It wasn’t all that long ago that women’s roles were clearly defined on television. Oh, there were certainly popular, well written, female characters. Often on female oriented shows. But the fully realized female was a rarity. Maybe you’d get a couple in a decade. Then the superhero phenomena hit the screen. In comic books women have played integral, and fascinating, roles for years. There was no way to bring these shows to life without bringing all of those women along. While Agent Carter and Heroes Reborn seem to have bitten the dust it wasn’t because they were bad. The former never seemed to find its footing and the latter never capitalized on the cult status of its predecessor. Even so, that leaves us with eight shows currently running and drawing large audiences. I’m listing them here alphabetically and only listing the female characters who are woven into the regular fabric of the shows. There are some I’ve left out who may become important later, but, for now, this is a good start.
Actress to the left, her character to the right.
Ming-Na Wen – Melinda May
Chloe Bennet – Daisy ‘Skye’ Johnson
Elizabeth Henstridge – Jemma Simmons
Adrianne Palicki – Bobbi Morse
Ruth Negga – Raina
Natalia Cordova-Buckley – Elena ‘Yo-Yo’ Rodriguez
Dichen Lachman – Jiaying
Christine Adams – Agent Weaver
Constance Zimmer – Rosalind Price
Maya Stojan – Kara Lynn Palamas
Katie Cassidy – Laurel Lance
Willa Holland – Thea Queen
Emily Bett Rickards – Felicity Smoak
Susanna Thompson- Moira Queen
Caity Lotz – Sara Lance
Celina Jade – Shado
Kelly Hu – China White
Keri Adams – Bethany Snow
Annie Ilonzeh – Joanna De La Vega
Jessica De Gouw – Helina Bertinelli
Audrey Marie Anderson – Lyla Michaels
Cynthia Addai-Robinson – Amanda Waller
Katrina Law – Nyssa al Ghul
Elysia Rotaru – Taiana
Deborah Ann Woll – Karen Page
Elodie Yung – Elektra Natchios
Ayelet Zurer – Vanessa Marianna
Rosario Dawson – Claire Temple
Wai Ching Ho – Madame Gao
Susan Varon – Josie
Camren Bicondova – Selina Kyle
Erin Richards – Barbara Kean (a/k/a Barbara Gordon, wife of Jim)
Morena Baccarin – Dr. Leslie Thompkins
Zabryna Guevara – Sarah Essen
Victoria Cartagena – Renee Montoya
Jada Pinkett Smith – Fish Mooney
Jessica Lucas – Tabitha Galavan (a/k/a Tigress)
Chelsea Spack – Kristen Kringle
Clare Foley – Ivy Pepper (a/k/a Pamela Isley / Poison Ivy)
Natalie Alyn Lind – Silver St. Cloud
Candice Patton – Iris West
Danielle Panabaker – Caitlin Snow
Shantel VanSanten – Patty Spivot
Malese Jow – Linda Park
Michelle Harrison – Nora Allen
Violett Beane – Jesse Wells
Krysten Ritter – Jessica Jones
Rachael Taylor – Trish Walker
Carrie-Anne Moss – Jeri Hogarth
Susie Abromeit – Pam
Erin Moriarty – Hope Shlottman
Robin Weigert – Wendy Ross-Hogarth
Colby Minifie – Robyn
Caity Lotz – Sara Lance (a/k/a White Canary)
Ciara Renée – Hawkgirl
Amy Pemberton – Gideon
Stephanie Corneliussen – Valentina Vostok
Melissa Benoist – Kara Danvers (a/k/a Supergirl)
Chyler Leigh – Alex Danvers
Calista Flockhart – Cat Grant
Briana Venskus – Agent Vasquez
Jenna Dewan Tatum – Lucy Lane
Laura Benanti – Alura Zor-El
Italia Ricci – Siobhan Smythe (a/k/a Silver Banshee)
Brit Morgan – Leslie Willis (a/k/a Livewire)
That’s eight shows totaling over sixty female characters.
The one thing you’ll note, looking at that list, is how diverse the target audiences are. Daredevil and Jessica Jones are for adults. They don’t pretend to be anything else. Sex and violence are embedded into their genes. The rest, from Gotham at the dark end to Supergirl and the family friendly end, cover an entire spectrum of powerful women. Legends of Tomorrow seems sparse in its depiction of women but it’s a small ensemble cast that travels through time. So a lot of female characters are only in one episode. Also they have a lot of crossover with characters from Arrow and The Flash and I didn’t list any character twice.
And, bonus for women everywhere, not one of them is eye candy. Oh, sure, they’re all beautiful, just like many male stars are hunks, but that’s not why they’re there. There are no slow motion shots of any of them in bikinis. No scenes of them being hyper-emotional and needing a man to save them. Their relationships with their significant others, whether male or female, are played straight (if you’ll pardon the term) and not for titillation.
Great as this all is we all know that if only women were watching these shows they would all have a short shelf life. Or be relegated to daytime TV between soap operas and game shows. But, in a pleasant surprise for TV execs all over the world, they are all drawing a large audience of male viewers too. Supergirl, for example, is pulling about 50/50 female to male.
Now an entire generation is growing up thinking that women are just as good, if not better, than men. Young men, especially, are seeing women not as toys to be played with or ogled, but as people to respect and know.
Don’t get me wrong, there is still a long way to go in many regards. Racial minorities, from an American standpoint anyway, still get short shrift. And the first female led superhero film, Wonder Woman, won’t be out for another year. But things have to begin somewhere and here is a pretty good place.
If you click on the links above you can see full episodes from all but Daredevil and Jessica Jones. For them you’ll need a Netflix account.