These Female ‘90s Sitcom Characters Were Millennial Girls’ First Role Models

The future might be female, but don't sleep on the past, either.
July 1, 2018
6 mins read

The 1990s were an inarguably great time for sitcoms. Generations old and new still love iconic episodes of “Friends,” “Will & Grace” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” just to name a few. In fact, audiences loved some of them so much that they’ve been recently rebooted.

And although some ’90s sitcoms might be seen as slightly problematic through the eyes of a 2018 audience, plenty of characters made strides in positively portraying marginalized characters. Women in particular had many characters in sitcoms that acted as positive figures.

Here are some badass female ’90s sitcom characters that gave young ‘90s girls someone to look up to growing up.

1. Samantha Jones

All of the “Sex and the City” gals could probably be labeled as feminist role models, given how many topics and personalities this show explored over the years. But Samantha Jones always stood out to me as a fearless feminist icon.

Confidently honest, Samantha never feared being herself or saying what she thought, and she especially enjoyed dropping a few cuss words in conversation. But most importantly, Samantha boldly expressed her sexuality.

She didn’t let the patriarchy tell her how many men (or women!) she should sleep with in her lifetime, and she always encouraged her friends to be open about their sexuality as well. Though audiences now see her “experimental” relationship with a woman as controversial, it was still groundbreaking and refreshing for a ’90s sitcom to portray a woman who wasn’t ashamed to freely explore her sexuality.

2. Phoebe Buffay

Perhaps the spunkiest and weirdest of the “Friends,” Phoebe never fails to make me laugh every episode. She’s spiritual, passionate and a little ditsy — making her an extremely unique character.

90s sitcom
What would “Friends” have been like without stories of Phoebe’s crazy childhood? (Image via Elite Daily)

The other pals often reduce her to an airhead, but Phoebe remains unapologetically herself throughout the show. She has a colorful sense of style and a priceless sense of humor. She’s passionate about animal rights — being a vegetarian before it was cool — and she loves practicing her music, even if other people don’t like it.

If we can all learn anything from Phoebe, it’s to care less about what people think, and care more about self-fulfillment and happiness.

3. Tia & Tamera

How could you not adore these two? “Sister, Sister” gave us not one, but two positive female role models. The twins’ personalities were like night and day — Tia more conservative and study-oriented, and Tamera more quirky and carefree.

Once they strengthened their bond, they brought out the best in one another. Tia encouraged her sister to do better in school, just as Tamera taught Tia to loosen up.

This ’90s sitcom taught girls it’s okay to be ambitious, and it’s important to maintain a bond with a sister-figure in your life. Audiences even got to watch the girls grow up and go to college, creating a positive coming-of-age story for women of color and teenagers in general.

4. Fran Fine

Fran was “The Nanny” everyone wanted, hilarious, chic, flirty and outspoken. An excellent mother figure for the kids she watched, Fran gave down-to-earth advice and a source of acceptance and love.

She was proudly Jewish, providing representation for a culture that was often overlooked in sitcoms, and also unashamedly real, making jokes about things like being single and dieting. Fran Drescher was battling PTSD at the time, but still managed to create a character who provided lightweight humor and made America laugh.

And don’t forget the endless amount of iconic looks she served up every episode — truly a fashion icon.

5. Elaine Benes

The only female character of an all-male cast, Elaine gave women exactly what they needed from “Seinfeld.” She spoke for women in an incredibly honest, down-to-earth and hilarious way. Elaine didn’t let herself exist as an inferior to her male counterparts, but rather stood up for herself as part of every conversation, not letting gender exist as a barrier.

90s sitcom
In a character-driven show, Elaine’s antics never managed to disappoint. (Image via Uproxx)

This was especially true in discussions about sex, in which Elaine was always ready to talk about orgasm inequality, masturbation and birth control. She even coined her own catchphrase — “spongeworthy” — as a term referencing whether a man deserves her using a discontinued sponge form of birth control.

Elaine was hilarious, confident and blunt throughout all of “Seinfeld,” making her spot on this ’90s sitcom more than a token role.

6. Ashley Banks

Diversity didn’t feature as prominently in ’90s shows as it does today, but “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” provided audiences with solid representation for people of color during that time. Ashley Banks remains one of my favorite characters from the show, mostly because of the carefree nature of her personality.

Ashley always spoke her mind, and she never held back from doing what she wanted. Being the youngest in her family, Ashley had the easier side of things growing up, resulting in her relatable personality.

Perhaps most importantly, Ashley broke stereotypes of many black female characters on TV at the time: rather than being portrayed as loud or aggressive, she was breezy, hilarious, and unapologetically herself.

7. Grace Adler

Lovable enough to be reborn 10 years after her first series’ performance, Grace Adler was not only hilarious and fashionable, but independent and affectionate. A successful small business owner, Grace works in a field she actually cared about.

She shared her starring role with one of the first gay stars of a network show, promoting acceptance of a marginalized group. And after all the romantic struggles she’s been through, Grace shows girls they don’t need a romantic partner to be happy — a strong friendship can be just as fulfilling.

So just in case you needed another reason to feed your nostalgia and binge-watch more ’90s sitcom reruns, do it for these praiseworthy female figures!

Monica Petrucci, Emerson College

Writer Profile

Monica Petrucci

Emerson College
Writing, Literature & Publishing

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