Carly Miller · Female Representation · Sexism in the Media

‘The accuracy of ‘average’ female characters: Suits’ by Carly Miller

As someone who didn’t really know what they wanted to do with their life until they got to University, I am proud to say that I have my goals set on becoming a lawyer, and with that, the academic goal to get into law school. This goal is a very big deal for me as when I started my university career, I thought I had my heart set on media technology and communications; turns out, I was wrong and I believe you have to make a few wrong turns in life to find yourself on the right road for your future. After coming to terms with myself, and what I really wanted to do with my life, my parents never seemed 100% for it. In fact they were, and still are very weary; weary in the sense that they don’t believe that I can achieve this goal; with my father constantly suggesting that I should go into speech-pathology (not once in my life have I sparked interest in that field of study). While the wheels continue to turn in my head, I can’t help but wonder why no one in my family can see me as a lawyer, and if I am the only one who experiences this. Thus, leading a few other thoughts: If I am the only female who experiences this, which I can’t possibly be, because that would mean one of two things:

  1. The world is actually caught up with feminism and supports women with what they set their minds to and what they want to accomplish.
  2. My parents are just as muted as my personal testimony suggests and they are part of the problem society has created.

However, being more realistic with the concept of society not being “there” for women and their career choices; it seems as though most of the world are “visual” learners in the sense that when it comes to us women and how we “should” make our career choices.  We may or may not realize that women are profiled by a constant marketing whether it be in a simple 30-second ad on YouTube you cannot skip, a new Netflix show or a groundbreaking new-summer blockbuster. Yet, all of these things have one thing in common: the precise calculation of how relatable a female character can be.

For years and years, men have had their hand in media in which women have been boxed as nothing more as a housewife from the 60’s up until Mary Tyler Moore broke the stigma that women actually wear pants and have the desire to hold a job. While television became more politically correct with their roles for women, people of color and sexualities, there is still an apparent stigma and formula that television and media follows. Now, I do deeply apologize because after reading this theory, you won’t be able to ignore any of the signs of shitty writing and lazy producing. Over the course of a few weeks, I will be analyzing some of my favorite television shows: USA’s Suits, BBC’s Sherlock and ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy.

Back in summer of 2011, USA released this snazzy, sleek, New Yorker, law firm drama centres around three white guys, a redhead, two women of color, and another white woman just to make sure white people are secure enough while watching the drama.

suits promo

Race doesn’t have much of a narrative to this show, as it is centered around the two main characters defending clients whilst trying to keep the other’s secret about not being a lawyer. However, it does cover all of the average checkmarks: men and women, of any hair color, or skin color can be lawyers if they are sleek enough, have great legs, can afford a $1500 pantsuit, and master the art of power walking down Fifth Avenue whilst eating a bagel paired with a coffee and going over a deposition with the new associate.

Examining the point of feminism for this show: notice how the women are standing, with confidence; and their hair? Sleek and polished. Along with their top designer dresses and suits. Just looking at this promotional photo alone, what are the first adjectives that come to mind? Having their shit together, ivy league schools, too cool for school. Along with all of these adjectives, one can argue that to achieve all of these listed above is to be in the upper class or come from some sort of money.

Circling back to the main point of this post, when society thinks of lawyers, they don’t tend to think of a woman who once had a passion for screenwriting and acting to now have a profound passion for the study of law. When I’m out in public or even in the safety of my own home, I don’t tend to look at average conversations with a stereotypical lawyer’s point of view of “you can’t prove this or that”, I tend to speak like a somewhat normal twenty-year-old.

Had I had graduated with a 4.3 GPA in high school with all honors, gotten into an ivy league school, then maybe I (as well as countless other women) the people I encounter in life would “see” me more as a lawyer. Profiling the way someone dresses, speaks, chooses what they watch, how many tattoos one has and even their gender is bullshit. But yet, because of shows like Suits, often in the dominate control of men producing, writing and directing. The vision of those actresses portrayed on Suits are focus group’s ideal box of women, never once thinking outside of the box of what real women look like, dress like or even talk like.

Examining the female characters: Donna and Rachel (yes, you may recognize the actress who portrays Megan as this is Prince Harry’s fabulous girlfriend), are the two main female characters on the drama.

Suits - Season 5

The writing does get very repetitive: 

  1. Actor says something clever
  2. Other actor responds with something equally as clever
  3. Actor one closes dialogue with a dumb punch line or pun.

Starting off with Rachel Zane, a paralegal at the firm, who is evidentially the secret daughter of a wealthy/successful lawyer; she is the first person at the firm to befriend the main character, Mike Ross (fake lawyer). They fall into the stereotypical “we are only friends, but we love each other, but won’t sleep with each other because it would ruin the friendship blah blah blah” Rachel has every potential to be an amazing lawyer and get into law school, yet her character has a clutch: test anxiety. Which, I can’t get mad about, because the show doesn’t over hype it and make her character surrounded by the anxiety. The show gives the character the tools and an example of a semi-decent support system to power through the LSATs and become her own person.

Donna is portrayed as the secretary, in fact so much of the power held in the, I believe she is titled as Harvey Specter’s personal assistant (don’t quote me, it’s been a while since I’ve watched). Donna falls under the “motherly” type of woman written for television. Constantly making sure Harvey’s tie is the “right” tie, that no one goes into his office unless she gives them approval, keeping the secret that Mike Ross hasn’t graduated from Harvard. Donna is in other words, the wheels behind the bicycle.

Donna’s character proves that Harvey really wouldn’t be the lawyer he is in the present season of the show without Donna always having his back. She never really sparks an interest in wanting to be anything more than a personal assistant to Harvey (that I’ve seen, again, have not seen the whole series), while this is perfect for the angle of how women can be whatever they aspire to be if it is a personal assistant or a partner at a law firm; the show does an exceptional job at one thing: Donna putting Harvey in his place.

We have all watched shows where the creators portray women as paper machete, the writers of Suits do an exceptional job of having the women stand their ground. Harvey is a womanizer and an asshole for at least 12 minutes per every episode. Donna sees through all of the designer suits and the hair gel, and puts Harvey in his place and keeps him on planet Earth. The platform of the show encourages women to stand their ground to their boss, man or woman, to stand up for what they believe is right and to speak up for what they think is right. While I’m aware our readers probably haven’t seen the show, as it isn’t the greatest show on American television, I do encourage our readers to delve into a few episodes if you all can get past the cringe worthy writing.

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