Our generation has for the most part been exposed to a very particular angle of the female experience in media and television alike. That angle being: symmetrical and standard good looks, a slim physique, and an agreeable, neat ’n’ tidy demeanour. This is an extension of the myth we were raised on that was expressed in nursery rhyme books: that girls are made of “sugar and spice and all things nice”. Of course, this limited portrayal of women is an appeal to the male gaze and a patriarchal society; we girls are a shit load more complex and often ugly than that 2D archetype. Finally, the real female experience and real women are being brought to the frontline in popular television. About time!
Creator, executive producer, writer, director, and lead actress Lena Dunham flipped Hollywood on its head when in 2012 she first showcased this roar and modern portrayal of what it’s like to be a real girl. Being pudgy and atypical of Hollywood’s standards of leading lady beauty, it was an edgy move to cast herself in the title role. Further more, in the face of the industry’s standards of female beauty (or perhaps in spite of), in HBO’s Girls, Dunham gets her gear off at any chance she can get. She’s a real girl, she demands our attention, and she owns in! Also, true to it’s title, the series is loaded with issues that pertain to girls. Since at least 50% of the world’s population are female, this shouldn’t seem particularly spectacular. However, it has only been since the emergence of shows like Girls, that awkward and personal female issues are being explored in pop culture (Hanna having a UTI in Season 2 is a good example).The result? Pretty well the entire world is gagging for the release of Season 4.
2. Orange Is The New Black.
Also created by a woman (Jenji Kohan), Netflix’s Orange is the New Black is groundbreaking in its portrayal of not only the multi-facets of the female experience, but also of the many kinds of women that make up half of our population: all races (black, white, Latina, Asian), all body shapes and sizes, all sexual orientations, and even a transgender woman. Not only is this show set in the basest of all human habitats—a prison—these women are un-groomed, smelly, hairy, emotionally roar, and often ugly. Aside from the pretty blonde protagonist, Piper (Taylor Schilling), every other female character on OITNB are the antithesis to the upheld image of ‘woman’ that television has fed us ever since it existed, and yet typical of real women. This is why this show has resonated so gloriously—people like to see themselves reflected in narratives on screen.
3. Nurse Jackie.
Of the three co-creators of this dark satirical Showtime series, two of them are women (Liz Brixius and Linda Wallem). This is no surprise since Nurse Jackie tells the story of an emergency departure nurse who struggles with her own addiction and indiscretions, and the role of Jackie (Edie Falco) has been pegged by New York magazine, “a truly breakthrough female character”. Again, we follow the intimate journey of an imperfect, unglamorous, complex and real woman. A refreshing departure from recent archaic female archetypes in the media.
Although Showtime’s political thriller series wasn’t created by a woman, the show’s success at converting a male archetypal character—a “detective”/intelligence agent—into a woman is admirable. Even cooler is the fact that Claire Danes’ Carrie Mathison is far more realized, complex, and with a greater emotional landscape than any of the genre’s (male) archetypal torchbearers before her. When men have traditionally played this kind of role, their portrayal would typically be a cool, calm and collected, all-knowing demeanour. However, not only is Carrie highly intelligent and accomplished, she is deeply vulnerable, passionate, and even suffers from a stifling bipolar disorder. A complex and brave female character indeed.