There are very few women on television that I actually enjoy watching, at least when I compare them to the sheer volume of the ones that make me cringe. So many female characters are a stereotype of some sort – Mary Sue, drippy/dippy lovelorn fool, sexpot, quirky girl, etc. Are women so incredibly tough to write that hardly anyone can achieve a nice balanced character? Or do the strange, unbalanced portrayals of women indicate that this is truly how we are viewed – as rather two-dimensional beings who can’t be great (but not perfect) at the job we do and whose primary goal in life is not to establish great self-worth or a career but finding the love of a man who’ll take care of us forever?
Stereotype 1 – Mary Sue
Mary Sue flourishes on television. One fantastic example of Mary Suism at its finest is currently on NCIS. For those unfamiliar with the show, the character referred to is Ziva David. Ziva is a Mossad (Israeli intelligence) agent who joined the team this year, replacing a different female character who was, incidentally, also very difficult to love.
Now, at first there was a great deal to like about Ziva. She did seem balanced. She was spunky, she was self-assured, she was cute. Looking back, all the warning signs of Mary Suism were there, and Mary Sues do often start out with potential to be great characters. Because Ziva remained all of those things that initially made us think she would be a strong female character, but very rapidly turned into the character who’s good at EVERYTHING. She can kick butt, she’s an excellent torturer (which, by the way, isn’t something that disturbs her co-workers, it just makes her that much cooler), she knows regular interrogation techniques like nobody’s business. Essentially, she can do no wrong in the context of her job. For any given situation, we as viewers know that Ziva Mary Sue will have a solution”¦and even if she doesn’t, she won’t be made fun of as her male co-workers often are for making mistakes. Anyone to point out her errors or character flaws is actually the one made to look a fool.
The writers seem to have fallen into the trap that female characters cannot be treated in the same manner as their male counterparts. If Tony makes an inappropriate comment, he gets a slap on the head. If McGee does something stupid, he gets teased. If Ziva messes up, Tony calls her on it and gets a slap on the head. Huh? Why is Mary Sue protected like this? Because she’s a woman?
Stereotype 2 – Drippy, dippy lovelorn fool
Also maligning NCIS (actually, this character is far worse than Mary Sue) is the also recently added director of NCIS. A woman. The potential for having a woman as the person in charge was a good idea. Refreshing, even. Unfortunately, the moment the character was introduced they made her not someone to trust in a position of power. Turned out that Madame Director, whose name escapes me, has past romantic history with Gibbs, the leader of our intrepid team. The instant we saw her, she was being drooled after by Tony and doubted by Gibbs. The connection between Madame Director and Gibbs was brought to the viewer via truly nauseating flashbacks of them in bed together. During every single scene they shared. On at least one occasion, she had to ask him if their previous”¦interaction would be a problem, and seemed to indicate that if it was, too bad for him. She was tough and in charge. Except it was always HER that ran to him with quivering lip and begging eyes to please help her make the right decision and who brought up their history.
On the surface, Madame Director eventually said all the right, leadershippy things”¦but didn’t really make any decisions on her own, and it became pretty clear that she wasn’t capable of being a true leader. She was and is indecisive. She’s insecure about Gibbs’ reactions to her, which are highly skeptical and sometimes derisive. She can’t do anything without her former man’s approval. Yes, the same one who doesn’t treat her seriously. The decisions she does manage to make are bad – she hired someone (unnecessarily) who turned out to be rather psychotic. How are we supposed to consider her someone to respect and admire when the evidence presented makes her, for all intents and purposes, the silly little woman trying to win back the approval of her man?
The writers/producers, presumably, think this terrible wishy-washy need for approval makes the character relatable when all it really makes her is weak.
So here we have two portrayals of women on extreme sides of the spectrum, on the same show. Should fans continue to cling to hope that Mary Sue will become a little less perfect, and should we hope the drippy, dippy lovelorn fool grows some type of brain of her own? Frankly, I have no remaining expectations for the plausible, satisfactory growth of these two and fear that PTB have made me hate them permanently. I don’t like hating female characters who should be good examples, but are instead miserable stereotypes. I want someone, somewhere, to please write balanced female characters…and keep them that way. Fill up my TV screens with these women instead of the stereotypes that proliferate there now.