Shouldn’t all roles be life-related?

Mary Ricker

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For most of my life, I’ve been passive about the TV shows I’ve consumed. My shows did vary: reruns of House Hunters, reality shows on MTV, people cooking gourmet recipes on Food Network while I ate cold pizza in my pajamas, scrolling through my phone.

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There are a lot of reasons for this, far too many to be detailed here. When I watched TV, I saw people who looked like me and sounded like me. They did things that I could see myself doing, for the most part. They went to school and had friends and told dumb jokes. I never had to pay attention to the plot because I felt as if I already knew the ending.

It’s dangerous to be passive.

From 2013 to 2014, women comprised 42 percent of all speaking characters on TV, according to a study done by San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film. 74 percent of these characters are white, 14 percent are African-American, 5 percent are Latina, 6 percent are Asian and 1 percent are “other.” These characters have a 43 percent chance to be seen as playing “life-related roles,” such as the wife, mother or girlfriend.

These narratives are important and valid. I’m glad they’re being represented. Something is better than nothing. But it’s not enough for women to be speaking. They should be screaming at the top of their lungs.

There’s a Jarod Kintz quote which reads, “Most people buy the highest quality television sets, only to watch the lowest quality television shows.” He’s right, but perhaps not for much longer. It is the year 2015 and television is enjoying a renaissance.

Professor Cara Buckley of the Communication Studies Department agrees.

“The Internet has not just given us easy access to TV programming, wherever and whenever we want, but it has also given us access to a greater diversity of programming, especially thanks to web series and the like,” Buckley said.

Here are the top four female characters currently on television, as of 2015:

Agent Peggy Carter (“Agent Carter,” NBC, played by Hayley Atwell)

Agent Peggy Carter

After her work with notable hunk Steve Rogers (Captain America), Carter is an agent of the Strategic Scientific Reserve. The problem is this: Peg is never given any field assignments because she’s a woman. Though Agent Carter has only one season, it has tackled the societal sexism of its time. Peg has to constantly prove herself to men who believe she doesn’t fit in. This may cause some to wonder if Peg is perhaps an unbelievable character. The first season is scattered with moments of Peg mourning Rogers, and this serves to prove that Peg is both an excellent agent and friend.

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Olivia Pope (“Scandal,” ABC, played by Kerry Washington)

Shonda Rhimes has a gift for creating the best female characters. Olivia Pope is a Washington consultant who leaves her job as White House communications director to start her own firm. She is unbelievably complex, and there are times throughout the show’s three seasons where viewers are not meant to like her. You will, however, find yourself respecting her. “Scandal” also handles the complexities of a father-daughter relationship well, as evidenced by this scene.

Fiona Gallagher (“Shameless,” Showtime, played by Emmy Rossum)

Fiona Gallagher is one of TV’s rare examples of a compelling female antihero. The oldest of six children, Fiona has been in a parenting role for most of her life. She is not perfect: She spent most of season four in jail after an accident involving one of her younger siblings. She is a high school dropout working a variety of dead-end jobs to keep her family afloat, and Rossum plays the complexities that go along with that brilliantly.

Donna Meagle (“Parks and Recreation,” NBC, played by Retta)

Donna, played by comedian Retta, was not supposed to be a regular character on “Parks and Recreation.” However, Donna quickly became a fan favorite, most notably due to her friendship with Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari). Like other characters on this list, Donna is actively involved in romantic relationships and is neither outspoken or prudish about it. This is just another aspect of her character.

Image courtesy of NBC.
Image courtesy of NBC.

Women are complex. We lead unique, interesting, diverse lives because we are people. Until other forms of traditional media begin catching on to this fact, television will continue leading the way in its diverse representation of women both in 2015 and far into the future.

Collegian Interactive News Team member Mary Ricker can be reached at socialmedia@collegian.com or on Twitter @MaryGRicker07.