Feminist TV is hard to come by. Even in shows featuring the coveted ‘strong female’, she is often the only woman in sight, as if multiple women would somehow disorient us. There is a particular sort of joy that comes in the discovery of truly feminist television. We may not be constantly judging scenes on whether they pass or fail the Bechdel test, but there is a certain comfort when they do. It comes from not having that annoying voice in the back of your head pointing out that the only women in the room are two dimensional and passive. That voice is rarely absent. When it is… it makes for some joyful viewing. I often watch these shows with a silly grin plastered across my face.
This show smashes the very concept of ‘limited roles’ to pieces. It’s about clones. All of the main characters are played by the same woman, the insanely talented Tatiana Maslany. The other thing? They are all complex and weird and unpredictable. Each takes the stereotype on which she is loosely based and twists it into something unrecognisable. The sisterhood that develops as the show does, the love and tensions between these women, are thrilling to watch.
Oh yeah, and they’re trying to bring down the evil corporation that’s trying to have them killed. What’s not to like?
All of the straight men in Orphan Black are under written idiots. This is a deliberate choice. It is a device to point out the limited roles we give women in television. It is also there as a means of showing how men – even when they are idiots, still work within the privileges afforded them by a patriarchal system. If you’re interested, there is a really great article about this aspect of the show over at Slate. The author refers to men as ‘like so many walking erections.’ It’s a must read. Trust me.
Scott and Bailey
This is a cop show from the UK. Generally speaking, I’m not really into crime shows. Usually because – in the UK, anyway – they are about men, and at a certain point I just got bored of that, you know? Then my brother introduced me to Scott and Bailey. I refused to watch it for ages, because I assumed I wouldn’t like it for aforementioned boredom reasons. How wrong I was.
All of the positions of power in this show are occupied by women. Scott and Bailey are police officers, their DCI is a woman (played to absolutely freaking perfection by Amelia Bullmore, who is also a writer for the show), as are all other heads of departments they encounter. In addition to the women in this show being epic badasses (which they all are), they deal with what are actually some pretty real issues – whether or not to have kids, how to balance work and motherhood (we don’t like to talk about it, but sometimes you can’t), how to deal with the creepy guy who you slept with and who is now kind of stalking you.
Every episode of this is gold. I don’t know that it’s watched much outside of the UK, but it totally should be.
I love Jessica Jones deeply but it has ruined Marvel for me forever. Now I know that they can do better, the utter shit show that is female characterisation in the Avengers movies has become totally unacceptable to me (before I was doing that thing where I pretended I didn’t mind because I loved Robert Downey Jr. so much. I totally mind.).
The entire first season of Jessica Jones is a repeated stabbing of the patriarchy. It covers topics such as abusive relationships, sexual violence and PTSD. It studies women’s agency, and how it can be taken from them. It places a woman as a central character, something Marvel has never done before. Jessica doesn’t spend the entire show being sexualised (cough – Black Widow – cough) – in fact she spends it wearing a pair of jeans so comfortable looking I have been searching for a similar pair ever since. She is an active character coming to terms with the actions of her abuser even as she seeks to bring him down.
It is excellent.
But I will warn you, it will totally un-do all that work you did trying to convince yourself that Black Widow was kind-of-maybe-sort-of okay.
Olivia Pope. Need I say more?
Yes. You might notice something about this list so far. All of the characters I have talked about are white ladies. While there is a growing feminist movement in TV today it is by no means intersectional, a fact that is disappointingly predictable.
But it’s not all bad. Shondaland, exists, after all.
Olivia Pope is a fixer. She sees your problem – a dead body, an unfortunate affair, some illegal action – and she can make it go away. By any means necessary. Growing up, Olivia Pope’s father drilled into her that as a black woman she would have to work twice as hard for half the power. She took that to heart, and if there is one thing Olivia Pope can do it is this: she can work you under the table. She wants power and she is willing to sacrifice anything to get it.
A guy kidnapped her one time. It was super traumatic. He’s dead now. Olivia smashed his head in with a chair.
Olivia Pope breeds presidents. And then she runs the White House without them even noticing.
Olivia Pope is unbeatable.