Some of film and television’s most iconic female characters are, upon further inspection, actually pretty terrible.
Film and television have far more of an effect on us than we realize. Our favorite shows and movies provide us with a lens through which to make sense of the world and a way to escape the demands of our everyday lives for just a bit. And perhaps most importantly of all — characters we love.
Our favorite women in media offer us a person to identify with, emulate, and learn from. But I’ve found that female characters such as these are few and far between. Far more commonly, we see female characters who live selfishly, thoughtlessly, and insipidly. And the worst part is how often these awful characters are looked up to by millions of impressionable, young girls, who misinterpret their toxic traits as being strong, confident, or precocious.
Here are just four of the absolute worst female characters in film and television:
Rory Gilmore from Gilmore Girls
This one’s particularly hard for me to admit because Gilmore Girls has always been a favorite of mine. This cult-favorite series focuses on Rory, the product of a teenage pregnancy, who starts off her series run as a remarkably intelligent, careful, Harvard-bound teen obsessed with reading — the kind of girl we’d all look up to.
She sulks literally every time something doesn’t go her way.
But slowly, it becomes obvious just how needy and self-absorbed Rory is: she sulks literally every time something doesn’t go her way and expects the entire world to fall at her feet and offer her whatever job she wants on a silver platter. She fails to acknowledge her privilege in having her fancy schools paid for. And she shows no true remorse after sleeping with her married ex-boyfriend, which she does once again with another ex-boyfriend in A Year in the Life — showing viewers she really didn’t grow up over the past 10 years and still believes that she deserves whatever she wants whenever she wants it.
Summer from 500 Days of Summer
Portrayed by 2009 it-girl Zooey Deschanel, Summer was the girl we all wanted to be. She was the quintessential “I’m not like the other girls” manic pixie dream girl, a true enigma that, while many had tried, all had failed to pin down, and had a cute guy (Tom) worshipping the very ground she walked on.
But Summer was also horribly unfeeling, self-centered, and led Tom on (there, I said it). While Summer did express her lack of interest in a committed relationship with Tom, her actions failed to be consistent with her claims — and she never once took Tom’s feelings for her into consideration.
Summer was mostly interested in garnering adoration without offering much in return.
Summer was mostly interested in garnering adoration without offering much in return, allowed Tom to show clear interest in getting back together without telling him she was in a new relationship, and proved herself to be an attention-addict with very little substance of her own.
Olivia Pope from Scandal
Regarded by many as the ultimate strong, working woman who doesn’t need a man, Olivia Pope was once someone I looked up to — her high-paying, powerful job made her seem important, her pristine clothes made her look impeccably put-together, and her aloofness made her seem invincible.
But Olivia is actually one of the worst pictures of female strength out there. Her failure to healthily engage with her emotions renders her distant, angry, and unsympathetic. She has an on-going affair with a married man (which, by the way, we’re supposed to root for) who just so happens to be the President of the United States. And she totally has a drinking problem.
Her failure to healthily engage with her emotions renders her distant, angry, and unsympathetic.
Rather than offering viewers an image of true female strength, Olivia shows us just how detrimental a cunning, narcissistic, and aggressive approach to life can leave us truly unhappy and unfulfilled.
Guinevere Beck from You
The first time we meet Beck, she gets hit on by a cute bookstore clerk, Joe (something we all wish would happen to us), as she peruses the tiny aisles of a cool, New York bookstore. When Joe starts stalking her, we learn that Beck is an aspiring poet and writer who suffers from insecurity in her abilities and allows others to take advantage of her far too often.
Beck is an image of a weak woman without much purpose, agency, or ownership of her life.
Here’s the thing: Beck isn’t any more selfish or mean than any other character on this list. Beck’s worst qualities stem from her laziness, her failure to focus on her supposed goals in life, her reluctance to take responsibility for herself, and her lack of any intuition whatsoever. This doesn’t necessarily make her a bad person, just an image of a weak woman without much purpose, agency, or ownership of her life.
The art we consume ultimately has lasting effects on us, so it’s important to take note of the qualities the most iconic, popular female characters possess and ask ourselves this question: Is this a woman we should be emulating?