I’ve been a card carrying feminist since I was seven years old and my mom gave me my first badge to the “Ankur Bean Club”. The ABC was the junior equivalent of my mother’s local branch of the “Human Bean Club”, a club my mom and her best friend set up to remind themselves that they were “human beans” (human beings) too, something they often forgot as single mothers, daughters to old parents, and sisters to sometimes favoured siblings. This card was a reminder that just because you’re a woman, you don’t have to sacrifice, that you’re entitled to the same benefits, respect, opportunities and appreciation as your male counterparts. The inevitable consequence of my honoured status was that I was reverse brainwashed at an early age into despising most ads – I was appalled at the Fair and Lovely ads – and routinely told the TV to “shut up” when it said things I didn’t like (though I did watch the Bold and the Beautiful for a full 3 months in my teenage years). I don’t tell the TV to shut up anymore, but I do regulate what I allow in my mind to influence how I feel about women and so can you.
Remember the Onion ‘news’ piece about that woman who took a half hour break from feminism to watch a TV show? I’m here to show you how you can have your feminism and watch TV too. These are my top 5 feminist TV show picks for you:
Orange is the New Black: Now, I’m a great believer of the Bechdel Test (and here is what that’s all about) and while it isn’t applicable to TV shows, if it were, OITNB would PWN its ass. OITNB is a show about a woman who goes to prison for an offense she committed while travelling around Europe with her lesbian lover. I don’t want to give away too much, because I love the way the story unravels, but the show follows her travails as she navigates her time in Litchfield Women’s Correctional Facility and the unique, interesting and provocative women she shares her time with. It explores sexuality, infidelity, race, betrayal and redemption in a microcosmic setting, asking you to set aside any pre-conceived notions you might have, and revel in the delicious scandal, drama, politics and sex of these ‘ordinary’ women.
Why should you watch it? Well, for one, it’s very good. It’s fast paced, gripping, addictive, well cast and unusual. If you like drama shows, you can glut yourself on this without your feminist conscience berating you. The women are diverse in size, colour, shape, belief, orientation and in any other way you can imagine. Jason Biggs is very convincing as the schmuck boyfriend and you can enjoy watching him being tugged around, trying to figure out what to do with his life, now that his fiancé is in jail. The role reversal is both interesting and satisfying. Lastly, it’s not prissy. It doesn’t shy away from women having bodily functions or ‘taboo’ subjects like menstruation or rape. It doesn’t paint the women as ‘victims’ or ‘survivors’, and the line between the good guys and the bad guys can get a little blurry.
Parks and Recreation: I’d watched promos for this show and had read multiple articles on Jezebel about it before Tanvee (another feminist hero of mine) convinced me to watch it. The first season is slow going, so wait it out (it’s only 6 episodes) or even skip it altogether, because the second season gets so good. While everybody wants to be Ron Swanson, there’s nothing wrong in admitting there’s a little bit of Gary/Larry/Jerry Gingrich/Gergich in all of us. And while April is the epitome of all coolness, there’s nothing wrong with slipping into Andy mode every once in a while or in TREATING YO SELF like Donna and Tom. If you want to know what I mean, watch this show. This show is perfect for a pick-me-up, and always leaves you with a smile on your face, charmed despite yourself by the ridiculous residents of Pawnee. The show deals with misogyny with a light touch, painting misogynists black and highlighting how truly ridiculous sexism is by presenting a strong, dynamic, smart, ambitious female lead (my favourite is the episode where Leslie claims she fired a gun because of her ‘lady parts’).
Why should you watch it? It’s funny and warm hearted. You can have long conversations with other Parks and Rec lovers about the meaning of Galentine’s Day and the value of bacon. You can gleefully admit that breakfast foods are, in fact, the best of all foods and then share this knowledge proudly with the world. On a serious note, Leslie Knope (played by the fantastic Amy Poehler) is a great role model and all the women in this show are independent and proud of it. Even the show’s resident “hot girl” Rashida Jones is multi-faceted, slowly going through the cycle of dating and discovering herself at the end of it. Aubrey Plaza is an endearing deviant misanthrope and Nick Offerman is at his best. The show examines friendships and makes you cheer for the underdog against overwhelming odds. Watch this show because you will probably be a slightly better, and definitely happier, person for it.
Scandal: I don’t actually watch this show, because I don’t really like Kerry Washington, but I’ve watched 5 or 6 episodes and it is formidable. Once again, the female and male characters in the office of Olivia Pope, the protagonist, have interesting lives. They’re not wusses and their struggles are plausible, but unpredictable. Many of us are House of Cards enthusiasts, and this isn’t so very different. Washington? Check. Weak president? Check. Kingmakers? Check. President-VP drama? Check. Sexytimes? Check. Pregnancy? Check. Murder? Check.
Why should you watch it? Strong Black Female Lead, who is also a total hottie. A show about a black woman, written by a black woman (Shonda Rhimes) and race isn’t even an issue on the show. It’s a guilty pleasure show, no doubt, with its wild plot lines and crazy twists and turns. The show has been created by the same woman who created Grey’s Anatomy, so if you’re sick of Grey’s and want something a little more concrete to watch (with more sexytimes and hotter men minus the medical blah), this is your fix!
The Good Wife: I’ll admit I only watched the first season of this show so that I could write this piece. It comes highly recommended by my female friends. It’s a story about a woman lawyer, making her way in a law firm, among other things, so it’s only logical that all us legal eagles should indulge. The show opens with the news of the infidelity of the lead character’s husband, the related issues she has to deal with, and her ultimate decision to contribute to her family’s finances by joining work again in the wake of this scandal. The show may be called “The Good Wife”, but it’s an invaluable experience in learning about the value of grace under pressure, not just as a wife, but as a lawyer in high pressure situations, both personal and professional.
Why should you watch it? Too much screen time is given to the perception of how hysterical women are, how difficult it is for them to think with their heads instead of their hearts and how generally irrational they can be. A whole culture has been developed around this perceived incompetence of women (look no further than Bill O’Reilly’s insistence that a woman president in America is not a viable option or even women driver jokes), but Julianna Margulies’ depiction of a level headed, balanced, reliable woman who places duty above all else does away with that notion entirely. Archie Panjabi (whom I have adored since I saw her in East is East) is just terrific, with just the right amount of spunk and sensibility to perfectly complement Margulies’ more subdued tones. If you enjoy legal dramas and are sick of the predictability of shows like Suits, opt for this one. You won’t regret it.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: While this is admittedly a predictable entry on this list, hear me out. BtVS is my favourite show of all time. It outranks the OC, Parks and Rec, Orphan Black and many other popular shows. Buffy is not a good feminist. She puts herself last (she saved the world a lot), men mess her up and, if you asked her about feminism, she’d be too busy staking a vamp to give it much thought. But this show was the first to have an openly gay couple on screen, the first one to do a completely silent episode and (just to turn it on its head) also a musical one. While the special effects may be jarring for some of you (they’re old school and not nearly as fancy as the stuff we have now), stick around. Whedon’s remarks on the word “feminist” may have made him unpopular for the time being, but don’t forget this stellar show which cast a 5’4” blond woman as the lead in a show about killing vampires. The show talks about witches, werewolves, demons and every woman in it is powerful, whether she’s the bitchy high school Queen Bee, the helpful and meek resident nerd or even the socially awkward Ex-Vengeance Demon (with whom I identify a little). The show doesn’t preach, and it isn’t aimed at some larger social message. It’s a show about ass-kickery but is also very funny, with Xander Harris providing a self-deprecatory comedic touch similar to Chandler on F.R.I.E.N.D.S (I laugh in the face of danger…then I hide until it goes away).
Why should you watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer? I don’t know anyone else who watches the show, but I don’t care. I could watch it over and over again because it’s smart, funny, with rapier like wit, inimitable humour and magic and darkness and demons and wonders. It has episodes that will make you laugh, cry, sing, think, want to do lots of backflips and kick-punches and it’s awesome. I was worried that revisiting the show would make me like it less (I first watched it when I was 8) but I didn’t have to be; I now love it.
• Gilmore Girls (Two lead women, both talk really fast, what’s not to love?)
• Six Feet Under (Do watch this show, it’s criminally underrated – it’s about a family who runs a funeral home, and features the wonderful Michael C. Hall, pre-Dexter)
• Miranda (6’1” woman who owns a joke shop and isn’t ambitious? sign me up!)
• Orphan Black (Clones. ‘nuff said.)
• Suburgatory (Women learning not to hate on each other so much)
• The Mindy Project (“Chubby Indian Girl Gets Own TV Show” – why is Satya Nadella a headline and not this?)
• The Daily Show (Go to their website and search for feminism. Kristen Schaal is hilarious)
Add your own shows to the comment box below! I’d love to watch more!