Feminism is the support of equality political, social, cultural and economic rights between the sexes. It was a big word in pop culture this year, churning hashtags and celebrities to ally themselves with feminism. Television is no exception. It’s the place to go when you want to find compelling women and female characters on the screen (though there could always be more powerful women on my TV). This year had some of the best feminist characters in recent memory. Let’s celebrate them.
Note: while there are many other feminist characters, we have selected one from each show to represent them. This means omitting favorites like Ron Swanson and many of the ladies from Game of Thrones.
#23 Claire Randall/Fraser, Outlander
Claire Randall, or later Claire Fraser, was your ordinary English World War II nurse taking a honeymoon with her husband in the Scottish Highlands before being sent back in time to the 18th century. Claire is a triumph of feminist ideals—independent, headstrong, sexual and demanding equality in a time when there was anything but.
#22 Mindy Lahiri, The Mindy Project
The Mindy Project isn’t afraid to show that Mindy Lahiri is the pinnacle of self-absorbed, materialistic rom-com culture all the while she’s kicking ass as a woman of color in the OB/GYN field.
#21 Clarke Griffin, The 100
The leader of “The 100” teens sent down from space to test Earth’s survival is a pragmatic, compassionate and wonderfully flawed leader just trying to keep everyone alive. What Would Clarke Do? Probably anything and everything she wants to.
#20 Olivia Pope, Scandal
She’s one of the most powerful people in the world, harboring close relationships with the President of the United States, his Chief of Staff and the head of B6-13, but that’s not why she’s powerful. Olivia may defend scummy politicians and their scandals, but she’ll drop them to champion feminist causes and women in politics like a true gladiator.
#19 Annalise Keating How To Get Away With Murder
Succeeding in the male-dominated law field is impressive and this is because her presence is so demanding. Annalise reminds us that even monsters—or the monsters who represent monsters—are just people wearing masks like the rest of us.
#18 Stephen Colbert, The Colbert Report
The GamerGate movement—which is often seen as a misogynistic attack on female gamers—idolized Stephen Colbert’s fictional alter ego on The Colbert Report. Targeted journalist Anita Sarkeesian came on the show to talk feminism, gaming and misogyny and asked Stephen Colbert if he believed women should have equal rights to this men and fight for those rights, he declared himself as a feminist.
#17 The Clones of Orphan Black
Tatiana Maslany impressively plays Sarah, Alison, Cosima, Helena and Rachel, making each of them distinctive, fully-dimensional characters. Orphan Black isn’t afraid to give each of these ladies agency, complexity and flaws while they fight to maintain their autonomy.
#16 Leslie Knope Parks and Recreation
Ovaries before brovaries. Uteruses before duderuses. Leslie Knope hosts From Galentine’s Day parties, advocates gender equality in her community, holds a wonderful friendship with gal pal Anne and her marriage to hubbie Ben Wyatt is completely equal. Optimistic and hard-working, Leslie Knope proves “yes we can.”
#15 Daenerys Targaryen Game of Thrones
The “Mother of Dragons” is also the mother of championing women in such a brutal world. Fiery (pun intended) and compassionate, Daenerys overtakes kingdoms, has her way with men and inspires her people while championing equality. Alas, “we are not men.” Damn, right.
#14 Korra, Legend of Korra
The most powerful person in the Avatar world is Korra, the avatar who can control all four elements and bridge between the human and spirit world. She’s hot-headed, selfish, impulsive, kind, funny and wears her heart on her sleeves as she saves the world from zealous ideologues. She may just be the most multidimensional female character in animation. Ever.
#13 Seeley Booth, Bones
Booth is a strong supporter of women’s rights and equality with years in the field as an FBI agent. Personally, he supports the two women who matter most to him — Brennan and their daughter.
#12 Felicity Smoak, Arrow
Her superpower is clearly “hacking” and she is in fact the frontrunner for being the lead’s “love interest,” but Felicity Smoak is powerful in her own right and stands up to the men in her life. This bitch with WiFi can crack the government database in under five and just so happens to wear fabulous outfits and heels.
#11 Sophia, Orange Is The New Black
Fighting for autonomy over her body in a corrupt and patriarchal prison system is tough work. As a transgender woman, Sophia is a selfish, stubborn and lovable for her efforts to stay true to her identity.
#10 Abbi & Ilana, Broad City
For these besties, Abbi and Illana try to survive New York City, their twenties, dating and unwelcoming job prospects with each other by her side. They may just have the best friendship on TV, supporting each other no matter what.
#9 Selina Meyer, Veep
“If men got pregnant, you could get an abortion at the ATM.” Selina knows the system is rigged for women (in politics, too). Power-hungry and desperate all the while gritting her teeth, she may be the world’s “second most powerful person in the world” by title.
#8 Adam Braverman, Parenthood
Adam Braverman supported his wife Christina during her cancer, starting a school and running for mayor. He’s not quite husband of the year all the time, but he loves his wife and sees her as an equal.
#7 Molly Solverson, Fargo
The best detective in the MidWest stole our hearts this year with an endearing performance and a complex character makeup. Solverson continues to challenge the status quo in law enforcement, even after she becomes the Chief of Police.
#6 Virginia Johnson, Masters of Sex
Ginny’s views on sex were far too modern for the 1950s, but oh are we thankful for that. Without her partnership with Dr. Masters—her boss and future husband—we would have never known what we do today about sex. Nor would we enjoy some female-positive sex scenes.
#5 Allison Argent, Teen Wolf
Allison Argent proved that the “love interest” could be so much more than that on a supernatural teen drama. A badass archer, a loyal and loving friend who sacrificed her life for others all the while showing, Allison always kept her agency in a plot full of loose ends.
#4 Peggy Olson, Mad Men
Peggy Olson is a career woman before such a term existed and fights her way into the misogynistic advertising world as she finds herself where she eventually rises to the top as the de facto leader.
#3 Abbie Mills, Sleepy Hollow
Abbie Mills is no sidekick. She’s the one making sure the earth doesn’t succumb to apocalypse or Ichabod Crane’s online gaming addiction. She’s the hero of the story— no-nonsense, loyal, brave—and the one who keeps her agency when things get wacky, as they are sure to do.
#2 Joan Watson, Elementary
Joan Watson does not have time for Sherlock Holmes’ antics, not with running her own detective agency and generally being awesome. Joan looks at murderers and terrorists and bad people right in the eye and they cower. She’s strong, vulnerable, kind, harsh—all of these contradictions and most importantly, a feminist who does not have time for your sexism.
#1 Alicia Florrick, The Good Wife
“Saint Alicia” as she’s known to the public is hardly a saint. She’s complicated. “The good wife” who chose to stand by her political husband after a public cheating scandal is always struggling with just that—to be a good person. Her icy reserve and quiet demeanor may help her run a law firm, but as a political candidate herself, she’s constantly edging the line between likable and unlikable, ethical and unethical. Plus, she practically foams at the mouth when she meets Gloria Steinem.