What TV's Still Missing: Working Moms and Female Anti-Heroes


As all different kinds of boundary-breaking female characters shoehorn their way onto TV these last few years, much has been written about Breaking Bad’s “Skyler White Effect,” the knee-jerk hatred of male anti-heroes’ wives. Somehow, Skyler garners more fan hatred than the brilliant, evil meth cook and murderer she’s married (who, it’s strongly implied, rapes her, by the way) to because she’s “such a bitch.”

But there are still certain demographics of women who are barely on TV at all, according to NPR’s “>All Things Considered. The good news is, that a think tank run by Geena Davis that studies women in the media found that 44.3% of women characters in prime-time television had jobs, close to the real-life figure of 46.7% (the breadwinning in children’s entertainment, meanwhile, was done by men 81% of the time).

The bad news is — as Jennifer Newsom, the director of the 2011 documentary Miss Representation points out in the piece— while 60% of working women are working mothers, hardly any of the televised career women have kids, because people still feel weird about women not staying home to take care of their progeny. Newsom asked a TV exec why this might be. “Well, you know, our focus study group, they weren’t comfortable with the mother [character] working so hard and blah, blah, blah.”

Additionally, says Newsom, “Forty and older are actually 47 percent of our population here in the U.S., yet only 26 percent of women on TV.”

Another category that, unsurprisingly, garners resistance: female anti-heroes. FX president John Landgraf greenlit the Glenn Close-starring law drama Damages as well as the short-lived Dirt, in which a morally ambiguous character played by Courteney Cox runs a tabloid. Damages has done well, but neither have the fanbase that Breaking Bad has, Landgraf says. “It’s fascinating to me that we just have really different, and I think, a more rigorous set of standards for female characters than we do for male characters in this society. It’s much harder to buy acceptance of a female anti-hero.”

You could argue that Girls’ Hannah is one, but Nurse Jackie is the best exception to all of these rules: the protagonist is an over-40 working mom as well as an anti-hero, played by Edie Falco (whose Carmela Soprano was definitely a pre-cursor to the Skyler White Effect). If there’s one, there will be more, hopefully!

‘Working Women On Television: A Mixed Bag At Best’ [NPR]

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