Five of television’s strongest female characters

Here’s what we’ve been told: that a woman’s true strength lies solely in her capacity to kick ass and take names. These are the “strong female character”-types that every pop culture outlet seems to revere. But a woman’s strength is more multifaceted than that, isn’t it?

Here’s a list of five female characters of TV who demonstrate a kind of strength we could all aspire to: a strength rooted in vulnerability, unpredictability, complexity. These are women characters, and not just by title. They’re strong because the writing explores all of their qualities: the “good” and the “bad.” They’re strong because they are, so completely, women.

Photo via CBS

Joan Watson, Elementary (CBS)

Along with Sherlock, Joan (Lucy Liu) works as a consulting detective for the NYPD, solving crimes that need more brainpower than the average police department can expend. A licensed surgeon, she doesn’t shy away from the gruesome; but while her partner approaches every case like a puzzle begging to be solved, Joan brings some much needed heart to crime-fighting: she humanizes the victims, empathizes with mourning loved ones, and provides valuable input into the minds of the killers they’re after.

Photo via Bitch Flicks

Claire Underwood, House of Cards (HBO)

Described by many as House of Cards’ dynamite take on the archetypal Lady Macbeth, Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) puts all other antiheroes to shame. Over the course of the show’s four seasons, her ruthless pragmatism, instinct for exploiting other people’s weaknesses, and unquenchable thirst for power not only mirror her husband Frank’s, but outdoes his. By the end of the third season, she seemed poised to become his greatest rival. This show is as much Claire’s as it is Frank’s: defined by her own political ambitions, complex backstory, and periods of restrained yet devastating vulnerability.

Photo via Celeb. Cafe

Rebecca Bunch, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (The CW)

In Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, over-the-top song-and-dance numbers serve as glimpses into Rebecca Bunch’s (Rachel Bloom) neurotic, romance-obsessed psyche, while increasingly cringe-inducing romcom scenarios play out in her reality. Rebecca takes every bad thing that anyone’s ever said about “intense” women and gives it a backstory. CXG magnifies all the things women might not like about themselves and forces them to confront the depths of their own neurosis. Sure, Rebecca Bunch is intense, but the show refuses to let us dismiss her as just that — instead, it wants us to understand Rebecca and maybe recognize ourselves in her.

Photo via Bitch Flicks

Jessica Huang, Fresh Off the Boat (ABC)

In a show that deftly examines what it means for immigrants to chase the “American Dream,”, Jessica Huang’s (Constance Wu) stubborn rejection of American excess and irreverence serves as a powerful counterforce to her family’s eagerness to depart from their roots. She keeps them grounded. Moving to the suburbs of Florida will inevitably come with power walking white moms on every street and casseroles at every housewarming, but she’ll be damned if she stops bringing stinky tofu to the next BBQ. At every turn, Jessica reminds her family — and us — what it means to be a Huang, and she’ll keep trying until we all get it right.

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Jessica Jones, Jessica Jones (Netflix)

From the get-go, Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) positions herself as a lone wolf, constantly on the move, and kind of an a-hole. She works as a P.I.; she chugs cheap whisky by the bottle and suffers from insomnia; and she freezes up at the prospect of human connection. It’s abundantly clear that Jessica has been through hell and is quite literally always terrified, but what’s even clearer is her capacity for good. Most people, when given the choice between reliving their own trauma for the sake of another person or getting the hell out of dodge, they’d choose to run. But Jessica stays, every time. And really, that’s the whole premise of Jessica Jones: Jessica, who troubles the very concept of heroism, becoming a hero all the same.

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