Women on TV: the difference between night and day

Watching Roger Newcomb, Damon Jacobs and Elizabeth Kerri Mahon discuss one of my favorite topics — soaps’ lack of strong women — on We Love Soaps’ sixth episode of WLS TV got me thinking again. I sifted through each daytime soap that I watch, trying to think of a woman who is not reduced to obsessing over some man or over their children — to think of women who are shown as flawed but also root-worthy, with solid careers, who aren’t written off as ball-busters or sacrificed for the sake of a plot. Good gravy, do you know what a difficult task that is? 

AS THE WORLD TURNS’ Margo comes to mind…but even she gets thrown under the bus. That she would play such blatant favorites between sons Casey and Adam is ridiculous, and that she would give Adam a free pass for attacking several women when she herself is a rape survivor is offensive as Hell. Margo wasn’t allowed to be Margo in that storyline. Just as GENERAL HOSPITAL’s Alexis is frequently not allowed to be the smart, savvy Natasha Cassadine we all know she is. And THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS’ Phyllis is either all about hubby Nick or son Daniel these days. Where did her own identity go? It’s like soaps have to dumb a powerful woman down, especially if they’re a parent. And that is hinky on every level. Incubating something in our uteruses doesn’t deplete our brain cells, folks.

In the ’80s and ’90s, my favorite characters were all women: GH’s Anna Devane and Robin Scorpio, GUIDING LIGHT’s Harley Cooper, ONE LIFE TO LIVE’s Megan, Marty and Tina. And, yet, in the 21st Century, most of the characters who feel more fleshed out, are male. They have actual jobs and drive story. Look at GH’s Lucky and Dante going about solving the Michael/Franco mess…it’s independent of their love interests. When is the last time a woman got a story like that? GH’s Carly is an extension of Sonny, Jason and, now, Michael. That she has to stand around while other people parent her wayward son and he tries to school her is insane.

It floors me…and perhaps that’s why I turn to prime time for my kick-ass female needs.

Just look at the #1 show, NCIS. Ziva David (Cote de Pablo) and Abby Sciuto (Pauley Perrette) are amazing. They’re in no way lesser than the men. In fact, it could be argued that they’re better. Tony has no problem standing back and letting Ziva do all the fighting, because he knows she’s more skilled than he is. Gibbs relies on Abby’s brilliance every week. And Ziva and Abby have very distinct personalities. They’re not remotely alike. That a procedural show, which is largely case-driven, is offering up such multi-dimensional characters when soaps can’t…is sad.

 BEING ERICA’s Erica is probably one of the most realistic women on TV. She grounds a show with a sci-fi premise in relatable, 30-something female conflict. It’s no wonder that Canada honored actress Erin Karpluk with a Gemini for Best Actress (FYI, that’s their equivalent of an Emmy), because she runs the gamut of emotions every episode and knocks it out of the park. Juliana Margulies and Archie Panjabi, on THE GOOD WIFE, are two more actresses who have characters with all kinds of strength. Alicia Florrick and Kalinda Sharma are as different as night and day, but they’re incredible. Like…I want to be them if I ever grow up.

Why can’t I have that kind of fist-pumping, passionate empathy for some of daytime’s women? This is a genre for women…so why not show us as we are? Not one-dimensional, not plot-driven, but as unique characters with our own stories to tell.

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3 thoughts on “Women on TV: the difference between night and day

  1. It’s one of the reasons, I like the Vampire Diaries. Elena has not been afraid to stand up to Damon and to tell Stefan that she doesn’t want to see him because of all the death and destruction that goes on around him. One of my favorite women is Det. Olivia Benson on Law & Order: SVU.

    Ah, how I remember the days when Anna Devane was kicking butt with Robert Scorpio and Sean Donely. I so wish that she and Robert could come back to Port Charles to kick Sonny’s ass.

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    • Please, like they’d even LET Anna come back to kick Sonny’s ass. She’s be his next love interest! Cue cooing over Sonny’s cooking and his dimples!

      And, yes, I’m impressed with how Elena has emerged as a strong character who asserts herself and doesn’t let Stefan and Damon make all the decisions. I also love that Bonnie *literally* has more power than them and hope that we’ll continue to see that develop.

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  2. I couldn’t agree more. The portrayal of women on soaps have gotten terrible and regressive. Most female characters feel so outdated. There are few complex, strong women and the ones that are either don’t last long or they are marginalized. Why do they think weak, stupid, man dependent and stereotypical female characters are some how preferrable or more interesting is beyond me.

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