To all the strong women of TV series

Illustrator unknown.

Illustrator unknown.

In every TV show there are specific character types : the rich girl pretending be a bitch but who really is insecure, the golden boy who despite his really stupid looks turns out to be an interesting person, the crazy one who everyone hates at first and who ends up being everyone’s favorite after a few seasons. These are the basic, American TV show character types - and although we sometimes hate these repetitive constructions, this pattern is simple, efficient and certain TV shows wouldn’t work without it . We learnt to enjoy this model and most of all, we learnt to expect a specific behavior from each character type. But there is  one type we often forget to talk about, whose behavior is not always that predictable : the strong girl/woman. The one who needs to have control over every aspect of her life, who plans everything and won’t let anything go wrong. She usually seems very arrogant at first but she’s also the one on whom people can rely, and always turns out to be pretty inspiring in a lot of ways. We are talking about the Blair Waldorf, Lynette Scavos, Miranda Hobbes of the television world. They tend to be forgotten because most of the time, scenarios give more importance to “more easily likable” female characters. So we’re here to honor them, because they carry a lot of important values.

They are ambitious..

The strong women know what they want, and they’re here to get it. They are hard workers, have a solid carrier plan and know what it means to put a lot of efforts into something in order to reach their goal. While Serena Van der Woodsen’s (Gossip Girl) only interest in life is going out during school nights and date as many guys as possible, Blair is planning her future and aspires to be a powerful woman. From her college admission to her internships, she’s worked for everything she’s accomplished. She also has the bad habit of interfering with everyone’s life - but that just shows how much she loves control. Same thing for Rachel (Glee) : although she is gifted with an amazing voice, she’s the one who works the most to pursue her dream. The thing is, as a viewer we mostly see the annoying aspect of her personality : she always has something to say, always manages to put herself under the spotlights and therefore she seems really self involved. But if we are being completely honest, despite all of her flaws - and she has loads of those - she deserves to be the star. Because she is self motivated, demanding of herself and is willing to do whatever it takes to get what she wants  - even though she is sometimes to put at her place. Michaela (How to get away with murder) didn’t get into Annalise’s very selective class by accident : she earned it. She’s not from a rich family nor a legacy of the university:  she worked her ass off to get there and is definitely not planning on stopping there - so you can understand how that murder situation was particularly inconvenient for her.

All of them got what they worked for and are confident enough to know their worth.They don’t settle for less than what they’ve planned and that’s a good thing. Leading me to the next point.

They are strong and independent..

It’s one thing to sing the famous Independent Woman Destiny Childs song  (« The  car I’m driving I bought it, ‘cause I depend on me ») and it’s another thing to actually act like one. Susan (Desperate Housewives) doesn’t work , but yet, she gets offended when her ex husband Mike says to her that he won’t be able to afford the private fancy school she wants to put their son MJ in - even though Mike is basically working day and night as a plumber. In the meantime, Lynette takes care of her five kids, used to work in advertising at a high management level and still manages to make diner in time for her whole family to enjoy. That’s called having mental strength. And she rarely complains or let people know that she’s struggling - which ultimately can be a problem as she doesn’t let herself rely on someone else that her own person. She is a rock and shows that a woman can do absolutely what she wants to : she is a mum, a wife as well as a business woman who provides for her family - and  won’t let anyone but herself define her. On her end Robin (How I Met your Mother) focuses on herself, her career and her five dogs. She is self sufficient - she doesn’t need anyone to feel complete. Even when she falls in love, she never loses herself into the relationship. Meaning that the moment she feels that the person she is with is trying to change her, or that she may have to put an end to her dreams for the health of the relationship, she takes the nearest exit. That’s how much she is important to herself, and how she’ll always be her first priority.

They are about self improvement..

Evolving is usually a good sign, as it shows the ability to question oneself and is the proof of some kind of self improvement. And strong women in TV series  mastered in that. In spite of their irresistible need to be in control of everything all the time, they work on that and manage to become more open, more flexible. Indeed, wanting to constantly have a grip on oneself is commonly the manifestation of a deeper issue. For instance, Miranda (Sex & the City) progressively learned to rely on her friends and on Steeve who she kept pushing away anytime she felt she was starting to depend on him. Her strong need of independence made every possibility of commitment scary. Though at the end she is no longer afraid to ask for help and gets comfortable leaning on her closest friends.  

But yet, they remain human

One of the purposes of these characters is to offset characters whose personality is the opposite of theirs . And that’s where their bad image comes from : they’re here to be compared to the Susans Mayers, Carrie Bradshaws, Lily Aldrins,  who always seem nicer, more approachable and sweeter . These are meant to be the good ones ; the good malleable woman approved by society. Success driven women (or women putting themselves first) are always portrayed as cold and mean - while women fitting with the expectation of what a women should be (delicate and sweet) are highlighted more easily. However ultimately, these apparently cold women tend to be the more human and sensitive of all, despite the first impression.  They are more complex and interesting characters as there is actually something deeper to discover about them. There often is vulnerability hidden under that hard shell of theirs and it’s always more engaging to discover the different facets of a character all along a show than to be able to seize everything about them in one glance. Isn’t it enough to see girls whose only centers of interest are shopping and boys? Thanks for the cliché.

Since forever, women seeking validation through men appreciation, getting things because they are pretty enough, settling for what society agreed to give to them seem to be rewarded by TV series scenarists.  Now things are starting to change and more feminist figures are starting to emerge : Game of Thrones strong female characters are enhanced, magnified even - whether they are good or bad guys (hi Cersei ! ). Girl Boss celebrates women entrepreneurship  and The Handmaid’s Tale glorifies the force of female solidarity and even manages to create a  link between pregnancy, beauty and power. More and more, TV shows reevaluate womanhood to make it look so much more beautiful, hence inspiring the “Netflix/binge watching generation” in a great way. Which is something at least.

by Jessica Ayinda


TV SERIESJessica Ayinda