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4 Feminist Icons on Television

Did your favorite make the list?

By Robyn ReischPublished 3 years ago Updated 3 years ago 4 min read
4 Feminist Icons on Television
Photo by Ali Pazani on Unsplash

“What’s the trick to writing a great female character? Make her human.” – Nicole Holofcener, film writer

Through decades of television, we've watched women grow from props and artwork to superheroes and storymakers. Writers are increasingly conscious of creating complex feminine characters with their own agency. 

It's a very cool time to be a lady on TV.

Here are four of my favorite examples:

Photo Credit:

Keeley Jones, Ted Lasso

Being a strong woman can actually be FUN. Keeley proves it! She owns her feminine power without apology, and she also happens to be sharp as a tack. 

Most importantly, though, Keeley's values are always on point. She treats every person she meets with fairness and compassion...even when they might not deserve it. In her personal life, she holds the ones she loves accountable to being their best selves. Keeley sees the potential for good in everyone. Then, she encourages them to show it to the world.

For me, Keeley's standout moment comes when she's urging Rebecca to come clean about something awful she has done. Rebecca claims that acting with integrity now won't change anything.

"It would change how I feel about you," answers Keeley incredulously.


This whole show is an unexpected gold mine for feminist moments.

Honorable Mention: Michelle Lasso, for being true to herself in the face of heartbreak. She's devoted to her family. She wants so badly to make her marriage work. It's nice to see a marital separation storyline in which neither partner is a villain.

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Pam Halpert, The Office

Over nine seasons, we watched one of television's most beloved characters slowly take control of her own life. We shared in Pam's uneasy triumph as she ended a relationship that left her invisible. We felt her hope in pursuing a life that made her feel valued and stimulated. Leaving Roy was a risk - and possibly the first significant one of Pam's entire life.

From there, she grows even bolder. Pam literally walks on hot coals to declare her love for Jim, knowing full well it won't be reciprocated...

Until it is. Swoon.

Of course, Pam's life from there on out isn't all roses, even after her perfectly imperfect wedding day. 

Who could forget about her crushing art school defeat?

Ironically, though, it's in Pam's biggest failure that her character truly begins to shine. She decides that leaving art school doesn't mean she's not an artist. The new, mature Pam can create her own rules. She designs her own life and identity. That's such a powerful thing.

Honorable mention: Phyllis Vance, for refusing to be slut shamed, fat shamed, or diminished in any other capacity. Phyllis knows who she is - and she is never afraid to remind you. "Close your mouth, honey. You look like a trout."

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Poppy Li, Mythic Quest

Obviously, she's a woman doing a traditionally male job in a male-dominated industry, and she is, of course, surrounded by men. This bit of representation is excellent. However, it's not why she made the list.

Poppy is a tremendously gifted young genius. Still, she struggles with loneliness. Sometimes she even sinks into depression. Poppy's professional success has come, as it too often does, at the expense of developing a full personal life. 

Still, she never gives up on pursuing her best self. Through the course of the show, Poppy grows increasingly aware of her own value. She is actively learning to trust her primal instincts as much as her data-driven brain. When others fail to recognize Poppy's genius, she stands by her ideas with conviction instead of backing down.

Honorable mention: Carol from HR for her consistency in setting - and repeating - her professional boundaries.

Photo Credit:

Erin Quinn, Derry Girls

She's earnest, ambitious, and deeply principled. Erin Quinn is an advocate for justice, and a loud one at that. Sure, she can be arrogant, and a little bit naïve - but what teenager isn't? Even in her worst moments, Erin's heart stays in the right place. Her close knit family and strong personal values assure that her moral compass always arrives at true north...eventually. 

Erin's most endearing trait is her idealism. She never once doubts her capacity to change the world for the better, nor does she stop trying. In Troubles-era Derry, that mighty brand of teen optimism is nothing short of inspirational. Erin Quinn is well aware of the chaos surrounding her. Instead of cowering, though, she reacts with excitement. She's thrilled by life's possibilities. Erin is determined to be a force for change.

Honorable Mention: Michelle Mallon, for (sometimes too aggressively) taking control of her own sexuality; and the creators of the show, for never treating these teen girls as sexual objects.

Changes in our social values are often first seen through our television screens. We find comfort there. We use it as a focal point when we nestle our family and unwind from a long day. 

Maybe I've soaked up too much of Erin Quinn's optimism, but I think our culture's increasingly complex view of "real women" shows our world is headed in a positive direction.


About the Creator

Robyn Reisch

Robyn Reisch spends her days cooking, writing, and raising three gorgeous little hooligans. She is married to the world's greatest man.

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    Robyn ReischWritten by Robyn Reisch

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