What’s the deal with images of powerful women in media? The trope of the tough-as-nails boss-lady who may or may not have a heart of gold has evolved a lot over the years, but it’s difficult to portray such a character unobjectionably, probably due to those all-too-familiar double standards about wanting women in authority (or, say, running for office) to be assertive but not astringent.
Margaret was the female lead in major films including Independence Day and The Devil’s Own, is a mainstay on Broadway, and has appeared on TV in many roles including the mother of the Gossip Girl and as an unscrupulous newscaster on the final seasons of VEEP. Her height and voice have made her a good fit for dominant-lady roles, and she leads Mark, Erica, and Brian through a quick, instructive tour through her work with male directors (e.g. in a pre-Murphy-Brown Dianne English sit-com), playing the lead in three Lifetime Network movies, on Broadway as Jackie, and opposite Harrison Ford, Al Pacino, Melanie Griffith, Michael Shannon, Wallace Shawn, and others.
Given the limitations of short-form storytelling in film, maybe some use of stereotypes is just necessary to get the gist of a character out quickly, but actors can load their performances with unseen backstory. We hear about the actor’s role in establishing a character vs. the vision of the filmmakers or show-runners. Also, the relative conservatism of film vs. stage vs. TV in granting women creative control, the “feminine voice,” why women always apparently have to trip in movies when chased, and more.
A few resources to get you thinking about this topic:
- Wikipedia on the strong female stock character
- TV Tropes on the “Iron Lady” stereotype (The parent category to this is the “Ice Queen.”)
- IMDB’s entry on Alpha Females of Film and TV
- “Fierce Femmes: The Problem With Strong Female Characters” by Rachel Wayne
- “The 9 Most Badass Female Bosses from TV & Movies” by Christina Murphy
- “Horrible Movie Bosses Ranked” by Julia Hays
- “Playbill.com’s Brief Encounter With Margaret Colin” by Robert Simonson
This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network and is curated by openculture.com.