TV's 15 Most Empowered Female Characters (and Their 10 Hapless Counterparts)

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As Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin once sang, “Sisters are doin’ it for themselves.” And that sentiment seems especially applicable to the dozens of strong female characters populating our television screens nowadays.

To celebrate Women’s History Month, TVLine has compiled a list of the 15 Most Empowered Female Characters on Television, ladies who are firmly in control of their personal and professional destinies — often in the face of daunting obstacles. On the flip side, we’ve identified 10 of their Least Empowered counterparts, women who allow the men in their lives and society as a whole to define their goals and values, and too often wind up playing the role of victim.

Click through our gallery below and tell us which of our picks are spot-on, where we got it wrong, and which powerhouse gals got snubbed.

Comments (311)

  • Season 4 (actually, probably season 3 +) Rachel Berry – least empowered. Season 1 Rachel – most empowered. Talk about character development…

    Comment by Lea – March 20, 2013 03:28 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
    • That’s so true. From being strong-willed, Glee destroyed Rachel Berry :(

      Comment by Mark – March 21, 2013 06:25 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
    • Oh good one. She’s such a despicable character now that I’ve blocked her from my mind. I now officially hate watch.

      Comment by Katie – March 21, 2013 12:40 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Any woman that lets herself be treated as the President treated Olivia last episodes, it’s not empowered at all.

    Comment by rty123 – March 20, 2013 03:29 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Kate Beckett! She was the first person I thought of when I saw this list and she is no where to be found!!!

    Comment by Briana – March 20, 2013 03:35 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • This is so disgusting and sexist and I don’t understand why a list like this even exists. The Liars and Sansa Stark on the “Least Empowered” list??

    Ya okay

    Comment by fjdeufheu – March 20, 2013 03:52 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • This is a load of frakkin’ horse dung. Sansa is 100% empowered, smarter than the fool that wrote this article, and everyone that okayed it. She manages to negotiate a dangerous situation with her life on the line by manipulating Joff and everyone else in court. Sansa is empowered and it isn’t her fault you are too foolish or blind to see it.

    Tvline, hire someone with a modicum of sense. Because this person doesn’t have it.

    Comment by Kenny – March 20, 2013 03:53 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
    • Sansa is weak and a fool. She is afraid to leave what at this point is a kidnapping situation. She has passed up several chances to escape and go home, even though to stay where she is will likely end in her death and/or humiliation.

      Comment by MaryAnn – March 21, 2013 01:32 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • I completely disagree in regards to Sansa. She’s a young girl in a very dangerous situation and she’s doing all she can to survive. Playing the game of thrones is more than being badass; it’s about survival. It’s about knowing when to make your move and when to bide your time. Also, calling her a scardey-cat? She’s a 13 year old girl who saw her father’s head get cut off. She knows how dangerous Joffrey and Cersei are, and she knows how dangerous it is to trust anyone in Kings Landing. So, please don’t judge her for not taking Littlefinger’s offer. Sansa Stark is playing the game of thrones as it should be played and she’s on her way to being a damn good player.

    Comment by Rosie – March 20, 2013 03:54 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Olivia Pope is not empowered. She spends half the damn show mooning over an abusive manchild who’ll never leave his wife and thinks it’s love. Great at job =/= empowered.

    Comment by xx – March 20, 2013 03:55 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Putting Sansa Stark on the list as least empowered is ridiculous. Are we watching the same show? She’s doing everything she can to survive and succeeding brilliantly. She’ll end up as queen in the north. Just wait.

    Comment by jørgen brendstuen (@vetica_) – March 20, 2013 04:02 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Furthermore, what gives you the right to decide what is empowered and what is not? This is supposed to be a celebration of women. You shouldn’t be tearing others down. There is more than one way to be strong. I find your views simplistic.

    Comment by Hannah (@BurklePryce) – March 20, 2013 04:18 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • I hope to the Seven that the writers for this article aren’t huge Ned lovers and didn’t cry when he died. Because if you didn’t shame him for being stupid and trusting LF when he said “Don’t trust me” and you shame Sansa for not trusting him you gotta have some effed up sense of empowerment. Oh and after seeing what LF does for 2 seasons (the only thing that’s missing is he’s not twirling his moustache while doing them) and you aren’t worried about his motivations you have no freaking right to write about characters on a TV show that you don’t even watch with your two eyes and process it in your mind. Not even gonna touch on other problematic things you’ve written about her “not being a badass like Arya”.

    Comment by Shandera – March 20, 2013 04:22 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • You have some pretty misguided ideas about feminism and good writing. Your idea of empowered doesn’t even seem to mean strong, the “least empowered” list seems to have quite a few characters that are simply flawed human beings, or victims of circumstances. Bashing them and calling them weak for that is the opposite of feminism, really. And stories would be pretty boring if everyone was a total badass. And you probably wouldn’t do the same to male characters. For example, you included Sansa from Game of Thrones, but Jaime Lannister from the same show also spent the last season in captivity, and he only defied his captors verbally, just like Sansa, but you probably wouldn’t call him a shame for his whole gender. And if you say that because he’s a badass swordfighter, that would also be pretty sexist, thinking that masculine qualities like that are automatically more admirable than feminine ones.

    Comment by Laszlo – March 20, 2013 04:22 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • I completely disagree about Sansa. Just because she doesn’t fit the stereotypical archetype of the masculine warrior, like perhaps Arya or Brienne (characters I also like, by the way) doesn’t mean she isn’t empowered. Sansa is very feminine, yes, but that’s not a bad thing. Society may reinforce the “feminine = weak and masculine = strong” trope, but that doesn’t mean we need to. Keep in mind, Sansa is a 13-year-old girl thrust into a world she’s been sheltered from her entire life. All she knows is the beautiful princesses and shining knights from her septa’s tales. For a girl who’s basically just discovered a world outside of Winterfell, she’s doing a pretty good job of keeping herself afloat. Through Tyrion, Littlefinger, Margaery, Cersei, and countless others in King’s Landing, Sansa is observing the game and its rules, what to do and what not to do. The poor girl’s managed to keep herself alive thus far; much more than we could say for oh, I don’t know, 80% of GRRM’s lovely — but sadly, deceased :( — characters. She didn’t trust Littlefinger because, that’s right, this is LITTLEFINGER we’re talking about. If you put your faith in him, you kinda deserve to die. Also, victim-blaming? Not cool.

    Comment by Em – March 20, 2013 04:27 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Actually this is *NOT* a great list. This is actually is terrible list. Not because it forgot someone, but because of their ridiculously sexist and disgusting definition of “empowering” women. Why is there a least empowering list? Why is Sansa Stark considered weak? TVLine, you need to take your sexist ideals and shove it somewhere where the sun don’t shine. Are they even *WATCHING* the show?
    “Sansa hasn’t done much of anything to defy her role as a human leverage in a battle of dueling kingdoms.”
    You mean she hasn’t taken up arms and try to kill herself? Do they not realize that if she even *thought* of going against the Lannisters, SHE. WOULD. DIE. She was willing to kill Joffrey (last episode of S1)–that look that meant she would KILL HERSELF just so she could have her VENGEANCE. But Sandor stopped her and she now she has to live in torment. She has to LEARN TO SURVIVE. How do you defeat the Lannisters? You outwit them, which is exactly what she is doing. She is learning from Petyr–from Margaery–from Cersei–how the game is played. She will rule the ground and have every single one of the people love and obey her.
    “Heck, she was too much of a scaredy cat to take up Baelish’s offer to escape Joffrey’s sadistic clutches.”
    So TVLine, remove this godforsaken list.

    Comment by A Human Being – March 20, 2013 04:35 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • This should be re-named ‘Victim-Blaming and Sl*t-Shaming: an article by TVLine.’ NO. just no. This article is offensive and sexiest. I’m not even going to go into how WRONG you are about Sansa because there is just too much to say about that. Read the books or Re-watch the tv show you idiots. Seriously. (Or just read some of the comments because there are some wonderful replies in regards to that).
    But pitting female characters against one another? Thats disgusting. You would never do this if it was for male characters.
    And what makes some characters ‘stronger’ than others – cause they can wield a gun or sword. Oh I forgot.You can only be a strong woman if you take on masculine traits and ‘kick-ass’!?!?! Right silly me.
    Plus don’t even get me started on some people who should be on this list that you’ve obviously over looked.
    The whole thing is a mess but your Least Empowered bit was just disgusting. Makes me sick. You should apologize for that list. Sexism at its finest.

    Comment by amanda – March 20, 2013 04:45 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • I think it is ironic that the comment guide on this website says ‘talk smart about TV’, given the fact that someone who works for this site thought it would be not only acceptable, but a really good idea to talk about empowered women without any clear understanding of the subject.

    This is a perfect example of the patriarchal society that we live in, and that we are expected to hold up the ideals of hegemonic masculinity.

    It is further ironic that we are supposed to expect women to be more masculine in order for them to be considered empowered women.

    This article is a travesty and should be taken down immediately. In it’s place should be an apology to women everywhere for such a poor excuse of an article that claims to support women when in fact it does the opposite.

    Comment by Jj – March 20, 2013 04:52 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Sansa is one of the most strongest female characters out there. Just because she doesn’t have authority doesn’t mean she is weak. Arya has no authority but she can wield a sword = strength?? In a sense, yes. But Sansa has her own strength, and that is words.

    Comment by ara – March 20, 2013 04:57 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • (Assuming you’re using “least empowered” to mean weak.) Sansa is not empowered in any official way like Daenyrys is. She doesn’t command armies which give her the power to do/say anything she wants. Anything Sansa does is subject to the power of others. A wrong move will get her killed, but she’s still a player in the Game, isn’t she? She’s empowered in a way that subtly defies her status. She’s empowered with silence and patience which bid her time to learn who to trust (coughnotLittleFingercough) and to gain trust (maybe Tyrion?). (Notice that little Arya is learning that power, too.) With that trust, she’ll gain more tangible power…maybe become Queen.

    Comment by Heidi – March 20, 2013 05:01 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Umm… last time I checked, Sansa was the only Stark survivng right in the middle of the lion’s den?? Even Ned couldn’t manage that for a full season??

    Comment by Sansa's Protector – March 20, 2013 05:03 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • This list is missing like a million people. Jessica Pearson and Donna Paulsen from Suits. Kate Beckett has been mentioned, as has Olivia Benson and Ziva David. There’s also Fiona Glenanne, Bones, Kalinda Sharma, Annie Walker, Sara Ellis from White Collar (love or hate the actress the character doesn’t take crap from anyone). There are bunch more out there, but these are the ones that come readily to mind for me. That list should be longer, man.

    Comment by Ashley – March 20, 2013 05:11 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • If there were an article about “Female Characters Most Misunderstood by the Idiots at TVLine”, Sansa would be number one.

    Comment by Grahamburger – March 20, 2013 05:35 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Can we stop with the “Arya wouldn’t have survived King’s Landing” bs please? If that was true, she would not have gotten out of Harrenhal alive. She hated it, but she stayed quiet and took whatever abuse was thrown her way. There’s no need to bring Arya down to uplift Sansa or vice versa.

    Comment by James – March 20, 2013 05:53 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
    • The point of saying that is that neither sister would have survived in the other’s shoes. Sansa couldn’t have survived at Harrenhal, Arya couldn’t have survived at KL. It’s the point of their narratives. I mean, I totally agree that you shouldn’t tear one sister down to build the other up, but it’s implied in the narrative that the sisters have opposite survival skills and are in the situation they can survive in.

      Comment by emily – March 20, 2013 05:56 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
    • Agreed. This article is questionable but Arya most certainly would have survived easily if she had stuck around Kings Landing. Hell, as you said she survived Harrenhall by keeping her mouth shut and head down AND she was serving Tywin Lannister himself right under his nose without anyone ever finding out at any point. The girl can play the game and is just as savvy as her sister is too.
      People have a problem with this list because it brings down other female characters but that’s what they are certainly doing themselves with Sansa vs. Arya.

      Comment by bigby_wolf – March 20, 2013 05:56 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Happy Women’s History Month, everybody! Let’s celebrate by criticizing female characters who are victims of their patriarchal societies and pitting them against more ~awesome. women. Feminism!

    Comment by hanna – March 20, 2013 06:11 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • you done goofed, tvline.

    Comment by Betsy – March 20, 2013 06:30 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Yeah not seeing Kate Beckett is pretty bizarre. I felt like she was one of the most obvious and was a bit shocked when she didn’t appear. She takes out the bad guys in insanely high heels. What does she have to do to make this list?

    Comment by scooby – March 20, 2013 06:45 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • you absolutely cannibalized your message of “empowerment” with punishing other fictional women for being less “empowered” which is total, utter sexist BS. please take it back.

    Comment by kels – March 20, 2013 07:00 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Like many others, I think this list is ridiculous. How is it empowering to praise ‘strong’ women and then turn around and bash their ‘weak’ counterparts, many of whom aren’t ‘weak’ at all and some of whom are defined by their circumstances?

    Comment by S.A.M. – March 20, 2013 07:02 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Completely wrong about Sansa. Just… so wrong. When will people realise that she is a separate kind of strength. She has amazing strength and I am sick of people undermining her.
    Also, as this is supposed to be a celebration of women, why the heck are you writing about the ‘least empowered’ women. Shame on you TVLine, your views are uneducated and sexist.

    Comment by Joss – March 20, 2013 07:38 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • The entire premise of this list is disgusting. I can’t even handle this.

    Comment by asherlev1 – March 20, 2013 08:22 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Leslie Knope is THE most empowered woman on TV right now, in my opinion.
    I agree with most of the comments on Sansa, but for non-book readers it might be harder to see past the crying and being pushed around… for now.

    Comment by GoTit – March 21, 2013 12:11 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • How exactly is she…hapless. She is the freaking victim in this situation!!? If she were to act up or speak out, she would get killed like her father. They already don’t trust her because her brother is the head of the rebellion. She is simply waiting for the right time to take back her freedom from that snot-nosed kid king. So excuse me if she isn’t going all rambo & you don’t think she’s badass now. When he brother finally arrives (and hopefully brings “winter” with him…) you’ll see just how stupid this list really is.

    Comment by Felicia – March 21, 2013 12:23 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • To celebrate Women’s History Month, TVLine has compiled a list based on sexist stereotypes. Great job, you guys.

    Comment by Carrie – March 21, 2013 12:32 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Jesus Christ what is wrong with you? This is a classic example of victim shaming – regardless of the fact that we are talking fiction. Sansa has been ABUSED by Joffrey. She did not ask for that – IT IS NOT HER FAULT. (Oh, and by the way, if it weren’t for The Hound, Sansa would have pushed Joffrey from the walls of the Red Keep).

    Comment by Angry Fan – March 21, 2013 12:47 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Sansa isn’t empowered? Oh did we forget that she’s suffered through mindless bullying and cruelty yet still held onto hope? Or how about that time we there was a whole battle going on and she sat and gave courage to the women around her while THE QUEEN got drunk and mocked her for her faith and called her courage naive.

    Sansa is playing a different game than Arya and can never be compared to her. She has different rules she is operating under and different opponents. She is strong in ways that Arya can’t be, because she doesn’t know how.

    She was wise not to jump at Baelish’s offer of freedom. Who is he to her and what has he ever done in the past to show that she should trust him? Whoever wrote that needs to actually watch the show before they make comments about it.

    Comment by likelikeyou – March 21, 2013 12:47 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Quit the victim-shaming, TVLine. There are different ways to be strong.

    Comment by Samantha – March 21, 2013 12:50 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Wow. Sansa is a 13 year old victim of sexual, mental, and physical abuse. How dare she feels helpless or afraid, right?! Because REAL women don’t feel that way after being molested. No way. This is sickening, shame on you for acting like Sansa isn’t “empowered” the way you’d like her to be because she’s afraid.

    Comment by Jess – March 21, 2013 12:52 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Seriously, come on now. Sansa is NOT weak and helpless. She’s doing the absolute best she can in the situation she’s in. She can’t know who to trust and who not to. If she does ANYTHING obvious to defend herself, protest, or just looks at someone funny, she’s likely to be killed, which she knows. Not an easy thing to live with. I’d say she’s pretty damn strong who’s able to survive at all. Had it been “badass little sister” Arya in that situation, she’d have been killed within a few days. Wow, how badass not knowing when to shut up and THINK instead of act.

    Comment by Sofia Tetsuyama – March 21, 2013 01:17 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • There is more than one type of female empowerment. Arya works against the system. Sansa within it. She’s a young girl, put into an abusive relationship and she deals. And the fact that you said, HER sexist times, while also being sexist. Is frankly, hilarious.

    Comment by Samanthaaalee – March 21, 2013 02:05 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • I’d put Lily from Modern Family on the list. :)

    Comment by Pepper – March 21, 2013 03:11 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • WTF? Go educate yourself if you want to understand her better. Assholes!

    Comment by Sansaisbetterthanyou – March 21, 2013 03:35 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Female characters shouldn’t HAVE to be empowered. Who would make a list of male characters like this?? BS.

    Comment by KT – March 21, 2013 05:29 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Santana Lopez from glee is awesome

    Comment by Emily – March 21, 2013 06:16 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • UHHHMM.. I don’t know what’s going on with your heads but you seem to have forgotten someone important. HELLO! The Queen from Revenge, Victoria Grayson!

    Comment by Mark – March 21, 2013 06:24 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Sansa? Least Empowered? Are we watching the same show? Sure, she might not be using swords or dragons to do her bidding (like Arya and Dany) but so what? There’s a lot of ways of play the Game and Sansa’s playing differently to them. Just because she has to act a certain way to do this in no way means she’s weak, and saying so is unbelievably sexist.

    Comment by Rachel – March 21, 2013 07:09 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Sansa Stark is anything but weak. She uses courtesy as an armour, otherwise she’d be long dead by now. She is playing the game as well if not better than everyone in the series, and learning how to be better at it all the time. Just because she’s not outspoken like Daenerys and Arya doesn’t mean she’s not doing a good job. When you play the Game of Thrones you either win or you die, and Sansa is one of the last standing. She’s a prisoner, she has NO CHOICE in where she is, who she marries, or what happens to her where she is currently in the show. King Joffrey could have her beaten, raped, and even killed whenever he likes, and she’s well aware of it. She cannot trust anyone in King’s Landing and has lost her entire family. If Arya was in her place, she’d have said something by now to get her beheaded, but Sansa knows better. In the court it’s words that matter most. Not if you have a sword or know how to use it, but how much power and money supports the words you say. Sansa does what she does, and says what she says to STAY ALIVE. That’s the name of the game now: surviving. I’m sorry that grown adults can’t see the complexity of a scared teenage girl who is telling lies to stay alive.

    Comment by Lucy – March 21, 2013 08:03 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Team TVLine, y’all need to go through some abuse or something so you can understand it, ’cause I’m sorry, you are offensively wrong about Sansa. You guys used to be cool, now you just suck.

    Comment by Merry – March 21, 2013 08:24 AM PDT  Reply To This Post

    The problem here is that the TV show can’t adequately capture the situation Sansa is going through since so much of it is internalized. There is a ton of inner dialogue and decision that is never really spoken by her. True she lingers in Joffrey’s presence like a beaten dog and that’s partially because she’s trained to do so, partially because she’s not really stupid at all(where the tits would she go that an entire kingdom couldn’t find her?), and also because even in her state of captivity and habitual abuse she is learning. So this is a product of the sexism of her time, to a point, but don’t knock her ability to survive. She’s learning from the best at this point (Cersei is a great if unwitting teacher).

    Now, knowing all this, if you expect her to suddenly turn into Wonder Woman and beat the asses of all those mean sexist pig men into the ground and force them to admit the error of their misogynistic ways then you will be dissapointed. Sorry but Sansa is a -lady-. A Courtly figure. She may accomplish something great in the series one day (Though at this rate she’ll likely end up tortured, raped, and eaten by Hill People, not necessarily in that order, since GRRM still thinks shock tactics are clever and compelling writing) but until that day she will bide her time and survive. Oh and when she does accomplish that thing it will be in the area of politics and intrigue. Hopefully she can learn to be better than Cersei because that’s a slow long downward spiral.

    ANYWAYS that is thing to be esplained. Like her for what she can do, not what you think she should do. It isn’t -boring-. People who think intrigue and survival are boring are the people who think that the only good movie is a Steven Segal movie. Go do that and stop ruining decent characters with a narrow-minded perception. It would behoove your -greatly- to go read the books sometime so your reviews aren’t so one-sided and filled with absolute conjecture.

    Comment by Tristan – March 21, 2013 09:57 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Britta and Santana as empowered ladies?

    Tvline, you really Britta’d this.

    Britta uses romantical entanglements as a crutch, is the embodiment of why PC is a bad term, and Santana invites herself into friends’ homes without caring for paying her part of the rent, SNOOPING AROUND TO GET DIRT ON THEM SO SHE CAN USE IT TO BLACKMAIL THEM, going around to threaten people without evidence and arrange for people to be beaten.

    Santana isn’t empowered, she’s a bully who hasn’t grown up!

    It pains me to say this, because I liked her, but she is!

    Comment by Marco – March 21, 2013 10:20 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Jane Rizzoli
    Maura Isles
    Lilly Rush
    Felicity Smoak
    Leslie Shay
    Gabriela Dawson (she is in love with Casey, but her life doesn’t revolve around him)
    Moira Queen
    Kat Miller
    Megan Hunt
    Sarah Linden
    Shirley Bennett
    Joanna Locasto

    Comment by Marco – March 21, 2013 10:42 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
    • I haven’t heard of any of these characters, probably why they’re not on the list.

      Comment by Katie – March 21, 2013 12:37 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • I have to agree with most of the other commenters. The whole idea of this list goes against celebrating women in any way, shape or form. It is a pointless exercise which only seeks to put women characters into boxes instead of valuing their different strengths. Definitely not impressed.

    Comment by Caroline – March 21, 2013 11:40 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Well, there’s nothing like victim-shaming to really brighten my day.

    Comment by Sam – March 21, 2013 12:00 PM PDT  Reply To This Post

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