Okay, okay, there’s no such thing as out-feministing.
I’ve been thinking about the rubric we came up with a few weeks ago to determine if a television show is feminist or not. The famous Bechdel Test sets the bar very, very low, an intentional strategy to illustrate how preposterous the representation of women on screen actually is. The Small Screen Feminist Rubric (catchier name? Help please?) aims higher, attempting to ask if a show meets some basic feminist criteria in addition to, you know, actually having women in it.
The rubric originally had 8 components (which Bechdel would surely think is too many), but I want to add a 9th. My friend Miranda suggested asking whether the camera personifies the “male gaze” and I think she brings up a great point. Does it follow women’s bodies in a objectified way? Does it linger on breasts and asses? Does it, the camera itself, consistently treat male and female bodies differently?
So, with our new and improved rubric (which you can review here) in hand, does The Good Wife meet our criteria?
1. Marriage and Babies? Not the central question! While Alicia’s marriage is a question on the show, it is not the tent pole on which the show stands. If Alicia and Peter officially reunited, the Good Wife could pursue a host of other plot lines. It also helps that Alicia is past child-bearing age. Imagine, ladies are still interesting after 40!
2. Women like sex too? Check! The women of Lockhart Gardner like to get down, and their down-getting doesn’t impact their worth as coworkers or friends.
3. Body beautiful? Hmmmm, The Good Wife is not so great on the body diversity front. Everyone is remarkably hot, in a remarkably thin, conventional way. To win points for this category, a show has to have characters of a variety of shapes and sizes, whose shape or size is not their defining feature (think Donna on Parks and Rec).
4. Platonic Boy Girl Friendships? You bet. TGW has one of my favorite platonic friendships on television, the great, everlasting partnership of Diane and Will.
5. Girls that don’t talk about boys. Win! While there are plenty of substantive conversations about relationships, some of the most intense lady convos between Diane and Alicia are about the glass ceiling, politics, and work.
6. People want different things? Sometimes girls just want sex and sometimes boys just want to be snuggled? Yeah, thanks to Kalinda, TGW does pretty well at pushing boundaries of female sexuality. Similarly, the Alicia-Will arc didn’t end with a boring Alicia-wants-to-get-serious, Will-wants-a-fling cliche.
7. Some women are bitches, some men are douches ≠ Battle of the Sexes: Yep, bad behavior crosses all kinds of fun lines. Meddling judges, manipulative lawyers, lying clients, all of these exist in both sexes on TGW, and none of them are meant to be some sort of coded stereotype for “how women are” or “how men are.”
8. Feminism isn’t a dirty word. This is where this show knocks it out of the park. Interesting conversations about second vs. third wave feminism, EMILY’s list, discussions of judicial tokenism, TGW isn’t afraid to throw some unapologetic feminism.
9. Male Gaze? Hmmm, is it just me, or does the camera spend an awful lot of time on Kalinda’s breasts? Thoughts?
Score Card: The Kings do a bang-up job nearly every week. They make quality, thought-provoking television for grown-ups that isn’t afraid of messy relationships, tough conversations, or imperfect solutions. On the Feminist Rubric, they are at least 7 for 9. Could we get a few characters that aren’t all shaped exactly alike? The whole female cast is basically the output of a multi-ethnic cookie cutter.
Related Post: Why I think men belong in the feminist movement.
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