When it comes to great female characters in pop culture, there are plenty of obvious choices. Contrary to what radical feminists believe about massive patriarchal conspiracies, our culture has created some pretty amazing women, real and fictional alike. So if there is a patriarchal conspiracy, they’re doing a piss poor job.
The best of the best, when it comes to female characters, are difficult to dispute. In the world of fiction, there’s Wonder Woman, Storm of the X-men, Captain Marvel from the Avengers, Supergirl, Sarah Conner from Terminator, Ripley from the Alien movies, Leslie Knope from “Parks and Recreation,” and Furiosa from “Mad Max: Fury Road.”
In the real world, we have just as many amazing women that raise the bar for both genders. We have Senator Elizabeth Warren, Madonna, Oprah Winfrey, Emma Stone, Maralyn Munroe, Lady Gaga, Janet Jackson, Malala Yousafzai, Michelle Obama, Taylor Swift, and whoever manages Taylor Swift’s public image. In either case, men and women alike have a great many choices in admirable female icons.
As great as these female characters are, however, there are still some characters that get overlooked and under-utilized. They’re still great characters in their own right. They just tend to get lost in the vast, chaotic, and constantly-shifting landscape of popular culture.
The same thing happens to male characters, but for better reasons. While they’re are plenty of great men in pop culture, there are a few too many that are blatant rip-offs of Superman, John McClane, and Batman.
So with that in mind, I’d like to acknowledge some of the overlooked, under-appreciated female characters that help make our culture great in their own unique way. For the sake of keeping this post brief and concise, I’ll focus on fictional characters. I find it’s a lot harder to ignore a real person these days when the media landscape is so vast, broad, and prone to strange memes and piss poor fact checking.
Since fictional characters can’t raise their voice, create a hashtag, or get thrown in jail for violating their probation, I figure they need this acknowledgement more than most. So without further adieu, here are Jack Fisher’s top 5 most underrated female characters.
5. Elaine Benes (Seinfeld)
This one may be a bit controversial because Seinfeld is a sitcom from a very different era. It’s also a show that gets constantly criticized by the politically correct crowd, but these humorless assholes only serve to undermine a female character who is balanced, compelling, and every bit as broken as the men.
In a show that has so many memorable characters, including Soup Nazis, Elaine still stands out as a great female character that brought out the best in actress, Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Elaine was an ex-girlfriend of Jerry Seinfeld, but that was never the primary emphasis for her character.
Elaine is smart. She has a distinct personality beyond just being the only woman in the main cast. She’s also every bit as quirky. In a show that has someone like Cosmo Kramer, that’s an accomplishment. On top of that, she can dance like no one else.
4. Berta (Two And A Half Men)
I’m not going to deny it. “Two and a Half Men” is as dirty a show as they come. It’s crude. It’s vulgar. It contains some of the least likable characters this side of South Park. I can totally understand why the same politically correct assholes that whined about “Seinfeld” would whine about this show.
Despite all the crude vulgarity, this show still had Berta. Played by Conchata Ferrell, she was one of the best parts of this show. Even though she played the role of a housekeeper, she was one of the few who really stood up to Charlie and Alan Harper throughout the series. Those two can disrespect and denigrate all the women they want. However, they never dared to disrespect Berta.
Given the nature of the show and the very public meltdown that accompanied it, Berta definitely deserves credit for standing out. In a world with personalities like Charlie Sheen, that’s also an accomplishment.
3. Maria Hill (Marvel Comics)
In the world of Marvel Comics, there are dozens upon dozens of powerful female characters. From heavy hitters like She-Hulk to lovable underdogs like Jubilee, there are so many iconic characters who have a strong place in comic book lore.
Then, there’s Maria Hill. She’s not a super spy martial artist like Black Widow. She’s not a sexy assassin like Elektra. She’s not even a side-kick like Batgirl. She’s the director of SHIELD and often the right hand of its one-eyed visionary, Nick Fury. The fact she doesn’t have superpowers and is in such a high position of authority in the same comic book universe that has She-Hulk says a lot about her.
She’s not just a hardass authority figure, although she can be at time. She’s not just someone who’s every bit as determined and capable as Nick Fury either. She commands respect in her own way. She has a personality that’s distinct and tough. She could easily be a CEO or a drill sergeant. Whatever she is, she’s someone others eagerly follow. For any character, male or female, that’s pretty awesome.
2. Samus Aran (Metroid)
Video games tend to be a hot-button issue when it comes to women, thanks largely to some whiny, asshole critics who go out of their way to piss people off. I won’t get into all the inane bullshit surrounding that issue, but I will concede that in the early days, women were basically the same as Disney princesses. If they weren’t being rescued, they were often in the process of being kidnapped by some giant lizard monster.
Then, Samus Aran came along. In the early 8-bit days of gaming, she set herself apart by being a badass female bounty hunter at a time when other characters were either elves, plumbers, or GI Joe knock-offs. Her ability to kick ass in games was so surprising that some gamers didn’t realize that she was a woman until the very end.
Samus was, and still is, a breakthrough character who tends to get overlooked in an era where more emphasis is on outrage over female characters rather than whether the character is actually awesome. She fought, kicked ass, and looked damn sexy while doing it. What more could you want out of a female character that doesn’t involve a bottle of lube?
1. Daria Morgendorffer
Some concepts are just too ahead of their time to have the kind of impact they deserve. The same goes for certain characters. Sometimes, a character comes along in a certain era that embodies something that doesn’t become truly meaningful until years later.
For Daria Morgendorffer of the classic 90s MTV show aptly titled, “Daria,” she’s one of those characters who would’ve been a much bigger deal if her show was on today. Daria is not your typical female protagonist. She’s not overly sexual. She’s not overly charismatic either. However, what she lacks in overt femininity, she more than makes up for with a distinct, memorable persona.
She’s dry and sarcastic. She’s coarse and brutally honest. She’s also caring and understanding when she needs to be. She’ll say what others are afraid to say and not give a damn who gets upset in the process. She never comes off as an overplayed trope or cliche. She’s very much her own person.
She’s also got an emotional side. Her feminine side isn’t completely subverted. Throughout the show, she has multiple love interests, including one that becomes a steady boyfriend. As a character, she feels both unique and real. She’s someone that men and women alike want as a friend and a companion. Few characters, female or otherwise, can make that same claim in modern TV show.
For me, personally, Daria has a special place in my heart. She was, and still is, one of my favorite TV characters in the 90s. I feel like TV has been missing something since her show ended. While she may have been ahead of her time, her words of wisdom ring true in any era. With that in mind, I’ll leave everyone with this:
Um, thank you. I’m not much for public speaking. Or much for speaking. Or, come to think of it, much for the public. And I’m not very good at lying. So let me just say that, in my experience, high school sucks. If I had to do it all over again, I’d have started advanced placement classes in preschool so I could go from eighth grade straight to college. However, given the unalterable fact that high school sucks, I’d like to add that if you’re lucky enough to have a good friend and a family that cares it doesn’t have to suck quite as much. Otherwise my advice is; Stand firm for what you believe in, until and unless experience proves you wrong. Remember, when the emperor looks naked, the emperor is naked. The truth and a lie are not sort of the same thing. And there is no aspect, no facet, no moment of life that can’t be improved with pizza. Thank you.