Patriarchal Instinct

A week ago, I wrote about a crappy All Saints episode, combined with Ifratah’s complaint about how a perfectly good action heroine turned out to be a softie, which led me to believe that 99% of perfectly good tough-as-nails females have to turn out to be really a softie/insane/pathologically self-serving bitch.

We’ve done softies, with Ifratah’s piece on La Femme Nikita. We’ve done pathological self-serving bitches, with All Saints. Now I’ll do the complete loonie with Sharon Stone’s character Sheila Carlisle from The Practice.

Sheila is introduced as a friend of Alan Shore’s. She’s a brilliant lawyer who’s a bit eccentric; never mind, she’s one of Alan’s friends – one would assume that makes eccentricity a pre-requisite rather then an anomaly. In fact, someone once said that there is a fine line between brilliance and madness, so by that argument, geniuses are allowed to have some out-there ideas.

Sheila is put on a short leash by the saner, more dull partners of the firm, except then she finds an out-there case to take up; she’s attempting to question Massachusetts’s no-fault divorce laws when the wife of the man she’s representing, a cold, promiscuous, pathologically lying bitch, is clearly at fault. Legally, she’s backing the wrong horse. But she’s a brilliant lawyer, a brilliant humanist, a brilliant orator; the kind of person who could convince a fair amount of people that Saddam is really just a little misunderstood. If anyone could talk themselves out of a corner, she can. In court, she shows a few of her eccentricity, but that’s OK, because all brilliant people are a little crazy”¦

But then she goes too crazy. Another out-there client she picks up from somewhere has beheaded their dead mother and mounted the head. Sheila steals the head as a way of destroying evidence and is found staring raptly at the head, muttering about it’s beauty. She’s no longer a bit eccentric. She’s outright insane.

Why is it that women can’t just be brilliant and leave it at that? All the truly brilliant characters I’ve seen (at least the decent, fleshed-out ones) have had a little insanity to deal with; some, like John Nash in A Beautiful Mind, struggled with schizophrenia. Denny Crane from TP‘s spin-off, Boston Legal, is a legendary legal mind staring down the barrel of Alzheimer’s. These men have their mental illness/deterioration treated with respect and sadness for something lost. But Sheila is just a nutcase to be shoved out the front door and made someone else’s problem.

Are the (mostly male) writers of television unable to see a woman as brilliant without reducing her to being a nutcase? Are they unable to apply the balancing act of brilliance and insanity that they give to men, to women? Where was the writer that portrays Denny’s battle with Alzheimer’s with such respect, sympathy and regret, when it came to the show it was spun-off?

Or are all perfectly good tough-as-nails females really softies/insane/pathologically self-serving bitches?