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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

bitches (on TV) be crazy

Nurse Jackie Edie Falco

Damn feminists. We give them women on TV, and they still complain. Heather Havrilesky in The New York Times:

TV’s New Wave of Women: Smart, Strong, Borderline Insane

At first glance, this looks like a great moment for women on television. Many smart and confident female characters have paraded onto the small screen over the past few years. But I’m bothered by one persistent caveat: that the more astute and capable many of these women are, the more likely it is that they’re also completely nuts.

I don’t mean complicated, difficult, thorny or complex. I mean that these women are portrayed as volcanoes that could blow at any minute. Worse, the very abilities and skills that make them singular and interesting come coupled with some hideous psychic deficiency.

These aren’t just complicating characteristics like, say, Don Draper’s narcissism. The suggestion in all of these shows is that a female character’s flaws are inextricably linked to her strengths. Take away this pill problem or that personality disorder, and the exceptional qualities vanish as well.

Follows are many examples that support Havrilesky’s thesis. Go have a read.

Now, I haven’t seen many of the shows she discusses, but what she says does ring true in general. (For American TV, that is: British TV manages to create fascinating and flawed female protagonists without them having to be crazy. See, for instance, Scott & Bailey, about two women cops.) But I think she misses the really big picture. Which is that Hollywood simply doesn’t think that real, ordinary, normal, sane women can be interesting… because, “clearly,” real, ordinary, “normal” women are shallow, narcissictic idiots concerned with nothing more than snagging a husband. (We know this is the case because this is how Hollywood depicts “regular” women.) What’s interesting about that? And so just as “clearly,” any woman who might possibly be interesting must therefore be abnormal — there must be something “wrong” with her, something that separates her from the ordinary.

It’s the same old shit. Hollywood cannot see that women are people the way that it just naturally assumes men are, cannot see that women can be complicated and flawed and messed up and yet also professional and competent and hence a strong protagonist for serial storytelling. And so it must render women as somehow not-woman. This can happen even if women are writing and producing these TV shows, because the culture in which they are making TV is still created and enforced with predominantly male oversight.

As Havrilesky notes, there are some female protagonists who don’t get shoved into this corner. But there are too many who are, and they are treated in noticeably less flattering ways that their “crazy” male counterparts, for it to be coincidence.

(Thanks to bronxbee for the link.)



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