Why We're Wrong To Fear The Types Of Working Women On Television
The Clinton Global Initiative is now taking steps to address the issue of gender gaps in the workforce.
This gender gap includes things like women being paid less than men, women only making up 5 percent of fortune 500 CEOs (despite earning the majority of college degrees) and the US being one of the only nations to not have paid maternity leave.
I, personally, am glad that campaigns, like the Clinton Global Initiative, are beginning to address these issues and bring them to the forefront of our minds. In fact, I’m absolutely ecstatic about it.
However, I am also cautious about it. For years, ideas of how women are in business/politics/typically masculine workplaces have been built up and found their way into our collective cultural minds.
Television, movies, songs and novels now perpetuate these ideas. And, despite the fact that these women have traits men deem as positive, we, women, are subtly conditioned to avoid becoming them.
1. Ms. Heartless
It’s a common trope in movies, especially romantic comedies, that women who are hard workers are also cold and hard people. Think of Miranda Priestley (Meryl Steep) in "The Devil Wears Prada."
She’s a career woman who has a family, yet while she’s successful in her career, her personal life is falling apart.
She and her husband have marital issues; she buys her daughters’ affections with gifts, and she has almost no friends. She’s a career woman, but she’s not warm enough for a personal life.
Movies and television shows beg for women to make choices between a successful career and a rich and warm personal life. They can never seem to have both.
Sure, there are some female characters who work and have families, but this comes with compromise.
They are either a) in jobs that are traditionally feminine, or b) they go to work after their families are raised. I honestly cannot think of any movies or shows where smart, savvy and successful businesswomen, lawyers or politicians (with the obvious exception of "Parks and Recreation") are also shown as loving mothers, wives and friends.
If there is any wonder why women are getting the highest percentage of university degrees, yet only make up 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs, it's because many women may not be getting degrees in business.
They may be like me, getting their degrees in education. They could be getting a degree in nursing or going into other fields, like science, humanities and more.
They may be avoiding careers in business or politics or law because the women they see in those roles are not the type of woman they want to be.
Yet, in real life, you see successful women raising families and being great mothers, too. Look at Hillary Clinton, who balanced being a mother, a lawyer and the First Lady while her daughter, Chelsea, was growing up.
Even though she's portrayed as cold in the media, whenever I see her with her family in pictures, she always looks warm and loving.
She and Chelsea look like they have a great relationship, which would not be the case if Clinton were cold and heartless.
Just because a woman has a successful career doesn't mean she has sacrificed her personal life to have it.
2. The Cutthroat Bitch
This woman is similar to Ms. Heartless because she is cold and hard, but she is different because she is cold and hard in her work life, too. She's the type of woman who takes no crap, holds no prisoners and will do anything to get to the top.
She'll manipulate, she'll lie, she'll kick, she'll punch and she will take you down if you get in her way. She's ruthless and everyone knows it. She has no integrity, no dignity and no one likes her.
Think of Annalise Keating from "How To Get Away With Murder." She's a successful lawyer, but no one likes her — not even the audience. We see her as a woman who would sell out her own grandmother if it meant getting what she wanted.
She uses the man with whom she's supposedly in love; she manipulates her group of students and at the end of the first season, we even question if she's capable of murder. Annalise is a cutthroat bitch.
Despite the cutthroat bitch's success, she is not respected. Yes, she may be feared, but definitely not respected. Lurking in the shadows are people who are waiting, watching and hoping the time will come to take her down.
Yet, just like Ms. Heartless, the media portrayal of the cutthroat b*tch is so wrong. Just because a woman is cutthroat doesn't mean she's a cold and manipulative person.
She's just written that way because if we had more cutthroat business b*tches in the workforce, it would be threatening to the men.
Being a cutthroat b*itch means a woman is smart and savvy. She doesn't sacrifice professional relationships; she builds them because she knows she needs them.
She doesn't demand fear, she commands respect. She knows what she has to do to get the job done and she does it.
3. The Office Sexpot
I'm sure we've all seen these girls on television. They're the modelesque, perfectly styled and perfectly sexy women in the office.
They wear the fashionable tight skirts and the stilettos that reach toward the sky. They walk around the office and men (even the married ones) can't not look.
This woman breaks the "no office romance" rules on the daily. She's not even serious about her work, she's just looking for a Mr. Sugar Daddy.
People give her attention, but their attention isn't on her PowerPoints. She isn't respected for her brains, she's lusted after for her sex appeal.
These women are not portrayed as smart. Look at "Selfie," which ABC aired (and then immediately pulled) last fall. In the show, Eliza Dooley works as a sales-rep for a Vitamin company. She's beautiful, impeccably dressed and she enjoys a lot of... extracurricular... activities.
Despite being the top sales-rep at the company, no one likes her because they see her as nothing more than the office sexpot. It's not until she reigns that in (with the help of Henry Higgs, a man, of course) that people start to treat her with respect.
This type of woman tells us women are sometimes hired just to be the office sexpot, not for their qualifications. They'll never be taken seriously (unless, of course, they frump it up).
This tells women that being stylish and put together means their ideas will offer less validation. If they want to look pretty and confident and sexy, they won't be taken as seriously.
This, of course, is so wrong. Just because a woman looks good doesn't mean she's not smart or her ideas worth any less.
If a woman is smart, it shouldn't matter how she looks. If people can't see past her looks, then that's their problem, not hers.
In conclusion, a woman’s place in the workplace is something Clinton Global Initiative is focusing on, and that’s great. However, it will take a lot more than one campaign to change things.
It will take a cultural overhaul, and one place we can start is with how working women are presented in our entertainment media.
Working women can't be seen as heartless women who can't have both family lives and careers, b*tches who people can't wait to take down or as nothing more than the vapid sexpot no one can take seriously.
If it continues, girls will always be afraid of turning into those types of women.
Instead, working women need to be portrayed as what they are: brilliant, driven, awesome.