I wasn’t sure how I would feel about the new show “Brothers & Sisters” when it first came on. Overall, now, I like the show mainly for its array of complex characters and its portrayal of grown family members who love each other, but don’t always like each other very much. In terms of the female characters, however, it’s pretty much hit or miss. One recurring “miss” theme is the message I’m getting that women, no matter how intelligent, capable or successful, want more than anything else to be loved, any other priorities be damned.
Kitty (Calista Flockhart) is a Republican television personality and later political advisor to Rob Lowe’s Senator McAllister. She cheated on her jerky fiancé with the co-host on her TV show, who seemed to treat their relationship as way to regain power he’s losing because she’s a more likeable television personality. Her passionate and articulately expressed opinions are reduced to “cute” as soon as sex enters the picture. After that also falls apart, she moves on to getting involved with her new boss, the Senator. It strikes me as incongruous that a woman who takes her career seriously–and a political career, at that–would engage in such obviously unprofessional behaviour, and the message as presented is that deep down, she is just another flaky Ally McBeal-type who mostly wants love and male approval, because a career can’t make her feel warm and fuzzy. She often comes off as clingy and begging for attention and affirmation in these workplace romances (the episode in which she went to the Senator’s hometown and made a fool of herself with his highschool sweetheart was ridiculously painful for its display of her unprofessionalism).
Nora, the matriarch (Sally Field) is generally more hit than miss. But I hated her interactions with her creative writing professor in a few recent episodes (I put that in past tense in the hopes that he never comes back, though the last encounter was open-ended). This is the kind of smarmy guy who sleeps with his much younger students and behaves manipulatively in his role as their teacher as, again, part of a power game in the sexual relationship. I was extremely disappointed when Nora got some compliments on her writing and went back to tell her “friend” (Margot Kidder) how much she was enjoying this class, only to have it immediately turn into a giggly game of “He likes you! You should sleep with him!” I stupidly didn’t see that coming, thinking that Nora could just be enjoying her class and that the professor might actually be complimenting her work. This crap comes complete with this “friend” taking the scissors to a classic little black dress because Nora doesn’t have any clothes that say, essentially “I will have sex with you” (yeah she said that, because obviously, that’s what women’s clothes are for, and regardless of Nora’s reluctance to get involved with the guy at all). Needless to say, Nora ends up looking like an idiot by showing up at a wine and cheese for the stuffy Jack London society in this hacked-up outfit, including a ludicrously insensitive gentleman who asks if she’s going to “dance for them”.
That last one was a big, wildly swinging, embarrassing miss on the show’s part. None of this is enough to make me abandon it just yet, but one thing I would really like to see is a woman in a professional (or academic) environment with a man to whom she is not related in which the question of sex either never comes up or in which she refuses to compromise professionalism (or tolerate power games) for the sake of romantic affirmation.