Ten years ago this year, Veronica Mars began its short but glorious three-season run — just long enough for it to establish its now-famous cult following. While the show gets a lot of attention for its obsessive fandom (and its successful Kickstarter film), it is not as well-known for its amazingly forward-thinking feminist politics. This isn’t surprising for fans who embraced its heroine’s rejection of social and gender norms, but to everyone who dismissed Veronica Mars as just another teen melodrama: Hey, you’re wrong! Here are nine feminist reasons why.
1. Veronica is a complicated person, and she’s recognized as such.
While this might seem like a given, it’s important to remember how often female characters are still defined by their relation to men, especially in romantic contexts. In the first episode, Veronica (Kristen Bell) explains via voice-over that her best friend Lilly Kane (Amanda Seyfried) had been murdered; that she’d been sexually assaulted at a party; and that she and her dad, by turning on the one percent and investigating a rich family for the murder, had been ostracized from the upper crust. Boyfriends come into play eventually, but her goal across three seasons is to catch and bring her friend’s killer to justice.
2. Veronica dodges the male gaze and struggles with the aftermath of assault.
The first thing we learn about Veronica is that she was recently drugged and raped at a party; in some ways, the rest of the series is about her attempt to regain a sense of control. She takes control of everything: She changes the way she looks and the way she dresses; she stops drinking; she works closely with her dad; and she stops taking b.s. from anybody, especially Weevil (Francis Capra). The two eventually become friends, and Weevil actually embraces the idea that women are his equals (and don’t need to hear about your hog, thanks).
3. The series depicts sexual assault directly.
And not in an after-school-special way. The series takes two full seasons to reveal the identity of Veronica’s rapist, and then more survivors emerge in the third when a serial rapist strikes her college. Sexual assault is discussed plainly, without euphemisms or whispers. When Veronica confronts her rapist, she doesn’t allude to anything; she stares him in the face and accuses him overtly: “You raped me.” She says the word we as a society are still afraid to say — and she says it as a teenager in 2005.
4. The series promotes self-empowerment.
We’ve all been Mandy, a season-one character whose dog is stolen and whose insecurity paralyzes her from lashing out. But we’ve also all been Veronica, who is frustrated when she sees a friend made to feel powerless by a male bully. You can never un-hear Veronica say, “Demand it.”
5. Veronica doesn’t “fucking care if you like it.”
She will not smile for you. She will not do anything for you. She follows her passion (private investigating) and ultimately comes into her own, meeting real friends, achieving real goals, and falling in real love, all when it suited her. So don’t tell her what her “over the moon” face should be (or you will see an even more serious expression).
6. Veronica and Logan’s relationship is (eventually) equal.
When Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring) and Veronica start dating, their dynamic seems imbalanced: He rescues her from a (terrifying) guest-starring Jonathan Taylor Thomas — and also, he’s popular and she’s not. They break up and get back together several times, usually thanks to horrible or heroic things Logan has done. During season three, he’s threatened: by her involvement in rape and murder cases, by how busy she is, and, eventually, by Stosh “Piz” Piznarski (Chris Lowell) (which makes sense, since Veronica and Piz end up living together in New York in the movie). Veronica is a powerful, take-no-crap kind of woman. And while Logan loves her for these reasons, it takes him three seasons and a movie to truly appreciate those traits and finally (finally) reunite with her — without her changing a thing about herself.
7. The series gives viewers a good look at the horrors of rape culture.
Veronica Mars addresses what happens in the wake of sexual assault, but it also seamlessly incorporates the pervasiveness of rape culture, the concept that messed-up societal views of gender and sexuality create a world in which rape is normalized. Case in point: season two, wherein Veronica encounters a frat and its points system, where pledges and brothers rank women based on physical traits, then tally up after sleeping with them. Veronica’s response speaks for all of us.
8. Friendship among women is paramount to the show.
Experts in their relative fields, Veronica and computer wiz Cindy “Mac” Mackenzie (Tina Majorino) are the Abbi and Ilana of the teen film-noir setting. They’re supportive of each other, have their own communication code (silent looks of “are you kidding me?”), and each survive traumatizing life events thanks to the help of the other. The pair initially underestimate Mac’s season-three roommate Parker (Julie Gonzalo), a woman whose lifestyle choices are … different, but they come to her aid after she, too, is assaulted, and ultimately, the three women band together. Why? Because human beings are complicated, dammit, and even cool protagonists must apologize for making snap judgments about another woman’s sexual habits.
9. Veronica spits in the face of the patriarchy.
As embodied by Sheriff Lamb (Michael Muhney): a white, entitled man in power who comes down hard on anyone not white and rich. After being laughed out of the police station while attempting to file a rape report, Veronica is constantly faced with Sheriff Lamb’s refusal to listen to her and cooperate out of contempt for her social position. Also, she’s smarter, which, for a small-town big man, is terrifying. That’s why, even in moments of victory, he ignores or downplays Veronica’s part, promoting himself to overcompensate for his dwindling importance. (FBI agent Leo D’Amato, however, represents equal rights among men, women, and pizza, and the day that happens, we will all be grateful.)