What Does TV Have Against Women In Politics?
You remember how we nearly elected a female president a few years ago? Of course you do. Your memory isn’t that short. Though it’s too early to call, I’d be surprised if we didn’t get a strong female candidate in 2016 and with the likes of Elizabeth Warren and Wendy Davis as well as Hillary Clinton herself still making headlines, it’s not like we’re exactly starving for real-life inspiration. Then what’s with the recent disturbing TV trend of ousting women from office? There was a time when women were considered viable candidates in TV politics. We can wave the We Love C.J. Cregg banner until our arms fall off and, of course, we can’t forget Battlestar Galactica’s President Roslin.
Of course, Roslin was weak and ill for much of the show and her storyline ended in domestic bliss rather than political strength. But we’ll take what we can get. That was a few short years ago. How does the TV political landscape look now? Well when I mentioned a disturbing trend, I meant it. Oftentimes pop culture writers will try to stir up trends where there are none but in the past two weeks alone, four well-qualified female politicians lost out on major network shows. Coincidence? Most certainly. But I think it’s worth looking at why those women lost and what that means for the way pop culture views female politicians as a whole.
Josie Marcus — Scandal: A few weeks ago, Lisa Kudrow’s democratic candidate Josie Marcus let loose with this amazing speech on sexism and political coverage.
It was a remarkable TV moment and an excellent indictment of the lingering double standards in modern journalism and politics. I had such high hopes for Marcus taking on President Grant (a terrible human being) in the upcoming election only to have the character yanked away from me last week. Marcus withdrew from the campaign after her sister (her daughter!) engaged in some dirty, unforgivable tactics. Marcus bowed out rather than throw her own sister (seriously, her daughter!) under the bus. This, I suppose, could be called the moral high ground and it’s how Kudrow’s character classifies her actions. But she also tells Kerry Washington’s Olivia Pope “I wasn’t cut out for this.” Which is an admission of weakness not moral fortitude. Disappointing. Now we’re left with a race between Grant and Governor Reston. Two white guys? How refreshing.
Kristina Braverman — Parenthood: It was pretty clear from the start that Kristina was not going to win her race. She was the darkest horse imaginable. Though we saw a few triumphs from her in the race against Bob Little the overall message was twofold 1) Bob Little was willing to employ dirty tactics and Kristina wasn’t 2) the real triumph was her rebound from cancer. I appreciate the second message. It’s the sort of heart-squishiness we’ve come to expect from Parenthood. But the first message is one we’ll see again and again here. The men are willing to get their hands dirty and the women aren’t. Are we meant to see that as strength if it consistently means defeat?
Rachel Keyser and Diane Lockhart— The Good Wife: A few weeks ago fans of The Good Wife were treated to this highly disturbing image:
That’s Diane Lockhart, badass attorney with a heart of gold and spine of steel weeping her guts out because she discovered she wouldn’t be receiving the State Supreme Court nomination she was promised. Illinois selects their justices via a partisan election so Diane would have been nominated by Governor Peter Florrick and then voted in by the public. So we couldhave been treated to a Diane Lockhart campaign. But her political career was cut short for personal reasons (Florrick’s not her own). She was replaced in the nomination pool by Mary Stuart Masterson’s Rachel Keyser who was pushed to decline the nomination by another Florrick, Peter’s mother. In this case it was Keyser’s philandering that got her in trouble. So infidelity is not a political obstacle for Peter Florrick, but it is for Keyser? I see. In a meta-statement, Florrick’s chief-of-staff, Eli Gold, mentions how terrible it will look for two female nominees to be dropped back to back. Oh it does look terrible, show. I think it will matter very much who you throw at us next.
Leslie Knope — Parks And Recreation: That brings us, of course, to Leslie Knope, who was a shining example for women in politics. Heck, for humans in politics. Her ability to care and her passionate virtue were always seen as strengths. Sure she went head to head with The Big Bad System at times, but the ultimate victory was hers. So why pull it away? I get the idea that even sitcoms can’t be successful without a little dramatic tension and that it wouldn’t do for Leslie to be too happy. But this recall plot is such a slap in the face of everything Knope and the show achieved. Leslie is still a phenomenal woman. She will still do great works in the Parks Dept. which, I imagine, will always have a place for her. It’s a good indictment of the system to show it as too corrupt to sustain someone as good-hearted as Leslie. But it’s a terrible message for women in politics. Once again women are seen as too pure and too fragile to survive. That’s not the Knope I know.
Selina Meyer — Veep: Here we finally have an example of a successful female candidate. She got elected! Of course, in the context of this show, the Vice President is seen as merely a figurehead position. As for Meyer herself? Well she’s terrible at her job. Abysmal. Don’t get me wrong. The show is fantastic. It’s a razor-sharp look at the state of modern politics. But a bumbling female in office makes for fine comedy out of context but a troubling piece of a larger puzzle.
Cersei Lannister — Game Of Thrones: Well. Spoiler.
Daenerys Targaryen — Game Of Thrones: Ditto.
Of course there have been a few efforts recently to show women in political power. Both the short lived Commander-In Chief…
…and the mini-series Political Animals showed two strong women at the top of Capitol Hill. Political Animals had the option to be turned into a full-fledged series but wasn’t picked up. Why did both of those shows fail? Was the material really not good enough? Or was the subject matter unpalatable?
Disappointingly, there’s an extremely popular Danish TV show called Borgen which centers on a female Prime Minister. I say “disappointingly” because I hate it when Europe beats us to the progressive punch.
Alas, it seems that for now in America the most powerful female players in the TV political game remains the politician’s wife. So Scandal’s Mellie Grant (better her than the mustache twirling Sally Langdon) and House Of Cards’ Claire Underwood will have to do for now. (Alicia Florrick wants no part of it.) But as for me? Well, I’d prefer to see a female with power sitting on the throne. Not behind it.