Why Sally Solomon on '3rd Rock from the Sun' was my feminist alien role model
Today marks 14 years since the series finale of the beloved ’90s show 3rd Rock From The Sun. In honor of the occasion, we’re running one reader’s take on why one of the show’s characters was an indelible influence on her understanding of feminism.
I was 13 when “3rd Rock from the Sun,” first aired and I remember having my adolescent brain blown apart by the character of Sally Solomon from the start. Chief Military Officer of an alien operation on a mission to explore human interactions on earth, Sally was the member of the ensemble who drew the short straw and, thus, had to undergo the experiment in the form of a woman. Therein lay enough observational humor to pack a show about her all on its own, but, like so many great female characters on TV, she was terribly underwritten. However, she was the sole reason I watched every week. It even beat out my crush on Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
When the show premiered in 1996, pop culture was freshly awash in the new Spice-Girls brand of perky “Girl Power!”, a full 180 pivot from the influx of grunge-y, riot grrrl feminism that was all over the radio during the years prior. It was a confusing message for a young adolescent who was trying to figure out exactly what kind of feminism was “right” or “normal” instead of these performance-based MTV caricatures. Could I be sexy and still demand to be taken seriously? Could I get angry when I didn’t get equal rights while also enjoying makeup?
My answer came in the form of Sally Solomon, who offered a combination of those two schools of feminism in the form of a strong, gorgeous, Amazonian-type intellectual. Solomon – played by the incomparable Kristen Johnson – came to Earth knowing exactly who she was, but the comedy of her situation came in watching her attempt to assimilate into American culture while hanging onto her identity. Suddenly, here was a character I understood! I could completely relate to her stumbling around through our culture’s massive expectations of what it means to be a woman. I, too, felt like an alien when trying to understand what I was being sold at a cosmetics counter or trying to learn the fine art of how women are expected to behave when dating.
While there were certainly other strong female characters on the show, none were able to deliver such a profound response to the absurdity of society’s rules for women quite like Sally. As Solomon, Johnson perfectly emulated a sense of confused desperation at wanting to fit into societal norms that instinctually feel ridiculous. Presented with a barrage of glass ceilings and expectations, her hysterical overreactions coupled with her astute logic were both hilarious and incredibly validating. As opposed to the other women in the cast who carried a world-weary sense resignation when dealing with male counterparts, Sally kept hurling herself into social situations with a fascinating mix of childlike naiveté and masculine aggressiveness. The result was a character who constantly reacted to the world the way most women wish we could.
No matter what curveballs were thrown at her, though, Sally was nothing if not genuine. She towered over all the men in a room while wearing slinky, bright red dresses. She drank beer and liked looking pretty. She articulated exactly what she wanted from others, and let men flatter her without allowing them to manipulate her. She indulged in frivolous things without considering them “guilty pleasures.” She was compassionate to the needs of others, but vehemently defended her boundaries. Although the show centered around Dick Solomon, it was Sally I couldn’t stop watching. Watching her assert her power within the group while unabashedly proclaiming her love of shoes set the tone for my entire lifelong feminist stance, which has guided me through the years. I wanted to be just like her.
Among the great things all this ’90s nostalgia has delivered is the ability to watch 3rd Rock from the Sun in its entirety on Netflix, and I fell in love with the show all over again. More than a decade later, 3rd Rock still holds its own by containing an impeccable balance of self-deprecating slapstick and no-holds-barred social commentary. As an adult, there are so many more things I admire in Sally than I did as a teenager. Despite being brilliant, competent, and gorgeous, she still struggled with self-doubt in her romantic relationship with Don. Sally Solomon knew she was competent and intelligent, but was open to new ideas and threw herself into every experience with total commitment. And, most impressively, she was completely unapologetic about what others perceived as flaws, and never let her constant missteps prevent her from moving forward enthusiastically. Sally didn’t stop to question her inherent worth when she messed up or was rejected. Instead, she objectively reviewed her experiences without any sense of self-hatred or judgment. She was an ideal role model.
I have a whole new admiration for what the show was daring to say about humanity almost 20 years ago, and I’m finding that Sally is inspiring me all over again. Laughing at her responses to experiences I can now fully relate to is recharging my batteries, much like comparing notes with a co-worker about an irksome boss gives me strength to keep an otherwise rewarding job.
To me, Sally Solomon was unique. She didn’t represent some unobtainable ideal that I desperately aspired to while loathing myself for not comparing to. What made her wonderful was how similar her struggles and reactions were to those of every woman, and that is what continues to give me the confidence to demand the same respect that she did for herself. For being a genderless alien living a long-term charade a human woman, she really gives remarkable clarity to what being a tough broad is all about.
Liz Pardue-Schultz is a freelance writer/model/actress/graffiti artist/activist/Jim Henson enthusiast in North Carolina. She has been published on XOJane, TIME.com, and in a handful of magazines across the globe. She writes on her blog and Twitter, and occasionally makes ridiculous parody videos on YouTube.