As an angry feminist, I sometimes need breaks from torching my bras and screaming “Problematic!” into mens’ faces until they cry. One of my favourite ways to relax from my busy schedule is sitting down on my couch, watching TV, and letting my frothing rage simmer down to “medium”. Unfortunately, TV can turn the rage back up to high, after seeing shows where women only seem to be nags, damsels or hot pieces of meat that inexplicably wear lipgloss to bed. Luckily, I’ve found 10 shows that are a safe bet for feminists.
1. Jessica Jones
Jessica Jones is a Marvel show about an ex-superhero/private investigator trying to cope with past trauma. Spoilers ahead (you can finish reading this list when you’re done binge-watching the entire show): Jones’ trauma is rape. This is not just a moment of sexual assault. Jones was abused by Kilgrave, a man with mind-control powers, who used his abilities to imprison Jones in a twisted “relationship”.
David Tennant as Kilgrave is charming, classy, and sometimes funny, which makes him a compelling villain. He draws you in, then quick as flash, turns abusive. Then he blames the victim of the abuse for his actions, as if he has no control over himself. His characterization is so clever. He makes you feel bad for him, but you learn that any moment the viewer feels sympathetic toward him is pure manipulation. It shows how easy it is to get caught in a cycle of abuse and how good abusers are at keeping victims close. His powers are extraordinary, but his abusive personality feels way too real.
The show talks about sexual assault under the fantastical situation of mind-control: how it can happen to anyone, how the victims blame themselves, and how victims are rarely believed or helped. It also deals with rape without the superpower metaphor. Jessica Jones actually calls what Kilgrave did to her as “rape”, instead of using a lighter term (forced himself, had his way, took advantage, etc). It doesn't try to make the rapist feel better by giving them a nicer label.
The best decision the show made is that even though they acknowledged that rape happened, they only hinted at a rape scene. This decision prevents the weird sexualization of a rape scene (I’m looking at you, Game of Thrones), is sensitive to viewers who are victims of similar traumas, and it demands the viewer to believe the victim without seeing the crime.
For the incredibly smart take on the subject of sexual assault and abuse, Jessica Jones is a must-see show.
2. Inside Amy Schumer
Amy Schumer absolutely killed it this year with her sketch-comedy show Inside Amy Schumer. The show won a Peabody Award and the Emmy for Outstanding Sketch Series this year.
Although her previous seasons were funny and had a few sketches with sharp social commentary, this season was absolutely brutal at pointing out modern-day sexism. “Last Fuckable Day” skewered Hollywood double-standards. “The Trial of Bill Cosby” took on public opinion of the real-life trial. “Football Town Nights” was a parody of the show Friday Night Lights, while calling out people for valuing football over rape victims. The masterpiece of the season was a shot-for-shot remake of the play "12 Angry Men", where twelve men intensely debate whether Amy is hot enough to be on TV. This year, Amy raised the bar.
3. Broad City
Broad City is hilarious. The series was created by the two starring actresses Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, and was originally a web-series from 2009-2011. This show is amazing because it feels real. Sure, the scenarios of going to a dog wedding or hooking up with your doppelganger aren’t realistic, but the characters feel like real women. They don’t wear designer outfits. Their makeup isn’t perfect. Their biggest flaws aren’t the typical sitcom trope of “type-A personality” or “cute, but falls down a lot”. They’re weird and gross and losers in the best way.
4. Parks And Recreation
Parks and Recreation gave us the great Leslie Knope. She’s unapologetically ambitious, even as the head of a small parks department in Pawnee, Indiana. Even though Leslie wants to be the best there is, she doesn’t tear other women down along the way. Leslie is all about lifting other women up in her life, whether she's encouraging job opportunities, supporting relationship choices, and giving out amazing compliments.
Knope also gave us the gift of Galentine’s Day and the saying “ovaries before brovaries”.
5. The Mindy Project
There are not a lot of leading roles for Indian-American women in American TV, so Mindy Kaling is a breath of fresh air as the creator, producer, and lead of The Mindy Project. Kaling plays Mindy Lahiri, an OB/GYN who looks for love, but doesn’t let romance erase the importance of her work-life. Mindy Lahiri was actually based off of Kaling’s mother, who was an OB/GYN.
Mindy Kaling is regularly applauded for presenting a body type that isn’t skinny/white/blonde as desirable and sexy. While Kaling defends her body-type and appearance, she repeatedly states she doesn’t understand why it’s so hard to get why she’s confident.
6. How To Get Away With Murder
Shonda Rhimes’ show can be praised for a lot of reasons: having a diverse cast of characters, presenting different sexualities, filming homosexual sex scenes, mentioning cunnilingus (I practically shouted Hallelujah), and dealing with HIV openly, without sanctimonious scare-tactics. It’s weird praising a show that’s based on lawyers trying to help others and themselves avoid punishment for murder, but here I am.
What this show deserves kudos for the most is for putting Viola Davis into the starring role. Yes, she was nominated for an Oscar for The Help, but I think it’s more hopeful to see her impress in a role where she’s not, well, the help. In HTGAWM she’s the boss and she’s phenomenal.
Davis also speaks out about the lack of roles for black women in Hollywood. This year, she was the first black woman to win an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress and she gave a fantastic speech about the importance of opportunity.
Shonda Rhimes’ other show also deserves praise for having a diverse cast and a black woman (Kerry Washington) in a complex leading role. Beyond that, this season deserves credit for its quick and simple take on abortion. In many shows, abortion is treated with emotional and moral dread, usually leading the character to change her mind and have the baby. Or, the abortion is traumatic and haunts the character for the rest of her life. I’m not saying that anyone who changes their mind about an abortion or who has regrets is wrong, I’m just saying this is a very dramatic and narrow-minded narrative about a woman’s right to choose.
During an episode where a senator was filibustering a bill that would’ve threatened Planned Parenthood, Olivia Pope got an abortion. The scene was short and simple, leaving us with the message that it's completely normal.
8. Orphan Black
First of all, I just learned that this show is Canadian. Good job, us! Anyway, the show is about Sarah Manning, who sees a woman who looks exactly like her commit suicide. Sarah Manning decides to steal the woman’s identity, becoming Beth Childs. She soon finds herself in the middle of a conspiracy, where more and more of her doppelgangers appear.
Actress Tatiana Maslany doesn’t have an endless supply of twins. She plays every single doppelganger in the show. We should just be throwing awards at her at this point. Even though it seems like it’s cheating to have so many female characters played by one actress, I still have to love Orphan Black because it shows a variety of female characters. Women are scientists, con artists, soccer moms, drug dealers, criminals, and heroes. It’s almost like women have been people all along.
9. Orange Is The New Black
Orange Is The New Black finished its third season this year and continues to be a show with a majority of female characters. This show is a goldmine. It has characters of diverse ethnicities, sexualities, body-types, ages and religions. It has a trans-actress (Laverne Cox) playing a trans-woman (Sophia), which seems like a really basic choice until you realize how shockingly rare it is. It shows flaws in modern-day prison systems, including how women are mistreated and victimized by the people that are paid to watch over them.
I will continue to watch this show, even if I will ignore every minute with Piper Chapman, for all the interesting character-stories and for the absolute treasure that is Uzo Aduba.
Decoded and Braless are two web-series created by MTV that combine pop-culture and social justice issues. Decoded, hosted by Franchesca Ramsey, is primarily touches on issues of race like cultural appropriation, stereotypes, and “whitesplaining”. Braless, hosted by Laci Green, focuses mostly on feminism and issues of sexuality. These two are tied because they are both equally important messengers who sometimes join forces to help make the world a better place!
What shows keep your angry feminist heart happy?