Elaine Benes of Seinfeld
"I'm not a lesbian. I hate men, but I'm not a lesbian."
I love Elaine. I remember watching Seinfeld as a child and loving Elaine. She's basically my hero. As I've gotten older, I've been able to become more aware of why she stands out to me so much. (Side note: if you don't think Seinfeld has sociological depth, check this out.)
Elaine is the one girl out of a group of four 30-something friends living in New York City. As the token female, her role could have been degraded into a vehicle to expand plot options to "female issues". There could have been episodes where Elaine fussed and complained over her weight, her hair, her clothes, her whatever. And don't get me wrong-- I have seen a couple episodes where Elaine mentions these things, but her hair is definitely less talked about than George or Kramer's. For the most part, Elaine possesses qualities not unlike, well, a man. She's a serial-dater, and often talks about her relationships in terms of sex, instead of commitment. She is portrayed as physically imposing, most often toward George, although she is a petite woman. About a trip with a boyfriend, Kramer remarked, "Boy, a month in Europe with Elaine. That guy's coming home in a body bag." One of her trademark moves is the full-body push against people's chest, accompanied with a "Shut up!". And she is ever-confident in her appearance, once saying, "Is it possible I'm not as attractive as I think I am?" That kind of blithe confidence is an extreme rarity on TV-- women are usually the butt of "insecurity jokes" that are, um, never funny.
Basically everything that a male Seinfeld character can do, Elaine can. She rides the subway alone, she has a successful career, she hates chick flicks. ("What was bad about The English Patient?" "Only that it sucked.") Another notable rebel element in Elaine is her personal beliefs. In one episode that focuses on her being pro-choice, she declared that she wouldn't associate with anyone pro-life. She then meets a hot guy, and they become serious fast. After gushing about it to Jerry, he says "Well, what's his stand on abortion?"
Jerry: What is his stand... on abortion?
Elaine: Well, I'm sure he's pro-choice.
Jerry: How do you know?
Elaine: Because he... Well... He's just so good-looking."
Elaine breaks down and asks her new beau, and upon finding that he is indeed pro-life, she dumps him.
Elaine's confidence and boldness is the perfect comic foil for George's crippling insecurity. That the roles are so reversed for those two (George possesses many traditional "female" qualities, and Elaine the "masculine" ones), is telling of what a unique and groundbreaking show Seinfeld really was. Sweet fancy Moses.