From ‘That Girl’ to ‘That Woman in the Arena’

I used to know three things beyond a doubt: the Berlin Wall would never fall; Nelson Mandela would never be released from his South African prison; and the USSR would never give up communism or any of their states. Yeah well, in three short years from 1989-1991 all three happened one right after another.

Glibly, I also used to say, “Oh, sure, not in my lifetime but one day a woman will be president of the United States.”

Uh huh, I was THAT naive. Or, that conditioned. But when I look back over the years, I can see the portrayal of women changing across the TV screen, helping to pave the way for the idea that a woman can be a world leader. Now, these are just the shows I watched growing up. (Yes, I know there are many other wonderful female characters that deserve recognition, too.)

1ThatGirlThe first time I remember watching an actress portraying her own woman, albeit still worried about daddy and boyfriend opinions, was Marlo Thomas as That Girl. (1966-1971)


HOWEVER, she was outclassed, in my humble 1.5NichelleNicholsasUhuruopinion, by the powerful Lt. Uhuru on Star Trek, Nichelle Nichols. A lady and an officer. (1966-1969)


2Mary Richards Desk

Soon we had the Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970 – 1977). Now, THAT was independence. “Oh, Mr. Grant!” She often held the moral highground.



Then came Maude, portrayed brilliantly by Bea Arthur. She had the audacity to not take crap from any man! (1972-1978)



Lynda Carter WAS Wonder Woman (1975 – 1979). Wait! What? A woman superhero? *boom – head exploding*


5cagney and lacey

But, no woman should ever forget the legacy of Cagney and Lacey. (1981 – 1988) Sharon Gless and Tyne Daly were tough cops doing a man’s job in a man’s world with the sense and sensibilities of women. Yes, we can!


G6The Golden GirlssBea Arthur, Rue McClanahan, Betty White, and Estelle Getty were The Golden Girls, showing that female sexuality, dreams of success, and the ability to be funny doesn’t fade with age. It also reinforced the idea that friendships between women are strong, enduring long after divorces and widowhood. (1985 – 1992)

7Dana Scully The X Files


A skeptical, no-nonsense, fact chasing woman! The voice of reason, yet willing to suspend disbelief in search of the truth. She even reined in her loose cannon partner. Gillian Anderson as Dana Scully on The X Files (1993 – 2002)


8Xena and Gabrielle


Be still , my beating heart. Lucy Lawless as Xena: Warrior Princess and Renee O’Connor as Gabrielle. Their sexuality burned up the screen, as did the idea that women could be very effective warriors. (1995 – 2001)

9Captain Janeway

And finally, Kate Mulgrew as Capt. Kathryn Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager set the new bar. Women could captain spaceships! And only twenty-nine years after Uhuru took her place on the bridge. Now, that’s progress. (1995 – 2001)


After 2001 I pretty much quit watching TV in order to write, so forgive me for not going forward. Buffy, Ally, The Gilmore Girls, and all the other powerful women all the way up to Agent Carter, have led up to this decisive moment. And now we are:


What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.