As you’ve likely heard by now, today is International Women’s Day. In fact, it’s the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. Perhaps I haven’t been clued in enough in past years but this is the first I remember hearing of it. So I dutifully trundled over to Wikipedia to stuff my brain with facts (ya know, for any future trivial and competitive pursuits) and found out that International Women’s Day was originally called International Working Women’s Day. The day (which has, as Wikipedia notes, lost the labor association and is now some sort of Valentine’s and Mother’s Day hybrid) was meant to celebrate women in the workforce and shed some light on the poor working conditions of the Industrial Revolution.
It doesn’t need to be International Women’s Day in order for me to bemoan the lack of strong female characters in film and television (getting better all the time), or, for that matter, the paucity of females who are recognized for being excellent at their jobs. Often times, in fact, if a woman is great at her job, it’s seen as a flaw. A female protagonist will pour herself into her work to avoid confronting larger issues (usually, le sigh, the lack of a man, a picket house, and ze babies). While this can be true, it’s mostly crap. So let’s take this excuse (it’s as good as any) to celebrate some ladies who are damn good at their job.
Leslie Knope “Parks and Recreation” Contrary to her Thursday comedy soul sister, Liz Lemon, Leslie Knope’s comical daffiness does not undermine her professionalism. Hard-working, dedicated and idealistic, Leslie get it done, time after time.
Kalinda Sharma “The Good Wife” This series is, in fact, a bastion for women who are great at their job. But we’ve seen great lawyers like Diane Lockhart and Alicia Florrick before. Archie Punjabi’s Kalinda feels new. As the firm’s investigator she uses every tool in her arsenal (cunning, seduction, a baseball bat) to get what she needs.
Martha Klein “Mostly Martha” This film ought to fall into that tired trope of “this woman is good at her job but is not fulfilled until she has a man and a kid” because, well, that’s basically the plot. Unlike the dreadful American remake, however, this great German flick shows more respect for Martha’s professional strength even as she softens.
Doctor Michaela Quinn “Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman” Listen, Dr. Quinn not only ran a frontier clinic, but I’m fairly certain she raised some kids, bagged the hottest guy in town and single-handedly ended racism. Not too shabby, doc.
Kaylee Frye “Firefly” “Machines just got workins and they talk to me.” Kaylee kept Serenity flying against all odds. Good job, chica.
C. J. Cregg “The West Wing” Any dozen of Sorkin women could have landed on this list. From Annette Bening’s character in American President to Felicity Huffman’s on “Sports Night” and, pretty much, all the ladies on “The West Wing,” Sorkin clearly has respect and admiration for a lady who can get the job done.
Amanda Bonner “Adam’s Rib” Okay, I don’t know why Katherine Hepburn is posing like she’s on “I Dream of Jeannie,” her Amanda is a powerful lawyer who doesn’t let the social mores of the time or pressure from her husband keep her from doing her job. I feel like I could have put a number of Kate’s roles on this list, but Amanda stuck firm in my mind.
Anne Shirley “Anne of Avonlea” A lot of the work of the successful teacher is done outside the classroom. Miss Shirley here (following the Miss Stacey model, of course) not only captivates and educates her young students but, while employed at a prestigious boarding school, wins over an implacable Principal and a prejudiced school board. Politics shouldn’t be such a huge part of being an educator, but it is, and Anne Shirley never met a person she couldn’t charm.
Dian Fossey “Gorillas In The Mist” Of course, this character is based on an actual female who was amazing at her job and dedicated to her life’s work. I have immense respect for Fossey and for female scientists in general. It’s still not an easy field for ladies.
Joan Harris “Mad Men” Much is made of Peggy Olson, and rightly so, but Joan’s contributions are often overshadowed by her other sizable assets. Joan’s efficiency, organization and genuine love for her job are the most endearing things about her. Well, third most.
Joanna Robinson does so enjoy ending a female empowerment piece with a little objectification. Keeps you on your toes, no?