The modern day leading lady roles are diverse. Even in the superhero genre. We have the smart CEO Pepper Potts who grapples with supporting and also curtailing when needed the activities of Iron Man. We have the modern day Lois Lane who juggled her career and then motherhood with Superman. We have Selina Kyle, bad girl who comes good and provides much needed salvation to the dark minded Batman. And Mary Jane, the vulnerable singer who captured the heart of Spiderman. Like them or hate them, they are all diverse. It no longer seems like the script writers are doing a copy and paste and basically phoning it in when it comes to the character development and dialogue for the female leads.
That’s not to minimize the issues of gender pay gaps and female age discrimination and the inequality in the numbers of each gender hired in Hollywood, but at least we don’t have to deal with the vacuous female leads of old.
And then a thought occurred to me. The big hero guys have their partners, their love interests, that either compliment them or change them as the storyline requires. But what of the heroines? Do they get their relationship status changed on Facebook from ‘Single’ to ‘In a Relationship’? And what do those relationships look like? The more I thought about it, the more I struggled to come up with a character that fit the bill and had a current partner.
There was only one that jumped to mind and that was the super smart, super savvy and composed powerhouse that is Madam Secretary played by Tea Leone. It is beyond a doubt that she is da bomb. She takes world leaders in her stride, deftly averts crisis after crisis and shows compassion and insight when leading her team. And she has a husband. And he is a spunk. The writers have created an easy dynamic between the two which undoubtedly showcases her as the more politically powerful partner saving the world with every new negotiation tactic, but gives us a charismatic, confident and interesting partner who looks natural and likeable in his role as the supporting spouse. It’s kinda cool. I like the show for it’s insights into the world of foreign diplomacy, as much as for the great leading characters. It’s no West Wing, but it’s damn good.
But that female/male combo is not the norm. When I think of the shows that I watch or the movies that I like, I can’t think of another one that has the woman as the hero and the man as the househusband. And why not? Well I guess because it isn’t really a common assignment of roles. I know of two couples whom I am friends with, where I know for sure that the woman is the breadwinner, but that is all. It is really uncommon. Socially I don’t know that we can really get our heads around it. Logically it makes sense of course, but it is so rare it borders on the unreal.
And that makes me sad.
I could start discussing the facts right now. The undeniable statistics that perpetrate these circumstances; gender pay gaps, underrepresentation of females in senior leadership roles, insufficient childcare, lack of female mentors and the list goes on. But I would like to stick right now to discussing the social aspects of this phenomena. The thoughts, values and ideals that run around in our lizard brains and are what writers draw on to create our pop culture shows.