Over the years, TV has shown the trends society lives out in real life. So it’s always a pleasant surprise to see portrayals of feminist women — and particularly in mothers — show up on the small screen, especially when they’re not misguided stereotypes. There are enough, in fact, to create our own top 10 feminist TV moms of all time.
I enjoyed going back through programs I watched as a kid, teenager and now as an adult to find my favorite feminist moms. And while not all of these characters proclaimed their feminism out loud and proud, many promoted the ideals of feminism by simply existing on the screen and showing America there are many ways to be a woman and a mother.
10. Lois from Malcolm in the Middle
Here we have a middle-class working mom who did it all, despite her hapless husband and misbehaving four boys. With all the chaos in her life, Lois still managed to have the last word in pretty much every situation.
9. Ann Romano, One Day at a Time
I definitely didn’t realize how groundbreaking Ann Romano was at the time. Played by Bonnie Franklin, Ann Romano was a divorced mom of two teen daughters. Together they moved to Indianapolis to start over. The show, which aired from 1975 to 1984, tackled many issues related to second wave feminism.
8. The Winslow women from Family Matters
Harriette and Estelle Winslow were a wife-and-mother team that anchored the cast of Family Matters. Sure, most folks remember this show for Steve Urkel, but the show itself wouldn’t have happened if not for Harriette. Played by Jo Marie Payton, Harriette was the elevator operator in Perfect Strangers before getting her own spinoff show. And Rosetta LeNoire’s wisecracking Estelle showed the quick wit of the family matriarch. This was also one of the longest-running shows featuring a black cast, cementing its significance in TV history.
7. Lorelai Gilmore, Gilmore Girls
Confession: I had a mom crush on Lorelai Gilmore. I know nobody really talks in that fast-paced, verbose way in really life, but it didn’t matter. I love that she stood up for herself and her daughter Rory in the face of her wealthy, conservative parents. I love that she forged her own path and clearly walked to the beat of her own drum. She was about individuality while still doing her best to raise herself and her daughter.
6. Murphy Brown, Murphy Brown
Murphy Brown was so groundbreaking that even a vice president called the show out for Murphy’s choice to have a baby on her own. An investigative journalist and news anchor, Murphy Brown was a career woman who was the walking embodiment of having it all on her own terms. In 1992, former Vice President Dan Quayle criticized Murphy Brown (yes, a fictional character) for “ignoring the importance of father.”
5. Julia from Julia
Actress Diahann Carroll portrayed Julia, a widowed mother of one son and a nurse in this late ’60s show. Having a woman of color who wasn’t shown in a role of servitude was actually progressive for this time in television. Julia helped break down stereotypes as well as provided a different image of black women in America.
4. Elyse Keaton, Family Ties
A high point of my ’80s childhood, Family Ties shared the stories of a liberal family (and their precocious, conservative teen son). The show itself reflected the cultural liberalism of the previous decade, with “ex-hippie” Elyse sharing her progressive values with her children.
3. Tami Taylor, Friday Night Lights
I have a secret to share: I’ve never watched Friday Night Lights. I know, I know! But even I know how amazing Connie Britton’s Tami Taylor is. A strong, independent woman… with the most luxurious locks ever.
2. Roseanne, Roseanne
Roseanne was groundbreaking in that the show portrayed a working-class family centered on a loudmouthed, honest and hilarious main character who didn’t fall prey to typical TV tropes of what constituted a leading lady. Roseanne gave a voice and presence to women not seen often in media, and created a lasting show that still has impact today.
1. Clair Huxtable, The Cosby Show
I will set aside my anger and outrage over Bill Cosby and his actions to bring you one of my favorite TV moms. A lawyer. A wife. A mother. And the woman who gave us this amazing speech.
Did I miss any of your favorites? Tell me who below.