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Extra, extra! Strong women of colour TV characters exist!

June 5th, 2009     by Teresa Chun-Wen Cheng     Comments

Claire Huxtable in The Cosby Show

Jezebel, a popular Gawker blog that features “celebrity, sex, fashion for women,” recently published a blog post on “20 Feminist TV Characters.”

Tracie, the author of the post, was quick to point out that “unfortunately, all of [the characters] – including the animated ones – are Caucasian.” Her list included characters such as Maude Findlay of Maude (which I’m actually quite curious about and would love to get my hands on…), Lisa Simpson of The Simpsons, Roseanne Connor of Roseanne and Miranda Hobbes of Sex and The City.

As a woman of colour, I found Tracie’s disclaimer to be insincere. She profiled characters who “more openly flew their feminist flags…[speaking] openly about being feminists or feminism.” Isn’t the answer to Tracie’s so-called difficulty with coming up with female characters of colour obvious? She was explicitly looking for feminist characters, disregarding the fact that some women of colour, while embodying all sorts of politics and values that can be found in what some of us know as “feminism,” may not identify with this Western notion. What many of us know as feminism in North America has had a long and painful history of exclusion and oppression, specifically by heralding gender inequality as the prime form of oppression that all women should gearing their energy towards.

I wasn’t just disappointed and frustrated with Tracie; not many comments were inspiring. In knowing that she might have missed out on some characters, Tracie asked readers to comment and include the ones she had forgotten. Many of the readers simply reproduced what Tracie was doing with her original post. One commentator said,

“I came here looking for two specific women: Janet from Three’s Company and Elaine from Seinfeld. Bonus point for actually having the words ‘feminist’ ‘women’s rally’ and/or ‘pro-choice’ in their dialogue.”

While I don’t watch much TV, the first strong woman of colour character that comes to mind is Betty Suarez of Ugly Betty. Betty is from a working class, Mexican immigrant family which she is working her butt off to help make ends meet. She is the central figure in making sure everything at work and at home are balanced and running smoothly, while at the same time slowly learning to take care of her own needs and dreams. Betty is caring, bold, shameless (yes, I’m using the term very seriously and because she is so worth the title).

I got some friends to help me out with the list and between everyone, we came up with our own list:

  1. Bette Porter of The L Word
  2. Claire Huxtable of The Cosby Show
  3. Rochelle of Everybody Hates Chris
  4. Miranda Bailey of Grey’s Anatomy
  5. Ana Lucia of Lost
  6. Cristina Yang of Grey’s Anatomy
  7. Harriette Winslow of Family Matters

Please feel free to add any characters I’ve missed out on!

Tags: media savvy, race and racism

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