Women on TV in 2018

I’ve been re-watching season 1 of The Bridge with Henry, and it struck me suddenly how many women there are on TV now, and in The Bridge especially, and how different that is from when I was a kid. I asked Henry if he remembers when Prime Time TV shows only allowed women to play 4 main roles: wife, girlfriend, prostitute, or victim, but he doesn’t. Thank goodness.

In The Bridge, we have Saga Noren, our beloved peculiar detective protagonist. Brilliant, strange, annoying, determined, confident, awkward. And here’s the thing: it’s not a big deal that she’s a woman. Remember Prime Suspect from the early 90s? DCI Jane Tennyson suffered no end of sexism and bullying for daring to be a woman doing a man’s job.

In Saga’s police department there are TONS of women doing all kinds of jobs, not just serving tea and filing papers. They’re not hot 22-yr-old blondes, either. Older women and younger women, slim and stout. (In the 4th season we have a middle-aged female IT expert!) There are female BOSSES and it’s not even remarked on. (Lillian, oh how I love Lillian and her skillful policework and people-managing, her trademark fluffy green scarf, and her kickass no-fuss haircut).

Women in The Bridge are running companies, committing crimes, tracing IP addresses, writing newspaper columns, and catching criminals. They’re not all pleasant people, which is as it should be; they are interestingly three-dimensional, thanks to the truly excellent writing on this show; and most importantly they’re THERE, in the foreground and background of every scene.

Thinking back on the TV of my childhood… Well there was I Love Lucy, of course! And The Dick Van Dyke Show had Laura and Sally. Edit: Cousin Jerry reminded me about Mary Tyler Moore! Yes!

Other than that… no important female characters at all on The Rockford Files. None on Hawaii Five-0. One main female character to about eight main male characters on M*A*S*H. None on The A-Team. None on Simon & Simon. None on Miami Vice.

We had Uhura and sometimes Nurse Chapel on Star Trek. Most of the time they opened hailing frequencies and pined for Mr. Spock (don’t we all), but SOMETIMES they Did Things and it could have been much worse, so props to Star Trek for acknowledging the existence of women.

How many male Looney Toons characters were there? Bugs Bunny, Daffy, Elmer, Porky, Yosemite Sam, Sylvester, Tweetie Pie, Pepe le Pew, the Coyote, the Roadrunner, Foghorn Leghorn, Bill and Sam… how many female characters? Uh. The old lady who owned Tweetie Pie? The female skunk forever fleeing her stalker?

My niece, who just turned five, loves a cartoon called The Octonauts, which seems to have a pretty even ratio of male to female characters, and they all Do Things. She also enjoys My Little Pony (which is not as ghastly as it sounds). It has mostly female characters! She loves loves loves the movie Totoro, which stars two sisters. (side note: the dad in Totoro is beautifully portrayed. He’s not the detached, distant dad of olden times but takes excellent loving care of his little girls while their mom is in hospital.)

So. TV in 2018 has remarkably more gender equality than it did 40 years ago.

Last year I tried a Spanish crime drama on Netflix (can’t remember the name). It had men, men, men, men, men, and then BOOM a female murder victim. I got all annoyed and turned it off, but it made me realize that even shows that are not as fair as The Bridge must be better than they used to be, or an example in the old sexist style wouldn’t have annoyed me so much.

(Having gotten this off my chest I’ll go back to watching Claws. I just started it and the first episode was a hoot. It’s about a handful of nail salon employees who get sucked into organized crime and so far the characters are GREAT. Hope it continues as it started.)

Category: Blog 5 comments »

5 Responses to “Women on TV in 2018”

  1. Jerry Nicholson

    Police Woman, Cagney & Lacy, Julia, Get Christy Love, Saving Grace, Without a Trace, The Closer, New Avengers (1976-1977), Mary Tyler Moore Show, Murphy Brown, Charlies Angels (OK -that last one is just T&A).

  2. kara

    Yes to Mary Tyler Moore! Good show and it really holds up. Still… while at work Mary is alone in a world of men, isn’t she?

    I’ve heard of Cagney and Lacy, but not most of the rest. Must have been before my time or not of the genres that my family favored. Glad to know that there were other women out there Doing Things on TV.

  3. Jerry Nicholson

    Police Woman: 1974-1978, Angie Dickinson
    Get Christy Love: 1974-1975, Teresa Graves
    Julia: 1968-1971, Diahann Carroll
    Murphy Brown: 1988-1998, Candice Bergen
    New Avengers: 1976-1977, Diana Rigg
    Charlies Angels: 1976-1981, Kate Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, Jacklyn Smith, Cheryl Ladd
    Moonlighting: 1985-1989, Cybill Shepherd
    Remington Steele: 1982-1987, Stephanie Zimbalist

  4. kara

    It’s great to know about these shows. Do you recall if they included women in supporting roles the way The Bridge and other modern shows do? E.g. as doctors, other cops, police superintendents, musicians, school principals, taxi drivers, lawyers, judges, politicians, bailiffs, criminal masterminds, safe crackers, psychiatrists, expert witnesses, bosses, plumbers, shopkeepers, journalists, etc.?

    Even “I Love Lucy”, “The Dick Van Dyke Show”, and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” with their strong women in main roles allowed only men in that kind of supporting role; supporting roles for women were nearly always restricted to friends and neighbors. Maybe we’d get a female milliner or schoolteacher now and then…

    Also, did those shows make a big deal about the femaleness of the protagonists? Was it a plot point that they were women? The Bridge is so refreshing in that the characters never comment about the women being women, if you know what I mean… It’s not a big deal. It’s not part of the plot. It doesn’t matter that Saga is a woman. It’s just a fact of modern life.

    Murphy Brown is on the later end of your spectrum, there, so I imagine that it would be most likely to be inclusive of women.

  5. Jerry Nicholson

    I don’t know anything about “The Bridge” and I don’t remember anything much about supporting roles. On Charlies Angels men were usually the bad guys and the ladies were there to make things right. Cagney and Lacy were the tough cops and didn’t play second fiddle to anyone. In Julia, Diahann Carroll was the first woman of African descent to play a leading role in a TV series. Teresa Graves, a police detective in Get Christy Love, was the second. In Police Woman, Angie Dickinson was a police sergeant.

    At the time those shows were on I didn’t worry much about inclusiveness or exclusiveness. Probably still don’t. But then I am old and grouchy.

    Cousin Jerry


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