Give us more real women on TV

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There’s an interesting list over on DoubleVixen.com showcasing positive female TV characters. The list includes Buffy Summers from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Liz Lemon from 30 Rock, George Lass from Dead Like Me, Zoe Washburne from Firefly and Rose Tyler from Dr. Who.

Looking at this compilation suggests several things. First, it suggests that the number of positive female characters on the telly is even lower than I thought. I know that the number of strong, intelligent women I see staring back at me from the TV screen is woefully inadequate. However, I didn’t think it was so bad that we could only find five such examples, especially since three of them come from shows we can only see on DVD or in rerun land. Second, it suggests that Joss Whedon knows how to write wonderful women. Both Buffy and Firefly provided more than one example of a positive female character. Clearly this guy needs to write more TV shows.

Finally, this list suggests that female characters fare better in the world of science fiction and fantasy than they do in any other genre. Four of the five ladies who made the list come from shows that fall clearly in the realm of the fantastic. There is no other way to classify a vampire slayer, a ghostly grim reaper, a space cowgirl and a time-traveling shopgirl.

I freely admit to being a sci-fi geek, so I love that so many of my favorite ladies are included. I’d also love to see the likes of Dana Scully, Samantha Carter and Jadzia Dax on a list like this.

But this list is missing something aside from sheer numbers. It’s missing real women. It’s missing women with real jobs, engaged in real lives, struggling with real-life situations. It’s missing women faced with choices we can empathize with. This list is missing women who teach, women who fight fires, women who raise kids, women who investigate crimes and women who save lives. This list is missing people like Christine Cagney, Kerry Weaver and Catherine Willows. It’s missing people like Colleen McMurphy, Alice Pieszecki and Olivia Benson.

Why should these women make the list? Because these are the kinds of women we all have in our own lives, warts and all. These are the women who represent the people we admire, like my high school English teacher Mary Dobmeier. Ms. Dob taught me as much about dreaming and succeeding as she did about grammar and punctuation. These are women like my dearest friend and colleague Melissa Schmidt. MJ taught me about being the kind of person I want to be, if you’ll permit me to steal a line from Johnny Castle. We worked together. We played together. We laughed together.

Five years ago today, she gave her life in the line of duty. But it was not in dying that she became a hero. It was in living. She was a Marine, a cop, a lesbian, a friend, a daughter, a sister and so much more. I want to see real women like MJ shining out at me from my television. I want to see women with her strength, her loyalty, her smarts, her attitude and her flaws. She wasn’t perfect. No one is.

So clamor, ladies. Get up and yell for more and better female characters on TV. Stand up and demand more and better lesbian and bisexual characters on TV. Then look around and remember to tell the real women in your lives how very important they are.

MJS 1967–2002

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