Celebrate TV's Top 10 Fabulous Female Bosses
By Alina_Adams on March 25, 2014
This month, Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg created attention for cultivating leadership qualities in women through the #banbossy campaign, saying, "When a little boy asserts himself, he's called a leader. Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded bossy."
One of the best ways to show young girls we support their bossiness and their leadership is for them to see women in charge. Fortunately we have a ton of great examples of women in leadership in our favorite television shows to celebrate, including these Top 10 Fabulous Female TV Bosses!
1. Angela Bower (Judith Light) - Who's the Boss? (1984-1992)
The title may have asked the question, but the answer was obvious. Sure, Tony the housekeeper may have run the household and helped raise Angela's son. But, that just proved what a great boss Angela was. She understood the secret to managerial success was to hire someone who knows more than you do on a given topic, and then stand back and let them do their thing.
And if you still have any doubts regarding Judith Light's ability to close any deal to her advantage, check her out on the current Dallas revival, where Mama Ryland can turn a profit, outsmart a drug dealer... and cop a feel, all at the same time.
2. Holland Taylor - Bosom Buddies (1980-1982)/Going Places (1990-1991)/Two and a Half Men (2003 - )
For over thirty years, no one has defined the unapologetic Lady Boss like actress Holland Taylor. She burst onto the TV scene in Bosom Buddies, nearly stealing the show from leads Peter Scolari and Tom Hanks - who were in drag, no less! Ruth Dunbar knew who she was and what she wanted. And she didn't give a damn what other people thought of her. She was never afraid of coming off as bossy - because that was what she was after! And she wasn't afraid of coming off as ridiculous - because as far as she was concerned, she never was.
Taylor took her bossy act on the road with Going Places, managing to put no less than Heather Locklear (no slouch herself in the bossy department) in her place, and Saved by the Bell: The College Years (1993-1994), taking a break in between to embody the boss who sexually harasses Balki on Perfect Strangers. Since 2003, she's been laying down the law to whichever of the Two and a Half Men are currently in the cast. And she's even expanded into the movies (Romancing the Stone and Jewel of the Nile as Kathleen Turner's no-nonsense editor) and theater, playing political Boss Lady, Texas Governor Ann Richards in a one woman show on Broadway last year.
3. Captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) - Star Trek: Voyager (1995-2001)
She was the first female captain to helm a Star Trek series (a nice change from Janice Lester, who brought the original series to a close by, in the final episode, demonstrating that any woman who wanted to be a Starfleet captain was obviously mentally ill). She did get her ship lost in the Delta Quadrant. But she's also the one who brought it home again. She could be as much of an action hero as Kirk, and as thoughtful as Picard. (She also had an unfortunate tendency to faint a lot.) Most importantly, she was unapologetic about being the one in charge, whether it was making the unpopular decision to save a species by marooning her own crew, forcibly detaching a drone from the Borg collective, or flat out ordering a crew-member to eat disgusting space slugs when no other nutritional option was available.
Perhaps the latter helps Mulgrew in her present day role as the prison cook in Netflix's Orange is the New Black.
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4. Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) - 30 Rock (2006-2013)
So what if she had one star who never rehearsed, another who broke into unscripted song, a network that wanted The Girlie Show to be... less girlie, a writing staff that spent more time writing lunch orders than jokes, and an assistant who didn't like answering phones or taking messages (though at least Kenneth the Page was always on her side)? Liz Lemon still somehow managed to get thirty minutes of content on the air each week, keep dozens of people employed and make enough money for NBC to keep TGS from getting canceled. Jack Donoughy may have repeatedly tried to mentor her into becoming his kind of executive, but Liz stuck to her guns, figuring if it wasn't broken, why fix it? (Or maybe she was just afraid of how much worse things could still get?)
5. Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) - Mad Men (2007 - )
She started off as Don's secretary, made it up to her firm's first female copywriter since World War II, became Don's second-in-command at a new agency, then switched jobs yet again. She finally become the boss in a place where she wasn't remembered as a secretary, only to be advised by her own secretary to try being a bit more positive with the other employees. Despite every obstacle, Peggy's leadership is undeniable. The last we saw of Peggy, she has taken over Don's office after his forced leave of absence, leaving open the question: Will this woman in a "man's world" be a traditional (read: Male) type of boss, or will she forge her own path? And will her leadership be nicer, more feminine, and less destructive than Don's? Should it be? Can it be?
6. Claire Dunphy (Julie Bowen) - Modern Family (2009 - )
When Modern Family premiered, the show featured two, stay at home moms (and, to be fair, one stay at home dad). This season, however, Claire got a job, working for her father's company, presumably being groomed to replace him after he retires. Between having been out of the work force for almost twenty years and feeling self-conscious about being the boss' daughter, Claire tried to ingratiate herself with the employees. She tried to be their friend, taking them to lunch and listening to their life stories. Her father told her it was a bad idea. She didn't listen. When she learned that the IT Director was about to be fired, she warned him before he could buy a new house. He retaliated by quitting and disabling the company's entire network. Maybe she should have tried acting a wee bit more bossy? Claire's new position shows how it isn't always easy to step into leadership.
7. Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) - The Good Wife (2009 - )
Whatever you think of Alicia standing by her politically disgraced (then rehabilitated - then potentially disgraced again) husband, whatever you think about her relationship with her former Law School classmate and one-time boss (the now dearly-departed Will), her rocky friendship with the colleague who slept with said politically-disgraced husband, her handling of her children, her treatment of her mother-in-law, her betraying Diane and Will to start a new firm with Cary -- one thing you have to give Alicia credit for is that everything going on in her personal life is nothing compared to what's right in front of her when a witness is on the stand and her client's future is on the line. In a courtroom, Alicia is the boss, and she not only won't apologize for it, she'll even risk going to jail when she knows she's right.
8. Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) - Parks & Recreation (2009 - )
Leslie is - how to put this delicately? - a bit of a control freak. Delegating is not in her nature. Neither is compromising. She'll filibuster and she'll litigate and she'll launch a Pawnee-wide media campaign long after the issue is considered dead and buried (and even if it means missing her husband's bitchin' 90s-themed roller-skating party). Because she knows she's right, and because she's fiercely devoted to her town, her job, her constituents and her staff. Leslie is the definition of mission-based leadership, for better and for worse!
9. Dr. Mindy Lahiri (Mindy Kaling) - The Mindy Project (2012 - )
Earlier this season, Mindy lost an argument with her male colleagues to turn the space outside their office into a basketball court rather than a serene, tea garden. (Really, show? It's an OBGYN practice. You don't think the patients might prefer a quiet place to sit, read and think, over listening to a basketball being bounced against the wall while they're in the stirrups?) It seemed that she had given up without a fight or, worse, played the traditionally female role of going along with the majority and not making waves, despite being one of the partners and having the right to insist on her own visions. She also had an employee accuse her of racism. Not because she actually thought Mindy was racist, but because Mindy had insulted her boyfriend. Here, Mindy didn't give in. First, she made a public scene (as Mindy is wont to do). And then she had a talk with the employee and worked things out. It was, once again, a more traditionally female way to solve a workplace conflict, and it worked. It got Mindy - and her colleagues - what they wanted. So who's the boss now?
10. Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) - Scandal (2012 - )
What's there to say about Olivia Pope and being a Female Boss in general (beyond the tentative suggestion that maybe you shouldn't sleep with your own boss, President or not, as it apparently leads to a whole host of complications) except to echo the advice she once received from her father, "You have to be twice as good as them to get half of what they have." The line describes the biases of racism, but it applies just as well to gender. Olivia proves again and again that being smart, strategic and fearless are qualities women can wield just as effectively as men.
A woman does have to be twice as good to be taken half as seriously, on TV and in real life. Thank goodness we have amazing bosses like these who are at least twice as good, if not better. On TV and in real life.
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