November 19, 2001
I may not be remembering correctly, but when I was growing up, I don't recall many totally independent, strong female role models in television. There were some fairly strong (yet improbable) characters, such as Major Houlihan, Princess Leia, Wonder Woman and the Bionic Woman, but they were frequently bailed out by men, and occasionally fell victim to weaknesses you might not ordinarily see in men. Women who were stronger than usual were also generally given some "horrible" flaw - they were without conscience, worked for the enemy, were lesbian, were promiscuous, hated men, or were overly-vindictive. There are a few I can think of who were good role models, more or less: Sarah Connor, from the "Terminator" series, Nikita from Le Femme Nikita (for loosely-defined values of "good role model,") the characters on "Charlie's Angels," and perhaps others. If you can think of any which you feel were positive female role models in film or tv during the 70's, please email them to me.
I couldn't think of most of these few good role models off-hand - I had to peruse the web, performing searches on Google for "female roles 70's" and "70's female television characters." The good ones I can find are easily overshadowed in my memory by such characters as Mary Tyler Moore, Rhoda, Emily Hartley, and innumerable weaker female roles in television and film - women incapable of making decisions, women who only wanted a husband and children, women desperate for male approval to validate their lives, women who wouldn't dream of doing anything their husbands wouldn't approve of, women who didn't like (or pretended not to like) sex, women who were prim and proper, women who were whiney and manipulated their husbands using any means possible, women who couldn't fend for themselves, women who were always Victims. I wonder if I would be a different person now if I'd had better images to look up to; I wonder how much I was influenced by the women I watched so often.
It wasn't that I didn't have real-life role models - I did, but there were few people in life or in the media whom I looked up to and said "I wish I could be like her;" I can name on one hand the women I wanted to emulate. Even today, there are only a few women in that role for me. It isn't that I don't respect a lot of women for their abilties - athletic, musical, artistic - but I haven't ever wanted to "be like" anyone for her abilities. It takes a combination of skills, philosophy, and personality to really turn my head and say "Wow - she's so amazing. I wonder if I could be like that."
Lately, I've been thinking about this, and about how the current generation of little girls and young women have these fantastic role models in film and on television, and I hope that it will help them overcome, or perhaps not develop, some of the issues that a lot of women my age and older have wrestled with for their entire lives.
Women like these I've listed below are independent, capable of overcoming difficult physical and emotional challenges, and while they are sometimes saved by men, they bail the men out with equal frequency. Most have earned the respect of their male colleagues, and aren't thought of as "good...for a girl," rather just "good." Many of them are strong without becoming "manlike" and without sacrificing every last ounce of femininity or emotion; it's really fantastic. I would imagine that young girls are really positively influenced by these characters, and that they may grow up with better self-esteem and loftier goals than some women before them.
Some really great female roles in media
I know I've missed a lot of roles here, but I wanted to just give a decent sample. You might notice that most of these characters are in science fiction movies and tv shows, which isn't entirely surprising to me because a.) I'm an SF fan, and 2.) SF writers have usually been rather progressive in terms of women's roles in all media. We've got honest-to-goodness female heroes now - and I use "hero" instead of "heroine" deliberately. It wasn't something I thought of much until I first heard the opening to the "Xena, Warrior Princess" series; it goes something like "the land cried out for a hero; she was Xena" (their emphasis.) Maybe "heroine" does imply something less than hero; I'm not certain. Many female actresses are now calling themselves "actors," comediennes have become "comics," et cetera. Personally, I don't feel that an actress is anything but a female who acts, a waitress is a woman who serves food or beverages, and a heroine is a woman who performs heroic acts. However, if the movement afoot is to remove the gender-specific words, I'm fine with that.
I don't really have a great point to hammer home here, mostly I just wanted to point out an observation I've made lately - a lot of progress has been made in the media. I know there are still roles out there which are damaging to the image of women, but at least there are these to counter them. As many women as men are intelligent, strong, and capable, and it's very gratifying to have these characteristics portrayed in positive ways.
November 22, 2001
One person emailed me asking, "Who's your favorite character in there?"
I have a horribly hard time with "favorites;" I don't have one single favorite anything, really, I have a list of 5 or 10 things which switch places depending on my mood. This case is no different, and there are several characters on this list who qualify as favorites. But, since I'm currently putting off doing the dishes, I'm going to spend a little time thinking about this, and writing down what I come up with.
Near the top of the list is Beka Valentine. I absolutely love how the writers make her a good soldier, commander, and friend. She's funny, very intelligent, and warm without being weak. She leads and also backs up the very manly-man characters in the show, and often saves their butts. She wrestles with inner demons (and outer ones, too,) and even when everything is going to hell, manages to maintain a pretty steady keel. She can handle herself in battle, and is the best pilot on the Andromeda. Her command decisions are those of a good leader; even though often times they go against what she wants as a friend or individual, they are what's best for her crew or a larger group of people. Ok, rereading this, I can see I have a little Beka-worship problem, don't I? Alright, so be it. Beka may be at the top of the list most of the time. Moving along then.
I really enjoyed the character of Diana Guzman in "Girlfight," too. There perhaps isn't as much to say about her, simply because she was in a film as opposed to a television series, but there's still a lot of good things to say. She had a hell of a lot of courage and determination to not only work her ass of to become a good boxer, but to do it in an all-male gym, where she was mocked pretty badly. Like most women, she wanted to be treated no differently than a man in her chosen arena of competition, and she could take a hard punch as well as throw them. I admired her ability to overcome to work hard to become a boxer, because many women are socialized that violence is completely unacceptable, and that we are too weak to ever seriously stand up to a man in any kind of physical competition. She said "fuck that, hit me" and she kicked ass. That takes guts.
Ok, it's time for more Family Holiday Phone Calls, laundry, and picking up a few things around the house, so I'm going to take a little break and come back later.
November 23, 2001
Andrew insists that I mention Jill Hennessy's character on "Crossing Jordan." Personally, I cannot stand Jill Hennessy or the show, but alright, Andrew - here's your mention. ;-)
Also, as an aside, apparently one of my favorite shows, "Andromeda," is going to be dumbed down into the equivalent of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" to my complete and utter dismay. Read the news release which herald's the show's doom, under the careful, dim-witted watch of "Hercules" fame, Kevin Sorbo. And just when I was starting to like him, too. Crap. Another excellent SF show bites the dust.
November 30, 2001
Since writing this, I've been paying more attention to women on television - in shows and in commercials as well. I was pleased to see that there is are pretty diverse examples of women in commercials today. There are still some standard housewife/girly-girl stuffs, but they're balanced out by more contemporary people. Two examples I can think of off the top of my head:
The tide's been turning for awhile, and it's very gratifying to see.