Spoiler Warning- don’t look if you haven’t yet seen SkyFall!
So as Sarah Lund (Sofie Grabel) takes to the screen for the last time and (spoiler warning) and M bows out of James Bond, it’s getting harder, not easier, to find serious female representations for us older or even younger ladies to enjoy. No doubt there are a variety of young women rushing round our screens in sci-fi (Continium) or in violent high kicking spy stories (Hunted), and there’s female payback in Lisbeth Salander (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) but serious women in authority, certainly on this side of the Atlantic, is hard to find. Recently, that stalwart of BBC Radio 4, Woman’s Hour has started a hunt for Britain’s 100 most powerful women, which set me thinking, who are fiction’s 100 most powerful women? In fact to be fair to proportions between population and books who are fiction’s ten or twenty most powerful women? If you exclude from power the ability to kick a chin from a standing start and substitute that for being the woman who runs the show, I’m struggling to think of someone… anyone.
Here’s a few:
Carrie Matheson (Claire Danes) in Homeland
Saga Noren (Sofia Helen) in The Bridge
(Sidse Babett Knudsen) Borgen
Jemma (Katey Sagal) Sons of Anarchy
None of those are British – these are:
Jane Tennison (Helen Mirren) in Prime Suspect
M (Judi Dench) James Bond
Dr. Grace Foley (Sue Johnstone) in Waking the Dead
… but they are gone.
No doubt readers can think of other women characters that capture their imagination, but the overwhelming sense to me, at the moment, is that there are not many and that there are less and less examples. Even in one of my favourite shows, that makes no bones (almost literally) about the role and function of women, The Walking Dead, there is no one older than fifty – really in that world?
All the women featured are beautiful and if not young (sorry Laurie Holden but I remember the X Files) they are youthful and beautiful. The only aged member of the cast is that consummate actor Scott Wilson and whilst the lead characters may have to be represented by men in their prime, why is there an assumption that in a post-apocalyptic dystopia some formidable older lady would not still be alive and giving the men what for? Take a look at this lady
I rest my case.
The great thing about Judi Dench’s M and Birgitte in Borgen is that they are roles for women above the men in authority. In so may representations the women may be strong, intelligent characters, they may even be the protagonist, but they must battle the men. Carrie Matheson must battle the men, as must Saga in The Bridge, one wonders whether their mental illness is a metaphoric representation of the attitude to women in authority. Women in the workplace are still defined as aggressive, awkward or emotional if they present their case rationally and forcefully. In other roles, Jemma in SOA must match the men in her accuracy of shot, as must Andrea in The Walking Dead but both are still subject male authority. Sarah Lund also manages her life in a man’s world, making the decision to sacrifice her role as a mother to her work, but at least she wears a jumper and some sensible shoes! Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), who held her own with her scientific mind compensated for that by some seriously impractical high heels
Don’t get me wrong I’m all for a bit of scopophilia male or female, but that alone is not a satisfying representation, not if you purport to offer insight to the world as it is or could be, women past the menopause do still exist and while young women are offered representations such as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, by the time they are thirty they will be starting to wonder what happens when they pass fifty. Hell! What happened to Buffy?