12 Television Shows That Brought Feminism into the Mainstream in a Major Way

Kiarra Sylvester | Oct 7, 2016 TV
12 Television Shows That Brought Feminism into the Mainstream in a Major Way

Sex and the city, feminist show

Oftentimes watching old TV shows can seem weird, as certain dynamics become dated -- from the technology being referenced to the broader topics of conversation. But there are some shows that we can definitely put in the forward-thinking category -- shows that empowered women then, and, honestly, in many ways still do. Whether they pushed the boundaries in their day or simply helped create an open dialogue on many issues women faced, they all brought aspects of feminism into people's homes. 

From sexuality and single motherhood to breastfeeding, here are 12 shows that got it right with their feminist POVs and sometimes managed to do so waaay before we were hashing out these issues on the Internet. Simply put, they put girl power in the mainstream.


Image via Watch Out/Splash News

  • Golden Girls


    The Golden Girls ladies were like the divorcee version of the Sex and the City crew, but obviously way before SATC was even a thought. The show premiered in 1985 -- but we still celebrate these older women living together and showing the world that age doesn't mean giving up on life or love or whatever it is that you want (sex included, ahmm, Blanche). The takeaway? Sometimes having your best girls by your side beats having any one guy. 

  • The Mary Tyler Moore Show


    The Mary Tyler Moore Show was one of the OG TV shows to depict a progressive thirtysomething single woman. Mary always chose herself –- from her relationships to her career. During this time (the sitcom debuted in 1970), this wasn't a common lifestyle for women and it certainly wasn't one to be broadcast. Today that (hopefully) is NBD to most, but she'll always remain a feminist hero.

  • Murphy Brown


    Not only was Murphy Brown a career woman, but she was a single mother. Deciding that she wanted to have it all, she went on to have a child even after her husband abandoned her upon finding out the news. Sure, we'd seen single mothers face these challenges IRL, but how often was mainstream TV (back when the show hit screens in 1988) portraying the image of a woman that independent? Frankly, it wasn't all that often. And it wasn't enough.

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  • Living Single


    Living Single was one of the first shows (back in 1993) to advance the black feminist movement. While we'd like there to be one big feminist movement, the reality is that can't truly exist until we can see eye-to-eye on race issues, so the women in this show were one of our first glimpses of single, successful, and cool-as-hell black women. They were determined to make it in all aspects of their lives, from their careers to their romance. This helped give black women people to relate to and aspire to, aside from the minimal roles we had on TV at the time. 

  • Charmed


    The Charmed women often sought out balance in their lives -- and truthfully they embodied that essence of feminism. They were sexy, demon-hunting, career-bound, love-seeking women with a feminist dynamic that was played up in their story lines. In fact, I even recall an episode (of the show that premiered in 1998) in which Phoebe (Alyssa Milano) fights for her sister to publicly breastfeed -- fast-forward over a decade later and here we are fighting that fight (with Alyssa often at the forefront).

  • Sex and the City


    No matter how boy-crazed they were, these ladies definitely earned a spot on this list as they revolutionized '90s women's sexuality and independence. Starting in 1998, Sex and the City talked about the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of being a single, successful woman in the city -- from having an abortion to initiating a "booty call." They portrayed many of us, for better or worse -- and made it perfectly normal to talk about it all over brunch.

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  • Three's Company


    Three's Company (which debuted in 1977) was a hilarious sitcom about three roommates who lived together. The catch? One roommate -- Jack Tripper (John Ritter) -- was a guy (gasp!) and, back then, it was still pretty taboo for Janet (Joyce DeWitt) and Chrissy (Suzanne Somers) to be living him. There was this assumption that things had to be sexual if a heterosexual man was living with two women. We're not too cool with Jack thinking the solution was to tell his landlord he was gay, but in other aspects this forward-thinking threesome taught us that men and women could be platonic because, hello, we're all just people. 

  • Powerpuff Girls


    As little girls we're often forced to conform to the gender roles unfortunately inherent in our culture, but not the Powerpuff Girls. This crew (which made its debut in 1998) learned early in life that you can be nice as "sugar and spice," but also kick some butt. They were saving the world from Mojo Jojo and still all about their teddy bears and dolls. 

  • Laverne & Shirley


    Laverne & Shirley portrayed a friendship between two fiesty women who lived together. Sure, the tone of the show (which hit primetime in 1976) was very "I can do anything you can do better" -- in the most positive way, of course. Laverne (Penny Marshall) and Shirley (Cindy Williams) lived the single gal life -- dating and exploring -- as they discovered what it was that they wanted from their futures.

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  • Girlfriends


    Girlfriends was another black sitcom kind of like Living Single meets SATC. The women spoke openly about men, sex, and life -- but the show (which premiered in 2000) opened the door to discuss the sexuality of black women. They bonded over boozy brunches and sometimes heartfelt discussions in LA as they took on their careers and so much more in life. 

  • Maude


    The comical series Maude (a spin-off of All in the Family) came to be so much more than just another primetime sitcom when it aired in 1972. The show's namesake (played by our aforementioned Golden Girl Bea Arthur) was a liberal middle-aged woman who was not afraid to voice her views. When Maude opted to get an abortion in 1972 (one year before Roe v. Wade became national law), the show famously made the issue a primetime discussion. Maude (who lived in New York, where it was legal even before the landmark decision) represented choice -- and we're damn proud that she did.

  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit


    Law and Order: SVU is feminist for two reasons -- and the first is Mariska Hargitay. Period. Since 1999, her character, Olivia Benson, has maintained the role of lead detective, constantly proving herself and redefining boundaries, on and off the air with this role alone. However, the show was also feminist in the fact that it took on the issue of sexual assault -- an issue that women are often discouraged from speaking out against -- then and even now. To address the topic back in the '90s was quite the big deal, and we are thankful.

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