Ah, the pains of adolescence. Sometimes the only cure any of us could think of for such a hellish time was watching TV. Thankfully, there were actually a lot of Disney Channel shows that were feminist enough to make some differences in our lives — mostly by improving our perspectives on the world. These were '90s and '00s Disney Channel shows that went above and beyond expectations, giving us inspiring female characters and storylines that we could really relate to.
As young women, seeing the feminist characters on Disney Channel shows being smart, ambitious, and forthright while experiencing many of the same issues that we were was an absolute revelation. Not only did these portrayals make us feel valued and understood, but they also served up some rare female role models at an age when we were desperately searching for them. That's the way it was for me, and I'm sure it was the same for many women as well.
While much of the feminism of these shows might be incredibly subtle or hardly groundbreaking, some of them were blatant in their agenda of inspiring young women and educating audiences on feminist principles and ideas. Even now, my mind is kind of blown away by some of them.
1. 'Lizzie McGuire'
Lizzie McGuire was so feminist that "subtle" isn't even an appropriate adjective. The show regularly dealt with the pressures of gender stereotypes, while exploring exactly what it meant to be a young woman exploring her identity. I mean, hell, remember the episode where she bought her first bra? Or the one where she ditched a guy in order to stay true to herself? Exactly.
Despite being a show led primarily by puppets, Dinosaurs was actually full of smart, social commentary about matters like politics, ageism, religion, and feminism. Through female characters like Fran (the Mom), Charlene (the daughter), Ethyl (the aging Grandmother), and Monica Devertebrae (the local career woman, and Fran's best friend), Dinosaurs explored feminine issues in a smart way.
3. 'That's So Raven'
On top of featuring an African-American female lead who was as bold as she was hilarious, That's So Raven was unafraid to tackle issues like body shaming and racism in ways that didn't feel forced.
Can we please take a moment to applaud the forward thinking awesomeness of Recess' feminist teacher, Miss Grotke? Or the wise-cracking smarts of Gretchen? And the unrelenting toughness of Spinelli? Recess was a truly progressive cartoon, in which all of the main characters constantly challenged societal norms from the schoolyard.
5. 'Pepper Ann'
As a character, Pepper Ann was a little weird, but she also embraced everything about herself that made her not fit into society's outdated, patriarchal standards for women. She was smart, she was dorky, she wore skirts over jeans, and she rocked that red hair and glasses combo with pride. The message was clear: women can be whoever, and whatever, they want to be.
6. 'Wizards Of Waverly Place'
Please join me in raising the roof for Alex Russo, a character full of confidence, smarts, and wit, who constantly surpassed the low expectations that society had set for her in the show. Her deep exploration of her identity could get pretty inspiring.
7. 'Kim Possible'
Teaching young women that it's totally cool to be a sassy overachiever, and that having a crush on a boy doesn't diminish your power as a hero, Kim Possible taught some important feminist life lessons.
8. 'Muppets Tonight'
I'm sorry, but whoever is willing to look me in the eyes and say that Miss Piggy isn't a feminist icon is going to have to put up with quite the war of words from me on that topic.
9. 'Bug Juice'
By focusing on the lives of two sets of kids at summer camp (a gang of boys, and a gang of girls), Bug Juice was able to be surprisingly progressive. Boys were encouraged to be as emotional as they damn well wanted to be without feeling shame for it. And girls were encouraged to love and support each other rather than compete with one another.
10. 'Sister, Sister'
At its core, Sister, Sister was a deft celebration of a deep female connection. Though Tia and Tamera had completely opposing personalities, they were still the best of friends and their bond was beyond important.
11. 'Boy Meets World'
Topanga Lawrence stepped up against an entire show of boys and men who thought they knew better than her and constantly proved them wrong. She knew her own mind and power, set her own path and followed it, and is still an inspiration because of it.
12. 'Smart Guy'
Smart Guy might not have been doing much for women overall (besides that one bomb episode guest starring Destiny's Child), but the one main female character on the show (Yvette) was deeply inspiring. On top of being a feminist activist, the character was also a voice of reason, often tasked with challenging her male family and teaching them some much needed life lessons.
13. 'The Baby-Sitters Club'
Where do I even begin with this show? In addition to providing a strong portrayal of female friendship, celebrating female entrepreneurship at any age, and allowing a diverse set of characters to speak their minds and enjoy equal screen time, The Baby-Sitters Club was beyond feminist in every second.
Not only was Braceface an animated series with episodes about homosexuality, racism, and everyday sexism, it also showed lead character Sharon Spitz dealing with her first period and experiencing menstrual cramps for the first time. It was a revelation of a show, people.
Go grab the materials to make some handmade friendship bracelets, ladies, because I definitely see a Disney Channel TV marathon in my future — and it's going to be feminist AF.