The ’90s fictional female characters who totally changed my life

When I was a kid, I needed to know that I wasn’t weird.  I made good grades and really cared about school, which didn’t make me the coolest girl around.  I needed someone to tell me that it was okay to be smart; in fact, it was amazing. Watching TV in the ’90s gave me that validation. The girls I watched were intelligent and proud of it.  They were usually confident, and when they weren’t, their insecurities made them even more relatable. Here are the ladies that sparked my inner “YAS QUEEN!”


I know this was a book before it was a movie, but that’s not how I discovered it.  The movie was constantly on television when I was a kid, and that girl stole my heart.  She was wise beyond her years and taught me that when life isn’t all that great, books will always be there for you. She escaped her not-so-pleasant family life at the library lost in the worlds of Herman Melville and Charles Dickens, which lead me to do exactly the same. My life would never be the same again.

Carol and Maggie Seaver  

Growing Pains showed the perfect American family. A sarcastic and rebellious older brother, an annoying and mischievous little brother, and a middle child struggling to find her place.  Lucky for me, Carol Seaver found that place and rocked it with the help of her awesome mom. Maggie Seaver was a powerful journalist who taught her daughter that she could pursue any career she wanted even if it was historically considered a “man’s job.” I never felt limited by traditional female roles, and those ladies (along with my super feminist mom) were a huge part of that.

Sassy, the Cat

Okay, here me out on this one.  Homeward Bound is one of my favorite movies of all time.  I like it so much that I recently drove an hour to watch it in a theater with a bunch of screaming children.  It came out when I was 4 years old, and I was immediately in love (I also made my mom take in a stray cat that year just so I could name her Sassy.)  Sassy was the best character, by far. She was (appropriately) very sassy, independent, and strong enough to survive some very scary circumstances. She also created a cat obsession in me that would last with me to this day.

Zenon, Girl of the 21st Century

Disney Channel Original Movies had some great feminist role models (Andy from Motocrossed, Kelly from Cadet Kelly and many others), but Zenon was my favorite. She was fiercely independent, which didn’t always go over well. Disney did a great job at making her an awesome female lead, giving her the perfect bestie, Nebula and a love interest that she appreciates but ultimately decides to abandon to do her own thing back home. Zenon taught me that boys aren’t everything, and the most important thing is to just do you.


Clarissa literally explained it all for me.  She was one of the coolest female characters of all time, and definitely the earliest example of feminism I was exposed to.  She broke gender norms with her skills ranging from computer programming to journalism to punk rock.  She stood up to her brother’s bullying and constantly said/did things that I thought girls just weren’t supposed to do. She also influenced a lot of spandex and denim purchases that I’d rather not talk about.

Jessie Spano

Jessie was intelligent, a feminist, socially liberal, and way ahead of her time. She stood up for herself and other students when she saw injustice, and she would regularly choose studying over boys. The infamous caffeine pill episode is an Internet meme now, but I totally understood that episode when I saw it. Doing well in school was my number one priority, just like Jessie’s, and that pressure can be overwhelming. She helped me to remember to give myself a break every once in a while and not focus so much on being perfect.  

Topanga Lawrence

The ultimate ’90s queen!  Topanga was the voice of reason in the ridiculous plans of Cory and Shawn. She was a strong feminist who cared about the environment and culture even if caring about those things made her less “cool.” Just like with Jessie Spano, I also related to her sometimes futile attempts to control her totally out of control curly hair. I loved watching her relationship with Cory grow, and I loved that it was always portrayed as a really balanced relationship.  The fact that her career takes off, and Cory totally supported her as they prepared to move to New York gave me serious relationship goals.  

(Images via ABC, Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, Disney, NBC, Sony)


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