Strong Women, Terrifying Women

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I often use “terrifying” as a compliment when describing women. That’s not a compliment when describing a woman’s hair or breasts or complexion (or any aspect of a woman’s appearance, really), but it is a compliment when I say that a woman herself is “terrifying.” I would probably say “awesome” if people would understand that I mean it in the archaic sense—awe-inspiring in nature.

It is not the dream of every young woman to be described in such a manner, but it is a role to which to aspire. A powerful woman whose personality can dominate a room. One who can eviscerate men and women with a few words or with just a look.

These are your Sue Sylvesters (I may not still watch Glee, but I’ll put on imaginary hipster glasses long enough to say that I watched Glee before people wouldn’t shut up about it). Remember Portia DeGeneres’ character on Better Off Ted (one of the best comedies that I have ever seen), Veronica Palmer? She is definitely in this category.

Both of these are comical parodies of this type of character. But the real world is full of these powerful, inspirational female characters (Margaret Thatcher, anyone?). And so is the fictional world. Women do not need superpowers to be terrifying badasses, even in fictional universes that are filled with superpowers. Amanda Waller* from DC Comics is an excellent example: she is female, significantly overweight, and black—in the world of comic books, even more so than in real life, these are three tremendous disadvantages. But she has such a powerful force of personality that she intimidates supervillains into obeying her.

Alicia Florrick on The Good Wife. Brenda Leigh Johnson on The Closer. Sharon Raydor on The Closer and Major Crimes. The amazing Dr. Elizabeth Weir on Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis (who ranks among my favorite fictional characters of all time). Adele DeWitt from Dollhouse. Captain Kathryn Janeway from Star Trek Voyager. Nan Flanagan on True Blood. Ivanova on Babylon 5. Sumiregawa Nenene on Read or Die! Maxine Gray on Judging Amy. Avery Jessup on 30 Rock. . . . Fox on Gargoyles, because I am all kinds of nerdy and have the best taste. Elizabeth Donnelly from Law & Order SVU.

Also, Elaine Barrish from Political Animals. But I think that “marvelously terrifying” describes just about every character whom Sigourney Weaver has ever played. Hot damn, I love Sigourney Weaver.

Beyond highlighting examples, do you guys think that women with powerful personalities have a greater psychological and social presence in a room or in a book or on television than male characters who have just as powerful and domineering personalities?

I remember reading in a how-to-draw-manga book when I was in high school (spoiler alert: I have never drawn manga) that, if you did not draw a female as being noticeably shorter than a male character, she would visually dominate any scene with just the two of them.

As you may have guessed, a powerful woman, in real life or in fiction, seems more “real” to me than a powerful man. But, then again, my first role model was Maleficent from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.


*For these purposes, I am referring to the real Amanda Waller from DC Comics, who has been voiced on Justice League: Unlimited and in Superman/Batman: Public Enemies by the magnificent CCH Pounder. I am not referring to the skinny sociopath “Amanda Waller” in the most recent Suicide Squad issues who is just . . . no. Just no.

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Watch This: The Good Wife

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You guys, all of my shows are about to start back up. On September 29th, the new seasons of Clone Wars and Merlin begin, and season two of Young Justice continues. On September 30th, in addition to the pilot of 666 Park Avenue (which I may watch, despite the silly title), the second season premiere of Once Upon A Time and the fourth season premiere of The Good Wife airs.

It’s The Good Wife, everyone. It’s extremely well done.

And you know that it has to be well-done, because I almost never watch anything that does not have magic or superpowers or spaceships, because not having superpowers is what I do in real life—I don’t need a television show for that.

I do make occasional exceptions to that. I have a few comedy shows that I watch (Parks and Recreation is amazing, and also starting up this month). Usually, unless a show really appeals to all of my harmful stereotypical instincts (like the Australian teen dance drama, Dance Academy, oh my goodness do not laugh at me it is way better than it sounds; I caught it by accident one night and just couldn’t stop watching), the only thing that gets my television-viewing outside of the interesting realms of fantasy and science fiction is one or more nightmarishly (and I use that word as a compliment) strong female personalities. The Closer. Major Crimes. Commander In Chief. Political Animals. Each of these has a female protagonist. Each of these has a powerful female protagonist.

I like powerful female protagonists. With The Good Wife, my cup runneth over.

There’s a set of three powerful women who dominate the show: Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), the protagonist, who spent a couple of years as a lawyer after law school, but decided to be a stay-at-home mom while her husband entered politics and became the State’s Attorney of Cook County (which contains Chicago; “State’s Attorney” is Illinois gibberish for District Attorney, by the way). The very first scene of the series is her husband, Peter Florrick (Chris Noth)* resigning his office after numerous allegations of cheating and corruption surfaced.

Months later, as the story begins, Alicia has moved to earn money for herself and her two children. She is still married to, but in a strained relationship with, her husband. And she has gotten a job at a law firm—one of the partners being an old friend from law school.

The other two powerful female protagonists are law firm name-partner Diane Lockhart (played by the incomparable Christine Baranski) and that law firm’s enigmatic in-house investigator, Kalinda Sharma (Archie Panjabi). There are a number of other wonderful main and recurring characters (personally, I really love the two teenage Florrick children—though I like the son a lot more than I like the daughter).

Unlike with some shows that I watch which are tragically canceled, I am not the only one who feels this way about The Good Wife. In its first three seasons, the series and cast have been nominated for 21 Emmy awards, and they have won a few of those as well as a number of other awards, which I could list here but I’ll let you look them up yourselves.

Watch The Good Wife, you guys. If I could only recommend one show . . . other than Legend of Korra, that is . . . it would be The Good Wife. It’s too good to miss. If you’re as crazy as I am, you might even have time to catch up before too many episodes of this new season have aired.

*Yes, that’s Chris Noth from Law & Order and Law & Order: Criminal Intent. There is a lot of crossover on this show from three sources: Law & Order, The Closer, and especially True Blood. You know how Arlene on True Blood is kind of dumb and Russell Edgington is fairly menacing? Well, those actors repeatedly guest star a secretly genius attorney and an extremely goofy judge on The Good Wife, respectively.

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Watch This Now: Political Animals

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I was somewhat anxious about watching the USA network’s Political Animals miniseries, even though I love political dramas about powerful women. Does anyone remember Commander in Chief, in which Geena Davis played a Vice President who assumed the Presidency after the President died? And I am currently madly in love with The Good Wife, though that is both a political drama and a legal drama, with the stay-at-home mom protagonist going back to work at a law firm after her Chicago politician husband lost his job after a sex and corruptions scandal. Both series were/are absolutely amazing.

I worried about Political Animals because, well, you never know how a high-powered female politician is going to be portrayed. And, personally, I like high-powered castrating career-oriented women, in real life and in fiction. I love them. My first role model, as a preschooler, was Maleficent from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, and I kind of look for elements of her in characters and in real people to this day. But I think that there is a temptation, if not a tendency, for writers to show people who are politicians but also mothers as having sacrificed any real maternal skills for their careers.

From what I have seen in the first few episodes, Political Animals does not give in to this temptation. And I could not be happier about it.

Sigourney Weaver, who is always amazing, plays a character who is a former First Lady (whose husband’s very public sex scandal was a tremendous embarrassment) who ran for President but did not receive her party’s nomination and then accepted the position of Secretary of State at the request of the new President. If that sounds familiar, it should, but this fairly clearly isn’t a story about Hillary Clinton. In many ways, Political Animals is about all of the American “political dynasties,” and others who have been in the White House and later try to get back in. And aside from being a southern former governor and former President who has exposed his family to a couple of sex scandals, her husband bears few similarities to President Clinton.

Sigourney Weaver plays the mother of two sons; one of them is engaged and the other is gay. One son works for her, and the other is still trying to get back on his feet after some “problems with sobriety.” I was very pleased to see that she is a good mother. She is also a wonderful politician, though she faces some serious difficulties. She is working with a President who is from her own political party, but who does not share her priorities and who is unafraid to use her popularity for his own advantage, even if it is at her expense.

There are strange and awkward relationships between the women of this show. I will say that I really love how it never becomes cat-fighting. There are no female feuds over men. And I cannot say anymore without giving things away, so I just have to strongly recommend that you watch this miniseries.

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Illinois Senate Passes Civil Union Measure

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Before the Midterm Elections, I wrote a piece about Illinois politics, specifically, the race for Governor and what that meant for women. What I didn’t write about was the future of gay rights according to these politicians and their agendas. Now that all has been said and done, the Democratic party may not be as happy with their power balance as they were before, but in some ways, I consider it more of a victory to have a more …

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