The backlash against TV’s most powerful women

I’m sure I’m telling you nothing new by saying that powerful, strong female characters are a rarity on television these days. But (thankfully) we do have a few of them. They’re detectives, doctors, attorneys, and heck, they’re even pot-dealing soccer moms.

But regardless, they’re scarcer than they should be, and what’s worse — their characters are often overly flawed. (See the linster’s post about In Plain Sight for a ridiculously spot-on example.) Additionally, their characters are usually either sexless (see: Olivia Benson on Law & Order: SVU) or their storylines are based almost solely on their love-life (see: Meredith Grey on Grey’s Anatomy).

These issues, among others (see: far too few queer women on TV), are concerns that we’re all too familiar with at AfterEllen.com; the problem seems to lie in the fact that no one else recognizes it. Or, at the very least, no one with the power to do so does anything about it.

So, the other day, when I stumbled upon an article by Stuart Levine on MSNBC titled, “Powerful TV women must face backlash,” I smiled a little bit on the inside. I couldn’t help but think — for a fleeting moment — that things are turning around. After all, if you’ve glanced through Malinda Lo’s “TCA Diaries” lately, you’ve read all about some fantastic shows currently on TV that accurately and responsibly portray strong female leads. It was in this vein that I gleefully opened the article, ready for a poignant look at women in television. What I got, quite simply, was a big pile of nothingness.

The article mentions several shows helmed by women and highlights the fact that their characters are frequently referred to as a “cutthroat, backstabber, liar and, of course, bitch.” But rather than ask himself why that is or form his own opinion on the subject, Levine repeatedly avoids having to offer his own thoughts, allowing the actors in these roles to take the reigns for him:

It bothers [Glenn] Close [Damages] that men who use the same tactics as Hewes can be described as calculating, sophisticated and laser-like in their focus, while women in the same position are referred to with negative language.

Notice that it doesn’t seem to bother him at all — only Close.

Later, after Holly Hunter explained that she decided to jump the big screen for her role on Saving Grace because of the lack of genuine film roles for women over 40, Levine said, “And with nuanced and well-written film roles for women drying up, Hunter didn’t fear that she was slumming by moving to TV.”

Oh, I get what he did there! He compared what happens to “older” (term used very loosely) women to what is happening to all their roles! “Drying up,” get it? Haha! Oh, wait. That’s offensive instead of funny? OK, no wonder I didn’t get it the first time.

Read the whole article for yourself, but you’ll see that rather than taking the time and opportunity to make a point about the double-standards in television (and society) today, he avoids coming to any conclusion for himself. At one point, when discussing (again, term used loosely) the relationship dynamic between Claudette Wyms (CCH Pounder) and Vic Mackey (Michael Chicklis) on The Shield, Levine has the audacity to say, “…within the larger world, Pounder understands that many males don’t take kindly to change, especially to having women in powerful and authoritative roles.” So Pounder understands that she is going to have to deal with sexist, bitter men every time she makes more money than they do on a set. Well, at least she realizes it. (Ugh.)

I don’t know, perhaps I have been reading too much Feministing and Feministe, and I’m being far too hypersensitive over this article. But please, Levine, next time you try to address women’s “struggle” for accurate and fair representation on TV, do it without simply quoting the women that play the oft-scrutinized characters. Do it with some balls conviction.

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