“The 15 most kickass women on television”


This article from Cliqueclack, “The 15 most kickass women on television“, gets it pretty close to right, I reckon, in content if not in order. I’m especially a fan of Miranda Bailey, Betty Suarez, Kara Thrace, and C.J. Cregg.

* Who would you add? (Sophie, I know you’d add Wendy Watson from the Middleman, and I agree wholeheartedly!)

* Is there anyone you’d subtract?

Click through for the full reasoning, but here’s the list:

15. Stella Bonasera (CSI: NY)
14. Miranda Bailey (Grey’s Anatomy)
13. Betty Suarez (Ugly Betty)
12. Kara Thrace (Battlestar Galactica)
11. Olive Snook (Pushing Daisies)
10. Zoe Washburne (Firefly)
9. C.J. Cregg (The West Wing)
8. Robin Scherbatsky (How I Met Your Mother)
7. Carla Espinosa (Scrubs)
6. Lorelei Gilmore (Gilmore Girls)
5. Temperance Brennan (Bones)
4. Veronica Mars (Veronica Mars)
3. Liz Lemon (30 Rock)
2. Pam Beesly (The Office)
1. Buffy Summers (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

Categories: arts & entertainment, gender & feminism

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50 replies

  1. Oh, I saw this. I would add one Miss Martha Jones. Donna Moss deserves a place on there! And CJ should be much higher up.

  2. As some of the series you mention are no longer in production, why isn’t Margaret “Hotlips” Houlihan from MASH in the list, and one of your own heroines, the avenging Mrs Peel?
    From the list you have, (and showing my ignorance of commercial TV), CJ is top of my list.
    And I also wonder whether the writers of the series you mention should be listed… it would be interesting to now if the same writers keep popping up.

  3. If you want to reach back into slightly ancient tv history I would add Ellie Pascoe who is my all time favourite tv character, and bin the Gilmore girl for all that annoying libertarian ideology and swipes at teh liberals, plus it just annoyed the bejejus out of me in a more general sense.

  4. Yeah, let’s add Wendy Watson, fo’ sure. And see, I loves me some V. Mars, but seriously, wtf with the season 3 depiction of feminists (and the lovely Veronica as the ‘proper’ middle ground, anti-rape, but resisting the crazy limb the ‘Feminists’ were out on… supposedly). I adore Starbuck and would do her six ways to sunday, though not so hot on the whole torture thing. Loves me a Buffy and a Zoe. I like Betty, and Pam, but the former I get a bit twitchy about being a fabulous heroine… there’s a few too many ‘might just have to cede this ground’ moments for my liking. Liz Lemon’s cool, Carla’s great, and ditto for Olive Snook, not least to the actress for managing to depict her as hilariously funny, kinda sweet and with enough sass to keep her from being just the cute lil love-triangulator.
    Someone in the thread linked to pointed out that BSG has a range of great women characters, which is kinda true. And given the previous thread on Dexter, do we not wanna chuck in Deb? And I dunno how many of you lot are Friday Night Lights fans, but I would definitely include Tammy here. And nothing from the Sarah Connor Chronicles? I liked the Cuddy suggestion, although she is a teensy bit too proper to be properly kick-ass, I think. And just so we don’t loose the junior kick-ass lassies, I’m going to suggest Becca Moody of Californication. Others find her not quite the thing, but I like her (but then others seem to generally dislike the show quite vehemently—often seeming to equate Hank’s promiscuity with disrespect for women—whereas I find it interesting. [shrug]).
    WildlyParenthetical’s last blog post..Baby did a bad bad thing

  5. WP, I prefer to think that S3 of Veronica Mars just didn’t happen at all. Deb – absolutely. Cuddy wouldn’t get anywhere near the cut for me, and I didn’t watch more than the first 20 minutes or so of Californication before turning off in disgust.

  6. It’s sad, isn’t it, that Veronica Mars went so very wrong? The writing was good, and even if it was a lil bit caricatured, I thought the attempt to grapple with class and race was good. As for Californication… I’m not surprised you switched it off. For a while, I was watching partly because I was unimpressed (I have a few shows which I use as my ‘let’s see what pop culture’s doing right now’ shows, of which Gossip Girl is currently one). But although Hank can come over a bit knight-in-only-slightly-rusty-armour every now and then, there’s also something where he’s interested in the lives of the women around him. He quite often speaks up to other men about being crap to women, and articulates to women where he thinks they are getting a raw deal. And whilst it might at first appear to be a bunch of nondescript women he sleeps with, they’re all given their own personality; and to be honest, there’s very few shows that allow women to be more than the Woman Stick Figure (as in, actually different from each other). So I kinda like that. Not suggesting it’s monumentally fabulous, or anything, although Becca’s ability to deadpan like nobody’s business, see her situation clearly and be clear about her limits but still be generous, and totally go her own way might fit in that category :-). Oh, and I did think of another: Ros from Spooks. Whaddya reckon?

  7. From the Whoverse I’d include Sarah Jane Smith along with Martha Jones. And I’d add Captain Katherine Janeway and B’Elanna Torres on Star Trek Voyager, and Dana Scully on the X-Files.
    Peggy’s last blog post..Happy New Year!

  8. I’m woefully unfamiliar with most modern TV that isn’t related to Doctor Who or Battlestar Galactica– certainly I would second Starbuck and Carla (I’ve seen Scrubs too, although I’m not up to date with it)– I would add Laura Roslyn from BSG and from the Whoniverse I’d just go crazy– I definitely agree that Martha and Sarah Jane should be on the list, and let’s not forget Donna Noble either. And Rose, and Tosh, and Gwen, and Maria, and Rani, etc. 🙂

  9. All characters and no actors, because these aren’t real people.
    Still, I’m thinking about the Bechdel test. These chicks pass. Almost. Not sure about Fringe chick.
    Detective Keema from The Wire. Because she proved women could be just as laddish and unreliable as men. Also, because she is badass and I love her.
    I say no to CJ from West Wing (for a number of reasons).
    I am currently loving Sarah Connor from Terminator (SCC). But mostly in season 1. Because she can LOCK AND LOAD, BABY and get her kid(s) to school and plan and execute mad battle plans. And because she advised the pregnant neighbour not to stay with a boyfriend she wasn’t sure of, just so her kid could have a dad. Sarah said something like “I gave birth in a jungle in central America on my own and it was hard but I wouldn’t swap it for anything. You can do this baby thing on your own if you need to, and I’ll be next door [packing heat] if you need me.” I don’t like this actor as much as Linda Hamilton (too skinny, not enough Hard Body action), but she’s ok because she wears sensible shoes.
    Buffy. Up until season 5. Always. And then Cordelia in Angel (up until about season 3). Even though she didn’t have too many other chicks to chat with, she kicked broody vampire arse.
    Yes to Zoe from Firefly. No to Veronica Mars, for all sorts of reasons.
    Yes, yes, a thousand times yes to the chicks in Sex and the City, if only because it’s the only goddamn HBO series with more than one female character and NO freakin’ violence.
    The eldest sister from Shameless. And then the next sister down.
    Is it still ok to love Marie Kostakidis (sp?)? How about Margarate Pomeranz (sp?)?
    Then I like the chick from Fringe. Because she’s the girl version of Boreanz from Bones – she’s tough and sensible and smart. And though she has some issues with her ex (hells, we get a year to get over them, right?), she can use a gun and keeps the (ethically suspect) mad scientist and his (grown-up Pacey-sidekick) son under control and living in a crappy hotel room (I like to pretend she ‘accidentally’ forgets to get them new accommodation every time one of them does something irritating).
    Making this list it gives me the goddamn shits that I can only think of these few. How many freakin’ telly shows were there on this year?! And how few freakin’ fully sick female characters?!!

  10. I am Susan Ivanova. Commander. Daughter of Andrei and Sofie Ivanov. I am the right hand of vengeance and the boot that’s going to kick your sorry ass all the way back to Earth. I am death incarnate and the last living thing that you are ever going to see. God sent me!

  11. “This is Ambassador Delenn of the Minbari. Babylon 5 is under our protection. Withdraw or be destroyed.”
    “Negative. We have authority here. Do not force us to engage your ship.”
    “Why not? Only one Human captain has ever survived battle with a Minbari fleet. He is behind me. You are in front of me. If you value your lives, be somewhere else!”

  12. Shaun: You are right… I’d have suggested Ivanova and Delenn if I thought many other readers knew B5, although Delenn kicks arse in non-violent domains as well, even when well over 100 years old, so trumps Ivanova. Then you’ve got Lyta, Capt Lochley, NaToth, … and a whole cast of female kick-arse (or at least take no sh*t) only-one-or-two-episode bit-parts. About the only non-kick-arse female characters were the EarthGov bitch and the propaganda reporter bit parts.
    WildlyParenthetical: Was there ANY female character in Spooks who DIDN’T kick arse?

  13. Kima Greggs on The Wire
    Tami Taylor on Friday Night Lights

  14. Ivanova for sure…
    “Confirmed Survey 1. Upon arrival you will report for debriefing. And just one more thing, on your trip back I want you to take the time to learn the Babylon 5 mantra.
    Ivanova is always right. I will listen to Ivanova. I will not ignore Ivanova’s recommendations. Ivanova is God.
    And if this ever happens again Ivanova will personally rip your lungs out! Babylon control out. ”
    What I really like about Starbuck (Kara Thrace) is the same thing I love about Nikita from La Femme Nikita, a woman with a strong and realistic figure rather than a posey stick insect.

  15. Dave, I think you’re kinda right, y’know. But Ros sprang to mind as one of the more recent ones… but they all kick arse at some point or another, and ooh, we do like that.
    And Amanda, YES on Tami. And everyone’s making me think I should pay for the extra GBs it’ll take me to… ahem… acquire… B5. Or maybe I should just JB it…

  16. How have we not mentioned Calamity Jane from Deadwood yet? Come on. You’re a keen fucking student of the human scene, Charlie!
    Angus Johnston’s last blog post..The Amethyst Initiative

  17. As a Stargate fan I have to say that they shoulda had Sam on the list. Anyone remember that episode where she was stuck in that patriarchal society in season one? and how in the opening credits Jack was telling her about how Daniels wife was originally a gift and how she called him on that? I woulda preferred if they’d gone more into her feminism but she was still a rocking character.

  18. I’ve just finished the first series of Friday Night Lights, about to start the second. I’ve heard mixed things about the direction they take in S2, but I just hope Tami continues her kick arse/ass ways.

  19. I agree with Martha Jones, Mrs Peel, and Kima Greggs. (Sorry, Donna fans–Martha always for me, because god, it takes strength to walk away from the Doctor on your own terms.)
    As for new people, I wanted to say someone from House, but Cuddy’s baby arc of late just makes me ill, and Thirteen and Cameron aren’t ‘kickass’ per se. Other than that, a few potentials:
    Catherine Willows (CSI:)
    Yves Adele Harlow (The Lone Gunmen/X-Files)
    Dr. Beverly Crusher (Star Trek: TNG)
    And Rachel Maddow as herself…

  20. Dogpossum, I have several issues with your take on The West Wing which your analysis doesn’t take into consideration, but I end up sounding like an apologist, so I’m going to stfu now before I look like an ass.

  21. I’m confused by the addition of Carla from Scrubs on the list. Sure, she’s a strong character, but surely Jordan (Dr Cox’s ex-wife) is the very definition of “kickass”?

  22. How did they miss Dana Scully (X-files) off that list?! She completely shattered the glass ceiling for TV characters in the 90s; a female lead who was short, red-haired, more highly trained than all the guys around her, an unmarried mother (by the late 90s), and could shoot a gun on target every time, unlike her male partner. And Gillian Anderson was pregnant on TV even though the character wasn’t, and kept the part through at least a TV season of breastfeeding and the accompanying body changes.

  23. I agree these are good choices. My love for Veronica Mars and Liz Lemon knows no bounds, and the same could have been said for Buffy the years she was onscreen. Robin Scherbatsky is great, too… and there ends the television programming I currently watch.

  24. A way out of left field suggestion I know, and certainly involving no guns, martial arts etc, indeed the very embodiment of girlieness and fragility at first glance, and a conservative to boot … but when Kitty from Brothers and Sisters is in high-level-politics work mode, she makes strong men weep.

  25. Bene, I’d go with Sara Sidle, not that I’ve watched CSI with any regularity for a number of years.
    And Ace from Doctor Who! How could I forget?

  26. What do we think about the equation of strength and violence/threats of violence? I don’t/haven’t watched most of these shows but I saw a little of Kara Thrace and it kind of bothers me that strong women seem to have to be strong on male terms and seem to wind up as women acting like men. But then I get into an argument with myself about whether they are copying male models of strength or whether a shared set of human behaviours has been deemed male. Thoughts?

  27. Miss Parker from the Pretender. And +1 for Nikita from La Femme Nikita (a series which I incidentally received on DVD for Christmas).
    stephanie’s last blog post..Eighth Down Under Feminists Carnival

  28. Su, I have the same qualms, and often. In the case of Starbuck, specifically, though, there’s a little more going on, methinks. Her strength, for me, doesn’t just lie in her capacity for physical force (although I rather like that she’s capable of it, and that her body actually bears it out: a) fuck the frailty myth, and b) Buffy in the later seasons was almost comical because one mousy lil punch from her newly-scrawny arm threw people flying). But there’s a few things that seem to me to give a particularly ‘female’ edge to her strength (if we can say such a thing). One is the playful edge to her sass: I’m thinking of her raised eyebrows at Tigh in the first episode. It worked as a subversion of authority *because* she’s a woman; it wasn’t commiseration, it was challenge (to his manhood, as he himself understands it, no less). I think, anyway. Another is that when she goes her own way, she does it in the full knowledge of what it’s doing to others (rather than simply pretending they don’t exist) and it sobers her. Another is the styling of her sexuality, which is flirtatious and knowing and unashamed (well, mostly…), and so very far from the conquest-mode favoured in depictions of ‘strong men’. And another is, for me, that she cries. Might seem an odd way to depict strength, but it is for me. Give me ‘feminine’ facing up to shit over ‘masculine’ stoicism any day, and yes, goddamn, call it strength.
    In the end, though, I think that we can’t really know if things are ‘male in women’s clothing’ in these cases (and I’m not a big believer in ‘essentially we are all the same’ nor ‘essentially we are different’ in any case). And most of the time, simply being female means that the heroine does things differently; it means something different when a woman does the things some might want to call ‘male’. It functions differently, signifies differently, ties to different aspects of character, for example; and is differently embodied. I guess what I’m saying is ‘my’ Starbuck’s all woman, and so’s her strength 😉
    I say yes to Jordan, and a ‘hell yeah’ to my darling Calamity. How could I forget?!
    WildlyParenthetical’s last blog post..Play the Game

  29. Yes it’s the “neither essentially the same nor essentially different” which gets me flip flopping. I don’t think I saw enough of Thrace to understand the character well ( and she was the most interesting character- I would have happily thrown all the rest to the cylons after a few episodes) but the bits I saw, with the drawl and cigar chewing made me wonder. I didn’t have the same problem with Firefly’sZoe but shit maybe that is because she was less inyourface and therefore less distant from acceptable femininity, not to mention the other problematical aspects of her depiction as a both physically& sexually aggressive black woman – pretty much the stereotype to a ‘t’. Dee Amy-Chinn’s article Tis Pity She’s a Whore, (there’s a pdf about) is a pretty good examination of how retrogressive the show really is – sadly, cos I liked Firefly a lot, I think she’s right.

  30. Thanks for the pointer to the Firefly article, Su, I’ll be interested to read it, coz I was intrigued by the characterisation of Inara and Zoe… I’m not sure I would have thought Zoe sexually aggressive, so it’ll be a good read
    But as far as Thrace goes… see, when she drawls and chews her cigar, it does something different to when a man does it. For one thing, it refuses to allow those things to be simply a male domain, and more than that, it refuses to allow them to be signs of (exclusively) male heroism. This isn’t, of course, unproblematic: we could also say that women can only be heroic by being men. But I am a big believer in nothing ever being entirely unproblematic; texts do lots of things all at once, IMO, and people tend to simplify or do weird equations (‘feminist leanings’ + ‘patriarchally-approved body’ = feministly bad, for example, as some read Buffy) in order to reach a verdict on a text. I’d rather let the tensions and contradictions linger; the text itself does, and readers do all kinds of things with that. So, yeah, Thrace does ‘man stuff’ to prove herself or her heroism, and we might say that this refuses to allow women to be strong on their own terms, but at the same time we might see her very doing of it as a challenge to both the idea that those things are exclusively male, or that they really signify what patriarchy wants them to. And of course, there’s the big challenge to the idea that women ought to stay away from cigars and drawls, as they are men’s-only territory 😉 Remind me to buy a cigar sometime soon, yeah?
    WildlyParenthetical’s last blog post..Play the Game

  31. It’ll have to be a nice fat one for authenticity, none of your Blaue Engel, femme fatale cigarillos. They taste nice, though nothing beats the smell of pipe smoke and I don’t imagine there’ll be a mad rush to reclaim the pipe. Also OMGCancer (lest it be said I’m leading anyone astray).
    I think that is a good point about acknowledging tensions rather than reaching conclusive verdicts although the curmudgeon in me (the bit that’s left when you remove the water) adores nitpicking the bad bits and since Whedon is so far ahead of many other TV writers one can nitpick rather than being swamped by the misogyny.

  32. And +1 for Nikita from La Femme Nikita (a series which I incidentally received on DVD for Christmas).
    It’s only out on Region 1. *sob*

  33. I second Kara Thrace and Nikita. I like your analysis of Starbuck, Wildly Parenthetical. She’s such a contradiction.

  34. Thanks, Legal Eagle. I love complexity in a character 🙂 And su, if I’m taking Starbuck as my role model it really will be a properly proper cigar. Although I’m sure there’s a time and a place for me to pull out the femme fatale cigarello too 😉 And lest I be misunderstood, please, do, nitpick! I nitpick like crazy, often driving others the same way in the process. People often think I dislike things I don’t; I guess for me spotting flaws and outlining tensions isn’t necessarily equivalent with a lack of enjoyment. It does depend on the flaws, of course… but in the end, I really mean it when I say nothing is unproblematic; even narrative arcs as we know them are problematic IMO, so, y’know… Oh, and wrt that article: I have thoughts, but perhaps I shall post them on my own blawg (I’m trying to revivify it. We’ll see…) rather than consuming any more of this thread!
    WildlyParenthetical’s last blog post..Play the Game

  35. Detective Olivia Benson of Law & Order: SVU. Also, seconding Janeway and Torres from Voyager.

  36. Unless I’m blind, I can’t believe that no-one’s mentioned DCI Jane Tennison from Prime Suspect. Best. Female. Character. Ever.
    And on cop shows, I’ve always been a big fan of Liz Rawton from the “proper” version of The Bill (I don’t consider the incarnation since Paul Marquess took over in 2002 as being worthy of discussion); DI Sally Johnson and DC Suzi Croft were good strong characters as well.

  37. I second Olivia Dunham from Fringe. And from the Babylon 5 archives, I nominate Na’toth.

  38. Absolutely to Starbuck, and absolutely to Buffy (who wouldn’t work if she didn’t have the “partriarchally approved body” referred to above, as she is supposed to be subverting the frail-blonde-running-from-monster image from horror films).
    Downside up, didn’t they esssentially keep Scully in a coma, covered with hospital blankets the entire time she was pregnant/breastfeeding? Or does my memory fail me? I haven’t watched x-files since it was on telly.
    I have to disagree with some of the Dr Who suggestions, however, except maybe Donna. The problem being that they have been, and until (unless) they cast a female doctor always will be, sidekicks.

  39. WildlyParenthetical, just wanted to say that I’m loving your reading of this. MOAR.

  40. Su:

    What do we think about the equation of strength and violence/threats of violence?

    Just a brief note on this – while some of the characters engage in violence, by no means all do, and the author of this list is quite explicit about that (notably in the case of Pam from The Office). Bailey, for example, is a doctor; she is quite a dominant character, to be sure, but she is non-violent and is depicted as intensely compassionate and caring as well as metaphorically kicking the arses of residents who deserve it. (Actually, they deserve a lot worse than they get from her.)
    Betty Suarez is completely non-violent, and is most of the time rather bemused by the dominance behaviours of those around her. Olive Snook is “kickass” for reasons that have nothing to do with actual asses or kicking, as is C.J. of course, and Robin, and Carla, and Lorelai. Temperance is kickass because she is absurdly intelligent and dogged in pursuing intellectual answers.
    Some of the characters I don’t know, but on a quick look at the ones I do: Buffy, Zoe, and Kara Thrace are the only three of the 15 who engage in any physical violence at all.

  41. Oh yeah I get that- Lorelei Gilmore isn’t a warrior either. I wanted to see if someone could pick apart my problems with some (not all) depictions of warrior women and WP has done a fine job.

  42. Thanks, Lauredhel. I tend to overthink things, irritate people with too many nit-picks, or irritate people with my refusal to simply come down pro- or anti- on this stuff, so it’s nice to hear it’s… enjoyed 🙂 I’m running off to write a post on Inara and Zoe, now, methinks!
    WildlyParenthetical’s last blog post..Play the Game

  43. Great! Can I put in a request for some of your thoughts on narrative structure as well?
    Sorry for my poor reading skillz there Lauredhel – you’d mentioned Lorelei already. My mind is a box of tangled wool tonight. I didn’t mean to imply by my question that the list made the assumption that strength was all about force or aggression, but the way I phrased it was poor . I was kind of following my own train of thought. Most of my favourite films are war films or otherwise violent films and so I was chasing vaguely related thoughts about perceived existential threat leading to aggression, and about how we are so hooked by stories about existential threat and how problematic that probably is and Hey presto – derail.

  44. Su, I totally agree – being an F/SF fan myself, it’s hard to come across stories that don’t involve aggression or strong conflict of one sort or another, perhaps because the big themes tend to be all about the eternal battle between Good and Evil.
    Buffy is perhaps a bit more interesting than other genre TV shows in the way that the physical fights and demons are used as metaphors for the non-physical conflicts and tensions and difficulties of teenage life. And BSG fascinates me in the way the conflicts have been used to reflect and critique current-day international violence, in such morally ambiguous ways.
    There’s an offshoot discussion of this going on at skepticlawyer’s place right now, and someone there leapt into the idea that it was All About The Violence and how awful that is, and someone else has jumped in to whine about how Oz women blogs only ever idolise women politicians and celebrities, and blahdiddyblah snerk yawn. (A quick look back through our Friday Hoydens puts paid to that one.)
    I think it’s just wrong-end-of-the-stick day all over, and I apologise if I’ve contributed to that.

  45. Lauredhel @ 40 — I’m noticing in the Christmas reruns that Temperance was a lot more physically kickass in the early series than she is in the current ones. She has forcefully taken out some bad guy with a cool martial arts move at least once in every episode since they started running the off-season old ones. I’m a bit ashamed to say I miss it.

  46. it’s hard to come across stories that don’t involve aggression or strong conflict of one sort or another, perhaps because the big themes tend to be all about the eternal battle between Good and Evil.

    Yes I think so and just as in the bible, that battle, which in theory is an intrapersonal one, is frequently transmuted into situations where the evil is externalized, and violent conflict is legitimated under the formulation of a struggle against evil. I had a quick read about where BSG has gone and maybe they are also challenging that formulation.

  47. Mmm… I’ll want to discuss that in my narrative structure post too, Lauredhel and Su. Intriguing stuff, if you ask me…
    WildlyParenthetical’s last blog post..Fictional prostitution I

  48. I was trying to explain the meaning of Kick Ass to my Japanese students ( I teach English in Japan) but those who had watched west Wing knew CJ Gregg. This is kinda how I explained it in Japanese


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