Sometimes, Passive-Agression IS Appropriate

For me, the saving grace of seasons nine of Australian show All Saints was the relationship between Gabrielle and Frank. Now, before I start, I’m going to say that, generally, I do not encourage passive-aggression, especially not in women. I think it’s a weak, deceptive trait in general, and I specifically hate that it seems to be predominantly portrayed as a woman’s trait in film and television. But I realise that sometimes, just sometimes, it really is the only way to go.

Enter Frank Campion (John Howard), the Director of the ED of All Saints hospital. While he’s got a big heart, he’s autocratic. He has no tolerance for people questioning his authority. He’s fought tooth and nail against four other Nursing Unit Managers (NUMs) who dared question his judgement. Two were male, two were female; clearly, he has no discrimination for gender; he just doesn’t take too well to having his opinion that He Is Right questioned.

Enter Gabrielle Jaegger (Virginia Gaye). From the first, she makes it clear that she doesn’t know anything about Frank’s reputation; she just saw the position went vacant week after week and was intrigued. A woman after a challenge, I’m in already!

Even better, a woman who meets that challenge. When she figures Frank out for what he is – an autocrat – she figures out how to circumvent that. When one of the older nurses, Von, expresses dissatisfaction in her job, Gabrielle quickly figures out she wants a position where she can liase with patients after their discharge. Hence her idea to create a Patient Liaison Officer, where a nurse would liase with patients post-discharge.

Except, Frank would never go for that. Never mind Frank, Gabrielle has a way to deal with that. She waits until a situation arises that needed a Liaison Officer, the casually mentions to Frank “˜I was just saying to Von, she’d make a great Patient Liaison Officer. Oh well, just thinking aloud.’

Needless to say, Frank comes back a little while later. “˜I had a great idea! Let’s make Von Patient Liaison Officer. I’ll even do the paperwork and lobby for funding.’ In letting Frank think it was his idea all along, Gabrielle has gotten what no other NUM, male or female, got – an easy victory.

Again, I stress that, in general, I don’t agree with passive-aggression, which I think Gabrielle showed. Even thought she did it deliberately, she got what she wanted by hints and suggestion and a willingness to let the other person think it was their idea, rather then asking outright. At the same time, I think the only way to deal with people like Frank is through passive-aggression; to underhandedly direct the conversation so they think it was their great idea all along. I especially liked that, in the hundred or so episodes John Howard has been part of the show, they established he doesn’t get along with anyone who questions his authority, male or female. All this made me think that Gabrielle’s actions weren’t so much a matter of “˜trust a woman to resort of underhanded methods’ as a matter of “˜how clever, how come no-one else thought of that?’


  1. Jennifer Kesler says

    I do think that when you know the “straightforward approach isn’t going to work because of someone’s obstinacy (or prejudice, or favoritism), it is acceptable to use harmless forms of passive aggression to achieve a greater good. Which is what you’re describing here.

    Even though this storyline could read like a throwback to the 50’s, when girls were coached by moms on how to manipulate clueless husbands into making the very household decisions the women would have made, given the “right” to do so, it doesn’t strike me that way because there will always be individuals who have power but not enough common sense to out-shout their egos.

  2. scarlett says

    Well that’s what I like about the way it was done – it didn’t seem like a particularly female thing to do, just a matter of common sense to get what you want out of an autocrat. I just saw the second ep of s10 and I was really impressed, by the women’s roles in general, but by Gabbie in particular.Everytime she’s given a decent storyline, I walk away with the impression that she’s a strong-willed, competant woman who nonetheless can be very practical, clever, and yes, deliberately underhanded to get the job done.

  3. SunlessNick says

    I liked the fact that she waited until a moment arose that demonstrated her idea as a good call, rather than trying to manufacture one.

  4. scarlett says

    Hadn’t thought of that, although I suppose that was another reason that particular storyline struck me as really well done. I think when the solution is as blindingly obvious as it was in this situation, it’s best to just wait for the oppurtunity to arise. I don’t think the writers actually thought of that one (seems a little too nuanced for them to come up with, given some of the white-washed tripe they came up with in s9) but it worked much better then manufacturing something – too easy to be busted that way…

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