Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Question of Rank – Memorable Female Characters

by Laurie K.

Over at TVsquad today, there’s an article ranking television's top 100 most memorable female characters.   It's an interesting list and there are quite a few science fiction and fantasy characters involved.  It doesn’t say by what criteria they are ranked, but I’d really love to know.  I get that ‘memorable’ is entirely subjective, and it all depends on who’s doing the ranking – and the audience to whom you’re pitching the article.  Regardless, I was pretty irked by something I saw on the first page.

Samantha Carter was ranked below Brenda Walsh.

I’m going to date myself here, but I grew up with original Beverly Hills, 90210 and I remember watching it religiously.  As for the Stargate franchise, I didn’t watch it during its original run, but I recently watched Stargate SG-1 and Stargate: Atlantis in their entirety.  I guess for me it’s a question of impact.  What did I take away from watching these two distinctly different characters?

What I Learned From Brenda Walsh

Being the new girl sucked.  Being your brunette self amidst all the cookie cutter blondes was hard, and unless you changed who you were to suit them you could never be valued.  ‘Bitch’ was more than just a word; it was an art form.  If you channeled enough anger into the art of bitchiness, you could get ahead.  (Nice girls got the shaft, so why bother?)  You were defined by who your boyfriend was, and by how he felt about you.   Act out.  Act up.  Disrespect your loving parents!

What I Learned From Samantha Carter

Being the new girl sucked.  Being the only woman in a male-dominated field was hard, but if you established up front that you were capable, competent and a team player, you could be a valued member of the team.  If you gave your opinion in a calm and professional manner – but defended it passionately when questioned – those in authority would consider your advice.  (But you had to accept it graciously and move on when they didn’t agree with you – even when you were right.)  You were defined by what you did and how you acted, and the people you helped might never know you existed.  But you did it anyway.

I was 14 the first time I saw Brenda Walsh.  I was 33 the first time I saw Sam Carter.  And at each age, I wanted to be the woman on the screen.  I channeled my inner bitch pretty relentlessly when I was younger.  As I’ve grown older (and worked in a male-dominated field for the last 12 years) I’ve learned that the value of being calm and professional can't be overstated - and that the honey gets you farther than the sting.  (And, hey, if the honey doesn’t work, you can bust out the sting later.  It’s tough to do it the other way around.) 

Seeing these two dramatically different women ranked this way makes me wonder:  What would the result have been if it had been the other way around for me?  If I’d seen calm, capable, brilliant Samantha Carter when I was 14, would I have spent so long thinking that Brenda-esque bitch-mode was the answer? It’s tough to say.  I would have liked that chance, though.

I cringe when I remember being a Brenda.  I aspire to be a Samantha.  TVSquad, I am disappoint.
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  1. Speaking as a guy who was in the Army (a very male dominated field) for many years, I agree with you. The women who were competent and wanted to treated like soldiers (as opposed to being treated like "female" soldiers) were very much the Samantha Carter type. But I'm one of those oddballs who judge the people around me by how they do their jobs and not whether they're black, white, male, female, straight, or gay.

  2. Great article. Just, really really good.