Scandal, Agent Carter, etc: The 5 Problems with Feminist TV

Peggy rocking the Carmen Sandiego look.

After watching (and thoroughly enjoying) the Agent Carter 2-hour premiere last night despite its ‘hit you over the head’ feminism (yes, ABC, thank you for the groundbreaking memo that the 1940s office culture was wildly sexist), I began to think about the way in which the so-called ‘resurgence’ of powerful women on television is being received by mainstream media.

Articles like Lindsay Putnam’s, “Is ‘Scandal’ the most feminist show on TV?” and Casey Mink’s “‘Agent Carter’: Peggy Carter Sets The Bar For Strong Women On TV” seem to frequently eclipse the more analytical, nuanced examinations of ‘feminist TV’ and its female protagonists like Kevin O’Keefe’s “TV’s Renaissance for Strong Women Is Happening in a Surprising Place” (a long read, but well worth it).

We hear the deafening sounds of self-congratulatory pats on the back for raising our feminist TV consciousness to such a basic, 101 level that we, by all rights, should have surpassed decades ago.  And that, I have a problem with.  Well, 5 problems . . .

#1: You shouldn’t feel like you’re attending a seminar when you’re watching primetime TV.

Color me surprised: Fitz is being a sexist douche . . . again.

Moments in feminist TV like this ‘bitch’ scene from Scandal make more seasoned feminists roll their eyes (a), because ‘we’ve been there done that’ and it feels like preaching to the converted, and (b), because the as-of-yet uninitiated will never become gleeful new believers if they feel they’re being lectured at.

#2: We get it, TV writers: feminist characters have weaknesses — stop replacing one stereotype with another.

With all this tearing of one another’s clothing, Fitz and Olivia must rack up some immense tailoring bills.

The weaknesses of any feminist TV character obviously makes the character more believable. No one, not even a Gloria-Steinem-strength feminist, makes perfectly textbook choices in every area of his/her life. Maybe, such as is the case with Olivia and Fitz in Scandal, the all-consuming romance you engage in is, at best, a complex web of power plays, and at worst, a borderline abusive relationship.

Maybe, like I have, you play the helpless girl once in a while to get out of a parking ticket (I escaped two (one for speeding and one for leaving my brights on) during a road trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula by citing the totally real (*wink*) confusion that a combination of rental car and non-Illinois driving had undoubtedly created).

None of this negates your strength or feminism.  But we likewise must remember that fictional characters are just that — created — and that every facet of their character does indeed serve a purpose (something that can’t be said for us flesh-and-blood humans).  And when these flaws become a frequent focus of that character’s scenes, I get somewhat suspicious that they’re being used to undermine his/her more radical and/or feminist moments.

#4: Captain Obvious is too often in control of the writer’s chair.

Is ABC telling me that male co-workers of the 1940s would, on more than one occasion, make sexist remarks to their female peers? GASP!

This one’s simple.  If, in 2015, you’re just now realizing that sexism and harassment has kept a pervasive grip over our institutions throughout the entirety of societal history you have some serious catching up to do.

Which brings us to . . .

#5 — Why should we wait for you?

On the one hand, I’m obviously proud that more and more people are having their feminist ‘lightbulb’ moments because of shows like Scandal and Agent Carter.

On the other, I’m more than a little tired of slowing down my pace (and that of the feminist movement as a whole) so that the formerly clueless can catch up.  I’m not a huge fan of wasting valuable time and energy on teaching such remedial students.

When is it time for feminist TV (and the feminist movement as a whole) to say, ‘sorry if you not getting it, but we’re moving on?’  When is it no longer our responsibility to teach but rather their responsibility to learn?

What do you think, “Half-Way” readers?  Are shows like Scandal and Agent Carter a step ahead or are we simply spinning our wheels?


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