As the feminist movement continues to boom, TV viewers are more concerned than ever about how their favorite leading ladies are represented on screen. Television is in the golden age of feminist opportunity. Lena Dunham is making waves with Girls, Olivia Pope had an abortion of Scandal, and Abbi and Ilana flipp off guys who tell them to smile on Broad City. But today’s feminist television would be nowhere without the feminist TV characters of the ‘90s.
Television in the ‘90 was flush with male antiheroes, and male characters with bad attitudes and little scruples. And although there may not have been quite as many female-led television shows — whether it be main characters, showrunners, or writers — as there are today. thankfully, there were plenty of feminist role models for girls growing up in the era of tumultuous TV. Whether you were into cartoons or hospital dramas, television series in the ‘90s carried a slew of diverse feminist characters to look up to. Although the world might be experiencing a golden age of feminist television right now, it’s worth taking a trip down memory lane and paying homage to the feminist characters of the ‘90s that paved the way.
1. Clarissa Darling of 'Clarissa Explains It All'
Not only did Clarissa have her own show, but she was intelligent, analytical, and sure of herself. She quotes Karl Marx, programs computer games, and threatens to run away to join a feminist folk group. How's that for being ahead of your time? The show was popular with both boys and girls, debunking the myth that a television show with a female-lead wouldn't be interesting to both genders. Can I get a booyah?
2. Topanga Lawrence of 'Boy Meets World'
Topanga Lawrence was a sassy, smart, radical feminist, who continually fought against gender norms, and wanted to be President of the United States when she grew up. If that's not a glorious role model for young women, I don't know what is.
3. Moesha Mitchell of 'Moesha'
Moesha knew what she wanted, and wasn't afraid to go and get it. She stood up for what she believed in, spoke up when something was unfair, and tackled important issues for teens. Dispelling another myth, that nobody would be interested in a television show with a black female lead, Moesha made strides for independent women everywhere.
4. Xena of 'Xena: Warrior Princess'
Another independent women doing things her own way, Xena was a pinnacle of female strength. Athletic, smart, and able, Xena carried the feminist flag for fantasy lovers, and carried it well.
5. Dana Scully of 'The X-Files'
Dana Scully was (and continues to be) the woman of feminist dreams. An FBI agent and a doctor, she wasn't afraid to stand her ground in a predominately male-dominated field? No wonder they're bringing The X-Files back, because Dana Scully isn't done with us yet.
6. Charlotte Pickles of 'Rugrats'
A working mom, a multitasker, and a champion for young girls everywhere, Charlotte Pickles was a boss. The breadwinner of the Pickles family, Charlotte knew just how hard women have to work to break the glass ceiling, "If Angelica is every going to make it in a male-dominated power structure, she's got to eat, breathe, drink, and sweat self-esteem!"
7. Dr. Kerry Weaver of 'ER'
Exercising authority and demystifying cultural perceptions of being a woman with a disability, Kerry Weaver did it all. She was focused and hard-working, but she genuinely cared for her co-workers and her patients. Eventually coming out as a lesbian, Kelly broke the norms on television left and right, paving the way for characters who were diverse, strong, and had a mind of their own.
8. Jessie Spano of 'Saved By the Bell'
Even though she dated Bayside's number one chauvinist, Jessie constantly put him in his place. As the resident outspoken feminist of the crew, Jessie challenged societal norms, begged her friends to question gender roles, and stood up for what she believed in. Although her particular brand of feminism has been called into question over the past few years, the fact that she was bringing the idea of feminism into mainstream conversation on a show geared towards a younger audience is reason enough to include her on this list.
9. Buffy Summers of 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'
Battling the supernatural and high school bullies was all in a day's work for Buffy Summers. Dealing with the evil lurking beneath Sunnydale and the jerks who questioned her abilities because she was a girl, Buffy kicked butt and took names throughout the '90s and into the millennium. She made it cool to hang out in a library, and even cooler to be strong and able to take care of things on your own.
10. Lisa Simpson of 'The Simpsons'
A breath of fresh and intelligent air next to her brother and father, Lisa Simpson held down the Simpson's fort with her unending energy and devotion to being true to herself. Questioning the patriarchy, upheaving societal norms, and being proud of her stay at home mother are just a few reasons to admire Lisa Simpson's feminist edge.
11. Joey Potter of 'Dawson's Creek'
Althugh Joey Potter may be one of the most-hated characters of '90s television lore, I think she gets a bad rap. Often labeled a "Mary Sue" for having a deadbeat dad, a dead mom, and still managing to make it out alive, Joey was a great teen role model. Let's not forget the time she put the jocks in their place after they propositioned her in the cafeteria. You go, girl.
12. Pepper Ann Pearson of 'Pepper Ann'
Pepper Ann, Pepper Ann — much too cool for seventh grade. Pepper Ann liked to play soccer, go on adventures, and wasn't concerned with conforming to standards. She had an amazing feminist role model in her mother, who took her on a Womyn's Weekend trip to teach her the importance of independence and helped her contemplate and learn about the glass ceiling.
13. Claire Huxtable of 'The Cosby Show'
Over the course of The Cosby Show, Claire takes on sexism and racism on her morning talk show, but does it eloquently, calmly, and intelligently. She teaches her children lessons of acceptance, support, and being true to themselves. A successful lawyer and an amazing mother, Claire Huxtable is a feminist icon.
14. Samantha Jones of 'Sex In the City'
Although each of the Sex and the City women were feminists in their own right, Samantha was the first brazenly sex-positive feminist I ever came across. At a time in my life when words like slut were being tossed around like Koosh balls, and the idea of sexuality was just starting to blossom, a woman who was comfortable and proud of her sexuality was a serious role-model.
15. Cory Matthews of 'Boy Meets World'
Let us not forget our '90s men (or boys) who supported the leading ladies of our childhood television obsessions. Viewers watched Cory Matthews grow up on screen, face tough decisions, and learn hard lessons. He was a great role model for kids everywhere, loving Topanga for who she was, respecting her, and supporting her throughout the years. And who could forget the episode where Cory and Shawn dress up as women, and have feminist awakenings? I salute you, Cory Matthews.