Do We “Love” TV Career Women? Forbes’ Narrow Definition of Career
Forbes hails “TV’s Best Loved Career Women,” a plethora of strong female characters ranging from Madmen’s Peggy Olson to Ally McBeal. But one strong theme exists within the personalities they picked as the epitome of the career woman — every woman has put her career ahead of her family life, at least, according to Forbes.
According to the author, the woman either allegedly expresses regrets over missing motherhood, like McBeal or Liz Lemon from 30 Rock, or has abandoned or destroyed her family to keep up with her career, like Olson or Miranda Bailey from Grey’s Anatomy. The key word in almost every descriptor of each character is “sacrifice,” sacrificing a family, a husband, or some form of domestic bliss to be successful.
Women are on top in the most recent crop of TV dramas. In legal thriller Damages Glenn Close plays cutthroat litigator Patty Hewes, who ruthlessly ensures her cases’ success. Kyra Sedgwick offers a different view of a female boss. Playing Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson on crime series The Closer, she brings femininity to the tough, male-dominated field of law enforcement with a sugary demeanor and Southern belle charm.
To be sure, women are often portrayed in stereotypically feminine jobs on TV too. Desperate Housewives was conceived as a sneak peek into the lives of wives and mothers. On newcomer Men of a Certain Age, women primarily play the roles of spouses and waitresses. And across channels, it’s almost always women who play receptionists, maids and nannies, even if only in the background.
While those powerful female characters show viewers that women can achieve career equality, critics say they may also portray some mixed, if reality-based, messages. “No woman [on TV] is just happy with her career,” Savage says. “The job always compromises the family.”
But Forbes almost seems to be purposefully reject the women on TV that frankly do have it all. With their example of “Desperate Housewives,” the author falls for the fallacy of the “Housewives” name: at some point most of the characters do in fact have careers that are very important to them, and keep their family close as well. Susan is a children’s story book illustrator, and a mother, working from home to do both. Lynette juggles between stay at home mother and successful advertising and marketing executive, trading back and forth with her husband to decide who will be the homebound parent. Bree eventually builds a catering empire and her own brand, a career that allows her to even bring her own family in to help her run. The only one who has truly abandoned her career is perhaps the most discontented of the “housewives,” engaging at first in affairs and later always ill at ease with her two daughters.
Care2 Editor Nicole Nuss believes that they were just as far off the mark with Liz Lemon’s character description on 30 Rock.
At no point has Liz ever had to choose between her career and a family. She’s just never met the right person and that’s an ongoing joke, regarding the number of losers she’s dated over the years. They’ve never even slightly insinuated that, at any point in her life, she “sacrificed” anything. And furthermore, she does want a child, but is fine with the idea of being a single parent.
So why does Forbes seem so off on its assessment of female “career women” on television? Is it because they still play into the stereotype that to be a career woman, you have to utterly abandon your family, and sacrifice any personal life to be the consummate, successful professional? How are women ever supposed to see characters who “can have it all” if the media keeps telling them that no such woman exists?