Gender disparity in modern crime drama

I love American crime drama, since finally getting channel 5 when I moved to university I have become mildly addicted to them, CSI, NCIS, Numbers, I’ll watch anything like that. I’m aware that they’re various amounts of silly, but that makes sense, they’re supposed to be entertaining, and they are.

However, the more I watch them the more I notice something, the vast gender disparity. All the different shows have women in them, but very few of those women are in charge. If they are in charge then they’re the director, as in NCIS or Law and Order: UK, rather than part of the team, they are distanced, an authority figure but not one to be unquestionably obeyed or known as a friend.Even in the cases where there a woman man paired together, the woman is obviously clearly the junoir partner, as in Law and Order: Criminal Intent, Alexandra Eaemes is described as ‘a lesser equal, overshadowed by the charismatic presence of a prodigious partner. While still an assertive and no-nonsense cop and the senior partner of the pairing’, so she’s the senoir partner but isn’t treated as such, excellent.

I made a list of the ten shows I watch regularly, of those three have female leads,with CSI being a very recent case, Gil Grissam having only just left, to be replaced by Catherine Willows. As CSI is, for me, the best of all the crime drama I watch, and the reason for the other two versions of CSI, this should be a really good thing. However. Previously, in the titles, Grissom came first, as team leader, than Catherine as second-in-command. Now, as team leader you would expect Catherine to come first, but no, first comes Laurence Fishburne’s character, Ray Langston, the newest member of the team, and the most junior, and Catherine Willows, the team leader, comes second. This really annoys me, Catherine is a great character, and shown as a good leader, yet is undermined from the very beginning of the show. A very cynical part of me thinks maybe the producers have weighed up woman vs black, and decided that a black lead character looks more politically correct than a female lead character, regardless of canonical rank.

Because that is the other thing. None of the lead characters are people of colour, and none are gay. In fact, Olivia Benson in Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, was assumed by many to be a lesbian, and was revealed not to be. Ok, so she’s a strong woman, a bit butch looking, it doesn’t mean she’s definitely a lesbian, but it would have been great for a tv show to make that brave leap to confirm a major character as a lesbian, not making a big deal of it, the obvious comparison is Renee Montoya in the DC comics universe, being a lesbian is part of her character, not all of her character.

At least there are people of colour in most of the teams, not all, not in NCIS as the moment for example, though there is a Israeli female character, Ziva David, maybe that balances it out, maybe. However, most of the character of ethnic minorities m are lab techs, junior detectives, and so on, Law and Order:SVU has Ice T playing a detective, that is perhaps the most senior example of a person of colour in a crime drama, disgraceful really.

I don’t know what my point is, other than perhaps that maybe this is what real police teams are like, but CSI not what real police and criminal forensic teams are like, for a start they’re all far, far too attractive, if you’re going to be unrealistic in one part then there’s not point pleading realism for another section. What I’d love to see is Catherine Willows recognised as the leader of her team, and more teams to have senoir members who are people of colour, and of course to see someone acknowled as queer.

4 thoughts on “Gender disparity in modern crime drama

  1. Jazzratt says:

    Great post. It’s not just crime dramas that are like this though, nearly every genre of TV program has problems like this with few exceptions(From what I remember of Babylon 5, for example, there was a high ranking female officer who fell in love with another female character. However that was just one character.).

    It’s a fairly sad statement about the world if we can’t achieve equality in our fantasies.

  2. jonnigirl says:

    Yeah, I’m sure it most genres, but crime drama, specifically American crime drama is what I know, I don’t know what that says about me. Though I imiagine lots of sci-fi series have similar issues about a lack of high ranking female team members, all I really know is Firefly and Torchwood, oh yeah, both team leaders are white males. Hmmmm.

  3. susako says:

    Teresa Lisbon in The Mentalist is a promising example of a female team leader also recognised as a friend. Not a perfect one, but still. However, she does take second stage to the principle character of the show, Patrick Jane, although this could be seen as him being the protagonist, so it only being natural as opposed to being a result of inherent gender bias.

    • jonnigirl says:

      I’d agree apart from it seems that each episode there is just a little more sexual tension between her and Jane, which is annoying, because she is awesome, also annoying is the fact that he continually undermines her. I know that’s what he does and who he is, but still, it shows a supposedly competent woman repeatedly being underminded by her junior, at least she has to rescue him fairly often.

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