I did what most kids do when my parents weren’t home— I plopped down on the couch and made my TV my best friend.
The TV played a big role in my childhood. That big, black-and-silver box was the easiest way of entertaining me when my parents and grandparents were ready to take a break from taking care of me, and I was always more than happy with the shows that came on. I was six and watching shows like Sabrina, the Teenage Witch and W.I.T.C.H., and spent hours imitating the leads on those shows.
As I got older, I tried to figure out what I had in common with those characters (because unfortunately, magic isn’t one of those traits I get to share with Sabrina) and liked so much about them. After all, media strongly shaped my perception of the world, and I was always curious about why that was.
What the shows I loved all had in common was that their protagonist was a major female character who’s brash, intelligent and self-reliant — all traits that I have or aspire to have some day. Although there are some limitations to these screen characters (seriously, is it that hard to have a show where a woman doesn’t have a love interest by the end?), it was refreshing to see grown women on screen who knew what they were doing. To this day, I still think about Sabrina staying composed and strong when her aunt Zelda turned into a ball of wax, and about the many other girl characters I saw who used their wits instead of relying on guys on the show to help them out.
It’s sometimes weird to think that a TV show could have so much influence on my life, but it’s something I’ve noticed my entire life. I think it’s even true of characters who I don’t always think fit the bill, but I’ve caught myself thinking about “channeling my inner Blair Waldorf” or thinking, “what would Peggy Olsen do?”
Women, unfortunately, don’t get as much screen time as I’d like. A 2015 San Diego State University study on the role women play on the silver screen showed that women comprise only 42 percent of all speaking roles in TV, which is a disappointment when you consider that the world is roughly half male and half female. It’s gotten better from where it used to be in 1998, when researchers recorded 39 percent of women in speaking roles on TV, but it has a bit of a journey to go.
I still love strong female characters, and while I wouldn’t say I actively seek them out when browsing IMDB for a new TV show, it’s a big plus when a show focuses on a gal who’s witty, self-determined and independent. It’s a show quality that got me hooked on Peggy Olsen and Joan Holloway from Mad Men and what’s currently hooking me on Gilmore Girls. Shows are just that much more entertaining when the characters on screen are individuals in their own right, something that showrunners don’t always get right about women and people of color.
While Hollywood still isn’t perfect for the little girls who, like me, spend a decent chunk of their time watching TV, it’s getting better. In the meanwhile, I’m toasting the women who might only exist in fiction, but continue to live on in my heart.