In popular culture, working women are getting their due
Netflix’s newest offering – the American true crime show Unbelievable – is about as feminist a show as we’ve seen. It makes no bones about the fact that all the central characters are women, from rape victims of all ages and body types to the two investigators, and even the person who makes the biggest error of judgement in the narrative. Another TV show this year with a female protagonist was director Richie Mehta’s Delhi Crime featuring Shefali Shah as DCP Vartika Chaturvedi leading the investigation into the infamous 2012 Delhi gang rape. These are just two examples in a genre that seems to be taking off quite well. The woman detective on TV is no longer simply pretty and dorky. She is competent and her gender is becoming, happily, incidental.
The Woman Detective trope has moved from Castle’s stiletto-wearing waif-like detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic), who ended up playing second fiddle to the dashing irresistible titular character (needless to say, male). Both in Delhi Crime and Unbelievable, the women dress for comfort, without being overtly sexualised. Other examples of this turn are Olivia Colman as Ellie Miller in Broadchurch, Mireille Enos as Sarah linden in The Killing, and Gillian Anderson as Stella Gibson in The Fall — the unassuming female crime fighter has really come alive in the past few years. And with each show, the lead character moves closer to being a well-rounded character, with more to her than just her gender. Both in Delhi Crime and Unbelievable, these detectives live in well-adjusted families, with spouses in law enforcement and related fields – indicating that the pressures of the job are understood, at least to that first degree. The patriarchy is never more than a beat away; DCP Vartika Chatrvedi is even called ‘Madam sir’ in Delhi Crime by her subordinates indicating how hard it is to separate power from ‘sir’. The good thing is these are all shows that don’t explain their feminisms. They are located squarely in the current context, making it clear that the ranks of these women in a still largely male setting are hard-won and harder yet to keep.
This focus on telling good stories, without having to rely on traditional worn-out tropes, is an indication of a thriving industry. As storytelling shifts mediums and means; smaller, tighter stories, of more kinds of people are beginning to be seen. The female detective who just does her job is as interesting a protagonist as the cliched lonely misunderstood man who can be fixed by a woman’s love. It’s a positive new stereotype, and the small but accruing gains for the working woman character in popular culture give hope that real life is moving forward on that front as well.