‘Scandal’s Take On Female Power In Washington: Is It Too Stereotypical?

November 19, 2012  |  

Good news: This Thursday is Thanksgiving Day and we can eat, eat and eat some more turkey, cranberry sauce and pie.

More good news: ABC is airing a Spike Lee joint on Thanksgiving night — Bad 25, a look at the impact of Michael Jackson’s 1987 blockbuster album “Bad.” Take a moment to say it… “Who’s bad?!”

Bad news: We will be deprived of an episode of Scandal.

Thank goodness we have this interesting article from The Daily Beast to fill the void. The essay is focused on what Scandal says about women in power in Washington DC. To start, Alyssa Rosenberg points out that, in addition to the number of women who have served directly with President Obama, election night brought a few more women to Congress, adding to the number of powerful women in DC. IRL, women are making strides… even if their numbers still aren’t representative of the number of women in the American population. Not to mention how few women of color hold seats in government.

Still, women are making and influencing policy, meeting with world leaders, and having a say in the direction our country is headed. Good stuff.

On Scandal, however, according to the story, women play a much more stereotypical role. Whether it’s the socially conservative Veep who was basically pushed out of the show after she had a scandal of her own, to First Lady Mellie who’s big story line this season is her pregnancy with “America’s baby,” women are there to cause trouble. “In Olivia Pope’s Washington, the most potent power a woman has is to destroy men who believe in their own greatness,” Rosenberg writes. Even Olivia Pope herself is “curiously removed from the actual debates of the day” and could, through her clients or her own adulterous relationship with President Fitz, destroy the lives of a number of male Washingtonians.

Though Scandal deals with some hot topics in a modern and timely way, it’s still basically a soap opera. Soap operas largely revolve around the romantic goings-on between the characters. So the fact that there’s a lot of that happening on the show isn’t a surprise. Sandal is as much a show about the inner workings of Washington as Grey’s Anatomy is about medicine. A great show, not a documentary.

But it’s also important to note that Rosenberg doesn’t really dive into what it is the men are doing while the women are setting up their falls from grace. The men are running around with these ladies! They’re having affairs, talking about having babies (or not having babies, in the case of Cyrus Beene, the President’s right hand man), and talking about relationships. So while there is some talk about a war in South Sudan or other created policy issues, the men are just as involved in all the drama as the women.

Olivia Pope’s business revolves around knowing how to play the Washington game. When a situation goes down, she has a strategy to handle it immediately. She knows who to call, how to thoroughly assess the situation, and how to proceed once she’s got the details of the crisis at hand. She’s shed a few tears here and there and we’re learning more about her romantic past and present with Senator Edison Davis, but mostly, she’s a tough woman who knows how the game is played in that town.

And speaking of a tough woman who knows how the game in played, Mellie has made it clear that she’s setting herself up for a post-First Lady career. She’s quick to point out that she had a thriving professional life before she gave it up so her husband could become President. When the time calls for it, she steps up to keep her image and that of her husband on track, even if behind the scenes, there’s nothing but strife. In fact, it was President Grant who was sneaking off to the Oval Office to make secret phones to Olivia in the middle of the night.

We wouldn’t go so far to say that Scandal presents a perfect image of powerful Washington women. But, the women on this show hold their own. And, for what it is, the show does a pretty good job of portraying a smart, connected DC professional in Olivia Pope; a business owner who manages her staff, handles her clients, and has a Rolodex (not to mention a wardrobe) to die for.

Do you think the show’s portrayal of women in power is negative?

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