10 of the Most Groundbreaking Female Politicians in Pop Culture


After a super Super Tuesday, Hillary Clinton is inching closer to the Democratic nomination, keeping busy fending off ridiculously sexist comments from the media and making cameos on Broad City. Whatever you think of Clinton’s politics, her nomination would be historic. And it’s bound to invite a lot of reflection on gender, sexism, and glass ceilings in politics.

It’s perhaps a sad statement that fiction began playing with the idea of a female American president long before voters took it seriously. Here’s a celebration of some of the fictional TV and film characters who have blazed a trail, making the idea of a female president mainstream.

President Mackenzie Allen (Geena Davis), Commander in Chief

The short-lived show was criticized both for having its female president ascend to the role after the previous president’s death and for being an advance advertisement for Clinton’s campaign. OK, sure.

Senator Laine Billings Hanson (Joan Allen), The Contender

One of the best films about a woman in politics, this one, from 2000, focuses on a vice presidential nominee who comes under fire when a photograph surfaces that is rumored to capture her drunken sexual antics as a college student. Her choice to refuse to address the allegations foresaw a lot of 21st-century questions about the disproportionate personal scrutiny that female candidates undergo.

President Allison Taylor (Cherry Jones), 24

Broadway veteran Jones was a fan favorite in Seasons 7 and 8 of this nail-biting series, playing a pioneering Republican president.

Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), Scandal.

High-profile “fixer” Olivia Pope isn’t an elected official, but she still has the political clout to decide elections and influence federal policy. And she does it in a Shonda Rimes-created world where the powerful, flawed, and ruthless players cross lines of gender, race, and sexuality — even within the Republican party. Earlier in the show’s run, Kate Burton’s deranged, holy-rolling Vice President Sally Langston briefly ascended to the nation’s highest office; now, another female GOP veep is launching her campaign for the White House, where she’ll compete in the primaries against the former First Lady. Ambition knows no identity.

President Constance Payton (Alfre Woodard), State of Affairs

Another short-lived show, mostly a vehicle for Katherine Heigl, State of Affairs was mostly notable for Woodard’s role as a black female president.

Vice President/President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), Veep

Dreyfus is at her absolute most brilliant playing the ruthless, unprincipled, incompetent, hilarious, and watchable female politician in this farce. She makes playing the worst person seem like an odd feminist victory.

Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), Parks and Recreation

Idealistic, naive, occasionally too singleminded, Poehler’s local politician is the epitome of a devoted public-service wonk. She wins and loses elections, sometimes heartbreakingly, but eventually, her love of binders and charts gets her a job as a high-ranking public official.

Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), The Good Wife

A disgraced politician’s wife who ends up having a stellar legal — and even political — career, Alicia Florrick fulfills a sort of revenge fantasy but is ethically complex in her own way. The Good Wife is notable for a character actor-rich cast, including wheelers, dealers, judges, and political operatives, who transcend gender. As in Shondaland, in the Florricks’ world, gender is no obstacle to being a mildly terrifying badass.

Elaine Barrish (Sigourney Weaver), Political Animals

Weaver slayed in USA’s limited-run miniseries that prefigured House of Cards, playing a Hillary-like divorced former First Lady and Secretary of State with a troubled family at home, political wrangling to do at work, and a magnetic connection to her ex, played to Clintonian perfection by Ciarán Hinds.

President Elizabeth Lanford (Sela Ward), Independence Day: Resurgence

We don’t know much about this upcoming film, but we do know that in the future, when the aliens come back, there will be a female president who Ward says “is not afraid to kick ass!”