Where are the Women?

By Emily Moon




It's a sad fact that whilst over half the viewing public is female, for every female character in TV drama, there are two that are male. Where are the women? I hear you cry. 

But hold your horses - here come Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda, trotting down Fifth Avenue in an eye-watering display of mismatched haute couture. Clever girls, to walk in those heels. Which one are you most like?

Women, this is absurd. We're being cheated of sensible role models. Switch on the box for a man to admire, brave Jack Bauer, socially responsible midget Robin Hood, the enigmatic Dr Who!

We get Ally McBeal. A woman too loopy to enjoy her highly powered job at a successful law firm - or to eat for that matter. Like Carrie and co she is too absorbed by hooking herself a man to consider anything else in her lollipop head. Or she may just be too hungry. 

Sexism and The City?

The phenomenon that is Sex and the City may be the most interesting example of women's representation in TV drama. Because this is a show about women, for women. Every all-female house-share I have lived in has housed a box set. This is the generation of young women who followed the programme's subliminal mantra that empowerment comes through sleeping around. The result - a lack of sense of self worth at worst and Chlamydia at best.

 This show, ostensibly about women, is obsessed with men. Interestingly whilst the show was based on columns written by a woman, the producer and many of the writers and directors were men. The central relationship "Mr Big"and Carrie (yes tha's right "Mr Big". All six series centre around a euphemism for a penis. You couldn't make this stuff up) is a horrible example of an imbalance of power.  He  - dominant, arrogant, she - weak and submissive, waiting for him to commit, a little girl waiting to be rescued. A little girl waiting for her Mr Big. 

Maybe the popularity of the show rests partly on our own identification with the four women - remember those endless quizzes in female magazines - which character are you? Slutty like Samantha? Journalistically-challenged like Carrie? I can't help but wonder, if we identify so much with them is it because we see something of their vacuous, inane and futile existence in our own lives? Do we look up to them because they have more money than us?  

Or maybe we admire them for their friendship and their support for each other? But then what about the series that centres around protagonist Carrie's affair with another woman's husband? This is not a shining example of sisterhood. 

I strongly suspect that Carrie is not what a feminist looks like.

So why does any of this matter? It matters because there is so little TV drama that is mainly about women, let alone single women and their friends, and some genuinely empowered female role models wouldn't go amiss. Give us some impressive female characters in drama and I will leave Carrie Bradshaw well alone to simper into her expensive toe-crunching shoes and pine for Mr B.

Sell by date...

Age is another thorny issue in TV drama. If you are female and over 45 you are invisible on the small screen. Women in this age group rarely feature as leads in televised drama - the lovely Miss Marple being a notable exception - leading the Trade Union Equity to launch a campaign on this issue*.

The problem isn't limited to drama, but extends to reality TV and news. Consider Strictly Come Dancing with chauvinistic and lame-humoured Brucey. Why is there not a similarly wrinkled woman on TV? The co- presenter is of course a young and attractive woman. It's a pattern women have been fighting against in the workplace for years - and here we are presented with it smack bang in our faces on TV every Saturday Night - not to mention in the majority of otherwise sensible news programmes throughout the week.  

Both female presenters and broadcast journalists are frequently being replaced for younger counterparts. The sole female judge in Strictly, Arlene Phillips (66) has famously been replaced with Alesha Dixon (30) who has less than half of her expertise or experience as well as years. And X Factor  take Cheryl and Danni's ages, add them together - and you will probably get Louis  Walsh. 

How long before Debroah Meaden** is replaced in the dragons den by Lilly Allen. Or, god forbid, Jordan? 

And the news - former newscaster Anna Ford left the BBC at 62, fearing that she'd be sidelined because of her age whilst her former beau Jon Snow cheerfully rattles along on Channel 4. And last December, 57-year-old former Five news presenter Selina Scott won a landmark out-of-court settlement and an apology in an age-discrimination suit when Five pulled out of her contract. Naomi Wolf noticed this pattern in The Beauty Myth (1991). How sad that 18 years on it remains a live issue. 

So this is the life that TV sells us. I must find a man to be happy. I don't exist if I am over 45.  

For all of those who think that there's no longer a fight to be had for gender equality - why not switch on the box and look for the women - you will quickly learn otherwise.


*Visit  http://www.gopetition.co.uk/online/24658.html 
** A self-declared non-feminist  may deserve what she gets


Fiesty women?

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