Top 5 Feminist TV Shows for Fall 2011
By Molly Shalgos on 09/21/2011 | Read more from Molly Shalgos
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Granted, my hope could crash and burn once the episodes start airing, and I’ll have to start writing treatises on how someone needs to explain to Hollywood that “show starring women” does not automatically make it a feminist TV show. For now, I’ll indulge in fantasies of the possible – and highlight some winners of the returning fall slate.
In my mind, a gun-toting lady detective isn’t enough to get a show stamped with the Feminist Approval seal. I want to see her have a support network of other strong women. I want to see those women have their own goals, desires, and perspectives on life.
And in the immortal words of Alison Bechdel’s famous Bechdel’s Test, I want them to talk to each other about something besides men.
Here are my picks for the Top 5 feminist TV shows for Fall 2011:
5. The Vampire Diaries, The CW
You’re saying a show about teenage girls smooching vampires can’t possibly be feminist? You haven’t been watching Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec’s twist on the genre. I first tuned in to mock what I assumed would be the latest Twi-lite knockoff. Then came the episode when Elena (Nina Dobrev) discovered that her boyfriend was a monster. Unlike her Twilight counterpart, she kicked him to the curb, saying she had no interest in putting herself in danger. I was in shock. A teenage girl made a decision with her brain instead of her underpants?
It’s the antithesis of Twilight, and the women are the best thing about it. Besides Elena, two standouts are Bonnie, a powerful teen witch, and newly vamped Caroline, whose fraught relationship with her mom is the stuff of heartbreak. The girls’ friendship is closer to the center of the show than any of their romantic entanglements. They struggle to make their childhood friendship survive the brutal transition to adulthood, but they support each other completely – and through bigger problems than finding dates for prom.
4. Grey’s Anatomy, ABC
There are seasons of Grey’s Anatomy that made me think someone should invent eye-yoga, because mine hurt from rolling them so hard. In its seventh year, though, Grey’s knocked it out of the park. It’s soapy, yes, and romantic entanglements play a big part, but I’d like to float a theory: being married, or wanting to get there, doesn’t invalidate feminist cred.
From Christina’s struggle with her post-shooting PTSD to Meredith’s fertility problems, this was a season of celebrating ladies who make tough life decisions, personally and professionally. And it was the season Meredith Grey came into her own. For years, she’s been on my list of Lamest Ladies, constantly wringing her hands over McDreamy. This year, she became a capable, confident woman who has learned to trust herself. She’s grown up, and the show grew up with her.
3. Parenthood, NBC
I’m a sucker for a show with strong women inside marriage, trying to balance their own needs against their partner’s without losing their individuality. It’s a complicated dance, and Parenthood pulls it off week after week.
There’s Kristina, learning how to parent a son with Asperger’s. Julia, the lawyer with a stay-at-home husband raising their child. Sarah, the divorced bartender whose daughter is directionless after getting rejected from college. It’s not just the way they help each other through the crises – it’s the disagreements, the petty jealousies, the things you recognize in your relationships with your own family that all women learn to move past. We learn it over and over again, how to be happy with ourselves, how to stop comparing ourselves to our sister-in-law, our mother, our siblings. We learn it well into adulthood, and Parenthood treats that process with the respect it deserves.
2. Parks & Recreation, NBC
Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope is the coolest chick on TV. She shines at her job. She enthuses about politics. And she invented the greatest holiday in the universe – Galentine’s Day, a pre-Valentine’s brunch she organizes for her girlfriends to celebrate each other’s awesomeness.
Leslie’s happy, ambitious, and filled with respect for the women in her life. Her friendship with Ann (Rashida Jones) is one of the best things about the show. Check out this season’s hilarious episode ‘The Fight’: it’s what every drunken argument between BFFs should look like. They’re both annoyed about choices the other has made, and the next morning, they’re still mature enough to sweetly apologize. Leslie and Ann make each other better people. It makes you want to organize your own Galentine’s Day fiesta.
1. The Good Wife, CBS
The Good Wife doesn’t shy away from the reality of sexism. Diane (Christine Baranski), a senior partner at the firm is left out of the loop on a client deal….because the male partners already discussed it at their weekly basketball game. Alicia (Julianna Margulies) is told she might not get a promotion she’s completely qualified for….because the male candidate can bill more hours. The subtext: he can do so because he doesn’t have children at home. You know, like she does.
That’s sexism: the things you can’t call attention to, because after all, no one is really doing anything illegal. Women are supposed to let it go without comment. Alicia doesn’t let it go, and neither do the other characters. There’s more I could talk about, of course – the relationship between Alicia and her husband could fill a book. But when I think of The Good Wife, the first thing I think of is what it means to be strong in a workplace that has set you up to fail. Alicia, Diane, and private investigator Kalinda have perfect poker faces. They don’t whine at the unfairness of it all. And instead of losing their tempers, even in situations where it’d be perfectly justified, they hide their anger and calmly cut their opponent’s legs out from under them, all with a very polite smile.
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