What does it mean to be a ‘kickass’ female character? Do you have to be an action hero, or have superhuman powers? Or is it more a matter of standing up for what’s right, no matter what, or mastering inner strength? I don’t think there’s a definitive definition of what it means to be kickass, but in the last few years television (unlike movies) has been dishing them up left, right and centre! Here’s eight kick ass female television characters. that I believe fit the bill and who have blown me away with their strength and unbelievable resilience in the past year.
Amelia Shepherd, Grey’s Anatomy (ABC)
“…the only way to fail is not to fight.”
Amelia Shepherd is often unsure of whether she’s good enough for anything in her life, or anyone around her. Having survived not one but two of Shonda Rhimes’ shows, I’m sure it’s no surprise to anyone that Amelia has been through a lot: waking up to discover her fiancé had died of an overdose right next to her, finding out her unborn child would never develop a brain, and losing her brother because of a horrific car accident (or medical ineptitude, depending on how you view the situation) are just some of the tragedies she’s had to endure.
I don’t think that staying alive through the wild ride that is Shondaland is what truly makes Amelia kickass, though. More than that, she’s fought for most of her life to convince herself that she’s just as worthy as her brother and as skilled at neurosurgery as he was before he died. And every day, as she feels his shadow looming over her, she continues to accept cases and attempt to pull off medical miracles. I think that’s pretty kickass.
On top of that crippling self-doubt, Amelia has been tormented by demons in the form of drugs and alcohol for years now. Still, after multiple relapses, she is determined to keep tackling the monster that is holding on to sobriety. She’s listened to the voices in her head, telling her that she has no value, that she’s pathetic and a burden, and she’s told them: Not today.
Cat Grant, Supergirl (CBS)
“Every woman worth her salt knows that we have to work twice as hard as a man to be thought of as half as good.”
Single mother, Queen of All Media, outspoken feminist: Cat Grant is undeniably kickass. As cold, pretentious, and self-absorbed as she appears to be, the creators of Supergirl have done a fantastic job of crafting a character of many layers – someone who embodies contradictions like they’re a newfound source of immortality.
Cat constantly calls her assistant, Kara, by the wrong name, but she also doesn’t hesitate to tell Kara time and again not to roll over and let other people – especially men – treat her with anything less than the respect that she deserves. Kara is someone who Cat actively mentors and supports, even before she realises that she’s Supergirl. And this is a key element of Cat’s character: she doesn’t simply bask in her own success, she also consciously works towards elevating the women around her (like Lucy Lane) and strives to remind them of the self-belief and the abilities that have always been inside them.
On top of having to build her own company from the ground up and raising her son solo, Cat’s had to deal with some devastating obstacles, too. First off, her mother constantly denigrates her and regularly telling her that she’s failed to live up to her expectations (or her mother’s own achievements). But Cat doesn’t let this affect her company, any pain she feels is pushed to the side, because as much effort as she puts into maintaining a steely, egotistical persona, the people around her, the people who work for her, the people of National City, her son and the company she’s dedicated most of her life to always come first, no matter what.
Poussey Washington, Orange is the New Black (Netflix)
“Did it ever occur to you that we don’t want to get in touch with our feelings? That feeling our feelings might make it impossible to survive in here?”
She’s overcome losing her mother as a child, being moved around the globe because of her father’s military job, bigotry from the people around her, being sent to prison, and finding out that the person she feels closer to than anyone else in the whole world doesn’t feel the same way about her.
She’s stood up to homophobes, stayed true to herself, challenged a psychopathic despot who threatened her and endangered her friends, and saved the life of a fellow inmate who tried to take her own life, even in the midst of her own depression and substance abuse.
Her adorableness aside, there isn’t a single doubt in my mind that Poussey is as kickass as they come. And the fact that she was able to comfort Brooke Soso even though every other inmate couldn’t have cared less about someone they only saw as unbearably annoying only bolsters this belief. Earlier in that same season, Poussey was in a seemingly unstoppable downward spiral, drunk more often than not and shattered by how completely helpless and alone she felt. But she was able to find purpose in helping Soso recognise the value of her own life, and more than that, she saw something of worth in Soso when no one else thought to look twice. Kickass, right?
Zoey Barkow, Nurse Jackie (Showtime)
“I haven’t turned in a paper for the past three weeks. I’m just failing. At everything. I don’t even know if I want to be a nurse anymore.”
Don’t let the animal scrubs fool you, Zoey Barkow is 100% kickass. She dealt with Jackie Peyton for seven years, first learning from her despite her abrasive and often dismissive teaching style, and later keeping her alive for as long as she could, doing everything in her power to help Jackie overcome her addiction. Whether she succeeded in the end or not, Zoey is extraordinary simply for taking all the heartache and devastation she experienced because of Jackie and using it to become a better person.
Furthermore, Zoey is an amazing nurse. Like, I-would-go-to-an-ER-in-the-United-States-just-to-be-treated-by-her amazing. With a seemingly infinite supply of kindness, she really is a ray of sunshine. And even when she starts to become completely overwhelmed after going back to school to get a Master of Nursing, she’s able to push through that self-doubt with some encouragement from Jackie. Seeing her break down while stuck in a car in a tunnel with a recovering drug addict who is also her mentor, it’s abundantly clear that Zoey is far more powerful and much stronger than she gives herself credit for. And finally, I think Zoey might be the least judgemental near-perfect person I’ve ever seen on television. Major kudos for that.
Betty DiMello, Masters of Sex (Showtime)
“You – you do not lecture me on suffering, ever. ’Cause what I’ve seen of suffering? Makes all this look like amateur hour.”
Working as a prostitute (and living as a lesbian) in St. Louis, Missouri in the 1950s is probably one of the most damaging experiences I imagine someone can go through. But Betty DiMello survived it and drew strength from every hurtful, derogatory comment and every moment of invisibility. In the very first episode of the show, we meet Betty as the very first subject in Dr. Bill Masters’ study of human sexuality, and things go downhill from there.
Even after weeks of observing her with clients, Betty is nothing more than a source of data to Bill, and the doctor is completely thrown when, after taking Betty to his lab to observe her properly, she tells him that the porn magazines meant for men providing samples (Masters is a fertility specialist) will be just fine for her. Not only is being a woman who loves other women not acceptable in this world – it isn’t even imaginable.
In the most recent season of the show, Ashford got the chance to showcase just how intricate a performance she can give in a scene with a much older male character who has been struggling with his sexuality for decades.
“I used to pray every night to God to take me apart,” Betty explains to this man, “And put the pieces back together only a little different, just so I wouldn’t have to feel what I felt – I wouldn’t have to want what I wanted.” She’s experienced the most unimaginable pain, not only being attacked and chastised by the people around her, but by her own mind, too. But she doesn’t tell this man that this is a reason to continue hiding who he is or running from himself. She simply says that once she was able to see herself through the eyes of someone who truly loved her, she realised that she didn’t have to believe the people who told her how she felt was wrong or listen to the hateful words in her head anymore. She was strong enough to combat the prejudice of an entire society and her own self-loathing. I can’t think of anything more kickass.
Trish Walker, Jessica Jones (Netflix)
“What more do you want?”
“To save the world, of course.”
Trish Walker’s childhood can only be described as horrific, but I don’t even think that word captures the terrible nature of what she had to face. When she was catapulted to fame at a young age and lost any chance of experiencing a normal childhood, her mother robbed her of even more of her innocence, it’s no wonder Trish cut all ties with her as soon as possible.
But Trish didn’t allow that devastation to harden her or fill her with bitterness and hatred. She’s dedicated her life to helping others through her radio show and protecting her sister and closest friend.
Trish throws herself into harm’s way time and time again in order to prove herself and save Jessica, and her selflessness is only matched by her unerring compassion and understanding. She believes Jessica the moment she comes back to her – after months of absence – and tells her that her mind was being controlled by a sadistic, unfeeling man, and it never occurs to her not to.
Trish Walker might be the ultimate survivor, overcoming abuse and exploitation and countless near-death experiences and still never doubting that she has more to give, that she’s strong enough to keep going and still believe that there’s goodness in the world. More than her badass moves, Trish’s indomitable spirit is something we can all admire.
Rachel Berry, Glee (Fox)
“Being part of something special makes you special, right?”
Rachel Berry is not an easy character to like. She’s self-absorbed, blunt almost to the point of being cruel, and sometimes it seems like she’ll go to any lengths to get what she wants. But when we first meet her, in the Glee pilot that aired all those years ago, it’s impossible to turn a blind eye and dismiss how much pain she’s obviously in.
Rachel has countless slushies thrown at her over the course of the show. She’s egged, and called terrible names. She goes through periods of feeling completely alone, but she never lets any of this convince her that she should stop trying to achieve her dreams. She continues working, and doing everything she can to block every negative voice around her out. Even when she loses the person she loves most, she knows she has the strength to keep going.
I think growing from a girl so desperate to be liked into a woman who recognises that she’s had that value within herself all along is truly remarkable. “Being part of something special does not make you special,” she says in the final episode of the show. “Something is special because you are a part of it.” And out of context, this might seem like the most self-aggrandising line the writers could have possibly come up with. But the connection it draws to Rachel’s mindset at the very beginning of the series, believing that the only way she could ever truly be extraordinary is through some external means, paints the statement in a much more uplifting light. Rachel knows now that she never needed anything but herself to be special – not even a Tony Award.
Kimmy Schmidt, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)
“Life beats you up. You can either curl up in a ball and die, or you can stand up and say: We’re different, and you can’t break us.”
Kimmy Schmidt is truly astounding. And I mean the show and the character.
I don’t think I would have ever believed that there could be a story about a rape survivor on television in the idiosyncratic style that Tina Fey has developed over the years before I saw Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
But I do now, and it is extraordinary.
Kimmy doesn’t want her life to be about the years she spent trapped in that bunker, but there’s really no way to avoid having the devastation she experienced there hanging over her every day, no matter how she tries to move away from it.
She doesn’t let that hold her back from the world for one minute, though. She doesn’t hide, nor let pain or fear dictate her life. She sees limitless possibilities ahead of her instead of all the time she missed out on because of the deranged actions of one man. And rather than mourning the fact that she will never be able to escape her past or the way people will see her once they know about it, Kimmy accepts what has happened to her and her inability to change people’s perceptions, focussing on what she can do now.
Furthermore, Kimmy feels no bitterness when she hears the people around her complain about their struggles, rants that to most people would seem ridiculous in light of what Kimmy has had to endure. She listens to Titus and Mrs. Voorhees without judgement, even acknowledging that the pain she’s been through doesn’t invalidate the pain they feel, no matter how minimal their suffering might seem.
Kimmy has held on to her empathy, even through all of the torture she has no doubt experienced. She has come out of a situation that could easily destroy another person more appreciative of her life and sympathetic to others than the majority of the human race. If that isn’t kickass, I don’t know what is.
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