Entertainment Feminism

The Feminism Of ‘Charmed’: How The Halliwell Sister-Witches Helped Me Find My Strength


I speak freely and proudly about my status as a true-blue ’90s kid. I am firm in my belief that the ’90s were indisputably the greatest decade of all-time. Between stirrup-pants, scrunchies, sunflowers plastered on everything, *NSYNC’s existence, Lisa Frank, S’NICK, TGIF, caboodles, slap bracelets, lip smackers, TRL  and ’90s Nickelodeon in general, it was a magical time to be alive. As I got older, though, I added the WB shows to my must-see ’90s TV list. Dawson’s Creek, Felicity, Gilmore Girls, and Charmed were among my favorites.

I am an avid re-watcher, and recently delved back into Charmed for probably the dozenth time. After the gambit of emotions I spiraled through watching Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, I needed to immerse myself in something familiar, something I knew would comfort me and would not throw me any curve balls.


Charmed starts off rocky, I’ll admit it. It took Shannen Doherty, Holly Marie Combs, and Alyssa Milano an eternity to find their groove as the bewitched Halliwell Sisters. Though I also think that was an intentional mechanism, to symbolize the rift in their on-screen sisterhood. Raised by their grandmother from an early age due to the tragic death of their mother and disappearance of their father, the Halliwell sisters reunite soon after “Grams'” death in their family home. Pheobe (Milano) returns from New York City, where she fled to spread her wings and escape her pain. Prue (Doherty), the oldest and the most responsible, with a very cushy job at an auction house, resents Pheobe’s immaturity, and Piper (Combs), the middle sister, is constantly playing mediator, trying to keep the peace.

When they reunite, they discover they are witches, hailing from a very, very long line of matriarchal power. They are special though– the long prophesied “Charmed Ones,” the sister-witches that, together, create the Power of Three. Legend holds that, once the Power of Three is born, it alone will save the world.


Due to the fact that their grandmother bound their powers to protect them, and she died before she could reveal her secret, they had no one to help them learn to use their immense gifts. For quite some time, they struggled with how to balance the necessity of every day life (jobs, relationships, commitments, etc.) and the literal life-and-death scenarios they face on what seems like a daily basis. Despite the fact that they are all-powerful, life-and-world-saving sisters, their problems somehow remain relatable.


Prue struggles with her professional life– vacillating between choosing to stick with her steady, lucrative job or to take a huge leap of faith and try her hand at professional photography, fulfilling her dreams.


Piper struggles with the same problem, but she plunges into with gusto, and ends up opening a super successful San Francisco night club. She also struggles with love, and choosing whether to follow her heart and break the rules, or break her own heart and toe the line.


Phoebe finds herself back home, in a house with a sister that openly resents her, with no job and no direction at all. She embraces being a witch wholeheartedly, while her sisters reluctantly accept it over time as an unavoidable burden. She finally decides that her path lies in going back to school to pursue a psychology degree.

Every day, they save innocent people from certain death; some days they do it on a much larger spectrum, fighting for salvation on a global scale. They lose people a lot, too, though; because we all know that you cannot win everything, and they carry those losses with them always.

Their status as protectors makes them infinitely more vulnerable. They stare evil and death and danger in the face every day and still get out of bed in the morning, knowing that their lives are not their own and that the most gruesome of creatures yearn for their death with consuming passion.

Intrinsic to their success, however, is their sisterly bond. Their powers are tied to their emotions and their bond with one another. When that bond is fractured, which every life-rule dictates will inevitably happen between sisters at some point, their powers wane. Their synchronicity is crucial; they must always find a way to overcome their personal issues so that they can kick the shit out of the constant onslaught of demons.


Due to some alleged behind-the-scenes drama between Doherty and Milano, resulting in Doherty choosing to leave the show, her character Prue was slaughtered by a demon. At first glance, it seemed as though the Power of Three died with Prue, but at her funeral we discover that they had another half-sister, the daughter of their mom and her White Lighter, Sam, whom they gave up for adoption before anyone knew she existed. Paige, played by the ever-fierce Rose McGowan, had a variation of Prue’s power of telekinesis, but because of her White Lighter half, it manifested alongside her power of orbing, an instantaneous form of locomotion. Combined with Piper’s ability to freeze and, eventually, blow things up, and Phoebe’s powers of premonition and levitation, they made an unstoppable force. 

It took a long time for Piper and Phoebe to cope with the heavy discovery of an unbeknownst sister, while also mourning the death of the one they grew up with, but it is just another testament to the resilience of these women. McGowan seamlessly transitioned into the heart of the already established show–, in fact, she rejuvenated it. My favorite seasons are the ones that include Paige.


What I find the most admirable about the Halliwell Sisters, however, is their eternal optimism and perseverance. They are the epitome of strong, female characters. They face mortal peril with their morning coffee, but never stop fighting the good fight and chasing their own ambitions and desires. Their hearts remain (mostly) open to love and they find a way to strike a (admittedly, somewhat tenuous) balance between their Wicca duties and their personal lives. 

They also had to mold into their new roles and dynamics as far as sibling order goes. Piper went from the peace-keeping mediator to the oldest and therefore the natural leader. Phoebe went from the spoiled baby, used to being in the middle of the discourse, rather than trying to smooth it over between Piper and Paige, the baby. They handled those challenges with relatable struggle and determination, as well.

To top it all off, the sisters used their powers to protect the innocent. They did not use them for personal gain, but to better the world around them, and protect it from the incessant threat of evil that plagued it.

It doesn’t hurt that Doherty, Combs, Milano, and McGowan are real-life badasses in their own right. McGowan has formed an online army, lovingly dubbed “Rose’s Army”, to help combat the rampant sexism throughout Hollywood and social media. She’s faced her own demons in the entertainment industry and decided to fight back, rather than take take it lying down. She’s also decided that life behind the camera was always where she was meant to be, and never looked back.

Milano is constantly tweeting and sharing charities she donates to, never letting tiny, angry trolls staunch her voice. She also happens to have, like, the two cutest little babies you’ve ever seen (except for mine, naturally), firmly believes in #WomenEmpoweringWomen, and is the epitome of class and grace.

Holly Marie Combs also uses Twitter to combat angry, maniacal trolls and has never stopped projecting the fierceness of Piper.

Doherty revealed last year that she has been battling breast cancer, and has been incredibly open and candid about her experience. Because she is the consummate survivor, she has not let it squelch her spirit in the least, nor has it stopped her from advocating for animals, her true passion in life.

Young, impressionable Dani found the Halliwell’s strength inspiring. They never ever doubted that they absolutely, 100% could save the world by themselves. And when they did have self-doubt, they were able to conquer it. They stood their ground and defended each other and themselves fiercely. Whenever my trivial teenage problems reared their ugly heads, I turned to pop culture (like I do for every other scenario in my life) and was able to muster strength and mold it into the shape of the triquetra and find comfort in it. If the Halliwell sisters were able to get up and look Death in the face every day while still being perfectly coiffed and put together, I could surely tell the assholes in my class to suck it and get through my perceived high-school challenges. 


There’s talk of a reboot coming down the pipeline on the CW, which used to be the WB. Since it appears that none of the original cast will be invited back for said reboot, I can’t say it’s a project I’m particularly excited about, but that’s okay. I’ll give it a chance, and take it with a grain of salt. The power of movie magic is palpable, but it will never match the magic that the original Halliwell sisters gave us all those years ago.

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