In second grade, I was once mistaken for a kindergartener because I was ”just so short and delicate.” As a girl who cut the lace off her socks, who ran just as fast as the boys, and who spent most of her free time climbing trees, that comment really bothered me. A few years later, I was equally furious when my male swim coach told my friends that I was too weak to roll up the heavy pool cover by myself and that they should always help me. (For the record, I cranked that pool cover in every morning by myself after that for almost 10 years.)
As a result of moments like these, I knew early on that I wanted to be three things when I grew older: a teacher, a writer, and a feminist. Of course, I didn’t actually know the term ”feminist” when I was little, but I knew what it meant — a strong, confident, and capable woman who doesn’t let anyone stop her when she has a goal.
While I’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of female role models in my life, some of the best were ones I saw on TV. From Russian Planeteers to Army Nurses to bad-ass detectives, here are just a few women that helped turn me into the feminist I am today:
Linka of Captain Planet and the Planeteers
Linka was my first feminist role model. Not only did she have an awesome accent, having grown up in the former Soviet Union, Linka had the power to corral the wind, thanks to her planeteer ring. I spent a lot of happy hours as a kid pretending to be Linka when my friends and I would play Planeteers. But the best part of being Linka was the fact that she often told off the brash, fire-wielding Brooklyn-born Planeteer, Wheeler, in hilarious ways.
Major Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan from M*A*S*H
A lot happened to this head army nurse over the span of the Korean War. As a dedicated fan of the show, it was inspiring to see Margaret grow in confidence after dumping “ferret face” Major Frank Burns, divorcing her wavering Lieutenant Colonel Donald Penobscot, and becoming her own woman who doesn’t have to rely on favors from “old family friends” to help her career advance. She was a no-nonsense, hard worker, but, underneath the tough exterior, I could see that we were very similar — women who just wanted to be respected and loved for who we are.
Lois Lane of Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman
Sure, Lois Lane gets to marry the hottest man in the world, Superman, but as an investigative reporter, Lois Lane literally wore the pants-suits in all her relationships. She was the one willing to break into warehouses late at night, constantly defying her partner Clark’s orders to stay back, and always checking to make sure her story was printed with her byline, front and center. And while she sometimes needed rescuing from Superman, she wasn’t afraid to show off her own self-defense moves. With a sharp tongue and fiery temper to match, Lois Lane was this girl’s model of how to be fearless in any situation.
C.J. Cregg of The West Wing
C.J. Cregg shows girls what it’s like to succeed. She was a National Merit Scholar, attended Williams College, and then — as she frequently liked to announce — went on to earn a master’s degree in political science from UC Berkeley. As the White House Press Secretary and later, as the first female Chief of Staff, C.J. Cregg was always one of the smartest people in every room. While she excels in her job, C.J. shows that it’s okay at the end of the day to still be herself. She’s a lip-syncing, sardonic woman with a steely spine who learned to never let her personal feelings get in the way of getting down to business in the Press Room.
Dorothy Zbornak of The Golden Girls
While Dorothy is often the butt of her mother Sophia Petrillo’s jokes for being a divorced, unattractive substitute teacher, it’s clear that she’s actually the glue holding the Golden Girls together. With her sharp wit, over-the-top '80s style, and insights into her roommates’ hearts and minds, Dorothy is exactly the sort of compassionate but no-holds-barred, utterly comfortable in her own skin, daring woman I wish more of us had the courage to be.
Veronica Mars of Veronica Mars
My college roommates first introduced me to Veronica Mars, the brilliant, stun gun-wielding noir-esque detective, who proves, through the show’s dark story arcs, that high school is truly hellish. While she has more than a fair share of relationship troubles, Veronica is fearless in her ability to dish up clever one-liners to both heroes and villains alike – the ultimate bad-ass, in my book.
Violet Crawley of Downton Abbey
There’s little that hasn’t been said before about how witty, crafty, and outspoken the Dowager Countess is on this period drama. And while Violet Crawley may be more reluctant to change and adapt to the times, it’s clear that this shrewd woman knows how to look for her advantage in any situation. If Violet Crawley had been born in another era — one filled with actual weekends and jobs for most women — there’s no telling what this mighty figure could have accomplished. If I grow up to be half the woman Violet Crawley is, I’ll be very happy indeed.
Leslie Knope of Parks and Recreation
I think most people would be hard-pressed to find something not to love about this future first female President of the United States. With her can-do attitude and indefatigable work ethic, Leslie Knope represents what a woman can accomplish if she’s passionate about her career. But, more importantly, Leslie’s not portrayed as a brash political workaholic; instead, she’s a hilarious, loving, and dedicated friend who simply wants to make the world a better place by helping people, one at a time. And, even more importantly, because Leslie fully admits her flaws, it’s no wonder that she became a strong female role model for the women of Pawnee…and a hero to all the people watching.