Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Girl Power on the Decline--What Would the Spice Girls Do?

My mother hates Grey’s Anatomy. I mean, really really hates it.

She hates it mostly because she thinks that Meredith Grey is the worst character in the history of television. She thinks Meredith is a horrible role model for the teenagers who watch the show and that the rest of the female characters are just as push-overy. (You can imagine how pleased she is that I want to name her first grandchild Meredith Grey Carter-Whatever. I just really like the name, okay?)

I am a women’s studies major, and I have big plans of becoming a high-powered lobbyist for family issues in Washington. I am really good at manipulating people.

Anyway, if anyone should be lamenting the lack of female role models in primetime, it’s me. And I’ll say this right now—I love Grey’s, but I’m kind of with my mom on this one.

Meredith is kind of pathetic. Aside from being a shitty swimmer, she has serious commitment issues (when she’s not begging a guy to love her). She’s a bad pet owner, makes poor sexual choices, and she likes the tequila a little too much.

Though she may be a realistic representation of the average single twentysomething (perhaps minus the suicide), she’s nobody we should look at and say, “Damn, I wish I were Meredith Grey.”

Except during any scene in which Patrick Dempsey appears shirtless.

Across the airwaves, we find poor examples. I have a t-shirt that says “I Wish Aaron Wrote All the Shows on Television,” but I often find Sorkin to be misogynistic and gender-biased. Donna Moss, a character I followed for seven years on The West Wing, was sort of doomed to be Josh’s Girl Friday for all of her time in the Sorkin-era White House. Even Sports Night’s Dana Whitaker was too flighty for her own good at times, and often seemed to fill the girl quota. And seriously don’t get me started on Studio 60’s Jordan McDeere.

For better examples of feminine role models, we should turn to love-of-my-life JJ Abrams.

His work includes several examples of quality women, especially the epitome of kick-ass: Sydney Anne Bristow.

Sydney Bristow is, well, amazing. The very fact that she survived five seasons of spytastic drama is a testament to her amazingness. She took down The Alliance, the Covenant, Prophet Five, and all three Derevko sisters. I’ll fight you if you say Jack Bauer could beat her. He totally couldn’t. (She totally would have taken down The Syndicate, too, if that mission had been tasked to APO.)

Her superiority to everyone was intensified by the fact that she chose as a partner the most tactically useless man in the history of the CIA. Time after time, it was Sydney who saved Vaughn from certain death.

After her just-handler couldn’t figure out that he should run away from a wall of water, even when Sydney was pointing toward the door and mouthing the word go, it was Sydney who found him in the basement of a Paris nightclub, shot him up with adrenaline, and helped him escape from Khasinau’s lab.

Hell, she stabbed Vaughn ‘cause she knew he’d be better off if she just gave him a little love scrape than if she left him to be tortured by the baddies she was undercover with.

Also, does KESTIMETRUTHTA look like an encoded message to you, or can you plainly see the two words right there in the middle?

What was particularly badass was how Sydney’s pregnancy and motherhood was portrayed. Though I often griped at the fact that Agent Bristow seemed to place her psychotic need to bring down Sloane ahead of her unborn child’s welfare (hello, getting yourself trapped in a car that’s hanging hundreds of feet in the air?), she really did show—even if it was in a caricatured way—that being a mom doesn’t have to be the end of a career. Her pregnancy was peppered with tongue-in-cheek remarks like “I’m not like other moms” and “My job still keeps me pretty active.” Once Isabelle was born, she had to sweetly tell her infant that “Mama’s gotta go to work.”

Anyway, the whole point of this is to say that Sydney Bristow faced a lot of shit in her years as a spy, but she carried it off with the perfect combination of feminine poise and downright ass-kicking, usually without the use of firearms.

Over at Lost, you’ve got Kate, who’s got her issues, to be sure. I’m not insinuating that little girls should be saying “I wanna be a fugitive when I grow up!”

All I’m saying is that people on the lam can be good people, too. I mean, Scully and Mulder are on the run as we speak and nobody’s saying they made bad decisions. (Except for the part about giving up William.)

Kate is probably the character who’s made the most progress since the show started. She’s gone from a fugitive to someone who has genuinely adopted Jack’s “Live Together, Die Alone” theory. Unlike some people, she actually contributes to the welfare of the group. Sure, sometimes it’s making out with creeps in order to get asthma medicine, but sometimes it’s working with Sun in the garden, while other times it’s trekking out into the jungle to search for the doctor. You never know with Kate.

Again, she’s often paired with Jack, who’s...what’s the word...”sensitive.” Jack Shepard cries more than the baby I sat next to on a flight from Newark to Atlanta yesterday afternoon. Kate is an unconventional hero, while Jack is the, well, conventional. There is a truly remarkable courage about her, manifested not only by her crusades into the jungle, but also by the fact that she does stuff like deliver Claire’s baby (her future baby nephew, Aaron) by herself.

There are positive female role models to be found on television, and, no, Meredith Grey is not one of them. (That’s not to say it’s not okay to identify with her “scary and damaged” moments sometimes.) Let’s just make little girls watch Alias and Lost. Not only will they learn an important lesson in girl power, we’ll also scare the crap out of them.

That’s okay, they can watch Felicity afterward.

3 Responses to “Girl Power on the Decline--What Would the Spice Girls Do?”

Anonymous said...

i was just reading your views on meredith and i hate to say your are right she isn't a role modelf for feminists or strong willed women...i get that but i think she is strong in her own ways she has may qualities that some women made history with ( the people i'm thinking of aren't overly well know but they did make an impact!)
i think she is also an example of the insercurities we all have, we see her differently because we know whats going on in her head but to others she would appear very differently.
I also think that a few characters like her are good for TV i mean there are so many examples of strong women my personal favourite being Lisa Cuddy off House and it is a refreshing change to have someone who isn't so sure of herself!
anyway thats my veiw but i think you make a very relevant point! thanks

Unknown said...

Don't get me wrong, I love Meredith, and I do see that she's often representative of twentysomething women--hell, I've been known to throw back tequila shots with the best of 'em. I think you and I disagree about the number of strong women on television; I feel like there's a severe dearth of them right now. As for House, you should take that up with our resident expert, Mae. I don't watch it, but maybe I should start, hmm?

Thanks for posting--keep up with the comments, houses_phoenix!

Anonymous said...

I live in the UK where Greys has never been a hit, it airs on a minority channel to under 1m viewers.

Part of the problem is Meredith. I agree with your wise mother - she is a terrible role model for young girls.

As one TV reviewer here in the UK said of the character - "she plays the most self-absorbed fictional character that we have seen on TV since Ally McBeal."