The power of women in television


This is an exciting time for television. Budgets are up, viewer numbers are higher and what used to be films less ambitious cousin has developed into an unstoppable force. The humble television is no longer the provider of soaps, news and sports events, it can now provide us with hugely successful series such as Game of Thrones, Empire and The Walking Dead. That’s not even mentioning streaming services like Netflix, Now TV and the Amazon Prime Instant Video Service, some of which create their own series including the hugely successful Orange is the New Black and House of Cards. With the huge range of exciting new broadcasting available lazy Sunday afternoons with a cup of TeaShed tea have never been more enjoyable. But it’s not just our down time that this new frontier of TV is improving, what if it also improved the career prospects of women?


Mary McNamara, a writer for the LA Times recently argued that the host of strong female characters in TV means people are more prepared for a female president. Now I know this may sounds like a slightly over ambitious statement at first, but think about it. Female leads in the past few years have evolved and grown. A female lead no longer has to have a cliche role such as a journalist, stylist or assistant. Women can now work in politics, lead armies or be a CIA officer, and they don’t need a man to support them.


If you aren’t aware of it, allow me to brief you to the Bechdel Test. The term was coined in 1985 from a theory put forward in a comic strip by Alison Bechdel and considers if two women in a fictitious body of work can have a conversation about something that doesn’t involve a man. It sounds simple enough, but around 50% of contemporary films failed the test. It’s pretty shocking right?


Let’s cut back to today and one of the shows achieving huge levels of success. Game of Thrones, based on George R. R. Martins series of books A Song of Ice and Fire, recently toppled records all round. As well as reaching a new series ratings high on HBO, the launch of the latest series set a ratings record for Sky Atlantic and broke previous piracy records with 32 million illegal downloads (these rating combined equate to the entirety of Argentina’s population watching one show). At the heart of this are a group of women that have a lot more to talk about than men. Young Queen Daenerys Targaryen is conquering a whole host of cities commanding her own army and gaining followers. Brienne of Tarth wears a suit of armour and takes on anyone that dares stand in her way on her quest. Arya Stark, still a teenager, chose sword fighting over needlework and went on the run to a foreign land rather than being ruled by the family that killed her father. I’ll put it this way, there’s no gossiping over boy troubles over cocktails.


Building an army to reclaim the throne may not directly affect any of us in our day to day lives, but it’s clear that female leads have transformed into something much more interesting. The fact that a TV show such as Game of Thrones is so popular, and that it is aimed at everyone, not just a female audience speaks volumes. Now I’m not dismissing the success or shows such as Ally McBeal or Sex and the City, these two showed women achieving as professionals and as in their personal lives, but like many other shows with a female lead, the target audience was assumed to be predominantly female too. A woman’s success shouldn’t just appeal to women, but to everyone.


So maybe now it isn’t such a shocking idea to consider a female president, or a female prime minister, female CEOs or business owners. The world has developed so much in the last 100 years or so, but there’s still so much more to achieve in terms of true equality. It may seem like a small step but the increase in female lead characters could make all the difference in changing perceptions of women in power. So lets follow their lead pick up our (figurative swords) and get what we want.


Read Mary McNamara’s article here.


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