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The Misrepresentation of Women in a Position of Power in America’s Media

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Once, as an assignment for one of my classes, I was watching documentary called “Miss Representation” by Jennifer Siebel Newsom. The main idea of the movie was to illustrate how media misrepresent women in a position of power in America. The phrase that caught my attention was “You can’t be what you can’t see”. Questioning myself “how often do I see strong and powerful women in a media nowadays?” gave me the answer – “rarely”.

In the childhood, boys and girls are equal, they may have same desires and goals, they both can dream to be a President, but within a time their paths and wishes will change dramatically. Tara Sophia Mohr wrote about the montage of great movie moments shown at the Oscars: “When girls grow up seeing story after story that tells them they are sex objects, accessories or victims, they will learn that to be a “woman” is to play one of those three roles: screaming in stress about her wedding, screaming because she was being attacked, screaming to fake an orgasm.” Girls don’t often see role models of female leads in the media that could inspire and motivate them. Later, I did a research, I found out that according to Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, on the top 100 grossing films of 2017 only 8% of directors, 10% of writers, 2% of cinematographers, 24% of producers, 14% of editors were women. It illustrates the problem that women’s voices are absent in media or they showed from the certain bias. However, in the face of the statistics, a well-known producer Shonda Rhimes accomplished a high level of success among women. She was one of the first person who portrayed what it means to be a feminist nowadays. In her works such as “Grey’s Anatomy” and “How to Get Away with Murder”, she has already showed different kinds of women leads (bisexual, a lesbian, single mom, a drug addict, women of color) who work in typical men’s fields and achieve their dreams. However, in this essay, we will talk about her other TV show, which counts as one of the most popular and revolutionary nowadays: “Scandal”.

That is the American political series about the African American leader Olivia Pope (played by Kerry Washington) who is a political crisis manager and runs her own business “Olivia Pope and Associates”. This TV show raises many topical issues: racism, domestic violence, corruption in politics, overuse of power etc. However, in this paper, I will argue about the issue of the misrepresentation of women in a position of power in today’s society applying some of the central ideas of the third feminism wave developed in the writing of scholar R. Claire Snyder “What is Third-Wave Feminism? A New Directions Essay” to the study of the television show “Scandal” and her main character Olivia Pope. The paper will mostly focus on studying the main female lead on the TV show Olivia Pope. Thus, I will briefly describe her portrait.

Olivia Pope is a powerful, strong, independent, African American woman. According to The New York Times, “she became the first African-American female lead in a network drama in almost 40 years”. She owns her own crisis management organization, where she and her assistants or “gladiators” help to fix problems of the political elite. She has complicated relationships with two men: the chief of CIA and the President of the United States. As the result, we can see that Olivia Pope is a successful, beautiful, intelligent, “the strongest female leading character in TV history”, referring to The New York Post, who is happy with herself and doesn’t seek for the ordinary family life. She is a passionate proponent of women-kind and always fights for women rights.

In the episode 5 of season 3, she confronts a senator that falsely accused another senator of sexual assaulting her. Olivia stood up for all victims of assault and says: “I’d fight to the death to stand by any woman who said she was assaulted”. Olivia Pope gets angry when someone uses sexist double standards, even if it is a President. In season 4 episode 15, Olivia Pope argues with the President of the US as he called the woman Press Secretary “bitch”, because she tried to give an advice to him. Olivia shames him and says: “Don’t say that! The words used to describe women. If she was a man you’d say she was ‘formidable’ or ‘bold’ or ‘right.’” R. Claire Snyder in her text writes about the issue with the “bitch” word that came from pop culture and started to be largely used by mass media. Olivia Pope is self-esteem and her time is just as important as the President’s. She knows what she deserves and that she needs to be treated with respect.

One of the most famous scenes of the show is when Olivia storms into the Oval Office and tells to the President that he can’t bother her with his personal wishes whenever he wants: “I am not a toy you can play with when you’re bored or lonely or horny. I am not the girl the guy gets at the end of the movie. I am not a fantasy. If you want me, earn me!” In addition, Shonda Rhimes breaks typical stereotypes that feminism and femininity are mutually exclusive. Women can be “bossy” and “girly” at the same time. R. Claire Snyder says that “third-wavers feel entitled to interact with men as equals, claim sexual pleasure as they desire it, and actively play with femininity. Girl power, or girlie culture is a central – yet contested – strand within the third wave.”

Shonda Rhimes depicts Olivia Pope as a very feminine, stylish, and glamorous woman. Her outfits are from designers, she always wears heels and couture bags. What is more, she knows that she has a “female weapon” that she can manipulate with men. In the conversation with the father, she says: “you may command dad, but I have weapon at my disposals. Weapons you can’t possibly possess.” However, she isn’t invulnerable: she cries, gets sad, and scared. Olivia can be weak, she loves and makes mistakes; she is not a robot, she is a human-being. Olivia learns that she has to accept herself with all flaws in order to be a strong leader. Even though Olivia Pope is the strongest female lead in TV show, she wasn’t the only one who overcame obstacles and achieved her career goals. For instance, Mellie Grant went from the First Lady to the First Woman President. She had everything: beautiful children, powerful husband who is the President of the United States, the White House, and the position of First Lady. However, Mellie Grant always dreamed about being a First Women President. Comparing to other characters on the show, Shonda Rhimes probably created the hardest path to Mellie Grant. She was raped by Fitz’s father, then she tried to commit suicide, but was stopped by future Vice President Andrew Nichols, that she fell in love with, but couldn’t be with him in order to keep up a reputation of the First Lady. She also closed eyes for love affairs of her husband with Olivia Pope in order to keep Fitz’s presidency, and saw the death of her son. Mellie was broke for months, and felt miserable, because for all years she sacrificed her own career in order to satisfy her husband’s needs. “If you knew the sacrifices that I have made, the things that I have given up and the pieces of myself that I have given away for you, and you treat me this way. You declare war on me and you shame me and you make me beg for scraps when I have done nothing but fight for you.” After they officially divorced, Melli realized that her life just began and turned into the Senator. Later, she ran to the President and became the First President of the United States with the help of Olivia Pope.

Another female lead was Abby Whelan. Abby was married for 4 years to Charles Putney, the youngest son of former Virginia Governor, but she left him after he beat her being drunk. Olivia Pope found the best attorney for her to get out of that marriage. After, she served as Pope’s gladiator in her office. In few years she became a Press Secretary of White House, but no one recognized her. Cyrus Been called her “red hair” and the President always mispronounced her name calling “Gabby”. However, Abby came in full force and soon she accomplished her goal and became a Chief of Staff.

And the last female lead was Quinn Perkins. She appeared in the show as a graduate student from the Law School without any life experience. Olivia Pope hired her as a new assistant. Through the show, Quinn faced with many challenges: prison, murder of close people, kidnapping, pregnancy. She transformed from the young girl to the grown woman. And the end of the show, she becomes a new owner of “Olivia Pope and Associates” organization, which later she renamed to “Quinn Perkins and Associates”.

“Scandal” is one of the few TV shows that portrayed women in a power, their roles, and their problems. I felt that the topic of misrepresentation of women in today’s society has been missed, but I think the issue is important. Thus, I highlighted two ways that can help to prevent and avoid this problem in future. First of all, make the fair representation of women in media outlets. There are only few women who comments on education, economy, politics, sports, entertainments. Even on the issues that considered as women’s (abortion, menopause, birth control) media more often invites male experts. We should create a balance between men’s and women’s voices. Furthermore, media should create more TV shows as “Scandal” with female leads. Role models are crucial for the young generation. They need to see examples of other people achieving their dreams to be more confident in themselves. I would like to see young girls who watching female leads on the media, would get inspired, motivated, and started to believe they can be anything they wish. I want them to see that they can do all these things without be judged by the way appearance, clothes, and bodies.

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The Misrepresentation of Women in a Position of Power in America’s Media. (2019, September 13). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 14, 2021, from
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