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Independent Woman

Isabella Campos

In today’s television, it is common for women to be portrayed as countless different characters

with numerous personas, but the reality is that they have not always been deemed fit to play

such a spectrum of roles. This report will focus on some of the key characters in television

throughout history, who were influential factors in creating today's version of the independent

woman character trope. These characters include Mary Richards from the ​Mary Tyler Moore

Show,​ Roseanne from ​Roseanne​, and Sarah from ​Orphan Black​.

One of the first women to set the pavement for independent women was Lucille Ball in 1951

from ​I Love Lucy​, who refused to take no for an answer, and was known to be beautiful, sexy

and funny at the same time.

The next character setting a benchmark for independent women was Mary Richards. She was

portrayed as a career woman, one of the first of her kind, starring on ​The Mary Tyler Moore

Show.​ Her character appeared as the women’s revolution was beginning in the 1960s, which

was a series of campaigns where women fought for their equal rights and opportunities (ABC,

2012). This movement influenced the media to include the revolution within their productions. In

the first episode of the third season, Mary finds out that she is earning less than the man that

came before her in her career, and is confrontational in addressing this problem, therefore

earning a pay rise. In the same season, she is seen addressing the birth control pill right after

unmarried women were granted access to contraception in 1972 (Thompson, 2013).

Broadcast between 1988 to 1997, ​Roseanne​ was a popular American sitcom that featured the

talents of actress Roseanne Barr. She is a hilarious, fun loving mother that flips the stereotype

of a man of the house on its side. Generally, television influenced women that they had to be

perfect in all aspects of life, consequently making viewers potentially feel bad about themselves.

“The notion is that people’s perceptions of themselves hinge on seeing other people, like

themselves, acting out particular roles.” (Brown, 1990). Roseanne was open about the struggles

she faced in her day to day life, stating that “I covered up everything in the household in order
for my husband to feel like the man.” As stated by Diablo Cody, an American screenwriter,

“Roseanne was the most realistic representation of a mother I had ever seen. She shows how

hard it can be to make money and put food on the table.” It was one of the first examples of a

successful television show starring a woman not thought to be ‘eye-candy’. Roseanne was

overworked, underpaid and overweight, yet she was still able to make jokes and hold her family


Tatiana Maslany, who plays Sarah in ​Orphan Black​, is a single mum who although tries her

best, finds it hard to be there for her daughter Kira. However, Sarah is not able to see Kira for

more reasons than meet the eye, and it becomes clearer throughout the series that everything

Sarah does is for her daughter’s well being. In episode two of season one, Sarah is in desperate

need of money, yet struggles to find an income. In a risky attempt to support herself and her

family, she steals the identity of doppelganger Beth, and takes on her career as a police

woman. As ethically incorrect as this may be, it is this extreme act of independence that builds

her character. As Will Scheffer, an American playwright states, for a woman to portray a ‘perfect

character’ role, it is often done by manipulation, lying and scheming, as Sarah does with her

daughter’s best interest at heart.

Some of the common traits seen within the independent women character trope are motivation,

best efforts, and focusing on the task at hand for her and her families sake. Roseanne does

everything in her power to keep her family in place, providing food on the table and a roof over

their head. Although Sarah from Orphan Black cannot always be the best mother she hoped to

be, it is consistent that she wants what is best for her daughter Kira, and puts her first in all

aspects of her life. Mary is a hard working woman that pushes for her equal rights, and although

these goals are different to the family oriented ones of both Roseanne and Sarah, they are

nonetheless influential in defining the common trait of ambition within these independent


Although the independent woman was originally seen in sitcom comedies, it has become more

common to see the character trope in drama TV shows. However, this is not the limit, as it has

become the norm for women to portray a wide spectrum of roles. As society has changed, the

media has changed alongside it. Initially there were limited roles that the independent woman
would play, yet in today’s shows, a woman can play any role, with little fear of judgement from

society. Initially women have needed to be liked and approved, because this acceptance was all

they had. Now women have the freedom to be all things that are human, including being

contributing members of the workforce, and television is finally reflecting real human behaviour.


(ABC, 2012)

"Timeline: The Women's Movement". ​ABC News​. N.p., 2017. Web. 24 Mar. 2017.

America In Primetime, ​2011 [Documentary]. Directed by Lloyd Kramer, et al. USA: PBS

Brown, Mary Ellen. ​Television And Women's Culture​. 1st ed. London: Sage, 1994. Print.

Orphan Black​, 2013 [TV series]. Directed by John Fawcett, et al. Canada: BBC

Roseanne​, 1988 [TV series]. Directed by Gail Mancuso, et al. USA: SFM Entertainment

The Mary Tyler Moore Show​, 1970 [TV series]. Directed by J​ ames L. Brooks Allan Burns et al.

USA: 20th Television

(Thompson, 2013)

"A Brief History Of Birth Control In The U.S. - Our Bodies Ourselves". ​Our Bodies Ourselves​.

N.p., 2017. Web. 24 Mar. 2017.