#9. Kirsten Cohen, “The O.C.”
Lauren: OK, so, don’t judge me (you’re definitely going to judge me), but back in the early days of The View (I’m talking Debbie Matenoplous and Star Jones), I used to actually watch that show without wanting to stab myself in the eyes. Remember when that show was tolerable? It was, I think. And I remember one episode (probably during HOT TOPICS) when Meredith Viera was saying something about her home – I don’t know even know what the topic of conversation was – but I remember her distinctly saying that she had the kind of house where her friends, family, neighbors and kid’s friends could just come over, open the fridge and make themselves a bologna sandwich. And I still think about – years later (I know, I’m weird) – because I think that’s such a cool example of how a woman wants her home to be – a place where friends and family feel like they can come in and make themselves a sandwich. But not a bologna sandwich, because bologna is gross. But maybe a turkey sandwich.
And Kirsten is totally that wife and mom – who is prim and proper, but also lets this random kid off the street come live in her home when he doesn’t have anywhere else to go. And even though she’s kind of leery of him (you know, probably because he wears wife-beaters), she still has that loving maternal persuasion that won’t let him just be out on the streets alone, and ultimately wants to take care of him and give him a home. And is willing to be judged by her peers for it. And judge, they did. The O.C. is the judgiest place in America, according to this show and the Real Housewives.
Sure, she had a slight drinking problem (was it slight? maybe more than slight? I haven’t seen the show in a while…) but, her friend married her dad, so, gross. I’d be hitting the pinot, too.
Even though I don’t aspire to be just like her, I definitely aspire to have a home like hers someday. Maybe I don’t need a pool house, though. (Anyone who watches Revenge – a fabulous ensemble of women I do NOT want to be like – knows that no good can come of having a pool house.)
#8. Sydney Bristow, “Alias”
Laura: Let me say, right off the bat, I have NO desire to be an international spy. None whatsoever. But that doesn’t stop me from acknowledging that Sydney Bristow is the embodiment of female power. She’s kicking ass and taking names, but she’s still sexy and feminine and hey, she’s confused about how to be a good daughter and friend and girlfriend, just like me! She’s powerful but vulnerable, because she loves deeply and that is always a risk. But she is able to put her emotions aside to get the job done, even when that job involves falling out of planes and taking out 20 bad guys with one hand tied behind her back, while wearing stiletto heels and a skintight rubber dress. If we can just forget the last two seasons of Alias ever happened, we can focus on just how awesome she was. Action star does not usually translate into complex, fully-formed character, but that is exactly what she was.
#7. Joan Holloway, “Mad Men”
Laura: Lauren and I had a little debate over who would write about Peggy and who would write about Joan. We knew we wanted to cover both of the Mad Men women (obviously we’re not counting Betty here because, seriously, gross) and we both realized we see parts of ourselves in each woman. Just like the “are you a Jackie or a Marilyn” campaign fell flat, there is no point in asking whether a woman is a Joan or a Peggy because really we’re all a little of both.
Of course the first thing anyone notices about Joan is her breasts. People look at her and see sex. She could have done what many secretaries before her had done–sleep with and marry the boss, quit the job. She wants to have it all, and while one half of “it all” comes more naturally to her, she works twice as hard to have the other half, too. And she gets it. She finds a man on her own terms, and returns to her job by choice. She’s good at what she does, and she knows it.
#6. Leslie Knope, “Parks & Recreation”
Lauren: Leslie Knope is the best. Well, I don’t know if I think Leslie’s the best or if I just think Amy Poehler is the best. Whatever. Amy as Leslie is the best.
The great thing about Leslie is how intense she is about everything. I don’t want to turn this post into a complaint about how few women get to play truly awesome, well-rounded women on TV, but, well, it’s kind of true. A lot of women on TV are extreme characters: they either have awesome careers but are socially awkward and have terribly jacked-up personal lives (hello, Deborah Morgan), or they are have great families/relationships/friendships, but are discontent in so many other areas of their lives – including professionally. It’s like, sure, you can have an awesome job, but you’ll also be almost murdered by your serial killer fiance and later, you’ll fall in love with your brother. (Sorry for the Dexter spoilers, but I figure if you’re reading a list about TV, you’re either caught up on this show or you’re never going to watch it).
But anyway – back to Leslie. Her personality is comically oversized, but at the same time, the writers have managed to make her seem so real and down to earth. Even though she’s way overcommitted to her job and can seem almost cartoonish in the way she interacts with coworkers and makes them do crazy tasks, she’s also totally real: she has a great, honest friendship with Ann, and a relationship with Ben that brings out deeper layers, and reveals her needs and emotions. And yes, those needs definitely center around her obsession with her career – but they also are complicated by how much she likes him, and wants to have a full life outside of her work. She struggles with having a great career or having a great relationship, but the key is – she struggles. She doesn’t have to choose one or the other. Which is awesome, because there are enough nut-job female characters out there who either are totally screwed up emotionally, or totally screwed up professionally, and it’s nice to have an example of someone who wants the best of both, and works hard to have both.
And, she’s hilarious.
#5. Peggy Olson, “Mad Men”
Lauren: One of the great things about Mad Men is that, despite the depravity of some of the characters, the writers still manage to make the characters real. Well, except for Betty, but that’s probably more January Jones’ fault than anyone else’s. She’s a boring human and it comes across in her “acting.” Sorry – this post is supposed to be about inspiring women. So, she inspires me to… spend more time on my hair. Thank you, January. Your hair is pretty!
Back to Peggy. The thing I love about her is how bold and tenacious she is. She really believes she deserves to be a player in the boys’ club – and she totally does. We’re talking about women who inspire us – and whom we aspire to be like, in some way – and Peggy makes me aspire to be more confident and to pursue what I know I’m good at. She’s a smart, creative writer, and even when she’s new to her job, she isn’t afraid to have bold ideas, and stand by them. She’s a feminist – but a nuanced one, not a “grrrr I hate men!” one like so many one-dimensional feminist portrayals on TV. She is very aware of how valuable she is as an employee, but continues to keep working hard, despite the straight-up sexual harassment she deals with every single day. (I mean, seriously. Was HR even a thing in the 60s?)
Like Leslie Knope, she sometimes seems on the brink of relaxing her professional goals in order to have an easier, simpler personal life, but never gives in. She doesn’t always make the right choices, but she doesn’t let her failures define her life. Watching Peggy’s long struggles with her personal and professional lives has been tedious – but rewarding. Maybe it just seems like it has literally been like, 5 years since the last season. But, Peggy will be back in action in March, and I can’t wait to see what’s next for her.
#4. Tammi Taylor, “Friday Night Lights”
Laura: If you’re reading this and you haven’t watched all five seasons of Friday Night Lights–right now you need to open up another tab, add the show to your Netflix queue, and then CLOSE THIS TAB AND GO WATCH IT. NOW. ALL OF IT. I AM NOT JOKING.
Okay, now that you’re back…first of all, you’re welcome. Clear eyes, full hearts…I know, I’m breaking out my tissues now, too. I know, Riggins is so hot, and I too totally want to curl up on a couch and watch a movie with Saracen, and I completely agree that Coach Taylor is basically the perfect man and husband. But OMG SERIOUSLY TAMMI. Really the first thing everyone says about this show, after “it’s not really about football,” (so I guess the second thing) is always something along the lines of “it’s the best depiction of marriage on TV.” I don’t want to give anything away in the slim chance that not all of you actually finished the series before reading the rest of this post, but I will say that Tammi’s ability to fully support her husband in his demanding job and embrace her role as the coach’s wife while still holding her own and making her wants and needs clearly heard without veering into the stereotype of the submissive or nagging wife is aspirational.
The first time I watched the show, I was seriously distracted by Tammi’s gorgeousness. Not joking–I found myself obsessively Googling what kind of lip gloss she wore. Her skin seriously glows, and ohhhh my goodness that hair. I wanted to take a picture of her hair to my hairdresser to show her what I wanted, but I realized it was futile–her hair is beyond the grasp of mere mortals. I am recognizing that bouncy hair is a common thread between these women, but seriously, isn’t that kind of the point–like the other bouncy-haired women on this list, Tammi’s coif underlies her confidence. She knows who and what she is, and what she is, is awesome.
#3. Lindsay Weir, “Freaks & Geeks”
Lauren: If you don’t watch Freaks & Geeks, shame on you and you’re not allowed to keep reading. Seriously, just go watch it. There’s only one season – it won’t take you long to watch.
Like Leslie, I think the reason I like Lindsay so much is because she’s so real. And she struggles like a real high school student (let’s just ignore the fact that Linda Cardellini was like, 30 when she was shooting this show…).
There are a few different stereotypical suburban high school girl characters: the dumb bimbo who hates studying and loves boys (please reference: every family sitcom with a laugh track), the nerdy smart girl with no social skills (please reference: every family sitcom with a laugh track), or the bitter, bratty woe-is-me girl (who’s usually only slightly more nuanced than the two previously mentioned character types). Look, I was a middle-class white high schooler, too, and I appreciate having a character on TV – at the start of my high school years, especially – who was an actual, real American teenager. I appreciate it even more, now that I’m an adult.
Lindsay dealt with the standard TV-high-school-girl issues: crushes, homework, teachers, and parents – but dealt with them in a way that showed how smart, funny, emotional, fragile, and resilient teenage girls can be. Because teenage girls are among the most complex and emotional people in the world (I think that’s safe to say), and we do them a disservice by relegating them to boring, stereotypical roles. I love Lindsay, because she’s vulnerable enough to be hurt by a simple misunderstanding with the guy she likes, but strong and bold enough to stand up for what she believes – even if nobody else agrees with her or people make fun of her. At 25, I still re-watch this show and am inspired by how awesome she is.
#2. Mary Richards, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”
Laura: The summer after college is a weird time for everyone, right? Because my very first week of full-time employment, each night I came straight home to the basement bedroom I was renting in a professor’s house, made myself a giant taco, and watched approximately 5 episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore show on Hulu before passing out at 8:30 pm. This was a nostalgic gesture. When I was a kid watching Mary Richards on Nick at Nite, I just assumed that’s what my life would be like when I went out into the world and tried to make it on my own. But somewhere between tacos I realized how very, very far I was from turning the world on with my smile, Mary Richards-style.
Watching the show again as an adult–a single woman who, much like Mary, was breaking out on my own for the first time in a male-dominated field–I realized how I had misunderstood the show from the vantage point of my childhood living room. Mary is not the Everywoman I always thought she was. She’s special, and that’s the point. I mean duh, she has bouncy hair and killer legs. And with her wardrobe full of 70s knitwear, I mean how could she go wrong. But what is so great about her is that she is leading a completely charmed life, and she doesn’t realize it. She doesn’t expect it, and she certainly doesn’t demand it. In any other person this might be maddening–this can be known as The Bubble syndrome–but Mary is never anyone but herself, and herself just happens to be an exceptionally awesome woman. Every man she meets asks her out, and every woman she knows wants to be her best friend.
She is not perfect–she constantly struggles to stick up for herself–but she has that extra something that makes her special–her boss Lou Grant calls it “spunk.” Entertainment Weekly recently pointed out how many awesome TV women (many of them on our list) can trace their lineage back to the one and only, the original, Mary Richards. And thanks to Hulu and DVDs (I might just own the first three seasons) her timeless smile continues to remind us that we really might just make it after all.
And our favorite TV woman of all time is… Clair Huxtable, “The Cosby Show”
Lauren: Oh my gosh, I’ve always wanted to be Clair. The husband, the law degree, the career, the kids, the personality. She was just awesome. And now that I’m an adult, I’m like, DANG. How did she do all of that and stay so cool? (Oh? It’s a TV show? Right.) After one semester of Business Law in college, I’ve completely scratched the “lawyer” part of the dream, but the rest of it, I still aspire to.
But seriously, this is a woman who did it all – but who also seemed so normal. Sure, she had a fantastic career and great education, but you could tell her most important priorities were being a loving, encouraging (yet challenging) wife and mother. But, the awesome thing was that her husband (Go, Cliff!) was totally supportive of her passions and goals. So, it was just this big circle of support and encouragement and love. On a sitcom! Good job, writers.
Anyway! As you may have noticed by now, I think TV is sorely lacking in awesome, inspirational female characters in 2012. In some ways, we’re progressing, but in some ways, the greatest, smartest, funniest, loving-est, most complex leading TV ladies have been around for a long time – Mary, Lucy, Clair.
Laura: We named this blog after her, so obviously I think she’s a pretty stellar lady. But seriously, Clair has got it all: the successful career, the loving husband, the tasteful, cozy home in NYC, the children who get into scrapes but are basically really good, motivated kids, and even a killer wardrobe of skirt suits. I’m not a parent yet, but I imagine that someday one of my kids will do something like come home late from a track meet without calling first and I will ask myself “What did Clair do” and before I know it I’ll be presiding over a mock court in my living room to get to the bottom of it. And then after the kids go to bed I’ll slow dance to a jazz song with my hilarious doctor husband. Because that’s how I DO. Because that’s how Clair did.