The CW isn't exactly known for its groundbreaking artistic endeavors, but there's no other channel that does teen soaps better. The reigning ruler of love triangles, supernatural dramas, and superhero shows has only been around since 2006, and it's already given us dozens of iconic original series like Gossip Girl, The Vampire Diaries, and One Tree Hill with no signs of slowing down. Even though the network is rarely trying to make a Big Statement with their lighthearted dramas, there are some feminist icons hiding in our favorite CW shows, and we're about to give them the shoutouts they deserve.
Andrea Navedo's character on Jane The Virgin, struggling singer and single mother Xiomara Villanueva, doesn't seem like a role model at first glance. The show jokes about her revealing outfits, her revolving door of men, and her poor decision making as a teen, but viewers can learn a lot from Xo. She has the confidence to chase her dreams, which is noble in and of itself, and she's proven herself to be a competent, sacrificing, and loving single mother. Xo never chooses the easy way out, and she refuses to be anyone but herself.
Any women in S.T.E.M. are feminist icons already, but Caitlin Snow is a scientist and a vigilante. Most characters that are confronted with a villainous alter-ego like Killer Frost would either give in to the dark side entirely or permanently separate themselves from the temptation to do bad. Danielle Panabaker's character on The Flash chooses to do neither and harnesses her evil powers for the greater good, becoming one with her split personality and proving that Caitlin harness her urges to become even stronger. Now, she fights alongside Barry Allen like the hero she is.
Fans are torn about the possible feminism on The 100. Whether you're upset about its lack of intersectionality, supportive of its unlikable female protagonists, or completely apathetic about it passing the Bechdel test, it doesn't change the fact that Eliza Taylor's Clarke Griffin is the 100's warrior leader and resident peacekeeper. The so-called Commander of Death has a keen mind for strategy, a strong moral compass, and a charismatic authority that often gives her the upper hand when negotiating with her co-leader, Bellamy Blake. Clarke is the spiritual cousin to Buffy Summers's competence, perseverance, and skill.
Caroline Forbes, portrayed by Candice Accola on The Vampire Diaries, The Originals, and (inevitably) Legacies, started out as a mirror-image of the Caroline we meet in the Vampire Diaries novels: shallow, insecure, and largely out of the loop. After becoming a vampire, Caroline went on a journey of self-discovery that made her not only one of the most compelling and endearing characters on The Vampire Diaries, but on any CW television series. Caroline becomes competent, wise, and compassionate while remaining as goal-oriented as ever. Now, instead of putting her considerable talents to use by taking over the cheerleading squad, the Mystic Falls beautification committee, and the school council, she involves herself in matters of life-and-death to protect the people she loves.
Blair Waldorf is in no way unproblematic. Her soulmate, Chuck Bass, is questionable at best and an attempted rapist at worst. Her squabbles with her best friend, Serena van der Woodsen, usually come from a completely avoidable place of insecurity. She's more than a bit of a classist, and it takes her a long time to use her strengths to help herself instead of to tear down others. That being said, Blair is the most confident woman on television, and with good reason. She has immeasurable power solely from understanding social mechanisms, the art of war, and how to correctly use clout. She will stop at nothing to achieve her goals, no matter how misled they might be, and she has a strategic mind that most army generals should envy. Sure, she ends the series as a CEO, but it's only a matter of time before she becomes the leader of the Illuminati.
Thea Queen overcomes some truly horrible genes, a probable drug dependency, and literal death to become a world-saving vigilante and small business owner because you really can have it all. Thea works hard to become Speedy after being brought back from the dead in a Lazarus Pit and taking up her ex-boyfriend Roy Harper's mantle. Because Thea is a strong woman who gets what she wants, she controls her near-debilitating bloodlust to continue fighting the good fight and manages to reconcile with Roy. The power couple is traveling the world to destroy Lazarus Pits, a far cry from the Thea we originally met who wanted nothing more than a good party.
At the core of feminism is the fight for a woman's right to choose her own path. For many of the women on this list, that means pursuing careers as CEOs, superheroes, and warrior leaders, but fighting evil isn't the only way to be strong. Rebekah Mikaelson is an Original Vampire with nearly unbridled power, but all she wants is to be normal. Rebekah has to struggle for centuries to achieve a goal that, for all intents and purposes, should be impossible, but the wisest and most competent of the strongest vampires known to man finesses her way into the normal human life she so craves with the love of her life. Rebekah knows what she wants and won't let anything stop her from getting it.
Brooke Davis is a feminist icon because Sophia Bush is a feminist icon, full stop. One Tree Hill could have easily been another male-centric story where the women serve only as the romantic interests they were introduced as in the first season, but Brooke responds to heartbreak by becoming a character that basically everyone can agree was lightyears ahead of her time. She becomes student body president, refuses to accept anything she didn't work for and has a plethora of women-supporting-women quotes as she encourages Peyton, Haley, and her other friends to define themselves and believe in their power.
Mary, Queen of Scots has a complicated and controversial life that involved three murders, an abduction, familial betrayal, murder, and some weird religious idiosyncrasies that led to her death and are difficult to explain. It was a lot to tackle for a CW show, even if Reign did choose to focus on a fictionalization of Mary Stuart's relationship with King Francis II. After being thrown into life at the duplicitous French Court, Mary learns political strategy, overcomes the death of a loved one, and redeems herself for the mistakes she made while trying to avenge the wrongs committed against her. The series wrote great women, and it never stole Mary's autonomy or her motivation as she navigates a man's world as a powerful woman.
Just because Rebecca Bunch describes herself as a feminist doesn't mean she acts like one, and the entire premise of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is kind of dependent on Rebecca being a bad feminist who has trouble defining herself outside of the various personalities she creates to please men. Rachel Bloom's feminism actually came from poking fun at Rebecca's lack of ~actual~ agency within her own life, but on the show's final season, Rebecca finally is able to find herself as a complex and human identity rather than the sum of fictionalized parts. She's a flawed and nuanced person, and the depiction of a character with actual flaws instead of dramatized ones make her the most realistic portrayal of feminism on television.
The Secret Circle was aggressively underrated and deserved a second season. It introduced us to Faye Chamberlain, a character who could display Pheobe Tonkin's typecast without being completely unbearable like Hayley Marshall was. She can be power-hungry, reckless, and rude, but she's unwaveringly brave and doesn't really care if people don't like her for being herself. She's ambitious and is one of the only Circle members to successfully have solo magic, and had the series continued, she had the potential to develop into a complex and strong character in a similar vein to Caroline Forbes.
Sara Lance is one of many feminist characters on the CW that also happen to be in the LGBTQ+ community, which is pretty awesome. The former League of Assassins killer becomes the Canary and gets her own spin-off after her introduction on Arrow was so well-received. The eventual captain of the Legends of Tomorrow survived being lost at sea, imprisoned, and starved before becoming an assassin, and then a vigilante. As one of the primary female heroes from DC television, Sara's biggest boon, however, is in her allyship and insistence on- and off-screen to make DCTV intersectional.
If you read the whisp, you know we think that Cheryl Blossom is a bad b*tch in the best way. Our favorite Riverdale resident, played by Madelaine Petsch, has stood up to her crazy, brothel-owning mother by burning down her own house, came out as bi and immediately got an equally badass girlfriend, and managed to remain the Queen Bee of Riverdale High in spite of massive personal tragedies. In the words of the great Ariana Grande, she's been through some bad sh*t, she should be a sad b*tch, and somehow it just made her into a savage.
The Gilmore Girls have their feminist moments. Well, maybe not Rory so much, but Lorelai definitely does alright for herself by eschewing her wealth to recapture her agency and define herself on her own terms, and she's a smart and self-sacrificing mother. Still, Paris Geller is the series' only hope for actual feminism. She's ambitious, self-actualized, self-assured, and resilient, and she doesn't let society or the ideal of the quiet, pretty woman that Rory so perfectly emulates dictate her actions or her self-worth. She's equal partners with her future husband Doyle, and she's basically a young, fictional Hillary Clinton — the only professional fault people really find in her is that she's so competent that people less strong than her are intimidated.
Never underestimate the power of a southern belle. Lemon Breeland reigns supreme over her small southern town whether she's embodying the paradigm of the belle or blazing her own path. When the traditional dream of marriage and children is ripped away from her, she decides to find a new purpose instead of finding a new man. Every time circumstances ruin her plans, she just comes back stronger, and she's never anything less than perfectly put-together while doing it. She's described by her friends as a force of nature, and she lets nothing stand in her way.
Naomi Clark was the undisputed ruler of the 90210 and all of Southern California because she's ridiculously confident, terrifying, and true to herself. Naomi can craft a takedown of Waldorfian proportions, but this West Coast Queen Bee goes through character development that leads her to continue her reign of terror, without the terror. Naomi learns to wield her power without being b*tchy to everyone... just to the people who deserve it. She stays true to herself because she knows that her power is internal and can't be taken away by the court of public opinion.
Larissa Loughlin is introduced as a high-ranking editor at a fashion magazine, which already makes her an icon without needing any other qualifiers. Her decision to take Carrie Bradshaw under her wing and her eventual understanding after being lied to by multiple occasions makes her an icon *and* a humanitarian. She builds up the people she deems worthy enough to be her friends, will only judge you if you judge yourself, and is the boldest woman in New York City because she trusts her instincts whole-heartedly. She enjoys life and has an infectious ability to find delight in the strangest corners of the world's strangest city.
Veronica Mars is mostly just the story of a tiny blonde girl who takes down high-ranking, powerful men that have been allowed to abuse their power because they're functioning in patriarchy. She does this without superstrength or weapons, she just uses her mind. Instead of letting the worst year of her life silence her (her best friend dies, she gets raped, her mom leaves, and all of her friends abandon her), she becomes stronger and vows to never let other people control her life again. She also protects others from suffering through the same things she did, even if they don't deserve her compassion, because she's a legitimately good person.