From Doctor Who's First Female Lead to Wonder Woman's Debut: 12 of the Biggest Moments for Women in Television
A FEMALE DOCTOR ON DOCTOR WHO
Thirty seasons after making its television debut, Doctor Who is making its 13th doctor a woman. Broadchurch star Jodie Whittaker is taking on the role, giving female Who fans a chance to truly see themselves in the show's titular character. Whittaker said of the news: "I'm beyond excited to begin this epic journey – with Chris [Chibnall] and with every Whovian on this planet. It's more than an honor to play the Doctor. It means remembering everyone I used to be, while stepping forward to embrace everything the Doctor stands for: hope. I can't wait."
THE CURSE WORD ON MY FAVORITE MARTIAN
Though it was less of a progressive moment for women than it was for television in general, it's worth including: The first-ever primetime curse word was said by a woman, actress Doris Packer, in the '60s series. She ad-libbed a line that included the word "damn," thus making television history.
LUCY'S PREGNANCY ON I LOVE LUCY
Lucille Ball brought all sorts of firsts to the small screen: She was the first woman to be pregnant on screen (though she wasn't allowed to say the word pregnant — she referred to herself as "expecting" instead). She, along with real-life husband Desi Arnaz, were one of the first interracial couples on television. And off the air, Ball became the first woman to launch her own production company, Desilu Productions. (She started the company with Arnaz, eventually buying out his half and running it on her own.) Decades later, funny ladies like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler cite Ball as one of their inspirations.
SHAKING UP SOCIETAL NORMS ON THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW
The Mary Tyler Moore Show broke a lot of new ground when it came to the way women were portrayed on television. Protagonist Mary Richards was a single career woman who didn't have children. Mary remained single and undefined by a man throughout during the show's seven-season run as it confronted issues including equal pay and divorce.
WONDER WOMAN'S DEBUT
Running for three seasons in the late '70s, Wonder Woman served as one of the first superhero shows led by a female protagonist, actress Lynda Carter. Four decades later, a film reboot of the beloved series — which saw Gal Gadot at the forefront as the legendary heroine — inspires a new generation.
MAUDE FINDLAY'S ABORTION ON MAUDE
In a time when abortion was illegal in all 50 states, Maude made the decision to explore it in a 1972 episode. The titular character, Maude Findlay (Bea Arthur), made the decision after getting pregnant at 47. She and her husband, who were already grandparents, decided they didn't want to raise a another child. At the time, the decision to air the episode, titled "Maude's Dilemma," was controversial, and became more so over time. Various CBS affiliates elected not to re-air the episode after its initial premiere, and there were no corporate sponsorships for the ones that did, according to the Chicago Tribune. Decades later, abortion on the small screen is still taboo, but has been depicted on shows like Scandal and Netflix's Jessica Jones.
BREAKING GENDER NORMS ON MURPHY BROWN
Like The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the '70s, Murphy Brown challenged gender norms throughout its 10-season run. Murphy (played by Candace Bergen) was a 40-something singleton, recovering alcoholic and news anchor, who strives to settle back into life (and her job) after a stint at a Betty Ford Clinic. She was a new kind of female character: One who was ambitious, flawed and most of all, real.
ELLEN DEGENERES' COMING OUT ON ELLEN
When Ellen DeGeneres came out on her sitcom, Ellen, the backlash was swift, in particular, as it was coupled with DeGeneres coming out in real life. The set was even forced to undergo bomb sweeps for safety measures. The studio received angry letters, as did Oprah Winfrey, who played the therapist DeGeneres' character came out to on the show. A year later, the show was cancelled. Twenty years later, "The Puppy Episode" is remembered for opening the door for LGBTQ characters across television. "I'm Ellen, and I'm gay," DeGeneres said on an episode of her talk show this year. "Twenty years ago, I said that; it was a much bigger deal then."
LOVE AND FRIENDSHIP ON SEX AND THE CITY
Sex and the City's focus on four single, 30-something women who were not married, had big careers and weren't shy about their sex lives (and as Samantha Jones said, "had sex like men"), was groundbreaking when it premiered in 1998. It also, as the New Yorker declared, gave television its first-ever female anti-hero in the often-unlikeable Carrie Bradshaw. But above all, it showed a world where men floated in and out, but female friendship reigned supreme and women were "each other's soulmates."
THE DANCING BABY ON ALLY MCBEAL
In most ways, Ally McBeal was seriously unfeminist. There was a lot of talk of male chauvinist pigs, an office packed with sexual tension (and often inappropriate sexual behavior) — antiquated themes that may be hard to stomach in 2017. However, Ally's own inner concern about her biological clock (manifested in the form of a dancing baby) was a recurring plot point throughout the show, which acknowledged the difficulty women may face in the search for career-life balance.
THE POWERPUFF GIRLS INSPIRE KIDS EVERYWHERE
Sure, they were sugar, spice and everything nice, but the Powerpuff Girls were also crime-fighting, villain-smashing superheroes. And it wasn't just the "niceness" that made these three the "perfect little girls" — it was their strength and superpowers.
SHONDALAND'S BENCH OF FEMALE PROTAGONISTS
Shonda Rhimes rules Thursday nights, cranking out female-led hit after female-led hit, with Grey's Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder airing the same night each week. Rhimes' award-winning, rating hits only fueled the idea that women can lead primetime hits. Not to mention, the content of her shows — which includes female surgeons, lawyers and doctors, who are often unapologetic about prioritizing their careers (think Cristina's departure from Grey's Anatomy) — is always foward-thinking.