Depict women the way they are
As more stories are told of protagonists who are not always stereotypically heterosexual and male, and not always about finding cloyingly perfect romantic relationships; the oeuvre of storytelling will only get richer and more excitingUpdated: Feb 22, 2019 18:13 IST
Television (and cinema and all other forms of popular culture) have long had a problem of not knowing how to depict women who aren’t either Manic Pixie Dream Girls (a term coined by film critic, Nathan Rabin, to describe a woman who “exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures”) or one-dimensional cardboard cutouts. And it’s rarer still to find women characters whose lives are not about finding romantic love. As 2019 really gets going, it looks like that may be changing, slowly but surely. Netflix’s newest offering, the Natasha Lyonne starrer, Russian Doll, has been rightfully called the first great show of the year. It doesn’t wear its feminism on its sleeve and doesn’t try to raise so-called “women’s issues”, but gives us a real, emotional, tightly-scripted comedy-drama with a less-than-perfect woman at its centre.
One of the simpler ways to gauge if a story has more for a woman to do than simply “be there” for a man is the Bechdel Test (proposed by cartoonist Alison Bechdel in her comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For, in 1985). It’s a test to see if a work features at least two (preferably named) women who talk to each other about something other than a man. When BBC Three’s brilliant Fleabag premiered in 2016, it was a rarity: a show about a woman in a city, who is (as real human beings are) lost, confused, angry, and just trying to get through life. But now with the success of TV shows such as Russian Doll, The Good Place, and Orphan Black stories that just place women in central positions in stories and give them the same agency as a man are becoming more frequent. They are also able to allow women to be something more than absolutely perfect, which makes for more real depictions, and infinitely better stories.
Russian Doll, co-created by Lyonne, Amy Poehler and Leslye Headland, manages to subtly put the experiences of women at the centre, without ever having to loudly declare that intention. It is more than just the story of a woman. It is a time twisting, fantastical tale of grief, guilt, addiction, complicated personal histories, and city life. And just like in The Good Place or Fleabag, there are men, who have rounded characters and compelling back stories. As more stories are told of protagonists who are not always stereotypically heterosexual and male, and not always about finding cloyingly perfect romantic relationships, the oeuvre of storytelling will only get richer and more exciting.
First Published: Feb 22, 2019 18:11 IST