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?

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Nicole Nuss


Robyn Brice
Robyn Vorsa5 years ago

I don't think there is a show out there that can realistically portray working women. The only show that came close was Roseanne because it showed a working mother and all the stresses that she went through. What I liked about Roseanne was that the characters were not wealthy, they had jobs, not careers and it showed that trying to juggle long working hours with low pay and three kids to raise was at times a real struggle.
The biggest problem is though that it seems to be a given that women have to either be cuttroat workaholics or in mourning for the life,family, relationship that they could not have because their career was too demanding. Either way, it is still an insult to women everywhere.

Angie c.
Angie cr7 years ago

i do not agree with Forbes but.....well, those TV shows are not exactly very positive either.

Beng Kiat Low
low beng kiat7 years ago


Petra Luna
Petra Luna7 years ago

Of course we love career women. As well as stay at home mom's, house wives, the multitaskers, and more. We are interesting people.

Kay L.
KayL NOFORWARDS7 years ago

Not everybody wants a career *and* a family. Some of us want only the career, while others of us only want a family. And of those "some's", some feel they have made no sacrifice at all, while others feel they have. And some of us would like to be able to sacrifice either career or family, but economics force them to do both when they'd really rather do only one.

Generalizations do not necessarily apply to individuals, and we must remember that stereotypes are nothing but generalizations that are often contradicted in reality.

monica r.
monica r7 years ago

well, I don't know, cause I don't have kids, and I'll be honest, I am right now "sacrificing" a ton for getting the career I want. But, see, I really want it, so to me it's hard work, yeah, but I chose it, so it's more like dues-paying than sacrifice. It's worth it to get to do something that makes the world a little better.

And my career is working with kids (so in that way I don't have kids....but at least I'm being part of the village to raise them), and I could cry to see what goes on, and parents who are struggling single moms, and so many have no clue how to parent because they had no role models either. And absentee dads. Don't get me started on all that.

We choose what we choose. We should choose what we want and damn the stereotypes. My brother was a SAH Dad and loved it. That lasted until mom-in-law harped on him needing to be the breadwinner, and MOMs should stay home. But his wife really preferred to work and he preferred to be Mr. Dad at home.

So they bowed to the stereotypes and nobody was happy. Societies' stereotypes are really stupid!

Rap TV
Rap TV7 years ago

Who wants a girl that cant work some place doing something. Even if its in the house doing something that has no pay-rate Its good for us to have something to do!

John Bauer
Past Member 7 years ago


Barb F.
Barb F7 years ago

Forbes apparently conforms to the outdated school of thought and stereotypes, women have been working harder than men forever, taking care of their family and working, no time clock to punch on being stay at home mom, more women in the out of home workplace getting screwed over by a male dominated system, they are still devoted to their families. I so wish the time of women being held down and back, shut out of places they deserve to be as much as any male would end. Katie Couric is a hardworking well known female who is a devoted mom, as are many others. The statement by Forbes is offending to women.

John T.
John T7 years ago

@Brian; raising ONE boy is a job; 4 IS a career. ;-)

I congratulate you both on, what I think, is a wise decision. I would also guess it was reached mutually.

Since when did raising children become a sacrifice? Since Gordon Gecko decreed "Greed is good."?

If a woman is working outside the home, she deserves every opportunity and pay raise her male compatriots receive.
If a woman decides to work in the home, doing a much tougher job, in my opinion, she deserves the respect and accolades of her 'sisters' just as much.
I don't care how much they pay the Social Scientist to say it, a child is raised far better by 2 parents than by ANY Day Care or Pre-School.
They started that crap back in the 70s, just after the 1st Oil Embargo, when women had to look for work due to the skyrocketing prices of goods.
"Of course you can go to work. Little Johnny or Susie will be much better off with trained instructors to help them learn faster." and the grades have tumbled ever since.
In '70, single women worked. Husbands were expected to, and did, provide an adequate living for the FAMILY.
Then wages started slipping. In '73 I could buy a new Oldsmobile on my pay and pay that car off in 3 years at simple interest.
With the slippage, they now sell you a cheaper car on a 5 year loan and the interest is compounded.
Notice how the slippage correlates to the destruction of the Unionized work force?
Notice how the industries, where the unions were, got shipped overseas?