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The Top 5 Female Protagonists in Television History

Posted by Greg Mergruen on March 31, 2014 at 6:10 PM

 

 



There is an old saying in the industry for writers; it’s easy to write for your own demographic, but when writing for another, it’s very difficult to get it right, especially if it’s the other gender, which is 100% true for men writing women characters. Throughout TV history, women have usually been stuck in stereotypes such as mom/wife/talking pair of tits, which has evolved into the famous 4 categories: Mothers, Virgins, Sluts, and Bitches. (www.youtube.com/watch?v=vO8jBcL0oAQ)



But in the almost 100 year history of the medium, there have been a handful of characters that have broken stereotypes and become not just strong, independent characters, but also act as inspiration for women across America that you don’t have to be pigeonholed into one of the 4 categories and can be your own person. Here are the top 5 Female Protagonists in Television History. (WARNING! THERE ARE SPOILERS IN THIS ARTICLE. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.)


#5 Buffy Summers – Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy Summers; a “not-so-average” teenage girl who also happens to be a Vampire Slayer and is responsible for fighting everything supernatural/dangerous going on in her perfect little town known as Sunnydale. While handling her other worldly duties, Buffy attempts to have a normal teenage life with school, friends, and boys (well in Buffy’s case… men who are hundreds of years old). Buffy makes the list because she is a person who had the ability to run with the popular crowd (Harmony and Cordelia, and the rest of the cheer squad) but chooses her destiny instead. Although she usually hates her supernatural life and complains about it constantly throughout the series, she puts the world’s safety in front of her own, which a lot of characters in general would be too selfish to do.


But getting back to the subject of the article, another reason why Buffy makes the list is because she not only takes shit from none of the men in the show, but also makes sure that every single one of them remembers it. Whether it’s a vampire, a fellow teen at Sunnydale High, or one of the members of the Initiative, even if they KNOW she’s the Slayer, they rarely take her seriously because she is a petite girl. But what sets Buffy apart is that she doesn’t allow this to get to her one bit, and her response is usually a roundhouse kick to the head. Buffy LITERALLY kicks misogyny in the face. And this doesn’t just limit herself to her enemies; she also holds this attitude to anyone in authority that she believes has crossed a line (even her own bosses on the Counsel). And if you look at the Scooby gang as the series goes on, you can see that Buffy’s confidence leaks into the other women involved in her life as well. Buffy is always pulling them all up to levels they could never have dreamed of and making other powerful women no man would ever want to meet in a dark alley. (Cordelia, Willow, Faith, all of the potential slayers and even, arguably, Anya and Tara,). While she does whine a lot and has the tendency to fall into some of the common female stereotypes, Buffy is always quick to tell anyone watching the show “Yes I’m a girl. Yes I can kick your ass. And yes, running isn’t a bad idea when it comes to facing me”.

 


#4 Lucy Ricardo – I Love Lucy

 From the humble beginnings of the nuclear family sitcom, Lucy is one of the first women displayed on television who always held her own and went after her dreams… no matter how crazy her plans would be to achieve them. Lucy Ricardo is married to Ricky Ricardo (his name is MUCH longer in the show) the leader of a bandstand in a local club who is always trying to keep Lucy out of trouble. But to anyone familiar with the program, you already know that Ricky fails constantly throughout the show’s run. Lucy makes the list not just because she is a woman who is trying to chase after her multiple dreams, she is also doing it in the 1950’s.


To sum it all up, in a time where racism was as common as breakfast cereal, and women had just as much social rights as a piece of wood, Lucy Ricardo came out to thousands of viewers every week and told them “Just because my husband said I can’t be in his show, do you really think that’s gonna stop me?” It never EVER did and that’s why we love Lucy (pun intended). Thinking back to all of the mayhem she caused whether it was putting on a moustache and hat to sneak onto the set of her husbands performance to be involved, working at a chocolate factory, or being so set on becoming an actress that she got drunk while filming a commercial. (www.youtube.com/watch?v=gmOLpeKwWGI)



Lucy never gave up and never surrendered to anyone who tried to stop her. And if she failed, then she would bounce back up and chase after something new. But because of the time period she resided in, she still had all of the stereotypical duties of a wife and mother with laundry and cooking and cleaning and such. There have even been some episodes where Lucy’s problems revolved around fixing something before her husband got home with the threat of Lucy being punished. Nevertheless, Lucy was one of the first modern role models for women (whether they knew it or not at the time) and reminds people today that there’s nothing you can’t achieve with a bit of humor and a fake moustache.



 #3 Leslie Knope – Parks and Recreation

I dare you to find any person on Earth (fictional or not) who is half as positive or bubbly as Leslie Knope. This is incredibly important for someone who works in the tedious and corrupt world of government, especially when the administration of your hometown is run and resided by a bunch of idiots. Leslie Knope makes the list at #3 because of her ‘turn the other cheek’ and ‘love all serve all’ attitude to her job. Parks and Recreation takes place in the obese and dysfunctional town of Pawnee, Indiana where the only people who care less about its citizens than their government, are the citizens themselves. Although she works with people who don’t care about the welfare of the people, or just hate the government in general, Leslie is the shining example that the government can help without ulterior motives.


But what makes Leslie one of the most powerful and inspirational characters in television history, is the fact that she is so passionate about her job and loves her town so much, that she will never let it be swallowed into darkness, no matter how much the town hates her. And trust me, the town of Pawnee HATES Leslie Knope and are always trying to make her job of fixing the town as difficult as possible. Whether it is turning a dangerous, ugly pit into a park, passing laws to decrease the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and STDs, bringing gender equality to the sanitation department, or just creating programs for the entertainment of the towns children, Leslie rarely gets a thank you or praise but almost always gets attacked for her deeds.

For example, when Leslie Knope is headed toward the end of her first year on the City Council, we learn about how much good she has done for the town of Pawnee such as a very successful Harvest Festival, decreasing health issues for the citizens, and even made it safer with the decrease of raccoon attacks in their schools and hospitals. But at the end of that same episode titled ‘Are You Better Off?’, Leslie learns that all of her hard work and dedication has not paid off and lead to a huge campaign to have her recalled (displayed by an offensive float during the founder’s day parade). To which she is, but STILL continues to fight for Pawnee’s welfare, and working to make it the best she can, even without the power she previously had.


But Leslie’s enthusiasm for her work and her town is incredibly infectious, and has given the same amount of hope to her Parks and Rec department’s pessimism for the towns future. Leslie took everyone who was close to her and made them a priceless member of her team to fix the local government, no matter how much the rest of the town tried to stop her. Leslie is a prime example that even if everyone is kicking you when you’re down and throwing up every obstacle they can to stop you, if you truly believe in your cause, absolutely nothing can stop you.


Plus, she is obsessed with Waffles and Candy. If that doesn’t make her an awesome character, then I don’t know what else does.

 

#2 Mary Richards – The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Taking another step back in time to the “good ol’ days” of television, The Mary Tyler Moore show is considered one of the top programs that have changed television, society, and acted as a catalyst for gender equality (primarily in the workplace). The MTM show was about Mary Richards, a single woman in her 30s, moving to Minneapolis and working as an associate producer on one of the biggest news stations in the city. In the show, Mary had to struggle with sexism at the station from several of her male coworkers, the more common issue talked about in the show is about female independence. While women being single in their late 20’s and early 30’s is more commonplace today, it stuck out as odd for anyone in the 70’s era Midwest where it immediately becomes a common talking point when introduced to someone of that demographic. The pilot, for example, has several references to this issue including Mary’s interview with Mr. Grant for the producers position is why she wasn’t married at the age of 30, her discussion with her new best friend Rhoda where she explained that her mother had a notarized letter saying that she was an old maid for not being married at the age of 21, and the list goes on from there throughout the series. In fact, in that pilot episode, Mary was visited by her ex-boyfriend of 2 years who refused to consider marriage. But when he goes to her new apartment to try and get her back, Mary ends any possibility of them reuniting as a couple and lets the audience know that she knows what she wants, and that she would rather be alone than this a man she didn’t love. Instead of settling, like a lot of people would still be doing by that age in that era, Mary made it clear that she was more important to herself than the idea of not being alone. Unlike the other women on this list whose problems directly stem from “You’re a woman and thus you are inferior”, Mary’s primary concern was “You’re still single? Why? What’s wrong with you?”


 This is a different type of sexist problem that a lot of women don’t think about today because it’s not unusual to get married later and later in life. But Mary laughed in the face of it and consistently reminded everyone in her life that she doesn’t need a man to be complete. And, more importantly, just because you’re alone doesn’t mean there is anything missing from your life. The Mary Tyler Moore Show was a shining example of a woman’s independence movement where no matter what age you are or what your social status is, you can still be a successful person, ring on your finger or not.


#1 Veronica Mars – Veronica Mars

 Whether you agree with my choice for the most important female character in all of television or not, no one can deny Veronicas ability to be a take it or leave it/what you see is what you get type of girl. It’s what gives her strength and the power to be who she truly is. A little backstory for those who aren’t familiar with the show, Veronica Mars is the only child of the disgraced ex-sheriff of the incredibly rich/snooty/upper class city in Southern California called Neptune. (Yes, her name is Mars and she lives in Neptune, and yes they do seize the opportunity when she is driving a Saturn). Veronica has reached the edge of darkness and returned stronger than ever on multiple occasions surrounding her loss of social standing, the death of her best friend, the absence of her alcoholic mother, and getting raped… twice (and this is just the pilot folks). But Veronica has persevered through all of the pain and torment and is always at her A-Game every episode, no matter what the 09ers can throw at her. 


But what makes her stand out from the other 4 fantastic females on the list? All of them have faced adversity and stood up to their beliefs and who they were, how is Veronica any different? Simple, for the majority of the series, Veronica had to go it alone. Besides her father Keith Mars (who has created the greatest father-daughter relationship in all of television. But that’s for another list) Veronica has never had a relationship with a person that hasn’t flipped flopped from friend to enemy (or in some cases, just incredibly distant) and that has never stopped her from figuring out every case that’s handed to her. After the death of her best friend Lilly, Veronica had to make a decision when her father was dishonorably fired from his job as sheriff. Either to stand by her friends and remain popular, or lose everything she had in high school and stand by her father. By picking the latter, Veronica’s life went into shambles. But unlike most people in that situation who might have given up entirely or resorted to do anything they could to get back into their group of friends, Veronica metaphorically flips them off and survives high school on her own terms.

So unlike Buffy and Leslie or Lucy and Mary who had a steady support team backing them up in their everyday lives and in the goals they pursued, Veronica only had fleeting allies and was mostly on her own. Giving some examples for those of you Marshmellows who might not agree with me, let’s first look at the 09ers. Obviously they stand as Veronica’s core antagonists throughout the show since being labeled as an outcast, but there are a very small number of them whom she hasn’t helped in one enormous way or another (whether to see if someone was cheating or helping to disprove a murder charge). And then after all of the help and time she had her life on the line, the status quo was always reset, leaving Veronica in the same social situation she was in before the case. Next we have Wallace, who throughout most of the series acted as Veronica’s best friend and loyal confidant. I mention him because of the disappearing act he created in the middle of season 2, where he not only got up and left for Chicago, but he also completely ignored Veronica during her time of need trying to figure out the bus crash incident. It would be one thing for Wallace to leave Neptune and call/email Veronica often to keep in touch, but for MONTHS he went completely off radar, once again causing Mars to lose another ally. Finally there is Logan, whose situation goes without much saying acting as Veronica’s on again/off again boyfriend and on again/off again antagonist throughout the entire series (even into the movie). And we still never know where Logan lands with Veronica until the very end of the movie, and he STILL leaves her for an unknown number of months. (Yes he is coming back, but this still supports my point). Mac is the only person who acts as an exception to this rule, but that was not until after her diabolical creation of mayhem at Neptune High regarding the purity tests.


Overall, Veronica Mars is clearly the most powerful, and #1, female protagonist in all of television history. Ms. Mars is always acting with her gut and though she listens to what people have to say, she only does what she thinks is right and what she knows she has to do. Veronica fights for justice and protecting the people around her from sabotage, slander, and even death with the knowledge that they most likely will still be against her after all of her hard work. She is the prime example of standing up for what you believe in, even if you’re alone against the world. Veronica is not a bitch, a slut, a mother, or a virgin. She is only Veronica Mars, a force to be reckoned with and the person whose bad side you do not want to be on. “It’s all fun and games till one of you gets my foot up your ass.” – Veronica.

Think I missed someone? Do you have a suggestion on who should make the list? Mention it down below in the comments section to make your case.

Categories: TV, Women, Veronica Mars

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