This is a guest post written by Tina Kakadelis.
As someone who grew up watching TV shows like 90210, Melrose Place, and Gossip Girl, the concept of a drama geared toward young adults holds a special place in my heart. With each new television season, I keep a lookout for new teen dramas. This summer, I was pleasantly blindsided by the Freeform series, The Bold Type.
The show follows Sutton, Kat, and Jane, three best friends who work together at Scarlet magazine, a fictionalized Cosmopolitan. Sutton is an assistant to an executive, Kat’s the social director, and Jane is beginning her very first day as a writer. The show is very sweet and very much made for the new, young, “woke” generation. There are references to Hamilton and Beyoncé and politics. The writers don’t shy away from anything, and neither do the three young women the show focuses on.
What struck me as out of the ordinary, though, was the treatment of the friendship the three women share. It’s the backbone of the show, and rightfully so. That in itself is nothing new. Most teen dramas have a female friendship at the forefront because most of their viewers are young women. However, where shows like Gossip Girl and One Tree Hill differ from The Bold Type is the fact that their female friendships are the root of the drama. How many times did Brooke and Peyton fight over Lucas on One Tree Hill? How much time did Blair and Serena spend being mad at each other in Gossip Girl?
What sets The Bold Type apart is that the friendship of Sutton, Kat, and Jane is never disputed. They’re ride or die, number one cheerleaders for each other. They’re not plotting or talking negatively behind each others’ backs. Their friendship is a healthy support system for their darkest days, and that’s how it should be. Even when Kat makes a bad judgement call that puts Sutton’s job in jeopardy, they stay friends because they value their friendship enough to talk about the problem. They want to fix it.
Pitting women against each other has been happening since the beginning of time. Women are almost socialized to measure themselves against the women around them. To be envious of the women who are smarter or thinner or faster or more accomplished. The whole concept of “frenemies” exists almost entirely in regard to female friendships.
When young girls see these “frenemy” relationships on TV, they replicate them in their real-life friendships. It becomes normal to constantly be at odds with their best friends. Friendships, at their core, are supposed to be based on mutual support and love, but television rarely portrays female friendship in that way. A guy is usually put between the two of them and suddenly, the girls forget about their friendship and fight over this person they’ve known for five seconds. I know television is unrealistic, but come on! Why are we teaching girls to value the attention of guys over their friends?
The Bold Type is midway through its first season and it’s doing magnificently, with a 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes and glowing reviews from critics and viewers alike. I believe a large portion of its success comes from the depictions of the women. Not just their friendship, but the three of them as individual characters.
Kat, the social media director, meets Adena, a lesbian Muslim photographer, and is instantly smitten, but also confused. Until she met Adena, Kat had always thought of herself as heterosexual. When she tells her friends she’s having these feelings for a girl, her life stays pretty much the same. Her friends are still there, supporting her. Their first reaction isn’t to think of her differently or worry that she’s going to try and hit on them. No. It’s to help her in any way they can.
Jane is the most conservative and nervous of the three. While Sutton and Kat are very headstrong, Jane has to have all the facts before she takes even the smallest step. But she’s not looked down on for reacting to things differently from her friends, and the way they problem solve with her is tailored to the way that’s best for her.
Sutton is strong and, personally, my favorite. Her dream is to go into fashion, but she’s not just a woman who likes the idea of working in the fashion industry without any practical knowledge. Instead, we see that this is something she’s been working toward since she was a kid. Her story lines have taken her out of the comfort zone of the job she’s held for three years and into the uncertain world of fashion. It’s so refreshing to watch someone follow their dreams and have them deserve it when all their dreams come true.
The Bold Type understands that interpersonal drama is not the only form of compelling drama. All of the girls’ supervisors are strong women who do everything they can to help the girls follow their dreams. I know what you’re thinking. This is just human decency, it’s not something worth watching on TV. Well, let me tell you, in the world of television and its portrayal of women, this is something worth celebrating. It’s not every day people get to see positive work environments with female bosses. Nine times out of ten, when a woman plays a boss or CEO on TV, she’s written like Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada or Calista Flockhart on Supergirl.
I know television is just television, but it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. I feel like I’ve repeated that phrase every day of my life, but it’s true. The things we see in pop culture directly influence our real lives. I remember watching a Disney Channel Original Movie when I was younger and liking the way one of the actresses wrote the letter “E” on a piece of paper at some point during the movie. I genuinely changed my own handwriting because of a Disney Channel Original Movie. That’s a very small example, but if I was moved to change my handwriting because of a movie, do you still really think pop culture isn’t important?
As simple as my example was, it proves the importance of representation. That’s why people should pay attention to the content they’re creating. By writing Jane, Sutton, and Kat as three women who are real, with flaws, they’re showing young women that there’s no one right way to be a woman. They’re showing men that, too.
People talk a lot about the importance of seeing strong women when it comes to young women, but not enough people are talking about the importance of young men seeing strong women. The idea of a strong woman isn’t constrained to strength (although, more female superhero movies need to happen), but the idea of a woman who’s fully formed. A woman who makes decisions for herself and isn’t afraid to be unashamedly who she is. A woman with flaws, but one who isn’t defined by those flaws. Young men and women need to know that women have their own agency and do not only exist in relation to a man. Women have fully formed lives outside of their relations with men. I’m glad The Bold Type recognizes that.
At the end of the day, Kat, Sutton, Jane, and all of the women celebrate each other, their differences, hopes, dreams, shortcomings, and all of the things that make each of them who they are. The Bold Type is boldly going where few teen dramas have gone before, and you should all be watching.