TV female role models: My how they’ve changed!

I guess I’m addicted to virtual gore and violence and crime. My three favorite shows right now are Bones, Numb3rs, and Criminal Minds…all rebroadcast on cable TV. NCIS has slipped to fourth place as I think I’m pretty well caught up with most reruns.

I find I’m fascinated by the women’s characters. There’s Emily Deschenal playing “Bones” Temperance Brennan, multi-talented genius forensic anthropologist,  and Michaela Conlin playing Angela Montenego who is a whiz with both art and the computer. On NCIS I adore Pauley Perrette who plays the quirky Abby. She’s the ace criminologist computer lab geek who is always able to solve almost everything forensic. She actually (real world) has a degree in criminology which gives her role a semblance of authenticity. On Criminal Minds there’s Penelope Garcia played by Kirsten Vangness. All of these characters play roles that show how proficient they are in science and technology.

Granted most of the shows are PG 14 but that’s a good time for young girls to start exploring their options in life. What role models these characters are! When women were finally allowed on subs, one of the reasons stated is that college science, technology, and math classes are now 50% female. What a change from the classes of the 60s when I grew up!

In comparison, I started watching TV in 1954. Since I was most often left alone to entertain myself, I watched TV a lot when I wasn’t reading or playing outside. My role models were as follows: Lucille Ball who showed me that women always mess things up while they scheme their way through life; Gail Storm in My Little Margie, again a ditzy dame who always screwed things up, similar to Lucy; Gracie Allen was another ditz as was Joan Davis who played the scatterbrained wife on I Married Joan. Do we see a theme here?

Then there were the humble homemakers Barbara Billingsly, mother of Beaver Cleaver, Donna Reed, and Margaret Anderson who always knew that Father Knows Best. Harriet Nelson was always overshadowed by her two sons and her husband. I remember their roles more so than hers.

There was always the underlying theme that women needed men to support them who knew more about the world. Women always messed things up. Women had specific jobs to do and men had specific jobs to do and ne’er the twain shall meet. Pity the poor man who was cast as someone who had to do some of the “women’s work”. There was one exception to that from what I remember. Uncle Charlie ran the household with much authority on My Three Sons. I think it was OK for him to assume that role because he had been in the Navy where he learned his skills. Pity the woman who tried to break into the field of  “men’s work”. Of course there was no need for them to know math or science and importantly computers didn’t exist except on StarTrek.

I’ve had a mixed up sleeping schedule lately with much on my mind. I see many movies and reruns after midnight when I can find them among the infomercials. The latest movie I watched circa 1950 was about a woman named Chris who applied for an engineering surveying job. The man was very surprised when she turned out to be a woman and questioned hiring her even though she came with excellent recommendations. Of course (again) it was obvious that the two of them would have an affair which the movie watcher could forgive since the wife was dying from cancer and secretly condoned the relationship.

I feel things are changing but there is still an undercurrent of the proper role for women. “Women should be found in the home in the kitchen and the bedroom.” That philosophy has not yet slipped into oblivion. Among some fundamentalist groups here in the US, it is still a strong sentiment. Around the world, it is still rampant in the Islam and “underdeveloped” cultures.

There is a shift occurring but I fear it will still take a couple more generations before women are not thought of as second class citizens.

My two accomplished nieces each have one daughter and one son in the very early stages of their education. The children both have strong role models in their mothers. I am hoping that the daughters, when they are grown, will have been educated without any of the stigma associated with being “just a girl”. These shows are far too complicated for the two girls to watch right now, but I hope there are similar TV programs available in nine years when they reach 14 and are trying to figure out their paths they wish to follow. But then again, both of their mothers don’t allow them to watch much TV. They are too busy experiencing the world. Namaste. Attic Annie

1 Comment

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One response to “TV female role models: My how they’ve changed!

  1. Wow, cool blog article about tv female role models and I like how you wrote about Penelope Garcia and Dr. Brennan. Keep it up