TV: Where are the women?

I’m dismayed, yet not surprised, that I have only noticed one new network action type show this season with a woman in front. Last year we got two, but they were dismally bad, with one dying a quiet death and the other getting renewed despite destroying the entire premise of the movies it’s based on (I won’t go into that more as I’ve said plenty about That TV Show here already). This year the offering is just as poorly conceived and written and starts off insulting me as a woman looking for a good fictional heroine right from the start. Our first meeting with the female lead of Fringe she’s having sex with her FBI partner, bringing home a major point of those opposed to having women in such jobs. I mean, could we gift sexists anymore than that? Oh, wait, it’s followed up by her new superior calling her sexist diminutives with no action by her to stop him.

Never mind that the show is just poorly done over all. It gives us a “heroine” who we can only look down upon. It’s sad. The rest are male led, most with female “sidekicks,” a formula that really needs to die. It was getting old in the ’60s.

Fortunately, cable’s summer season gave us a much better female led series in In Plain Sight. Even better, it’s supposedly renewed for a second season so we can again get a physically and mentally strong heroine on TV. Mary McCormack’s character is strong, complex, gritty, down to earth and probably the best female character on TV. But somehow not enough. Well, because how could, in a sea of male action leads, can one female be enough?

I keep thinking about the sort of shows I want to see, the sort of female characters I want to see. And even McCormack’s Mary Shannon fails a bit for me. Not that there will ever be perfection but I can hope for more.

Of course, I tend to prefer the supernatural and SciFi genres over straight cop shows, so that’s what I’d like to see more strong female leads in.

However, no more female characters whose strength is “male created.” That is no male mages giving the power (Buffy), no male scientists giving the power (both Bionic Women and others), in fact, let’s not have her have any power. Just her own strength and skill that she’s worked for. What ever the genre stuff might be, let’s not have it be about where her strength comes. Because we want a message that women do not need to be given strength.

Therefore have her visibly physically fit, as well as weapon savvy, survival savvy and all. Let’s even have training scenes to show this and inspire us. We can accept male teachers, we still live in a world where the majority of those teaching weapons and fighting are male, but let’s avoid the mentor-daddy-figure.

And not a kid, someone at least in her thirties. And not trying to hide it, not angsting over it.

Let’s skip the cliche that all partnerships have to me female/male if they’re not male/female. If she has to have a partner/sidekick then let her have a female one. And not a femme to “balance her out” but also capable, complex and interesting in her own right.

Let’s also skip all the dress issues that usually are played out. Neither have her dress femmy to try to make up for being tough nor have her phobic about wearing a dress. I’d want her mostly in tanks and jeans, showing off those muscles, but she should be able to pull off business wear when needed and not behave as if she’s in a costume when wearing a classy dress. And never should she need to wear a trashy one.

Let’s keep the private life private, no more than a hint perhaps. Certainly no sleeping with partners even if the partner is female. If we can’t have an out gay or bi heroine, at least keep her sexuality ambiguous. Let her sex life be left to the fanfic writers, because they don’t care what the cannon is anyway. And the show should be about her work or her cause or whatever.

She does not need to be emotionally shut off, however. Another cliche we can do without. A sense of humor is good, we need more of that. But let’s not go over board on the warm fuzzies, again, there is nothing to make up for.

Of course, Rhona Mitra should be on the short list to star if we go on the young end. Followed by Gina Torres, Yancy Butler and Cynthia Watros. Linda Hamilton would be there but I don’t think she’d have the remotest interest in this sort of role now, mores the pity. And McCormack is not included as I don’t want this to replace In Plain Sight, I want that to go on for many seasons as well. Michele Rodriguez is apparently not too keen on long term TV commitments either, but if there is a partner she’d be a good choice as she’s a bit too young for the lead.

These are just random thoughts of a frustrated physical feminist TV viewer while waiting for In Plain Sight‘s second season and to see if we have better luck with the networks next year. Of course, if anyone wants to act on them just let me know and I’ll tell you where to send the check. ~;p

Copyright © 2008 Kym Lambert

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