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6 Bad-Ass TV Women

We love these career women leads. So writers, don't water them down with cardboard-cutout romance!

Mindy Kaling at a premiere for "The Mindy Project"
Photo Credit: Jaguar PS /


For decades, popular TV has featured working women (hello, Mary Tyler Moore) in lead roles. In fact particularly, in recent years, television shows have been where actresses of a certain age (like, 35) could find meaty and fun roles as hardbitten prosecutors, parornmal detectives, and so on.

But as we get ready to immerse myself in the 2012-2-13 season, it’s time to celebrate the fact that not only is there good work for women on TV, but there are a lot of women characters who do good work, and who defy the boring tv tropes of working women. They prioritize their jobs as much their kids and relationships and don’t get punished for that choice, but are instead celebrated by the show’s creators for their skill at handling crises, being confident, and--this is American pop culture, after all--looking good in a blazer or a white coat.

Still, not all is perfect. Almost all of the shows below have to walk a balance between giving their female leads interesting love lives and letting those love lives take over the plot arcs and destinies of those leads. In most cases, that balance is in constant danger of tipping. So consider this list both an homage to these ladies and also a plea that they not be ruined by being turned into stereotypes, doormats, or frigid.

1. Alicia Florrick, the protagonist of “The Good Wife.” Alicia is an unlikely feminist heroine whose decision to stand by philandering politician didn’t lead to her downfall, but rather her coming into her own as a shrewd lawyer and the center of a steamy love triangle. Once a naive spouse, Alicia begins to understand the power plays and morally relative universe of the Chicago law-and-politics game--and manipulate that game to her own ends. Who didn’t cheer when she negotiated a pay raise last season by convincing dueling law firms to offer her more dough? And who didn’t cheer when her estranged husband was so overwhelmed by her skill in the courtroom that he felt compelled to take care of her needs in the bedroom, too? And then there was her risky affair with her boss which she walked out of just as powerful a lawyer as she’d been before, if not more so. “Saint Alicia” is what the public calls her, but her sins make her a much more fascinating heroine to watch, a complex vision of competent revenge on a misogynist world.

2. Olivia Pope, the high-powered “fixer” in “Scandal.” This character, a pioneering black female lead on primetime network TV, is based on real-life crisis manager-to-the-stars Judy Smith (also an executive producer of the show), described as a “powerhouse” by the media, who has managed the crises of clients like Monica Lewinsky. Played by the wonderful Kerry Washington and created by the uber-successful Shonda Rhimes, Olivia Pope has great promise and appealed, but by the end of the season some feminist watchers were worried. Tanya Steele wrote last spring that Pope’s character is in some danger of becoming less important than she could be, succumbing to common plotline pressures:

Usually, the female will partner with a male (either in work or love) and the male will eventually become the lead or takeover the storyline. It is very difficult for women to keep a strong, female character at the center of the story. This seems to be the case here. By the second to last episode, I did not know if 'the president' or Olivia Pope was the lead.

Judging by reaction to the season premiere, Pope's die-hard fans are pleased to see her back in the saddle, work-wise.

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