Lizzy Caplan is nominated for Best Actress in a Drama Series for her role as pioneering sex researcher Virginia Johnson on Showtime’s Masters of Sex. Together with Michael Sheen, who plays William Masters, the onscreen couple set out to discover the nuances of female sexuality. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Caplan said, “It’s funny to think about Masters as a feminist icon, but he sort of is. It’s certainly not what he set out to do, but the science, the truth, set a lot of women free.”
Caplan also charmed us with her deadpan jokes in Mean Girls and, more recently, in an interview on Comedy Bang Bang when she brilliantly mocked the “Are women funny?” question.
Claire Danes plays CIA officer Carrie Mathison in Homeland. She won an Emmy for the role in 2012. Danes also produces the show. When she appeared on the cover of Glamour in January, she spoke out about inequality in Hollywood. “...it’s wild that women are underrepresented [in Hollywood]. I have real anxiety about directing, and that’s something to question and challenge and correct.”
Michelle Dockery rose to fame as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey. Mary Crawley is the eldest daughter in the Downton Abbey family, and she has direct experience with the sexism at the beginning of the 20th century. Her father’s estate and fortune can only go to a male heir, so her unknown distant cousin receives it instead of her. Throughout the series, Mary struggles with her leadership role as a woman at the time.
The Good Wife is the story of the wife who stands next to her politician husband as he apologizes for adultery on national TV. The wife, Alicia Florrick, is played by Julianna Margulies, and the show makes Time’s list of 21 TV Shows That Revolutionized How We See Women and Sex. Florrick is a lawyer who graduated top of her class at Georgetown. She juggles her professional life and time with her two kids while fending off the backlash from her husband’s scandal.
Kerry Washington plays Olivia Pope in Scandal, a political thriller created by Shonda Rhimes. In the series, Pope manages a crisis management firm in addition to navigating the intricacies of White House internal politics. But Washington’s not only a powerful leading woman onscreen: she spoke at the 2012 Democratic National Convention and has been active in ending violence against women and girls.
In Netflix’s House of Cards, Robin Wright is Claire Underwood, wife to the show’s main character. She won a Golden Globe for best actress in a TV series (drama) in 2014. As Slate wrote, “House of Cards Goes Full Feminist in Its Second Season,” with Wright’s character addressing abortion and military sexual assault. In real life, Wright is an activist for women in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She spoke at the UN Headquarters in March on ending rape and sexual violence.
Lena Dunham writes, produces, and stars in HBO series Girls, for which she’s been nominated for Best Actress in a Comedy Series. She plays Hannah Horvath, a 24-year-old woman in New York City who struggles to find her path in life. Dunham is a vocal feminist who has recently spoken out on issues such as Hobby Lobby and the censoring of independent film Obvious Child.
In Nurse Jackie, Edie Falco plays the drug-addicted titular character who is also a wife and mother. As Mary McNamara notes in the LA Times, series like Nurse Jackie and Orange is the New Black herald “a new form of dark comedy...to explore the female version of the broken hero.”
Julia Louis-Dreyfus is nominated for her role as Selina Meyer, fictional Vice President of the United States. Louis-Dreyfus has already taken home two Emmys and a Screen Actors Guild Award for her performance. Rolling Stone called her the First Lady of Comedy, and in an April cover story, she spoke on sexism in entertainment: “There is sexism--I’m not denying its existence. But I’m saying that I will deny its effort against me. I just pay it no nevermind and say, ‘Get out of my way.’”
Melissa McCarthy plays Molly, a fourth-grade teacher trying to lose weight in Mike & Molly. McCarthy’s been Emmy-nominated for the role three times before, and she won in 2011. Besides this role, McCarthy has gained acclaim for her roles in Bridesmaids, The Heat, and now Tammy, a movie she also wrote with her husband, Ben Falcone. Bitch Magazine praised Tammy for being “a solid entry into the notoriously underrepresented genre of female road movies.”
Parks & Recreation is in its sixth season this year with Amy Poehler going strong as Leslie Knope, a mid-level bureaucrat in Pawnee, Indiana. She’s already been nominated for four consecutive Emmys for the role. She currently stars with Paul Rudd in They Came Together, a romantic comedy parody. In Elle’s January Women in TV issue, Poehler said she doesn’t understand why so many women celebrities back away from feminism.
“But then they go on to explain what they support and live by--it’s feminism exactly. I think some big actors and musicians feel like they have to speak to their audience and that word is confusing to their audience. But I don’t get it. That’s like someone being like, ‘I don't’ really believe in cars, but I drive one every day and I love that it gets me places and makes life so much easier and faster and I don’t know what I would do without it.’” Hear hear!