LOOK OUT! SPOILERS BELOW!
I watch a lot of television, none of it on cable or broadcast, so mostly I watch a whole season of a TV show over a week or two. Like any person, I connect to those characters who remind me the most of myself, and that typically means women. But often, no matter how much benefit of the doubt I give a character, I eventually have to turn my back on a female character because they are selfish, unreasonable, and a downright awful human being. I like strong women, more to the point I like strong people, but there is a Pacific Ocean sized difference between someone who is strong and someone who is a bitch. I’ve seen this confusion happen in movies and books, but no where is it more prevalent than the American TV show. For example:
6: Nina on Alphas (update from September)
This two season run show was amazing. Just mind-blowingly good, but Sy-Fy isn’t interested in quality story-telling right now, or should I say Comcast? Either way, this show was great with only one major problem. Nina, the rapist. Yes, I’m being serious. Nina’s ability to take away a person’s free will is a terrifying power and often she struggles with the implications of it which is understandable, but she at best walks a line of unethical pushing of others and at her worst rapes others. Sometimes the rape is figurative, a simple violation of a person’s free will, other times the rape is very literal as she did to Cameron Hicks once and when she went off the deep end and pushed her ex from childhood for days if not weeks. Even when Nina is meant to be one of the good guys she is committing crimes left and right, that some may consider harmless fun but a deeper look reveals just how immoral they are. For example, we learn that Nina does not pay for her fancy car or penthouse: someone lost a lot of money because of this, someone could have lost their job, because when they try to explain to the owner of the dealership why they let her walk out with that car they have none. In the first episode, she is pulled over for reckless driving (which by the way puts lives in danger) and prevents the cop from giving her a ticket by pushing him. Then she asks him he is married. We see later that she often takes advantage of unmarried men by pushing them into spending money and time on her, and the implication is that she has sex with them as well. This coupled with that question posed to the cop suggests to me that Nina only cares about messing with married men, but not with attached or gay men. Some of these men had other things to do with the time she takes them over, such as work. I’m very afraid that someone will make the argument that the majority of these men enjoyed it because men like sex with beautiful women, but if a man had Nina’s powers (as correlation see the Christmas episode of Misfits wherein a man proclaiming to be Jesus buys Alisha’s power and uses it to rape women), we would never make the same argument. Taking away a person’s free will is quite possibly the worst thing anyone can do to another person. These men had no ability to say no, just as women who are given date rape drugs have the ability taken away. The implications put forth by the creation of Nina as a supposedly sympathetic and aggressive person are horrifying. I can’t like her because she just brings up the idea that it is okay for a person to take what they want from a group just because they may “enjoy” it, which is the same suggestion put forth by the idea that promiscuous women and prostitutes can be raped with little judgement upon the rapist.
Woman on the show who is actually strong: Rachel of course. She is not physically capable, but that’s not where her strength lies. She comes from a very traditional family and manages to defy her family’s traditional values put upon women again and again. We see her strength grow as the show goes along, and she always tries to do the right thing.
5: Allison Blake of Eureka
This show was only on air for five seasons, but it was one of my favorites. It had charm and style—it was downright hilarious. The theme song was Andy Griffith meets The X-Files. The main character, Sheriff Jack Carter, was likable and funny. My favorite episode is Up in the Air, so good. But there is just one fly in the ointment, and that was Carter’s love interest—personally I like Kaley better. Allison seemed like an okay person most of the time, but when she was given power, she lost all sense of priority. She would be rude to Carter for no other reason than he was being himself and she wouldn’t listen to him as she’d done before. At times this was very serious, such as in Liftoff wherein listening to Carter meant the difference between life and death for two other beloved characters. She also seems to hold her intelligence over Carter, often laughing at his misunderstanding of science. She often didn’t trust Carter with important information and when he would learn that she had been lying to him, you could see that he was hurt by it, in the same way a person can see that kicking a puppy is wrong. Once in a moment of insecurity, she nearly ruined Carter’s relationship with his best friend Jo Lupo. And when he had created a beautiful and romantic gesture of a dinner in an automated sub in the aquatic lab, she was just pissed and annoyed at the interruption. Some may argue that by the end of episode in each of these examples, she got over it all and was thankful and nice to Carter, but I say no. She was unreasonable in all cases, and her turn around at the end of the episodes was rushed by writers to resolve the issues within the confines of forty minutes. And that’s what it comes down to: the writers. The character of Allison was abused and jerked around for drama because the writers couldn’t come up with a better way of presenting conflicts besides pitting Allison against the main character. Lazy.
Or possibly Carter was into unreasonable women, if his ex-wife was any indication.
Abby: Are you saying she only runs away from me?
Abby (earlier scene): It’s called insecurity and it stems from the person speaking not from the person listening.
Woman on the Show that is Actually Strong: Jo Lupo not because she can shoot a gun or can keep up with the boys, but because she often knows that she can but isn’t afraid of her gender either nor of people holding her gender against her. Some fans may say, hey wait a minute, what about that time she didn’t tell Carter about the new security system at GD? Well, imagine if a male deputy did the same thing to Carter. We would still think it’s funny, because it is the kind of harmless prank friends pull on each other. Jo somewhat transcends gender on this show, which makes me really happy.
3 & 4: Lorelai and Rory Gilmore of The Gilmore Girls
I watched and owned all seven seasons of this show, and actually rewatched them several times. At times the two main characters did or said hilarious things, but my favorite character was Luke, not just because he was a hottie. But I found major flaws with this show, one being the major plot points because at times I feel like enough is enough. Rory makes her big mistake first in sleeping with a married man. “Oh, but he convinced her that he didn’t love Lindsey to get into her pants.” No, not a real excuse. Rory is presented as highly intelligent, then she buys the very old song and dance, that I guarantee has been presented in at least a fourth of the thousands of books she’s read, about how he doesn’t love his wife and they’re not working out so she should let him in her pants. An intelligent woman does not buy into that stuff and if she does, she does so knowing what she is doing is wrong and hurtful. She is still ultimately responsible for her actions—everyone is, but Rory—and by extension the audience—expects understanding for buying the song, but you can’t cheat an honest man as the saying goes and to add to the phrase, you can cheat a stupid one. So either she is dishonest or dumb, and I’m not sure which pisses me off more. Dishonest because she is not a good person or dumb because the writers lied and/or manipulated her character.
10/26/14 Update: Recently, I’ve been rewatching the show since it is on Netflix, and I’ve noticed more character problems. For one, Dean is not a nice guy before he cheats on his wife. While dating Rory, he is obsessive, jealous, and angry. Rory feels the need to hide things from Dean often, before Jess even comes on the show. When they break up (the first time), it is because Rory didn’t say she loved him back. This is unreasonable. The two girls keep going on about what a great guy Dean is, but I see no action to suggest he is. In fact, I see more to suggest he is a psycho, whom Rory should have gotten a restraining order against. 1) He calls her multiple times a day. 2) He gets angry with her every time she needs to do something other than spend time with him. 3) He takes out his anger at Tristan and Jess on Rory. 4) Regardless of what Rory says to him on how she feels about either of these boys, Dean does not trust her (despite Rory’s growing feelings for Jess during season two and three, Dean’s distrust of Rory is something that drives her away). 5) He acts in a threatening manner towards Jess once Jess and Rory are now dating. 6) He attacks Jess without provocation in another person’s home, destroying and damaging property and hurting other individuals, despite not knowing why Rory is crying, which could be anything from Jess hurting Rory (which is what we are led to believe is Dean’s motivation) to a stubbed toe. 7) He marries at a much too young age while obsessed with another girl. 8) He cheats on his wife while taking another woman’s virginity–note: while what Rory did was wrong or a manipulation by the writers, I point out the fact that Dean takes Rory’s virginity lightly by taking it while still married to another woman. All this evidence shows that this program lacked true character development. They can have other characters say that Dean is a great boyfriend, that Rory is smart, or that Lorelai has a handle on their life all they want, doesn’t make it true. The actions of the characters and the motivations behind what they say are much more important evidence than the idea of characters as presented by other characters.
Then Lorelai makes her big mistake. Because Luke is somewhat unsure of himself as suddenly a father, he wants to hold off on getting married, but one day Lorelai loses all control over herself and issues him an ultimatum that he must respond to immediately: Elope Now or It’s Over. I am a firm believer that ultimatums do not have any place in a relationship (beyond “If you ever hit me again, I’m leaving” or “Don’t cheat on/lie to me again), especially if one expects the relationship to be healthy and equal. Luke can’t respond immediately, so Lorelai doesn’t go home and cry over the loss of a good thing (which would have been her fault anyway), but instead goes to Christopher and sleeps with him. This seems like the actions of a reasonable individual—no, wait, not that. And to top it all off, all Luke needed was one night to agree with her plan. She originally seemed like a role model: strong, independent, fun, well-adjusted if a little weird, but Lorelai, by these hurtful actions, is an unhealthy person emotionally and I no longer have any respect for her.
So where does the audience go from there? The show, if you’d notice, did kind of peter out after that as it was hard to get behind such horrible people and root for them. The writers took a gamble that these two developments would be exciting and interesting to the audience, but instead they ruined the integrity of the main characters. In fact, even Sookie was often crazy, especially when she tried literally to force Jackson to get a vasectomy (reverse the sexes and see how wrong that is: “You’re getting your tubes tied, woman! I don’t want you having any more kids.”—See? Psycho.), and I felt somewhat vindicated when he didn’t go through with it and it bit her in the ass.
Woman on the Show that Is Actually Strong: Almost Emily Gilmore, she’s the closet the show comes to a woman who is aware of who she is and still makes mistakes but has strength of character. The audience also expects Emily to do horrible things now and again.
2: Kaylee of Firefly
This short run TV show is beloved, by me as well. I love the movie too, and the characters are so well done. Joss Whedon is great with characters, typically with women especially, but this is one character that I just can’t stand. In a few number of episodes, Kaylee manages to make herself completely unlikable. She is meant to be strong, not in the way that Zoe as in ability to handle violent situations or showing physical strength. Kaylee is meant to be strong in a much more subtle way. She struck out from her home planet (leaving your family and all you know is brave) to be a mechanic (breaking a gender stereotype is hard and requires confidence and strength of character) to travel with strangers (bravery again) and enjoy all aspects of her life (including her sexuality without being called a slut or a whore). But—BUT Kaylee is mean, rude, and hurtful in the things she says, especially to Simon whom she supposedly likes. She is also overly sensitive to his bumbling (does he seem capable of talking to women at all? “Is there anyone you can talk to?”) and doesn’t cut him any slack for it, showing her extreme insecurity. She makes this face every time he makes a mistake (only in words by the way never actions and never maliciously) that is so judgmental and without any empathy that drives me up a wall. I’ve met women like Kaylee, who consider themselves strong but are so insecure in their strength that they can’t let any near insult go. I’m not saying that her cowardice doesn’t bother me either, but her inability to display empathy and her ability to misinterpret other’s intent and meaning in what they say in the worst possible way bothers me more. I can’t stand that kind of oversensitivity, because it shows a lack of belief in oneself and in the good intentions of others. Beyond that she betrayed River for the same actions that saved her life. Who does that? Apparently, I’m supposed to like her because she talks sweetly and is presented as cute, but I don’t actually find her character to be sweet. She smiles a lot (and the actress does have a cute smile), but she is very judgmental and unforgiving. Her character suffers the same fate as Allison Blake’s: she is used for drama.
Woman on the Show who Is Actually Strong: Pick Any Other Woman, even River with her mental problems, but especially Zoe because of her strength of character, even excluding her alacrity at violence.
1: Any Sitcom Woman
I’ve watched quite a lot of sitcoms, but for the most part the main character is male. Sitcoms more often than any other show genre use other characters as a source of drama, and since the main character is male, then the reasonable assumption is that women would often be the cause of drama. This is fine as long as the reason for contention isn’t that she’s a horrible bitch. The biggest example of this is in Wings. Helen, the main love interest of Joe, had moved to New York and basically cut off all contact with Joe. Ten months later and no contact from her during that time, Joe is dating another woman and Helen calls him in the middle of the night. When he goes to New York, he finds her miserable and waitressing in a stripclub. He convinces her to come home, and it is not until she does that she realizes he’s moved on and is now dating another woman. She freaks out, saying that he misled her into thinking they would be together, even though she has no claim on him (it is unreasonable to assume that someone would wait celibate for ten months with absolutely zero contact—that’s enough time to make a human being, for god’s sake). Then to express her anger, beyond just screaming at him like a banshee, she runs her car through his office. Tell me that is not crazy. Tell me that is not unconscionable.
Then after he fixes it, she does it again. She should be in jail. I actually don’t understand why he ever married her. And so many women are like this on sitcoms, unfair and unreasonable. Such as, Jill Taylor on Home Improvement who would drag Tim to the opera but wouldn’t allow Tim to go to monster truck rallies on his own (reverse the sexes and see how controlling that is: “We’re going to this car show, and you’re going to enjoy it . . . No, you can’t go to the ballet. I won’t let you.”) And once he found out she had a secret bank account, and she felt there was nothing dishonest or wrong about hiding money—which are often the actions of someone who is going to leave their spouse. And she even went so far as to say that her money was her money, and his money was their money. Talk about selfish and greedy. But the episode isn’t about her lack of trust in Tim, but the fact that Tim made the majority of their money and his lack of care for her sense of insecurity in her independence. He didn’t make her be a housewife. She made that decision on her own. She was lucky that he made enough money for her to do that. If she’s feeling insecure about that later on then that’s her misfortune and she shouldn’t take it out on her husband nor should she hide things from him—that’s the sign of an unhealthy relationship and a dishonest person.
Sometimes the show isn’t using women for drama though. Sometimes it’s just misandry because the women are always right, the men are always wrong, even when I, a woman, disagree. Scrubs is the biggest culprit of this. Eliot is mean to JD for simply being himself sometimes, and in the beginning especially, she is a backstabber. Some may argue that at times JD could be a jerk to her, like when he got her to breakup with Sean and then didn’t want her, but no matter what he did, it was not okay for her to shove him, and do it so hard that he flew over a table at a rehearsal dinner for friends. That’s abusive and inappropriate. Carla is often unfair to Turk. Once Turk was just trying to show solidarity for his new female boss, and she took offence. Carla and Eliot go on and on about how his actions were wrong because “Medicine is such a boy’s club.” And Turk was forced to apologize for being a feminist. I believe that Turk did the right thing by standing up for her against his friends. He could have taken part in their disrespectful behavior or just been passive about it. Instead, he told them that what they were doing was wrong and that they should stop. I’m glad he did it, but every woman on the show gets mad at him. He can’t win. In one episode, we see that he actually cannot win, wherein the show takes two what if paths. In one Turk stands up for Carla, and she gets mad at him for “fighting her battles” so to speak. In the other Turk doesn’t stand up for her, and she gets mad at him for not being more supportive. It’s not funny; it’s insulting and frustrating. And Jordan, god, that woman is crazy (but I’m willing to let that slide because they present her as a bitch). Eliot and Carla are supposed to be likeable, but I hate them because I don’t like people who will be that cruel and unreasonable without ever realizing that what they are doing is wrong.
Woman on a Sitcom who Is Actually Strong: Penny, Amy, and Bernadette of The Big Bang Theory are all likable and interesting. When they are pitted against their men, it is not often because they are being unreasonable (such as when Bernadette had a bone of contention with Wolowitz spending thousands of dollars on a 3D printer without consulting her—relationship tip: talk about any expenditure before going ahead, and that goes for both partners) and if they ever are unreasonable, they realize it later (such as when in a moment of extreme frustration Penny berated Leonard, and the other guys, for being too nerdy and childish, making Leonard so insecure that he tried to sell off all of his collections, but once it was pointed out to her, by Sheldon, that she was being unfair, she apologized.).
Shows That Just Have Strong Women:
The X-Files has Dana Scully, who is flawed (she is so skeptic that sometimes it’s ridiculous), but she is never cruel or mean to Mulder or anyone, possibly because she is an equal character on the show. Arrow has Laurel, who sometimes is cruel but later takes responsibility for her actions, admits what she did was wrong, and apologizes. Dollhouse has both Echo, who starts as a tabula rasa but quickly develops into a strong and capable person who is not infallible, and Adelle, who runs the house. My favorite part of the show is when they catch the handler that’s a rapist, and we’re led to believe that Adelle is sending him to murder a woman, but then it turns out that woman is a doll and she kills him at Adelle’s command. Vindication! Some may say, ooh, that’s a bit dark, but it wasn’t like Adelle could turn him in to the police. Warehouse 13 didn’t have a single weak or bitchy woman on it. And that’s all I can think of right now. Maybe others can come up with more examples. The sad thing is I can think of more poorly written women than I can well written women in TV shows.
The issue isn’t that women are bad, it’s that these women are badly written for the sake of drama. And that’s lazy writing. If other shows can write women well without compromising drama then every show could with effort. Also, if the issue is not that they are poorly written, but that the writer thinks she’s right even though what she is doing is wrong, then the show condones selfish, cruel, and unreasonable actions from women. That’s not okay. Mean actions should never be condoned, no matter what demographic is committing them. If ever a viewer can switch the genders and the situation becomes a Lifetime movie, then it is wrong, regardless of gender. I want strong women in my shows. Strong—not bitchy and selfish. I want good people, even if flawed, in my shows. I want strong writing over lazy writing to take precedence. We all deserve a better class of character in our shows, and we don’t have to pay for it in a loss of conflict or interest.