Mary Richards (The Mary Tyler Moore Show) is often noted as being the feminist icon of television. While Ms. Richards may have been a groundbreaking portrayal of a working woman, she never actually talked about being a feminist. Here, we list fictional characters who more openly flew their feminist flags.
In doing research for this, we noticed that a lot of these women had characteristics in common. Almost all of them are middle class. Many of them are educated and somewhat socially awkward. A lot of them are either nerdy, or have nerdy pasts, and can be annoying. But unfortunately, all of them — including the animated ones — are Caucasian. Worse still, only three of the females listed below are characters on shows currently on air. It's sad that in the past 30 years, feminism hasn't even managed to get two dozen recurring characters on television to admit to being part of the movement. (Again, these are pop culture characters who spoke openly about being feminists or feminism; however, if, over the course of our research we overlooked/couldn't find someone you think should be included, please do let us know in the comments - we'd love to keep updating this post with characters.)
Maude Findlay, Maude
As the title character of the series, Maude Findlay (Bea Arthur) was probably the most outspoken, upfront feminist of sitcom TV. Running from 1972 - 1978, smack dab in the middle of the women's lib movement, Maude was a Democrat who was pro-choice—she had an abortion on the show, pre-Roe v. Wade—and was a political activist who advocated for gender and racial equality. The show's theme song, "And Then There's Maude," also reflected Maude's feminism, comparing her to strong women in history like Joan of Arc, Lady Godiva, and "bra burners."
Marcy D'Arcy, Married With Children
The breadwinner of her family, whether she was married to her first husband Steve or second husband Jefferson, Marcy (Amanda Bearse) hated Al Bundy and his misogynistic views on women. Although she was a Republican loan officer, she was also a radical feminist and formed FANG (Feminists Against Neanderthal Guys) in retaliation of Al's club NO MA'AM (National Organization of Men Against Amazonian Masterhood).
Julia Sugarbaker and Mary Jo Shively, Designing Women
As owner and designer of interior decorating company Sugarbaker Designs, Julia (Dixie Carter) and Mary Jo (Annie Potts) were the liberal mouthpieces of writer Linda Bloodworth-Thomason. Airing from 1986 - 1993, the show was often topical and dealt with women's issues like spousal abuse, prostitution, homosexuality, cat-calling construction workers, and hostility toward overweight women. One episode focused entirely on the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas, with the women sharing painful personal memories of sexual harassment and wearing shirts that said, "He did it." Julia regularly made long, liberal-leaning speeches when she got into it with other characters. Interestingly, according to Wikipedia, Dixie Carter is a Republican and "disagreed with many of her character's left-of-center commentaries, and made a deal with the producers that for every speech she gave, Julia would get to sing a song in a future episode."
Murphy Brown, Murphy Brown
During the late '80s and early '90s, Monday nights on CBS featured an hour-long block of feminist comedy with Murphy Brown and Designing Women airing back-to-back. Running from 1988 - 1998, Murphy Brown (Candace Bergen) was the supposed epitome of "post-feminism." As a news anchor/recovering alcoholic, Murphy's feminism was often highlighted by her contrast to the character Corky Sherwood, a ditsy, former Miss America turned broadcast journalist. In the 1991-1992 season, Murphy became pregnant and chose to raise the baby as a single mother, prompting former Vice President Dan Quayle to criticize the character for ignoring the importance of fathers, opening a national discourse on "family values." The show addressed his remarks by editing his speech to make it appear as though he was talking about Murphy personally instead of the character, leading Murphy to do a special edition broadcast on her news program FYI of different kinds of families.
Liz Lemon, 30 Rock
As head writer of The Girlie Show (or TSG with Tracy Jordan), Liz Lemon is a fictionalized version of 30 Rock creator Tina Fey. As a liberal, Lemon believes that "gay dudes should be allowed to adopt kids and we should all have hybrid cars," and is heavily concerned with the idea of fairness. She's described—accurately, according to other characters on the show—by her boss Jack Donaghy as a "New York third-wave feminist, college-educated, single-and-pretending-to-be-happy-about-it, over-scheduled, undersexed, you buy any magazine that says 'healthy body image' on the cover and every two years you take up knitting for...a week." She is constantly in a struggle to balance her personal and professional lives, and in her late 30s, is feeling the pressure to either adopt or have a child of her own, which can sometimes be mistaken for baby fever, particularly when she was asked by a makeup artist on the set to hold her baby, then blacked out and woke up in her apartment, still holding the child. But while she'd like the ideal setup of marriage and a family, she doesn't think the former is necessary to achieve the latter, as demonstrated in an episode when she bought a wedding dress, despite the fact that she doesn't have a boyfriend, saying, "I'm gonna get the wedding dress, then I'm gonna have a baby and then I'm gonna die and then I'll meet a super cute guy in Heaven."
Elyse Keaton, Family Ties
Airing from 1982 - 1989 during the Reagan era, Family Ties featured feminist mother Elyse (Meredith Baxter-Birney), a baby boomer Democrat former-hippie raising her kids in the suburbs while maintaining a job. She and her husband Steven were political activists before settling down but still were very much liberal-minded. Her feminism was often in contrast with her daughter Mallory's flightiness and obsession with fashion and her Republican son Alex's traditional views, although Alex would later date a feminist artist named Ellen (played by Tracy Pollan, who ended up marrying Micheal J. Fox in real life).
Lisa Simpson, The Simpsons
Lisa (voiced by Yeardley Smith) is smart and wise beyond her years eight years. She's a vegetarian, environmentalist, feminist and supporter of Tibetan freedom. She is a Ghost World fan, adores ponies, has struggled with body image issues, has a love/hate relationship with her Malibu Stacy doll, and gets angered over males' lack of "regard for feelings and unicorns." However, she is aware of her own intelligence, which sometimes leads to arrogance. Occasionally she'll undermine her stay-at-home mother for her seemingly traditional gender role, but always ends up learning a lesson from her mistakes and incorrect assumptions.
Andrea Zuckerman, Beverly Hills, 90210
From 1990 - 1995 Andrea (Gabrielle Carteris) was 90210's resident "brainy" girl. As editor-in-chief of the high school paper The West Beverly Blaze, Andrea was socially awkward, but socially conscious—in stark contrast to the shallow, beautiful girls in her school—and the storylines involving her character dealt with gender, class, and racial issues. She was sexually harassed by a teacher at West Beverly, and later accused AP English teacher Mr. Meyer of sexism when he attempted to demote her and make Brandon Walsh the EIC of the paper. (Being vocal on the issue led to her sharing the position with Brandon.) Like Donna Martin, Andrea was saving herself for marriage, but as a freshman in college she fucked her RA, then later another guy named Jesse. Jesse knocked her up, the two married—even though her Judaism clashed with his Catholicism—had a kid, then went to Yale together.
Jessie Spano, Saved by the Bell
As a strong-willed feminist, Jessie (Elizabeth Berkley) was an overachiever. She was class president, a straight-A student, and briefly tried to balance all of that with a singing career that led to an addiction to caffeine pills. She introduced legions of young girls to the term "chauvinist pig," and all though she was a crusader against sexism, she fell for the school jock A.C. Slater.
Roseanne Connor, Roseanne
Airing from 1988 - 1997, Roseanne was groundbreaking for giving a face to blue-collar feminism. Instead of the tired feminist stereotype in which female characters strive to "have it all" (a successful career and a family) Roseanne (Roseanne Barr) struggled to have enough. She took care of her kids, husband, and house while also working a number of menial jobs to make ends meet, demonstrating how modern women of the '80s were expected to cook, clean, and contribute to household finances. She had a group of close girlfriends that included her sister Jackie, who were supportive rather than competitive with each other. Most importantly, perhaps, Roseanne was an overweight female lead character whose likability did not depend on her appearance.
Karen Arnold, The Wonder Years
Airing from 1988 - 1993, The Wonder Years took place in 1968 - 1973, reflecting the political and cultural climate of the time. As the older sister of protagonist/narrator Kevin Arnold, Karen (Olivia d'Abo) was a hippie, liberal, feminist, idealist who clashed with her conservative, traditional father. She inspired her brother Kevin to protest the Vietnam War by staging a walkout at his school, and her free-spirit perhaps inspired her homemaker mother to go back to college and start a career of her own.
Midge Pinciotti, That '70s Show
As Donna's mother, Midge (Tanya Roberts) was easily influenced by any fad in the '70s, including women's liberation. On the show, she takes women's studies classes, and joins the group "Feminist Warriors." Although a stereotypical ditsy sexpot, Midge still manages to instill feminist values in her daughter Donna.
Rory Gilmore, Gilmore Girls
Born to an unwed, teen mother, Rory (Alexis Bledel) was a bright, well-behaved, pop-culturally savvy teenager, who was valedictorian of her competitive high school and went on to study journalism at Yale. While her romantic relationships were often masochistic, she was often seen reading feminist prose, and dreamed of one day having a career like Christiane Amanpour. At college, her dorm room was decorated with Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and Gloria Steinem stickers. At the end of the show's seven-year run in 2007, Rory's boyfriend proposes to her, but she decides that she was too young to be tied down.
Femme Fatale, Powerpuff Girls
A villain from the animated series Powerpuff Girls, Femme Fatale was described as "the feminist of all feminists," who unfortunately was portrayed as a man-hater. When she robbed banks, she only stole money in the form of Susan B. Anthony coins. Her weapon, a firearm, is shaped like a female symbol, as is her mask. She's a female supremist who convinces Buttercup, Blossom, and Bubbles that they have been taken advantage of, as females. However, the girls realize that feminism isn't about special treatment, but equal treatment, and lock Femme up in jail. (Femme cries that she looks fat in horizontal stripes.)
Janice Soprano Baccalieri, The Sopranos
Manipulative and headstrong, Janice (Aida Turturro) had a personality much like her mother Livia's. A free spirit when she was younger, she escaped the patriarchal structure of her family to travel around Europe and the U.S., only to return to New Jersey as an adult. Craving power, she would use sex and suggestion as means to an end. In one episode, Carmela tells Janice that if she continues to date the men in the "family business," she'll have to "accept a gumar." Janice said, "Oh, yeah? Well I'd like to see a gumar who's gonna let him hold a gun to their head when they fuck," telling Carmela that kind of sex play is no different than garter belts and nurse's uniforms. Carmela says, "Well, it's a gun, Janice. I thought you were a feminist." Janice replied matter-of-factly, "Usually he takes the clip out."
Detective Olivia Benson, Law & Order: SVU
As part of the Special Victims Unit that deals in crimes related to sexual assault (rape, molestation, etc.), Detective Benson (Mariska Hargitay) is often the empathetic voice looking out for the best interest victims. Although she is a child of her mother's rape, Detective Benson is an advocate for Plan B in rape kits. With episodes "ripped from the headlines," episodes deal with "sexting," internet predators, and the idea of rape as being a "hate crime," and the controversy of getting it classified as such.
Miranda Hobbes, Sex and the City
Of the four women characters on SATC, Miranda is the most vocal about being a feminist. A lawyer who owns her own apartment, she is cynical and initially was presented as kind of a misandrist. For a show that was supposed to embody modern feminism, Miranda was really the only character to openly profess her feminism and reference the movement in her dialogue. (In one episode she referred to Samantha as a "dime-store Camille Paglia" for her views on prostitution as being a legitimate exchange of power.)
Velma Dinkley, Scooby-Doo, The Venture Bros.
While many would consider the bookish, skillful, and apt Velma to be a feminist, it was never mentioned on the original Scooby-Doo series. However, on the Adult Swim animated series The Venture Bros., Velma was presented a lesbian, female elitist who viewed men as "incomplete females due to their XY chromosomes."