s dysfunction.
Elsewhere on District: Why The Simpsons needs to be ended not extended