The Rise of Strong women in TV

By Grace Masback

WANT Original Content

For generations, women have been portrayed as obedient, submissive, and weak in the worlds of literature, advertising, media, and the arts – portrayed as the man’s “better half.” This discrimination dates back to the time of Homer, was reinforced by Shakespeare, and has been perpetuated in modern times by shows like “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” “Desperate Housewives,” and many others. These shows portray women as materialistic and self-centered, creating counter intuitive role models for the next generation of young women. Recently, however, strong women have emerged as fearless protagonists in books, movies, and, most noticeably, the world of TV, generating vigorous discussion about equal rights for women.

Olivia Pope, the main character on the ABC Network’s “Scandal,” is portrayed as a powerhouse of productivity and competence, handling the “scandals” of DC’s elite while simultaneously dodging the political turmoil associated with her high rank and status. Her power, assertive nature, and drive are inspiring for young women worldwide. That said, the producers succumb to the temptation to over-sexualize the women on the show and Olivia is featured in just as many sex scenes as work scenes. While Olivia is presented as the epitome of the modern, powerful woman, the strength of her character is undermined by how she is portrayed in her relationships with men.

Leslie Knope from “Parks and Recreation” is an acknowledged, if quirky, leader in her government office environment and fights for what she believes in, whether it’s a renovated city park or whipped cream on her waffles. Although she faces a town seemingly set on bringing her down, she remains an enduringly positive, funny, and focused role model, and an inspiration for high-achieving girls in the real world. She is a strong leader and a passionate employee, though her inherent strengths are sometimes undermined when others don’t take her seriously. Kudos for the producers of this comedy for highlighting passionate, talented women, though they should strike a better balance between respect for and ridicule of the characters.

Piper Chapman from “Orange Is the New Black” fights for her beliefs, makes her voice heard, and stands up to past enemies. Piper is faced with enormous obstacles when she is pulled from her cushy lifestyle and is forced to face a year of incarceration. She handles her situation with dignity and grace and is portrayed as a fierce and assertive woman who can hold her own in difficult situations – she doesn’t need a man to stand up for her, which is a good thing since there are no men in her world. From fighting to get food in the cafeteria when shunned by the cook, to arguing for group counseling sessions, to standing up to her old girlfriend, Piper doesn’t let anyone stand in her way. As one of the strong leaders in her prison setting, Piper fights for rights for herself and her fellow prisoners, creating a more positive environment in the prison. Women watching can logically conclude – “if Piper can do it, so can I.”

Positive portrayals of women on TV are beginning to become more commonplace. The impact can be far-reaching as it subtly and aggressively pushes changes in societal perspectives toward women and shows girls aspiring to be future leaders different pathways to getting there. At the very least, women see other women operating on equal terms with men, helping reverse ingrained stereotypes dating back millennia and fueling the ongoing global fight for equal rights for women.

About Grace Masback

Grace Masback, 17, aspires to give voice to the voiceless and holds the modest ambition of becoming the voice of Gen Z. Frustrated by the dearth of impactful platforms for teen journalists, she founded WANT, a news, sports, and entertainment website that aggregates the best in high school journalism from school newspapers and teen bloggers around the world (

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