I have been down with USA Network since the days of the good ol’ Cartoon Express. Although they tend to get overlooked every year during awards season over the years the quiet geniuses in USA’s programming department have managed to tap into the innermost workings of the American t.v. viewer’s brain (I am convinced that they have hypnotists on staff…damned if those Law & Order SVU marathons don’t turn me into a certified zombie). Their finely targeted mixture of original series and syndicated favorites – which together comprise a fairly comprehensive portrait of the American cultural landscape – has yielded steadily increasing ratings for the better part of three decades. USA has loudly touted their democratic appeal, most recently in their “Characters Welcome” brand campaign, which has highlighted the network’s character diversity and parlayed that into a massive multimedia platform for promoting multiculturalism and social activism. It’s nothing short of groundbreaking and as a woman of color their strategy pleases me to no end.
In light of all that I found myself agog when faced with the poster for their new original series Fairly Legal on my way to work this week: WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS BULLSHIT RIGHT HERE?
Are they serious with that tagline? “Less Lawyer. More Appeal”? Am I overreacting or is the implication that those two things are inversely proportionate? Why not just say, “Less Practice. More Pussy”? Or, “She Won’t Be Thinking. Just Look at Her Tits”?
This is a network that has created a solid number of kick-ass female characters in its current line-up:
- Divya Katdare (Royal Pains), a no-nonsense physician’s assistant with great business acumen and a passion for her career.
- Mary Shannon (In Plain Sight), a no-nonsense U.S. Marshall who, between a douchebag partner, an inept boss, a drunk mother, a floozy sister and a parade of people bumbling through the federal witness protection program, is the only one who has her shit together.
- Fiona Glenanne (Burn Notice), a no-nonsense former IRA operative who likes to blow shit up and has her Ex expertly suspended somewhere between taking her back on her terms and dying without her.
Hell, they even managed to make Piper Perabo look no-nonsense. Which leaves me utterly perplexed and wondering…what the fresh hell is this nonsense? Let’s recap:
- Women as doctors, federal agents, spies and terrorists? Not emasculating.
- Women as lawyers? Hmmm…that’s only appealing if she looks like she wants to fuck me and not talk about anything too lawyer-y. Like civil rights or equity or the legal boundaries between flirtation and assault. Because A) analyzing those things is a total boner-killer and B) that’s ALL women lawyers do.
Ok, I realize that the premise of the show has something to do with the main character leaving her job as a lawyer. My rage is further mitigated by the fact that USA has sonce again built a show around a female lead (and a woman of color at that!) So I guess I could just throw this in my mental rubbish bin if, as a woman lawyer, I didn’t see evidence of this mentality every day in my personal and professional life. It is representative a larger cultural phenomenon that’s been well-documented everywhere from Sex in The City to my favorite ladyblog.
There is a now-wearisome trope about female lawyers – those women in our society who are the most well-versed on the extent of their rights as equal citizens under the law and the best able to articulate arguments for the enforcement of laws and policies that serve their best interests – that they are shrewd, humorless, aggressive and antagonistic to men. And not in a throw-you-down-and-do-what-I-want-with-you sort of way. More in a give-me-what’s-due-to-me-or-I’ll-destroy-every-claim-to-systemic-power-you-hold-dear sort of way. Totally NOT HOT. Amirite?
Except that it would be totally hot if women were afforded equal power and protection under the law. That’s what our nation’s laws were meant to ensure and the women who have the intellect and the gumption to jump into the fray and hold our country’s judicial system to that ideal are pretty badass (if I do say so myself). Not to mention the enormous role that the traditional womanly virtues of empathy, compassion and intuition play in zealous advocacy and the pursuit of justice.
Lawyers generally have a reputation for being pugnacious and highly anal-retentive (which you need us to be sometimes, don’t front) and that I can accept. But I can’t help but think that the tendency to lash back at women lawyers with attacks on their femininity and their value as partners to men has something to do with the threat they represent to the deeply-entrenched, male-dominated structural inequalities that persist in our society.
This is about the least subtle way of reinforcing that resentment I have ever seen.