In want of meaningful dialogue and depictions of women who might actually exist in real life? There is always the glory of the small screen. For your viewing pleasure, I’ve taken the liberty of detailing five TV series that seem to me to be explicitly feminist in intent, and which may not be on your radar yet. As Awkward's wonderfully bitchy Sadie Saxton might say, "You’re welcome".
I cannot recommend this show highly enough. A powerhouse of female talent, it tells the story of musicians making their way in the mother ship of country music - Nashville, Tennessee. Created by Callie Khouri (writer of Thelma and Louise) and starring Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights) and Hayden Pannattiere (Heroes), it’s characterised primarily by the rich storylines it provides for its female characters. In the deft hands of Khouri, her characters are complicated, determined, occasionally vulnerable but always, always in charge of their own destinies. Although Britton’s Rayna James and Pannatierre’s Juliette Barnes are initially set up as rivals, their mutual distrust never veers into the kind of boring, petty female jealousy usually ascribed to women as an innate characteristic. Bonus points for featuring Connie Britton’s Hair.
2. Masters of Sex
Okay, so the adaptation of Thomas Maier’s biography of William Masters and Virginia Johnson probably takes some liberties with the truth. But they’re liberties I’m prepared to forgive because the result is a beautifully crafted, sensitive portrayal of a decade struggling with its own conservative mores. In the 1950s, obstetrician William Masters and his research assistant Virginia Johnson pioneered a study into the body’s physiological response to sex. Their research radically confronted the ideas people held about sex. But it’s the stellar writing and directing of Masters of Sex which truly makes it a feminist text. Lizzy Caplan’s Virginia Johnson is a single mother with academic ambitions who also freely embraces her sexuality in ways women weren’t supposed to at the time (and still aren’t, according to some of the morality police). Developed by Michelle Ashford (who also serves as one of the series’ executive producers), its ensemble of multi-dimensional 1950s women is further proof that if you want interesting female characters in your show, you better have some women in the writing and production teams.
3. New Girl
Zooey Deschanel has been the butt of more than her fair share of jokes. I’ve made some myself in the past, so irritated was I by the nauseating ‘adorkable’ campaign that heralded the arrival of New Girl. And then I watched the show and realised that I’d been behaving like a judgmental ass. New Girl is a breath of fresh air in a sitcom factory that rarely treats women like people. Deschanel’s Jess Day might be pitched as a fey ‘dork’ who just happens to be stunning (what a coincidence!) but she’s so much more than that. Yes, she’s dorky. She’s also smart and funny and sexually open minded in a way that clearly connotes her own agency. Again, I put this down to the crew behind the show. Creator Elizabeth Meriweather is also New Girl’s showrunner, and half of the show’s writing team are women. Also, SCHMIDT.
4. True Detective
An odd inclusion perhaps, but three episodes in and I’m floored by how a show that’s ostensibly about two men can have such interesting things to say about women. If you haven’t heard of True Detective yet, consider this your wake up call. Atmospheric and swampy, it’s about the 17 year hunt for a serial killer in the depths of Louisiana. Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson are revelations in their roles as the Detectives Rust Cohle and Martin Hart investigating the brutal, sexualised murders of young local women, most of whom appear to come from poor backgrounds. The show makes no bones about critiquing the double standards faced by men and women; women are portrayed as having to make it in a chauvinistic world where men call the shots and women are subject to their whims.
When Harrelson’s Martin chastises a female brothel owner for having an underage teenage runaway on her books, she chastises him right back. “Such holy bullshit from you,” she sneers. “It’s a woman’s body, ain’t it? A woman’s choice. Girls walk this earth all the time, screwin’ for free. Why is it you add business to the mix and boys like you can’t stand the thought? I’ll tell you. It’s ‘cause suddenly you don’t own it the way you thought you did.” Later, the married Martin breaks into the house of his secret girlfriend after she breaks up with him and assaults her half naked date, demanding to know whether or not she ‘sucked his cock’. True Detective might be about two men on the hunt for a serial killer - but it’s also about the way women are tormented and commodified by men, even the ones who are supposed to be the good guys.
5. Orange Is The New Black
I’ll give you three reasons why Jenji Kohan’s show has to be on your must-watch list, if you haven’t discovered it already. Laverne Cox, Samira Wiley and Uzo Aduba. That’s all you need to know. Season 2’s release date is ‘imminent’ according to sources.