Last Friday was International Women's Day! And, in less serious and significant news, Fandom March Madness is underway, where people bicker, and post gifs, and get really intense in support of their favorite characters. And miracle of miracles, 59 of the 64 nominated characters are women. So, in celebration of both, here is a list of some of the most fabulous and feminist female characters currently on TV. It's far from exhaustive (God knows I don't watch everything worth watching, and if I listed every character I loved, we'd be here forever!), but I hope it gives at least a taste of some of the wonderful characters around right now.
Sansa Stark (from Game of Thrones)
She's not exactly one of the most popular characters in the series, and I've written extensively about the problems with "Sansa hate." Yet she is, I think, a really important, refreshing take on a young-teen fantasy character, because she's all the things that a likeable female character is not supposed to be. She's feminine and naive, buying into all the stories she's been told. She's a bit of a romantic and a dreamer, and can sometimes be a bit selfish. And then people begin to try and destroy everything she loves and everything good about her. Except that she's not destroyed. She becomes a total badass, in a very calm, collected, subtle sort of way. She learns how to survive, how to say the expected lines and give the needed smiles while plotting her own escape underneath. She learns how to use her courtesies to protect herself and to save others, when no-one else is willing to do a thing to help. And despite all the horrible things that happen to her, she remains who she always was underneath -- a sweet, kind, if somewhat naively optimistic young woman who is still willing to care for others and determined to make it through this alive.
Miranda (from Miranda)
My love for Miranda can be summed up with one conversation. When she's discussing the possibility of getting together with her long-time crush, Gary, she tells him that she knows he thinks she's needy, but that's only because he "doesn't affirm." If he would just stop messing her about, she could feel confident in herself and their relationship and she wouldn't act so "needy." I think it was a wonderful declaration of the fact that worthwhile, awesome women aren't always cool and confident and collected, and that many things that others (especially guys) may criticize them for are caused by the fact that others don't treat them with the respect and honesty that they deserve. Meanwhile, Miranda is just an awesome character in so many ways. She's not conventionally thin, young and beautiful, as you would expect from the lead of a mainstream sitcom, but she is incredibly engaging and compelling and real feeling. She is individual, to say the least, and although her stories are usually pretty farcical, they have a strong element of realism to them, a sense of "oh my god, this is my life."
Brienne of Tarth (from A Song of Ice and Fire)
I'm going to say that Brienne is from ASOIAF, not Game of Thrones, because I feel like the Brienne in the TV show is very different from the Brienne in the books, and is missing some of the traits that made that Brienne so trope-breakingly awesome. In the show and in the book, Brienne is a great female warrior, in a society where that is far from acceptable. She is brave, and noble, and is skilled enough with a sword to hold her own against Jaime Lannister, and as she appears entirely unfeminine, she is dismissed at best. She is also the series' "one true knight." She believes in upholding oaths, in protecting the weak and the innocent, in not killing unless absolutely necessary. And despite being the unattractive warrior figure, she's also a romantic, someone who's quite emotionally vulnerable under the surface. Someone who is (shock, horror) quite feminine, even as she wears armor and runs around the country rescuing maidens. It's a combination that we rarely see, a strong female character who isn't a "most girls are stupid" Strong Female Character (TM), and I love her for it.
Joan Watson (from Elementary)
The very existence of Joan Watson seems to be a feminist win. The writers of Elementary could easily have kept the show "traditional," aka with two white guys as the lead characters. Instead, we have an Asian American woman playing an iconic character, and absolutely knocking it out of the park. Because while Joan is compassionate, she's not going to take any crap from Sherlock either. When he's sexist, or simply self-absorbed, she will absolutely call him out on it. She's hardworking and intelligent, and she's his partner, not his assistant or servant, and will hold her own, whether that's in an investigation, in a disagreement, or in dealing with Sherlock's addiction. Sherlock relies on her, and he treats her with respect, but she also has a personality outside of him, interests and a past and incredibly strength of character, and it is this change, even more than the change of Watson from John to Joan, that makes her a wonderful character to watch.
Jessica Day (from New Girl)
Jess is the Manic Pixie Dreamgirl who isn't a Manic Pixie Dreamgirl. She's "quirky," to say the least, slightly lost in her own world, full of glitter and polka dots, but she isn't part of a narrative where she shows a cynical, bitter guy how FUN life can be. Her girliness, silliness and adoration of baby animals is entirely for herself, not as part of an affectation or flirting tactic, but because that's just who she is. She's allowed to be silly and whimsical, while still also having depth, and worries, and emotions. What a novel concept!
Mary Crawley (from Downton Abbey)
Mary Crawley is a pragmatic woman in a horrible situation, and she's not afraid to be bitter about it. She needs to marry a suitable man, and she knows that this leaves her little choice in her future. Because of the entail and the death of her fiance, she has no access to the inheritance that she believes should rightfully be hers, and after the death of Pamuk, her reputation (and so her future) is on the edge of ruin. No wonder she is as sharp-tongued as she is quick-witted, harsh even as she is loyal, and occasionally cruel, despite her general kindness and consideration for her servants and other people around her. She shows that an engaging female character doesn't have to always be likeable in the strictest, sweetest sense.
Everyone from Once Upon A Time
OK, this is cheating a little bit, but it's hard for me to pick. Once Upon A Time has such a fantastic range of female characters, from badass warrior and adventurer Mulan to the noble, quietly brave Aurora. Belle is a sweet bookworm who is bold and strong and uses her smarts to outwit those who underestimate her, and Snow White can fire an arrow, tease her prince and be kindhearted to everyone, all at once. Even the female villains have depth and sympathy about them. It's not always the best written show, or the most subtle show, but Once Upon A Time definitely does an amazing job with its female characters, and I have to love it for that!