Female TV Characters are present but lacking
Between 8 and 11 p.m. on Thursdays, I am not to be disturbed. I have my kettle corn next to my blackberry Izze and a big plate of nachos. With my feet propped up, I turn on the television, and the night begins: ABC’s “Thank God It’s Thursday” lineup, featuring two of my favorite Shonda Rhimes shows, “Scandal” and “How To Get Away With Murder.”
Although both of these shows feature a strong female lead who represents power and success, the shows portray their relationships with men as a form of validation.
The drama in each of these shows is so intense that I stare at the television screen every Thursday, gripping the edge of my seat and waiting for the commercial break to end. While I want to congratulate Rhimes for breaking viewership records, I’ve always been uneasy about the characters the lead actors play. In “Scandal” and “HTGAWM,” the leading ladies, while powerful and successful, are emotionally unstable — without a man, these women are completely helpless.
Television producer and screenwriter Shonda Rhimes has taken over ABC, producing some of the best television dramas with some of the highest ratings on network television. Each show often brings in over eight million viewers, according to Entertainment Weekly, and I can’t go on Twitter without my newsfeed flooding with #Shondaland and #TGIT tweets every Thursday.
When women in television are in a position of power, their success usually comes with a price. Time and time again on our television screens, we see that women are not allowed to be successful without a man by their side.
In real life, women are independent and have the power to make their own decisions, but in popular television shows like “Scandal” and “HTGAWM,” that is not the case. Women watch these shows and are conditioned to believe that, in order to achieve a certain level of prosperity, they must satisfy society’s misogynist view of the world and gain the approval of a man.
Kerry Washington plays the irresistible Olivia Pope in “Scandal.” Even though she is powerful and successful, she seems to be nothing without a man by her side.
Olivia is the president’s mistress and finds any excuse she can to justify sleeping with a married man. Every move she makes is either dictated by a man or done to please a man. The lack of respect she has for herself is completely disgusting.
In order to keep her sleazy affair with the president, she is willing to sacrifice her integrity and her job. Olivia works hard to tackle her task, but she tends to put men first. After jeopardizing her dignity in the past four seasons, her decisions are now completely made upon the approval of a man. This is a trend in many of the Rhime’s television dramas that star women.
In “HTGAWM,” Viola Davis plays the devious, yet powerful attorney and law professor, Annalise Keating. Keating embraces strength, but lacks independence. She is completely mentally and emotionally beaten down without a man by her side. Throughout the show, she spends her time begging for attention from her husband and the man she was sleeping with. She implies that she does not know how to make it in the world without them.
In both “Scandal” and “HTGAWM,” the lead characters are portrayed as women who only know how to be a mistress to a man. I would enjoy seeing a show that valued a strong, independent woman making her way in the world on her own.
Men are great, but television tends to get it confused — men are not the key to a woman’s success and happiness. I would like to see television give women more credit. We are fearless and self-empowering all on our own. There is nothing wrong with showing a woman next to her man, but when television decides that she is nothing without him, then we have a problem.
Television attempts to use women’s emotions as a form of weakness, instead of a sign of character, and there is always a man in a higher position of power. Watching Rhime’s best television dramas excites me, but they are also a reminder that, in the eyes of society, women are at the bottom of the food chain. We are seen as bossy, but never the boss.