I was poking around the internet the other day for news pieces to discuss on Monday’s episode of Yeah, What She Said (8 p.m. MT! Dig it!) and I came across this blog post on The Sexes, the new sex and gender issues channel from The Atlantic (lolz cashing in on “The End of Men” much?) and I thought it was pretty interesting.
Meghan Lewit writes about the peculiar trend of female characters on TV who are competent in their professional lives but total disasters in their personal lives. For some reason, many of these women happen to be doctors. Mindy Kaling’s character Mindy Lahiri on her new show, The Mindy Project, is the most recent example of this phenomenon. They’re always professionally on the ball but in their personal lives, it’s one embarrassment after the other (usually having something to do with men).
Lewit highlights multiple examples of these women and the current antidote to them all, Leslie Knope, but she doesn’t really explore why TV has so many pathetic female characters. I’m not entirely sure why either, but I’m going to take a stab at it.
Is it because so many women are (supposedly) insecure about themselves? Would a perfect woman not sell/bring in the target female viewership? Is this just an extension of the classic schmo Dad sitcom model? And if so, am I taking this all too seriously? (Don’t answer that.)
I write/talk a lot about The Good Wife and how it is my favourite show on TV (other than Game of Thrones, I know, weird). I love it because Michelle and Robert King write a lot of thoughtful, smart plot lines about technology and gender — two subjects areas I am most interested in — and they have great female leads. Not only are they intelligent, confident, fully drawn characters, the female leads are essential to the plot lines and the show passes the Bechdel Test with flying colours.
But I don’t know that many young women who watch The Good Wife, compared to say, New Girl or The Mindy Project. I think that many young women look for TV shows that reflect themselves and The Good Wife isn’t exactly a show about young women. It talks more about parenting and marriage issues than it does dating and sex issues. Alicia Florrick is comfortable with her sexuality and her career, she just can’t decide if she really wants to be married to her cheating not-quite-ex husband.
So maybe young women relate more to Jess on New Girl and Mindy on The Mindy Project and Bilson on Hart of Dixie. Maybe they want to see women that they feel reflect themselves — smart, well-educated and successful but wholly unsuccessful in finding love and kind of awkward in their personal lives. Maybe it makes young women feel better about themselves. That they don’t have to have it all figured out, but eventually, like Meredith on Grey’s Anatomy, they will marry that dude with whom they have a totally weird affair and live happily ever after with their beautiful adopted child in their beautiful home.
But why does it have to be that way? To continue the example, New Girl and The Mindy Project were both created by and are written by young women. It’s not like we’re at the mercy of some out-of-touch older writer who doesn’t understand our trials and tribulations. Heck, when New Girl gets it right, the jokes about the great misfortunes of being in your twenties are spot on. And yet I am often reduced to watching a woman well into her thirties flail around in a romper, or something.
I prefer more aspirational TV characters, which is why I like Diane Lockhart on The Good Wife so much. She’s older, confident, established and single, without being pathetic, which is a nice flip of the traditional narrative about older women (we’re living in a Hillary Clinton Power World now, darlings). It would be nice if we could see a woman in her thirties (maybe a woman in her twenties is asking for too much) portrayed in such a positive way on TV.
As long as we continue to portray fully grown women in their twenties and thirties as total children on TV, we continue to allow women to be infantilized. Truthfully, men are being infantilized too, and many in my generation have opted to take the slow route to adulthood, but the dearth of young women on TV who are professionally and personally successful is kind of depressing.