Are you tired of shows failing the Bechdel Test and want more woke, feminist TV shows in your life? With streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime soaring in popularity, it’s never been easier to find media that focuses on the complexities of women’s stories and relationships. I’ve compiled a list of TV shows you can stream that tell the stories of women from different backgrounds, time periods and walks of life. Some of the shows are fictional, but over half are based on true events and feature real stories, lived by real women. I have watched all of these feminist TV shows over the past 3 years, and would highly recommend each one!
*Due to content, I would suggest all of these for mature audiences only (unless specified otherwise).
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries
“The Honorable Miss Phryne Fisher, Lady Detective” is a woman decades ahead of her time during the roaring 20’s. She is a woman of exuberance, wit and ingenuity. She defies expectations for what “proper” women should do and lives instead by her own rules. She uses her unconventional insight and sharp attention to detail to help Detective Jack Robinson solve homicide investigations in Melbourne, Australia. The show is based on the best-selling mystery novels of the same name, and also features strong female friendships with Miss Fisher’s young companion Dot (whom Miss Fisher saves in the first episode), and longtime friend Dr. Mac. While Phryne isn’t based on any historical woman, her character gives a voice to the generation that proved women could be smart and fearless.
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is available for streaming on Netflix.
Set in Canada during World War II, Bomb Girls takes us into the weaponry factories where women went to work creating bombs for the Canadian Armed Forces. The show gives the viewer a peek into what women’s lives may have been like during that time across different socio-economic backgrounds. Love, loss and fear weave into each female character’s story line. We see the hardships, both professional and personal, that many women may have faced. Like Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, there is a strong emphasis on female friendships.
Bomb Girls is available for streaming on Netflix.
Good Girls Revolt
In 1970 in the height of the second wave feminist movement, 46 women employed by Newsweek sued the magazine for sexual discrimination. Good Girls Revolt is a mostly fictional account of the women’s experience, although there are mentions of real-life events. Respected author Nora Ephron was one of the Newsweek employees who stood up, and she is one of the main characters in Good Girls Revolt. The soundtrack is also very empowering and the director uses music to convey important plot points. Sadly, Good Girls Revolt was only given one season before it was cancelled, but it is still available for streaming.
Good Girls Revolt is available for streaming on Amazon Prime.
The Handmaid’s Tale
Set in a dystopian America, The Handmaid’s Tale is based on the classic feminist novel by Margaret Atwood. Atwood even makes a cameo in the first episode! While the show deviates from the book quite a bit, I found it very enjoyable and thought it stayed true to the core of the story. The cast’s performances are great and have earned several Emmy nominations. The show is especially meaningful in the political climate that women are facing today. The show features beautiful shots, interesting back stories and a truly dark look at the horrors of women wholly oppressed by religion and government. Sometimes eerie to watch, but a must-see for all women and for those who believe in freedom and equality for all.
The Handmaid’s Tale is available for streaming on Hulu.
The year is 1763. One in five women made their living in sex work. Women could either become a wealthy man’s mistress for support, get married (and let their husband control every facet of their life and finances) or join the sex trade. Harlots is based on a document that existed where men “reviewed” the sex workers by name and “skill.” An homage to this document is featured in the beginning of the first episode. We meet many different women, including Margaret Welles and Lydia Quigley, two women who own competing brothels. Lydia Quigley’s brothel is considered upscale, but her heart is very cold and ugly. Margaret Welles is a mother of two, struggling to make her place in the world without being under a man’s control. Margaret’s oldest daughter Charlotte is the mistress to a nobleman, and Lucy (her youngest daughter) is preparing to enter the trade. I like how this show features many women of different ethnic backgrounds and how the characters are complex and flawed, not one-dimensional. I also like that Harlots has an all-female creative team and crew!
Harlots is available for streaming on Hulu.
The Bletchley Circle
I’m a huge fan of period pieces like The Bletchley Circle, which takes place seven years after WWII. Susan, Millie, Lucy and Jean all worked together deciphering German military codes for the British military. Seven years after their work, the women come together again to investigate a series of murders that they believe are connected. Two of the four women have since married and meet under the guise of a “book club” to evade the suspicion of their husbands. The Bletchley Circle is based on real women who worked as code breakers during WWII, but contrary to the fictional TV show, they did not do further work in intelligence after the war. The show emphasizes women in STEM and has a Nancy Drew meets Sherlock Holmes type of vibe.
The Bletchley Circle is available for streaming on Netflix.
The Crown is about the life of one of the most powerful women in the world—Britain’s monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. The first season spans Elizabeth’s life from 1947-1955. We follow Elizabeth from her wedding day to her coronation. It’s especially interesting to see the personal story of the Queen, since we often only see what is shown in the media. Not only does it show you what happens behind the castle walls, but it shows you the decisions and often hard choices of being a monarch. It features many historical characters that were a part of the time line, including Prince Phillip, Winston Churchill and more.
The Crown is available for streaming on Netflix.
I watched GLOW under the impression that the Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling was completely fictional. I had no idea that the GLOW actually existed during the 80’s! The show follows an aspiring actress who responds to an ad thinking she’s attending an audition for an acting job, but is exposed to a whole new world of pro-wrestling and 80’s glamour. I love how the show features multiple ethnicities and body types—two kinds of diversity that are usually underrepresented on screen. GLOW is the feminist show that we need right now. Women making choices, taking hold of their sexuality and taking over a work field once only dominated by men. Netflix also has a documentary about the true story of the women of GLOW, featuring interviews with many of the original women who wrestled on GLOW team, many of whom you will recognize from the characters representing them on this show.
GLOW is available for streaming on Netflix.
Grace and Frankie
It’s not often that older women are the stars in films and TV shows, which is part of what makes Grace and Frankie so special. Grace and Frankie follows two women in their 70’s after their spouses announce that they are leaving their wives (for each other). The two widows must learn how to adapt to this significant change, and although they are at odds in the beginning, they develop an authentic friendship. It’s also worth mentioning that Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda had their own experience with the wage gap during the production of this show. Their supporting male co-stars were being paid as much as the two leading ladies (who also are involved in the development of the show as executive producers). Doesn’t it make sense that women who are so involved in the creation of the show and starring in it should make more than the two men who simply play their husbands in a few episodes (and have no role in the development and production)? Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda are defying sexism and ageism, and I’m lovin’ it. They cover everything from masturbation and sexuality as older women, dating later in life, and even health complications that come with age.
Grace and Frankie is available for streaming on Netflix.
Call the Midwife
Call The Midwife is based on the memoirs of a woman named Jennifer Worth who worked as a midwife in the Community of St. John The Divine (an Anglican religious order founded in 1849). Like many others on this list, Call The Midwife is a period piece. I really like how the show captures the experience and challenge of giving birth many, many years ago. I also like how it deals with topics that are not typically featured in TV shows such as miscarriage and stillbirths, unwanted pregnancies, birth defects, epidemics of disease/illness, sex work, prejudice, alcoholism, female genital mutilation, and religion and faith. It’s so rare to see female genital mutilation treated as the serious issue it is, so I commend Call The Midwife for their acknowledgement and handling of this barbaric and inhumane practice.
Call The Midwife is available for streaming on Netflix.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel introduces the viewer to Miriam “Midge” Maisel, living in the Upper East Side with her husband (an aspiring stand-up comic) and two young children. When her husband unexpectedly leaves her for another woman, Miriam’s life is thrown into turmoil. One night at a comedy club, Midge decides to try her hand at performing and discovers her own talent for comedy. It’s a refreshing look at the role of a stand up comedian from a woman’s perspective, and the fact that it takes place when few female comedians were given the chance to perform live makes it unique as well. I look forward to watching the full season to see where Midge’s new direction takes her!
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel‘s pilot episode is available for streaming on Amazon Prime. The full season will be available early 2018.
Big Little Lies
Originally aired as a limited series, Big Little Lies tells the story of three women and how their lives intersect. Madeline, Celeste and Jane are all mothers of first graders in the same school. The show starts off with a murder, but we don’t see who the victim or perpetrator is. Throughout the seven episode mini-series, the stories of these women develop and we see that things are never what they seem. I like how this show tackles issues like complex family dynamics, domestic violence and the psychological after-effects of rape. It’s interesting to see the different dynamics of each individual character and storyline.
Big Little Lies is available for streaming on HBO Go/HBO Now.
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Ashley Hesse is a 20-something writer/musician and women’s rights activist. She is a former beauty/special FX makeup artist who put down the makeup brushes and raised her fist in solidarity to help fight the social injustices against women all over the world. When she’s not crusading for social justice and defeating bigotry in all its forms, she also enjoys feeding her soul with musical theatre, red lipstick and Ghirardelli brownies.