Girl Bosses Grace Small Screens: The Importance of Female Representation on Television

Lauren Lau
Nov 7, 2018 · 5 min read
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A television show’s only as good as its female lead. Though this statement may be argued, in the contemporary era of feminism, ladies on screen are proving to be powerful pseudo-leaders in this revolutionary time.

Olivia Pope, Amy Santiago, Rebecca Pearson, Meredith Grey, Monica Geller, Penelope Garcia, Fiona Gallagher, Carrie Bradshaw, Jane Villanueva, and Blair Waldorf. What do these ladies all have in common? Sure, they all share 30 minute to an hour long time slots with strong male leads; however, these powerful girls leave a lasting impression on audiences all across the country.

Their role on their respective series provides inspiration to viewers for their constant tenacity, effervescent presence, or their ability to capture attention through their natural charm.

As we browse television channel, faces of women are becoming more prominent as leads on screen. Strong willed ladies being on television is not a new concept pulled out of the blue, but female-led series developing their extremely relevancy today.

With cultural movements such as #Metoo and ‘Time’s Up,’ whose roots originate with women, strong female leads are becoming more normalized, as they should be. Women have proven time and time again that they are more than capable of having success in a starring role.

Roles played by woman have often been pressured out of the spotlight due to institutionalized ideals of sexism and the tradition of women playing roles impartial to the main message of the film or television series.

Boundaries constructed by the majority and offensive stereotypes that have become argued as truth are being broken down by modern television. Traditional female roles are being challenged during each new season of television by networks introducing women in all types of occupations, positions in society, and varying personalities.

Networks are taking steps to a more progressive “normal.” BBC has announced the first female Doctor on “Doctor Who.” Freeform’s “The Fosters” is led by an interracial lesbian couple. Comedy Central’s “Broad City” stars two unapologetic women whose less than “ladylike” approach to life may be considered controversial.

Though strong female leads have been successful commercially and critically, there seems to be no downsides to the trend. One would think that finding great female talent is a simple task, but CBS has entered its second year of primetime television sans female-led series.

Netflix is fully engaged in the movement with its original series. “Orange is the New Black” puts together a strong female ensemble with both LGBTQ+ and culturally diverse characters discussing complex topics. “Marvel’s Jessica Jones” has a woman front and center as a hero with astonishing abilities. “GLOW” revolves around the unconventional world of women’s professional wrestling. This show assembles another talented all-female cast performing kitschy gimmicks of 1980s wrestling.

Now it would be unfair to applaud these shows and discredit those transcending women who came before them and paved the way for modernization throughout the television industry. In all aspects of the word, their impact has been absolutely metamorphic.

Take “The Golden Girls” for example. Four very different, yet remarkable personalities premiered in 1985. These astonishing ladies discussed the taboo topic of embracing sexuality, women in constant support of other women, and fully attacked double standards regarding the role of women in society during its seven season run.

These are just a few examples of why “The Golden Girls” is timelessly relevant. To sum up “The Golden Girls” in my own words, the show is a feminist masterpiece.

Female presence behind the scenes is also attracting attention by critics. Magnetic presence, innovative visions, and natural born talent is becoming more prominent on the television.

One of my personal favorites, Mindy Kailing, is the perfect example of charisma on and off screen. Kailing exercised her talents as comedic writer and ensemble member during nine seasons of “The Office.” Perhaps, her most notable work was Fox and Hulu’s “The Mindy Project.” The romantic comedy series was created by, written, produced, and headlined by Kailing. She’s hilarious, brilliant, and her stunning personality is easily recognizable on all of her work.

Mindy Kailing is just one of many inspirational forces who are shining among the industry. This past year, Lena Waithe became the first black woman to win a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Writing on a Comedy Series for her contribution to Netflix’s “Master of None.” Comedic icon Tina Fey may be one of the few people who are known equally for their ability to write, produce, and star on television.

USA Today reported that in 2017, women made up 42% of speaking roles on television. Though males still make up the larger portion of speaking roles and lead more mainstream television series, this statistic is a huge leap in the right direction. Though these numbers may appear “modest,” we can still do better.

No more strict maternal roles, over sexualized love interests, or condescending roles. These parts are overdone and in a male saturated industry, they are becoming tired and just plain uninteresting. Complexity and depth is what we are looking for here. Men and women to coexist on screen in a way that does not demean the opposite sex.

Female protagonist, antagonist, sidekick, writer, director, producer, composer, anything for that matter is what this generation needs to see on television. In a time of political distress, cultural confusion, and heightening of stereotypes, the people need strong ladies on screen. We need a someone who represents us as human beings.

All of these women’s incredible efforts are to be celebrated. Case and point. They are to be celebrated for adding necessary components to any successful television shows. They are bringing characters to life who are being considered timeless pieces of history.

Imagine your favorite television show without its leading lady. Or without the women who are in captivating attention in minor roles. Imagine it without the creative female minds who are penning scripts, directing an episode, or crafting possibly the next great series. You are probably thinking it’s missing that extra something that will elevate the show. That is why television shows are only as good as the women.

The Griffin

Student newspaper from Chestnut Hill College. Editor-in-Chief: Shaina Price.

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