Feminist Characters to Watch Out For (that aren’t featured in Orange is the New Black) // Callie Barfield
We’ve been hearing a lot recently about some of the strong women portrayed in the media like the cast of Orange is the New Black, Olivia Pope, Black Widow, to name a few. Not that we’re tired of these tougher than tough ladies, but let’s talk about the great feminist role models in various forms of media that don’t get nearly as much attention, because that’s a shame.
Felicity Smoak is a name that you’ve probably never heard. Ms. Smoak is a character on the hit TV show Arrow, on the CW network. Felicity is a computer expert whom helps the superhero known as the Green Arrow fight crime in Star City. In too many TV shows, when there’s a woman “sidekick” character, she’s relegated to being the damsel in distress or love interest for the main character. However, in Arrow, Felicity Smoak is a character that defies odds. Raised by a single mother, who worked primarily as a cocktail waitress in Las Vegas, Felicity strived at a young age to do bigger, better things than her mother. After graduating from MIT, she works in the IT department at one of the country’s largest corporations. She rises through the ranks, based completely on her skill and motivation. In the most recent season, she has taken the CEO position at this company and succeeded, when many thought she would fail.
One of the breakout television hits of the year was Mr. Robot on USA Network. The show follows a hacktivist group known as “fsociety” as they attempt to take down the largest business conglomerate in the world. The favorite character for many viewers is Darlene. When we Darlene, she bursts into a scene with immeasurable confidence. She says what she wants, dresses how she wants, and her confidence is only matched by her intelligence. She has a “take me as I am” mentality that challenges the characters she interacts with. Darlene is unafraid to use sexuality to achieve her goals, and never is ashamed about it. Darlene’s magnetic, strong personality is even more impressive when you learn that she was raised in an abusive household with a brother who struggles with mental illness. After the death of her dad, Darlene watched as her domineering mother verbally and mentally abused her brother. As adults, she watched her brother’s mental illness spiral out of control, all the while staying motivated and strong. Darlene is her brother’s “rock” and becomes a pivotal person in his life. Showing that women can be kind, caring, and strong, while also being confident, unique, and often brash, Darlene challenges conventional thinking on what a feminist looks like.
Television is definitely not the only place showcasing strong women. Comic books and graphic novels are now a great medium to find these characters. While comics have been historically known for their sexist, and oftentimes demeaning and hypersexual, portrayal of women, in recent years there has been a rising trend of women that break those rules. 2015 saw the launch of arguably the most feminist comic book of all time, Bitch Planet. This story takes place in a future run by the extreme and literal patriarchy known as The Fathers. When women are deemed “non-compliant,” they are shipped into space to a prison commonly known as Bitch Planet. Much like Orange is the New Black, this book has an incredible cast of women. However, the standout in the early issues is Penny Rolle. Judged by her appearance, as a proud fat, black woman, she is viewed by society as angry and violent. Every time she tries to comply with the rules, the unapologetic racism and body shaming she faces forces Penny into bad situations, eventually sending her to Bitch Planet. While there, the authorities try to “rehabilitate” her by telling her that she can’t possibly be happy the way she is currently. Penny is put in front of a monitor that is going to read her brainwaves and show her the person she wishes she could be. When she looks into the monitor, she doesn’t see what society views as the idealistic woman, Penny sees herself. She exemplifies feminist ideals about the female body.
Released amidst the chaos that is Summer Movie Season, an independent film called Infinitely Polar Bear features one of the strongest woman characters of the year. Taking place in the 1970s, Maggie is a woman with two kids and a loving husband. Unfortunately, Maggie’s husband struggles to cope with his bipolar disorder. The pressures of raising two children, working a full time job that barely pays the bills, and trying to help her husband has pushed her to the edge. She knows the only way to help her children, and possibly salvage her marriage, is to go to school and get her MBA. Not only is Maggie facing challenges of being an independent woman in the 70s, where many people didn’t understand why the wife was going to school to become the breadwinner and the husband was home watching the kids, but she also is a person of color during a time when overt racism was common. Overcoming those odds, she gets her MBA and a great career. Maggie is a strong role model to her children and an inspiring figure to viewers.
Movies, television, and even comic books are media that are showcasing feminist characters with great success. Gone are the days of women only being the damsel in distress, the diminutive housewife, or the overly sexual eye-candy. More and more complex female characters are popping up that challenge a viewer’s preconceived notions, and it’s not just in Orange is the New Black.
Written By: Callie Barfield