This is a bit of a departure from my usual witterings, but reading Alice's excellent post, Women I wish I'd known about, on positive female role models in the music industry made me start pondering the lack of decent female role models on the TV. First thing's first, it took 15 minutes to write that last sentence without it turning into a Carrie Bradshaw ('I couldn't help but wonder…') style bleat. To be clear Carrie and her Sex and the City mates aren't – for me – good female role models. They're fun, to be sure, and I've enjoyed many an evening chuckling at lives I can't ever imagine living, but female role models? Not sure I'll be sitting Miss Marmoset down with a box set in a few years and saying, 'here sweetie, be inspired'.
So I give you a wee list of some of the female characters I've found inspiring over the years…
1) Margaret Hoolihan M*A*S*H. Margaret's not what you might call a 'sympathetic' character, as in, she's not that nice really. However, she's an excellent nurse, she knows her stuff and expects to be respected for it. She's not above flirting with the attractive but misogynistic Hawkeye (attractive in the guise of Alan Alda that is, I've always wanted to thump Donald Sutherland's Hawkeye in the original film), but she won't stand to be patronised by him. She's professional at all times at work, she's hell out of it, she seperates work from play, she expects to enjoy a good sex life. This is all stuff I can get behind – even if I don't like her taste in men, jokes or politics. She doesn't have to be adorable to be effective at what she does. She doesn't have to be 'nice' to be a positive role model.
2) CJ Cregg, The West Wing. One day when I grow up I'm going to be CJ Cregg. I have quite a lot of growing to do. Everybody I know who has watched The West Wing loves CJ. She's funny, clever, kind, goofy, tough, clumsy, she gets it wrong, she fixes it, she has opinions, LOTS of opinions, she screws up she sorts it out, she's everywoman. Just in a much, much higher pressure job than most people. I'm sure part of CJ's appeal is that Alison Janney's portrayal of her was so perfect, in fact I'll still watch anything that Alison Janney is in and part of me will still be disappointed it's not CJ, however as a character
CJ Cregg is an inspiring role model. Partly because anyone who can wisecrack like she can under pressure is my hero.
3) Cagney and Lacey, Jane Tennison, Alex Drake. I've ummed and ahhed about putting in police officers. The strong female lead in police procedurals has become a bit of a trope in recent times. I've enjoyed all of these characters in their various series, (Cagney and Lacey
, Prime Suspect
, Ashes to Ashes
), but they're usually presented as strong women, being women in a man's world. It's not that it isn't inspiring so far as it goes, but it is sobering for a couple of reasons; are there really so few senior women in the police force that a woman 'guv' is still a novelty? Also having a character presented as a woman in a man's world is still having your place in life defined by the men around you. It's a good thirty years since Cagney and Lacey hit our screens and I find this a bit depressing. The alternative to these Anglo-Saxon lady-cop portrayals is the Danish series Forbrydelsen
(The Killing). The detective in charge, Sarah Lund, is focussed on her job, she's not managing her relationships/family life so well because of the job, so far, so familiar. However, her immediate colleague Jan Meyer, a man, is shown with many of the same challenges, which hardly ever seems to happen in police procedurals. I love Sarah Lund as a character, not least for her knitwear, but I'm not sure if that's enough to make her a great female role model. I do love the balanced way both characters are presented though, *sighs* life in Scandinavia must be one long, slightly chilly, egalitarian utopia no?!
4) Elaine – Seinfeld. You have to love Elaine, so watchable in her quirky, smug, annoying, funny way. Elaine makes the list not because she's a powerful figure, but largely because she holds her own against a strong, otherwise male cast. Not that she's defining herself against them as such, she's just herself. I'm mainly impressed with Elaine because she's the only woman on the TV that ever got to masturbate without it turning into a big taboo busting act/male titillation thing. See this episode…a bet is made between the friends on who can go the longest without..y'know, a bit of DIY. Elaine starts out confident she's going to be rich before payday, but doesn't make it, She's neither the first to fall, nor the last, but best of all, she pays out her share of the bet AND NO COMMENT IS MADE on her masturbating. I honestly can't think of another TV episode like it.
Things that strike me about my little list, it's very American isn't it? Where are all the good British/Irish female TV characters? I'm not a soap watcher, is that where they're all hiding? Also, I'm sadly behind the times, there must be more out there. If there are any great characters that you feel I should see, please leave details in the comments!
Normal stitchy/gardening/cooking stuff will be resumed next time 🙂
Thanks for reading,