September 29, 2020

The Leading Ladies of TV

posted on: Thursday October 6, 2011

Marisa Urgo ’14 / A&E Staff

If you have ever held a conversation with me, you probably know that my favorite show on television is TNT’s Rizzoli and Isles. It’s the best show you’ve never heard of. The series is based off novels by Tess Gerritsen, which feature homicide detective Jane Rizzoli (Angie Harmon) as she makes her way through chilling cases with medical examiner Maura Isles (Sasha Alexander) by her side. Jane and Maura are polar opposites. Jane is a tomboy who follows her instincts after a good boxing session, while Maura refuses to address a “reddish brown stain” as blood until the lab confirms it and prefers to spend her time shoe shopping.

Although they are fictional characters, the dynamic between the two has made me consider how women are portrayed in television shows today. Jane and Maura are both professionals with jobs that are not normally associated with women: Jane is the lieutenant detective, and Maura is the chief medical examiner. They are both high up in their fields and both completely respect each other. It’s really rare in the world of T.V. to have two women of authority as leads. They are completely equal in the size of their roles, which makes the show unique. In the words of Angie Harmon, “Television is always concerned with the catty aspect of women, but that just isn’t realistic.” I love the way the show produces a genuine friendship between two women who are not just “the sexy one” or “the tomboy.” Each is a mixture of what a real woman is, reflecting how versatile women are. Moreso, the women have flaws, making them much more accessible and relatable. Jane can be too aggressive and sometimes makes the wrong decision when leaping to her instincts, getting into arguments because of her stubbornness. Maura can be too focused on details and miss the big picture, which skews her view of life. Like Rizzoli and Isles, women are not just defined by a single characteristic, sticking to the same role week after week. In just one episode, Jane plays the role of a big sister in helping her brother make detective, the role of a best friend when she runs the marathon with Maura, and the role of a hardcore detective when she hunts down a killer. We all know empowered women like this and it’s finally nice to see them get their due on television. Producer Janet Tamaro says, “You can still have a Ph.D and worry about which shoes you’re going to wear.”

The idea that such powerful and independent female characters are being represented on the show Rizzoli and Isles gave me pause to consider how women appear on other shows. Of course, one of the first to jump to mind was 30 Rock. Tina Fey as Liz Lemon is not your typical heroine. She’s the awkward geek who is actually brilliant and hilarious. Lemon holds a high position at her competitive job and is a successful woman who isn’t cutthroat, like Jan from The Office. More than that, 30 Rock has shown us that women can be funny, especially as lead roles. With great movies like Bridesmaids coming out, women are finally getting the roles they deserve in the media. In the past, women have usually played damsels in distress, and waited for the hero to save them. Even if they were “strong” female characters, they would still usually land themselves in some sort of trouble and need to be rescued. For example, Meredith Grey of Grey’s Anatomy has a competitive career, yet is always trailing after McDreamy. Now, we’re seeing more characters like Jane Rizzoli who are multidimensional, because they are empowered, yet don’t fall victim to female stereotypes.

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