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May 11, 2014 | by  | in Arts TV |
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History? More like her story.

Rust Spencer, Don Draper, Walter White, Francis Urquhart, Frank Underwood; the list could go on. All straight, white, troubled, men*. Both lists could go on and on. The thing is, not all the shows these men feature on are crap. In fact, they’re actually quite good. It’s just that I’m a little tired of constantly seeing this type: you know the one, the ‘melancholy man’, with a proclivity for a drink and a smoke and a lot of sex with women that aren’t their wives or girlfriends. These men all have a lot going for them character-wise: they’re complex, multifaceted, a bundle of strange discrepancies. Yet their female counterparts are left wading the depths of, well, not much actually.

In the 1980s, American cartoonist Alison Bechdel invented the Bechdel Test. The Test’s purpose was to determine whether the female characters in any work of fiction have a bit more going for them than just looking pretty as plot devices for male characters. To pass the test, the work:

1. Has to have at least two [named] women in it;

2. Who talk to each other;

3. About something besides a man.

True Detective is exactly the kind of show that would exponentially fail this test. I enjoyed the show, but a few episodes in, I began to think: “Where my flawed-yet-loveable ladies at?!” (or something along those lines). It’s disappointing, yet sadly unsurprising. The show actually features the virgin, the mother, and the whore. I mean come on.

The main problem with flat representations of women in television is that we then expect women to be like those characters. Which does everyone a disservice, because women are people and people are just nothing like these characters. Think of Penny on The Big Bang Theory, or basically any of the characters in Two and a Half Men. No one is like that. Ever. Our female characters need flaws; they need to be complex, and relatable.

It really shouldn’t be this hard. Which is exactly why shows like Lena Dunham’s Girls are so important. Dunham created Girls because every woman she knows is just a “bundle of contradictions”, and although the lack of racial diversity in the cast is frustrating to say the least, the show stands as one of, if not the best representations of women on television today.

It doesn’t fetishise the intimacy in female friendship; it relishes in both friendship and familial relations in a way that hadn’t really been depicted in such a specific and mainstream-success kind of way. The show’s frank portrayal of sex and the human body has led to such a huge discussion surrounding it. Which seems strange. It’s odd to think that before Dunham got naked onscreen, we’d never really been exposed to a body that wasn’t the whole society’s-view-of-what-is-attractive-in-a-woman.

It’s refreshing to see a show like Girls succeed, and hopefully its success will inspire more shows with a similar disposition for strong female leads. More recently, two comedians, Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, have created a show named Broad City (also exec-produced by Amy Poehler!). Which ticks all the “Hell yeah, ladies” boxes, and basically embodies the Bechdel Test. Shows like these are breaking down the tired patriarchal constructs of the TV networks and bringing about some much-needed positive change in the depiction of women on our screens. Let’s hope there’ll only be more to come.

*I urge you to google ‘Male Novelist Jokes’.

Five Empowered Female Characters:

  1. Buffy Summers

  2. Rae Earl

  3. Lesley Knope

  4. Liz Lemon

  5. Elaine Benes
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