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Rocking Out Without Your Boobs Out: In Praise Of TV's Non-Sexualized Female Characters

By Joanna Robinson | Think Pieces | May 11, 2011 |

By Joanna Robinson | Think Pieces | May 11, 2011 |

If you’ve ever read something I’ve written, you know I have a great respect for the female bosom. But, my love for boobs aside, there is a distressing trend on television when it comes to female characters in positions of power. On the one hand, since, say, the 1970s and early 80s, there has been an upswing in the number of female characters in what used to be considered a “man’s” field. Female bosses, female detectives, female doctors. On the other hand, more often than not, these highly respected and competent women are hyper-sexualized either in their actions (seriously, how do the women on “Grey’s Anatomy” have time to practice medicine?) or their appearance. When it comes to appearance, I find whatever crack monkeys they have running the FOX costume department to be the worst offenders. I thought the ladies on “House” had it rough (nice suit, Dr. Cuddy, is that, jacket, perhaps, a wee bit small?) until I saw what those drug addled primates cooked up for Dr. Saroyan on “Bones.” If you don’t watch the show (don’t blame you), Dr. Saroyan (played by the lovely Tamara Taylor) is the head of the Forensics Division at the fictional “Jeffersonian Institute.” (“Jeffersonian” is “no duh” code for “Smithsonian.”) So, she’s kind of a big deal. The character has always favored tight skirts and dresses and that’s fine but please feast your eyes on what they have her wearing this season. It has to be seen in motion to be believed.

My credulity is as strained as the buttons on her uniform. Is it possible that any woman that smart and that ambitious would choose to wear a glorified sausage casing? Sure, I suppose, but I’d prefer to think otherwise. But, listen, I honestly came here to praise television, not to bury it. And, in the words of Dan Savage, it gets better, ladies. In Detective Sarah Linden, the lead character on AMC’s compelling series “The Killing,” we have a character who is strong, better than her male counterpart and does it all in baggy sweaters, parkas and sensible boots (because it never. stops. raining.). Let me state for the record that actress Mireille Enos is staggeringly beautiful with gorgeous hair and a fairly mesmerizing mouth. But a woman can be attractive without being stuffed into something three sizes too small and, at any rate, the point of her character’s arc on “The Killing” has little to nothing to do with her sexuality. She has sex, she has complicated commitment issues, but most of all she is a damn fine detective and the show runners would never pull a Kate Beckett-in-a-bikini stunt with Linden. Similarly, can you picture her ever fluttering her eyelashes to get the job done? No, in fact, it’s the other lead detective, Stephen Holder (played with ferrety charm by Joel Kinnaman) who shamelessly (and creepily) flirts with young girls in order to get information and advance the case.


Enos’s Linden is fascinating in her quiet determination, but the female character that has garnered the most attention this season is Margo Martindale’s Mags Bennett on FX’s modern western “Justified.” In fact, I’ve heard a rumor that they’re thinking of renaming the Emmy for “Best Supporting Actress In a Drama Series” the “Margo Martindale Will Act Your Face Off And You Will Like It Award.” Mags is by turns charming and absolutely terrifying and as the head of what is essentially a crime family, she has not only her sons but also the entire county under her thumb. And, as far as I can tell, she does it all without ever once running a comb through her hair. Mags is a figure we all recognize, a genial mamma bear. But with a twist. And the best thing about “Justified” is that despite the bevy of beautiful babes that populate the show (Winona, Ava and Black Pike’s Carol Johnson) we all know who the real piece of meat on that show is, and he’s usually wearing a stetson. Honorable “Justified” mention goes to Erica Tazel as U.S. Marshall Rachel Brooks who, while underused, is nonetheless a very beautiful and kick ass member of the boy’s club.


Am I saying this non-sexualized representation of powerful and interesting women is anything new? No, I’m certainly not. But, with apologies to Kima Greggs, Livia Soprano, Dana Scully and all the Golden Girls (barring Blanche), Mags Benett and Sarah Linden are the most compelling and multi-faceted I’ve ever seen. Is it possible for a woman to be sexy and intelligent and powerful? Oh h*ll yes. In fact, on “The Killing” the character of Gwen Eaton (played by Kristin Lehman) not only fits that description, but, I would argue, exploits the sexual hold she has on her boss in order to gain influence over him. Is hers an interesting story? Sure is. But I’ve heard it before. Isn’t it nice to hear something different for a change?

Joanna Robinson still likes boobs. This will never change. Swearsies. Email! Twitter!