Five TV programmes with female leads, and why that isn’t as great as it sounds.

The representation of women in society is often queried, sometimes questioned because let’s face it, despite best efforts, we still live in a male dominated society. The more I consider the way women are represented in the media, the more I think about the television programmes that I enjoy.

I’m a big fan of several programmes which involve female leads, but more often than not, that’s still not enough.

I present to you the following six female-oriented television programmes for you to ponder.

  • Exhibit 1: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy is one of the earlier, most kiss-ass female leads in the history of television. Buffy Summers fights vampires and she does it brilliantly. She is the star of her own television show, which might be enough evidence for you to believe that this programme represents women well.

It’s not about the storylines (that’s a whole other blog post in itself), it’s about the amount of screentime/number of characters available for us to enjoy.

Whilst Buffy is the starring role, there are many other ‘main’ characters to consider.

Let’s take the first season of Buffy. We had Buffy, Willow and Cordelia in the main cast and Joyce in several episodes. Three and a half main females is a pretty good attempt at female representation. But then let’s look at the males and we have Giles and Xander in the main cast and Angel and The Master in several episodes. There were other characters, of course, but when you add up the total characters listed on the Buffy Wikipedia page for season one, there are eight females and ten males.

Females: 8

Males: 10

  • Exhibit 2: Desperate Housewives

The ladies from Wisteria Lane, they are sexy, they are family oriented and they are always involved in a secret in some capacity. The Desperate Housewives appear, on the surface, to be a great representation of women on television. There are four of them, after all.

To make life easier, we’ll stick with season one.

The female characters are as follows: Bree, Gaby, Susan, Lynette, Edie, Julie and the voice-over cum guest star, Mary Alice. The males, on the other hand are: Rex, Carlos, Paul, John, Zach and Mike. Seven females to seven males is a pretty good attempt.

But these figures don’t include recurring characters, and let’s face it, Tom and Lynette have got the majority of male counterparts in their very own brood. There’s Tom himself, Preston, Porter and Parker. Then there’s also Andrew, George Williams, Karl Myer and nine other recurring characters. That’s a total of twenty-two male characters in the season.

As for female recurring characters, there’s Danielle, Felicia, Martha, Juanita, Ida, Karen and six other recurring cast members. Let’s add that to the numbers we’ve already got, for a grand total of just nineteen females.

Females: 19

Males: 22

  • Exhibit 3: Gilmore Girls

Now let us take a trip to Stars Hollow, to the world of Rory and Lorelai Gilmore and their wonderful life in a Connecticut town. They’re a great example of females giving females a pretty good name. Despite getting pregnant at sixteen, Lorelai gives her daughter a good life, surrounded by some great people.

We’ve already listed Rory and Lorelai as the two leading ladies, but who else is there? There’s also Emily, Sookie and Lane in the main cast. Then on top of those three, we have Miss Patty, Paris, Madeline and Louise, Babette, Mrs Kim and Rachel. That’s a pretty good list which comes to a total of twelve.

On to the males and you’ll find Richard, Luke and Michele as the three leading cast members. In addition to Dean, Kirk, Jackson, Tristin, Taylor, Max, Morey and finally, Christopher. That’s a grand total of twelve.

It’s easy to see that Gilmore Girls is pretty evenly spread and the total number of characters in season one only proves that.

Females: 12

Males: 12

  • Exhibit 4: Revenge

Emily Thorne and her revengenda is an exciting experience, we’ve got a female lead who is bad-ass and yet we can’t help but feel sorry for her. There are many reasons to feel sorry for Emily though, and the male orientation of this female-led programme is probably the biggest.

In season one there is, of course, Emily, Victoria, Ashley and Charlotte in the main cast and Amanda, Lydia, Barbara Snow, Judge Hawthorne and Warden Stiles in support. Bringing our total of females in Revenge to nine.

The men, on the other hand, include Jack, Daniel, Conrad, Nolan and Declan all in the main cast with help from David Clarke, Tyler, Frank, Ryan, Takeda, Benjamin, Detective Gunther, Mason Treadwell, Big Ed, Lee Moran, Edward Grayson, Dominik Wright and the ‘white haired man’. That’s a whopping eighteen characters, probably our worst balance yet.

Females: 9

Males: 18

  • Exhibit 5: Charmed

Most people will know Charmed as the one about the three sister witches, which is, naturally, a good sign for the female leads that hold this programme together. Like Desperate Housewives, there are multiple women at the helm. Let’s see how they fair against the males who share the screen.

In order of age, Prue, Piper and Phoebe are a fantastic lead for the show. In support we also have Penny, Patty, Hannah Buckland and Claire. It’s quite a small cast with just seven females.

I don’t think the men do much better; Andy and Darryl are the two top, but there’s also Leo, Rex, Josh, Inspector Rodriguez and Barbas. That means there are just seven males as well.

I’d like to say that the equality of numbers if a positive thing for Charmed, but I fear that if I was to include the number of demons and warlocks the girls faced in their first year as witches, the numbers would perhaps be a little more swayed.

Females: 7

Males: 7

Looking further at the five examples I have given, it’s clear to me that television programmes with female leads are very rarely just about females. There are copious amounts of other main/recurring characters of the opposite sex who take up screen time.

I’m not saying that all female-led programmes need to be female only, but perhaps someone needs to look at the balance we have on television.

It’s great to put females in the leading roles and call the programme female-led, but when you surround those females with (in some cases) majority male casts, it’s not really a fair balance at all.

If I was going to look at programmes with males in the top spot, I could bet my last £1 that there would just more males than females without worrying about losing. So why is it okay for female-led shows to have just as many, if not more, males as there are female?

I know that many of these shows have been and gone, I also know that times are changing. A new show Orange is the New Black is, from what I understand, very female heavy, which is a fantastic thing. But is one programme out of dozens with male-leads really enough to show that females are represented as well as males on television?

And that’s before we even factor in other elements, such as race, religion and age.


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