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)

  • I think I must just not get Scandal. How is Olivia Pope empowered by sleeping with a married man? She has a powerful job but I find this whole sordid affair a huge turnoff. I’ve actually never really gotten Shonda Rhymes’ shows, they’re embarrassing to watch as a woman with a brain.

    Comment by Katie – March 21, 2013 12:36 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
    • A brain but not a heart?

      Comment by MaryAnn – March 21, 2013 01:30 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Great choice for #1. Olivia Pope (Scandal) knows how to “handle it.”

    Comment by Deena Braun – March 21, 2013 01:03 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Where is Arya Stark on your “empowered” list? I think she is every bit as strong a character as Dany. In fact, this show is *filled* with strong women — including Arya’s mother, and the female “knight” Brienne.

    Comment by MaryAnn – March 21, 2013 01:29 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • How is dissing 10 female characters as weak and unempowered a reasonable way to celebrate Women’s History Month? Ew.

    Comment by Mercury – March 21, 2013 05:34 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
    • I know! This is disgusting.

      Comment by AEL – December 3, 2013 09:10 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • This article is just really disgusting. Let’s celebrate traditionally feminine characters too! They can be equally if not more badass than their “empowered” counterparts *eyeroll*. How about next women’s history week, focus on that instead of putting some females down for acting female. Sansa is the perfect example of this. She may just be one of the strongest females in that series. Even though it’s more subtle in the show, it’s still there. Dismissing her as weak is an insult to everything her character is and just shows the author of this article as a complete pig to be honest. Truly disgusting.

    Comment by ella (@sansabird) – March 21, 2013 06:10 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • This article is offensive and horrifically ignorant, last time I read anything from here ever again. ugh I can’t even articulate how stupid this is, let alone how much it completely undermines the whole issue of female empowerment.

    Comment by Cait – March 23, 2013 06:13 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • I would’ve put in Addison(Private Practice, Grey’s Anatomy), I know it’s over now, but she still deserves a mention, I mean she is double board certified, and really strong in her opinions. I really don’t agree with writing least empowered, it’s just plain silly.

    Comment by sam – March 23, 2013 12:49 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • I also want to point out that I have never seen an article like this about men, tv line cant women just play their roles and not be judged in this obviously sexist manner… I mean yeah let’s recognise and celebrate strenght, but come on ‘least empowered’ is shameless bullying dragging women back to hating, we should be sticking together, you guys should definately take it down.

    Comment by sam – March 23, 2013 12:55 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Alex from Nikita?!? Any women from Nikita!

    Comment by Brenda Jones – March 23, 2013 10:16 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Dont forget Christina Yang/Greys Anatomy for the empowered female character!

    Comment by sadie – March 24, 2013 12:13 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Kate Beckett from Castle?!?

    Comment by tanner – March 25, 2013 04:55 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Kate Beckett and Kalinda Sharma….both ought to be in the list

    Comment by 90vinitablog – March 26, 2013 07:37 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • I completely agree about Santana(Glee) and Nikita (Nikita)! But what about Alex (Nikita)? She completely turned her life around and rose from being a sex slave to kicking ass beside Nikita.

    Comment by Jillian – March 26, 2013 10:53 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • I think that you forgot Suki from True Blood, Elena and Boni from The Vampire Diaries, they are strong female.

    Comment by Sladjana Rankovic – April 1, 2013 06:55 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Sorry, WHAT did you say about Sansa? Obviously, whoever wrote Sansa as the Least Empowered hasn’t read the books, and apparently hasn’t paid much attention to her character on the show, either. I’l admit that she’s not my absolute favorite character, but that description was entirely uncalled for. Unlike most of the other characters in this series, Sansa actually learns from her mistakes and adjusts her views on the world around her accordingly. Despite all the abuse she’s been subjected to (you’re really blaming a victim of physical abuse of “playing the victim”? Seriously?), she still has hope. She’s remained true to herself, not letting the abuse harden her heart or make her bitter. I’d say that shows incredible strength of character. Also, can I just say that Sansa has some of the most potential of all the characters to rise to power and actually maintain that power. People who call Sansa stupid have no idea what they’re talking about, to be quite frank; she’s one of the most intelligent women in this entire series. She’s learning to play the game and survive. Just because she’s not out in the field kicking tail doesn’t mean that she isn’t literally fighting for her life. And doing quite a good job of it, I might add.

    P.S. She originally turned down Littlefinger’s offer because she didn’t trust him. You know why? Because he’s NOT TRUSTWORTHY. Give the girl some credit.

    Comment by Jenna – April 2, 2013 09:44 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Also, this entire post is ridiculously sexist and you should be ashamed of yourselves.

    Comment by Jenna – April 2, 2013 09:48 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • This article is disgustingly sexist. Not impressed.

    Comment by Sarah – April 2, 2013 09:58 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Ok, so I have major issues with the sexism and various things that others have already addressed, but I have something to point out.

    If you’re going to have something about empowered women, why not include either Jessica Pearson or Donna Paulsen on Suits? Considering the fact that this post is tagged with ‘Suits’, that’s kind of a slap in the face – especially considering how fierce they both are.

    Then again, I guess I really should take into account where I am. Once again, you go TVLine! Four for you, TVLine!


    Comment by Meg (@dietpunkfics) – April 7, 2013 10:03 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • I love that Karen Cartwright is on this list. Hate the girl.

    Comment by Julia – May 3, 2013 03:01 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • I’m sorry, but with Sansa Stark — are you seriously criticizing a 13 year old prisoner of war for not being “empowered”? This is wrong on so many levels.

    Comment by Sam – May 23, 2013 12:50 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Why is suits tagged, yet Donna and Jessica are not on the list

    Comment by Mel – May 31, 2013 04:03 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • WOW this list is so flawed missing Stana Katic as Kate Beckett? That’s a HUGE mistake she kicks so much ass it’s not even funny. Though I am glad Nikita is on here, because she fights for all that is right. This list also misses Kono Kalakaua from Hawaii Five-O though, another BAMF.

    Comment by Sarah Wang – June 1, 2013 10:48 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • It would be great if I knew who any of these girls were. Maybe next time you shouldn’t only use shows that are still airing, there are tons of long since canceled shows that could have added to this list. Just pick from any Joss Whedon show. And is this only for American TV? I know Irene Adler and any of the Doctor Who girls could have easily taken a place in that list.

    Comment by Badwolf – June 6, 2013 10:41 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • No Fringe??

    Comment by Wild Flower – June 7, 2013 02:18 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • How could you leave out Dr Brennan from Bones???

    Comment by Hannah – June 22, 2013 02:17 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
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    Comment by pros and cons of internet tv – July 19, 2013 06:57 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • I turned on adblock because of the way the you chose to do the slideshow, no hard feelings, just thought you should know. When I have to take 45 seconds pressing Back to get out of an article that takes about a minute to absorb, it really kills the flow.

    Comment by Tucker Collins – July 29, 2013 08:45 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Samantha Jones?! I mean come on! Lady who isn’t afraid to get what she wants both in and out of the bedroom.

    Comment by sophia – August 4, 2013 02:04 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • This is a gross list. It’s frankly wrong to pit women against each other, separating them out into categories of “empowered” or “not.” It’s a simplistic dichotomy, and it’s degrading. Let’s make our female characters interesting and multifaceted and complex, and forget whether they fit all the categories of Empowerment.

    Comment by AEL – December 3, 2013 09:07 AM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • No Ziva David?

    Comment by Caitlin – January 18, 2014 08:53 PM PDT  Reply To This Post
  • Empowered women?
    hands down winner.nuff said.

    Comment by wesley rodgers – April 14, 2014 01:33 PM PDT  Reply To This Post

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