This Woman Crush Wednesday post is dedicated to 90’s TV tween and teen queens. These ladies were outspoken, independent and general badasses, add to that; montages, double denim and scrunchies for days and you have TV gold. Following the golden age of MTV, TV networks realised the potential of teenage audiences and blessed us with some positive female protagonists. This was the beginning of TV shows aimed at tweens and also the first time teenage girls were being represented in a way that was relatable and inspiring. I’m sure my nostalgia is allowing me to look at these shows through rose-tinted glasses, but if memory serves somewhat correct, these gals tackled the plight of teenage hormones, growing up, prejudices and sexism within non-nuclear families. They broke the jaded stereotypes of what it is to be a girl. Roughly, I would have been around 8-10 watching these shows, maybe a little younger than the target audience but hey, this was pre-internet, Britney was a playin’ and girl power was in full swing, it was a simpler time.
First up, Clarissa – Clarissa explains it all:
First airing from 1991-1994 I would have been too small to catch this one first time around or if I was her quick-witted sass, pubescent dilemmas and wicked style would have been lost on a 3-year-old. Re-runs throughout the 90’s on Nickelodeon ensured memorable status for Clarissa, deservedly.
Clarissa is one of those shows referred to as ‘ahead of its time’ and on revision, it really was. The show revolved around Clarissa, a teenage girl dealing with school, boys, sibling rivalry and all the growing pains of womanhood, like wearing a bra for the first time. Clarissa, donning an enviable pop-punk, soft grunge wardrobe, would break the fourth wall in a bid to ‘explain it all’. Watching snippets of the show again, memory served correctly; Clarissa was badass; she mocks republicans with her fellow liberal friend Sam, and in an attempt to defend her brother she accepts to fight his bully – defying protests from others that girls can’t be tough, just notable examples from my 1 episode re-watch, I’m sure there are a lot more. Her oversized jumpers, flannel shirts, patterned leggings, hooped earring and suspenders are a hipsters dream.
Speaking of hipsters – Clarissa’s mom can definitely say she was into organic food before it was cool, making her own wheat germ and tofu sundaes – right on Mom!
This ‘new age’ show was not initially met with open arms. According to an article on Mentalfloss.com, creator Mitchell Kreigman said, when talking about the making of the show; ‘The initial response was that she’s rude, she’s talking back to her parents and she doesn’t respect them.” The network also thought that her jokes were too sarcastic. This was not the first time he had heard this. “That’s usually the initial response to my girl characters,” he says. “And I always say the same thing: ‘If a boy were saying this thing, and doing this thing, would you be complaining that they are being too rude, or they’re being too sarcastic or jokey with their parents?’ The answer’s no.”
Did she explain it all? I can’t remember but she tried and that’s all that really matters.
Keeping it in the scrunchie wearing and floral patterned family we get to the next TV Queen;
A lot about this TV show broke the conventional norm; her mom left the family to pursue her own life and career, a rare move of a network to choose the father as primary care giver for a reason other than being widowed. Blossom lived with her father, a super chill session musician, her brother Tony, a recovering alcoholic and drug addict (yeah, this shit is a little heavier than Clarissa) and middle brother Joey, the 90’s heart throb. Accompanied by her BFF Six they too took on the trials and tribulations of growing up, but they kept it real. The second episode centred around Blossom getting her period, a topic still pretty shied away from on TV; that’s pretty cool. Blossom openly addressed feminism directly; when suggested she use her vulnerability and cry to pass her driving test she states ‘I’m not going to act like a hopeless woman – that violates all of my feminist principles.’ Good for you Blossom – she then goes and does it anyway but then feels remorse and resolves her mistake. Both the show and actress Mayim Balik who portrays Blossom were very self-aware of the shows platform to showcase that multi-dimensional female character.
Although Mayim Bialik still speaks with feminist rhetoric that Blossom would be proud of, I can’t say the same for the TV show she stars in. Bialik stars in The Big Bang Theory, a show where the women are there purely as accessories for the men and when there are scenes with the 3 lead female characters by themselves all they talk about are the men. I haven’t seen the BBT in a couple of years, so this may have changed in the interim, although I wouldn’t count on it. Never the less, I’m glad my childhood was filled with Blossom re-runs.
Sticking with the older and more adult theme teen queens we have Moesha:
Mo- to – the –E – to –the- Moesha
Moesha lived in South Central LA with her widowed father, brother and new stepmother. The pilot episode showed Moesha’s biggest concern being a pimple on her face, boys and adjusting to her new family dynamic. As the series developed, so did Moesha’s character – boys were no longer her main concern. The show addressed a diverse range of social issues including family life, prejudices, race, sex and drugs. In the episode ‘Million Boy March’ Moesha and her comedy sidekick Kim infiltrate an all male young persons group, to ‘cultivate male leadership’. When they try to get her to leave she refuses questioning their methods ‘You’re saying women ain’t fit to lead?’ (Tis a pity we are still asking this question 20 years later)
When she is unfairly omitted from a scholarship opportunity due to her sex, she motions ‘I move on the grounds of fairness, equality and cause girls get better grades anyway that this scholarship get opened to women.’ Preach girl!
Unfortunately later in this episode, when the same sexist boy, who was oppressing her earlier and disregarded her opinions based on her gender, asks her out, she does a complete 180º, is suddenly smitten and agrees. Thankfully when she realises he hasn’t comprehended the errors of his thinking, she tells him where he can go. Moesha was smart, ambitious and outspoken and portrayed many strong feminist qualities.
Later in 90’s, we were given ‘Two of A Kind’ with tween queens;
Mary Kate and Ashley
Before Mary Kate was the cigarette queen (MK is rumoured to have had bowls of cigarettes on the table at her wedding) and before the Olsen twins took to haunting fashion shows looking like they’re going to a Victorian funeral (I say that as a compliment), they were the squeaky clean queens of TV and TV movies. The short-lived ‘Two of a Kind’ had a similar premise to the others on this list, MK and Ashley are the twin daughters of widower. They deal with pre-pubescent hiccups as well as dealing with the absence of their mom – they’re ‘hip and cool’ babysitter is helping fill the void and the girls do all sorts of shit to try get her together with their dad so they can all live happily ever after.
When looking for clips to watch to remind myself of the message of Two of a Kind – if there even was one. I couldn’t find much but I did get enthralled watching videos of the teenage twins from the 90’s, especially an interview with Donnie and Marie Osmond from 1998. They were so young and seem somewhat disenchanted.
A year later in 1999, they return to the same show, slightly older, having matured to teenager status. At the beginning of the interview Marie Osmond announces they have sold “15 million home videos, second only to Disney and are on their way to becoming billionaires”– HOLY SHIT! I had no idea all those bargain basket bin videos were making them millions. Not even millions – billions! This interview is so awkward –the big news is that they have a new movie, which they have their first onscreen kiss. Donnie Osmond is far too intrigued about this and keeps asking the dumbest questions, it’s both creepy and cringeworthy. They then get shown a book that’s called “Mary Kate and Ashley’s Diary” and are asked if they have much input into what goes inside, they both simultaneously reply ‘no’ – they take it from her hands and flick through it saying they’ve never seen it before, they’ve “just seen some of the pictures”. As well as promoting their movie and book, they’re pushing their Christmas CD. Jeez, these girls hustled! No wonder they don’t act any more!
Well the hustle worked. I (and I’m sure many others) spent many a Saturday morning glaring at the TV, wishing I had a twin, wishing I could go play sports with Mary Kate and go shopping with Ashley. Hell, I still do.
From one set of twins to another – Sister Sister
Tia and Tamara Mowry
In the show, Sister Sister, these ladies were separated at birth and adopted seperately. Tia adopted to a single mother, Lisa Landry and Tamara to a couple (the mom died soon after), leaving her to be raised by the strict Ray. After a chance encounter at a shopping mall, the sisters are reunited. They all move in together and 6 seasons of hilarity and hijinks ensue. It’s a corny comedy in the best possible way, the jokes are funny and clever (many of which would have bypassed us as kids), the timing is perfect and the character of mom Lisa is comedy gold. The twins deal with conflicting personalities and the task of being seen as individual, on top of all the normal teen issues we’ve seen before. Amid breaking the fourth wall, the girls get themselves into trouble in each episode, concocting an elaborate plan to get something they want, then take the moral high ground and reverse the wrong-doing. These gals taught us the importance of sisterhood, individuality all with razor sharp wit, complete with double denim and matching outfits galore.
Sabrina the Teenage Witch
Melissa Joan Hart makes her second appearance on this tween queen list as Sabrina. Sabrina had to face all the usual teenage issues on top of being a witch. Breaking the mould of the widowed or abandoned father, Sabrina’s two aunts Hilda and Zelda adopted the roles as co-parents as Sabrina’s mother and father were off travelling, respectively, with work and could not be contacted. Sabrina was outspoken, an independent thinker and goal orientated. This strong female characters addressed social issues such as the pressures put on women to look a certain way. Like in the episode where a salesman tricks Sabrina into thinking she’s much bigger than she is so she will buy more of his product. Buying into this, she buys in bulk, consumes too much and becomes so thin she disappears. Pretty relatable right?
Finally we have my personal favourite teen queen to ever grace our screen ***drum roll please***
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Buffy Summers is the teen queen that has followed most of us through to adulthood and is still just as enjoyable now as it was the first time you saw it. My Buffy obsession started from when I was 10 and never ceased, I still wear it proudly. Buffy Summers was a normal, carefree, popular girl until she found out on her 16th birthday that she was destined to protect the world from “vampires, demons and the forces of darkness”. Having been kicked out of her school in LA she moves to the small town of Sunnydale with her single mom. Notably out of all the gals on this list – Buffy is the only one with a single mom. It’s like the networks wanted to show diversity in non-nuclear families but needed to show a male (or two aunts, or in the case of Sister Sister- a single mom combined with a single dad) as the primary care-giver, god forbid a woman be capable of raising a daughter without the help of a man (what kind of message would that send?) or since the shows were more aimed at young girls, the presence of a patriarchy had to be there. So it was very refreshing for me to see, as a young girl, to see a really strong girl being raised by an equally strong woman.
Buffy quickly makes ‘ride or die’ friends with Willow and Xander and thus begins the next 7 seasons of TV royalty. Buffy not only fought literal monsters, she fought sexism, gender stereotypes as well as life’s common nuisances. These weren’t the 2D teenage characters we were accustom to. These characters had depth, revealed beautifully through brilliantly concocted storylines that dealt with both serious and light content. Creator Joss Whedon and a brilliant team of writers both male and female, made each ‘monster of the week’ a metaphor for life’s struggle. Watching how the gang dealt with these and sometimes, just watching them try to stay alive amid their struggles, is what makes a show about demons so relatable to many people. Buffy was clever, strong, funny and brave and is an iconic feminist role model.
So that’s it, my favourite TV Tween/Teen Queens of the 1990’s. I’m sure there are many more that can be added to this list but these are the ones that stand out in my mind. My trip down memory lane has shown me that racial diversity was most definitely not the name of the game back then, thankfully that’s changing – sort of. Another thing was that, even though these shows all had strong female leads, most of the writers were men – which again I hope times are a changin’ on this too. The power of these ladies is questioned throughout their respective shows and this becomes an integral part of their narrative (some more than others), to which they have to conquer. That makes them all pretty badass to me.
Author: Shaunna Lee Lynch
About: I am an Irish writer, performer, avid day dreamer, generally enthusiastic, hip hop enthusiast,living in Hong Kong.