It’s interesting when we re-watch our old favorite shows. Sometimes, we’re shocked by how dirty they actually are and realized that our innocent minds missed all the double entendres. Other times, we wonder what we liked about a show in the first place. There are also times when we realize that some of our favorite TV shows have great messages that we never realized. For instance, a lot of TV shows from the 1990s were surprisingly feminist.
At the time, you might not have realized that the badass female characters, exciting plotlines and cool sets had anything to do with feminism. You were probably just enjoying the story. When we look back now, you might realize that it was these female characters who helped you become the strong, confident woman you are today.
Here are 17 TV shows from the 1990s that were surprisingly pretty feminist. If you haven’t watched them in a while, grab that remote and start binging.
17. Sex and the City
Fans of Sex and the City might be saying, “Duh! Of course SATC was feminist.” But there might actually be critics out there who thought the show wasn’t and that it was just about single women hopelessly looking for love. Oh, how wrong they were. From the first episode, we had the fab four wondering what it’d be like if they acted like men in terms of relationships and sex. Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha also all had their individual paths that showed women didn’t have to be pigeonholed. We can also thank Samantha and Miranda for some unconventional-but-great feminist lines.
16. The Powerpuff Girls
There are a ton of superhero movies coming out, but they’re still lacking with the number of females compared to males. Yet, way back in 1998 we had The Powerpuff Girls showing the world that three young sisters were perfectly capable of saving the world, even if they didn’t want to always get out of bed. The fact they were relatable even though they had superpowers made the show such a hit. Everybody wanted to be Bubbles, Blossom or Buttercup… or all three.
Daria became a surprise hit when it was released in 1997. The title character might have been sardonic and cynical but she helped show that women can be those things. What’s more, Daria Morgendorffer was extremely smart, felt that she didn’t need to fit into any cliques and had a relationship with Jane that was #BFFgoals. We can also thank the show for some great feminist quotes. Who could also forget the bra burning episode?
14. The Simpsons
The Simpsons is one of the biggest success stories in the history of television so it’s brilliant that it has a feminist message. There are still lots of jokes and celebrity guest stars but they don’t take away from is empowering female message. We can thank young Lisa Simpson for helping to spread it. She’s super smart, is up on all current events and has her own inspiring female role models. Plus, she isn’t afraid to question society. She might be frozen in time as an eight year old but her ideas and opinions resonate with people of all ages.
13. The X-Files
Think back to long before the reboot when The X-Files originally premiered in 1993. We had nine seasons that showed Dana Scully could hold her own next to Fox Mulder. She wasn’t just a side kick; she was his partner and equal. What’s more, Scully was and still is whip-smart, strong and uses science and logic to explain her choices. She also isn’t afraid to defend them in front of her male colleagues. The fact she’s a doctor, scientist and a FBI special agent who is breaking new ground isn’t lost on us.
12. Boy Meets World
Don’t disregard Boy Meets World just because there’s “boy” in the title. Even if we didn’t get the reboot, Girl Meets World, the OG show from the 1990s still deserves a spot on the list. Topanga Lawrence has a lot to do with that. She was a girl who could hold her own with all of the boys and was never afraid to speak her mind or be herself. Not only was she strong, smart and hilarious, she also didn’t play into the female-character-just-looking-for-love stereotype. She was a young woman who had layers. Who could forget the episode when Topanga becomes president of the eighth grade class? The boys, Cory and Shawn, also helped up the feminist vibes for respecting Topanga as a woman with power. And remember the episode they unleashed their inner feminists? Iconic.
11. Saved by the Bell
Saved by the Bell technically premiered in 1989 but it was on until 1992 so it falls into the 1990s category in our books. Most importantly, the kids at Bayside High School taught us so much about growing up and navigating the confusing time of being a teenager. They also provided a lot of great points about what it means to be a feminist. Jessie Spano was considered to be the smart one of the group, plus, she was often the one that celebrated feminism. She was liberal, she was never shy about giving her opinions, and she was usually the first one to speak up when something wasn’t right.
10. Xena: Warrior Princess
The show is Xena: Warrior Princess, you guys. Xena was so fierce and badass, and showed that a woman could fight as well as – nay, better than – the guys. The TV show was on for six seasons and in that time she consistently demonstrated how woman can be athletic, powerful and strong. She was also another welcome female character in the fantasy category who wasn’t a princess waiting to be rescued.
9. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
A high school student that battles vampires all while trying to do the things that “typical” students do? Now, that is a role model. Buffy Summers had many layers and so wasn’t a one-dimensional female character. She could rock a wooden stake just as well as she could a homecoming dress. She was also in the company of some other strong female characters who stuck by her even if what she was doing seemed dangerous or completely crazy. And the guys who she chose to surround herself by always knew that she was the hero.
Moesha is a classic to this day. The show was on from 1996 to 2001 and proved to everyone that a show with a black female lead could be a hit with people of all sexes and genders. Moesha Mitchell herself was also a great inspiration. She was a teenager attempting to balance school, family, friends and relationships. Prior to her father’s new wife coming along, she was the only female in the household. She handled it very well by inspiring us to trust our own instincts, set our own boundaries and not be afraid to put a man in his place.
Here’s another cartoon that is actually surprisingly feminist. The empowering vibes were more obvious with The Powerpuff Girls given the three young female superheroes saving the world, but Rugrats still helped show amazing women. It might have been a show about talking babies but there were some inspiring characters, particularly Charlotte Pickles, aka Angelica’s mom. She was a #girlboss before it was a thing. She balanced work, kids, and having fun. She might have known it was a “man’s world” but that wasn’t going to stop her from conquering it and bringing her daughter along with her.
6. Murphy Brown
Let’s hear it for Murphy Brown. When the show premiered, it was a time of political drama. The CBS show touched on that while showing the title character as a fierce AF woman. She was a journalist who had a take-no-prisoners approach and we loved her for it. The show also highlighted topics like female sexuality and abortion when Murphy becomes pregnant after a one-night-stand. It has recently been announced the show is getting rebooted (like basically every show from the ’90s) and we cannot wait.
5. The Cosby Show
The Cosby Show was a pioneering show in many ways. We’ll admit we’re cheating a bit by including it on the list given that it was on from 1984 to 1992, but it was still on in the 1990s. And it’s so important that it’s included because it flew the feminist flag high – even if Bill Cosby has been accused of quite a few very un-feminist and awful things. A large part of its mark on feminism in the ’90s is thanks to Clair Huxtable. She was a lawyer, a mother of five children, and a wife, and did it all amazingly well. She was considered the strong disciplinarian in comparison to jokester Cliff, which was a change from the typical mother-father dynamic. She also wasn’t afraid to stand her ground and take up feminist ideals. Go, girl!
4. Full House
When we look back now, Full House actually had a lot of feminist moments. Even little Michelle Tanner was flying a flag for feminism when she proudly declared she was a woman, if a little woman. Many people say that Danny Tanner was a feminist but it was Aunt Becky who helped really showcase female empowerment. Originally just a guest star, maybe this was recognized early on and is why she was written into the show as a permanent character. She was a smart, successful woman with a career and kids. The time she made Uncle Jesse wear the fake pregnancy stomach to demonstrate what men would be like pregnant was a key moment.
3. My So-Called Life
My So-Called Life was only around for one short season between 1994 and 1995 but its impact still resonates to this day. We can thank it for Jordan Catalano and for showing the real lives of teenagers without a glamorous lens. Let’s not forget that the show was, in fact, created by a woman, Winnie Holzman. It only lasted 19 episodes but people still talk about it today thanks to Angela Chase and her circle of friends. We saw the 15-year-old try to discover her identity and it touched on some deep, important things that women in society struggle with and what it meant to be a female living in a patriarchy.
Did you watch Recess when it was on from 1991 to 2001? If not, you need to watch it ASAP. If you did, it’s worth re-watching it to take notice of the empowering moments. Looking back now, some cite Recess as a progressive show that was ahead of its time in many ways thanks to the way it dealt with history and gender. Who would have thought we’d get that from a Saturday morning cartoon about a bunch of fourth graders? One brilliant character was Miss Grotke who taught the material while highlighting biases and narrow views, thus giving the students a real lesson.
1. Clarissa Explains It All
Just the title alone of this nineties classic has major feminist vibes. The show featured a strong female lead, Clarissa Darling, who was funny, smart, sarcastic and in the know. She was full of facts, had insight on her peers and could quote important information at the drop of a hat. Even in the early 1990s, she was up on tech. You know that if they did a reboot of the show today, she would no doubt be a STEM campaigner.