Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
Culture > Entertainment

I Love the West Wing – I Just Wish It Was a Little More Feminist

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at CUA chapter.

Last year, I took a class called Scripting the Presidency where we learned how different forms of fictitious media displayed the President, their administration, and their staff. On the first day, our professor confessed that he was an Aaron Sorkin junkie and was inspired to create the course because of his love for Sorkin’s famous political drama, West Wing. To kick off the semester, he showed us the pilot episode of the series. 

I had already heard about the phenomenon that is this tv series. People would ask me if I’ve seen it and would be shocked when I would reply no. “What do you mean, you’ve never seen the West Wing? You’re a politics major. It’s so good. You need to watch it.” At first, I had no interest in it. A seven-season series with 45-minute episodes about the people working in the White House? Nothing could sound more boring to a busy college student. But something sparked my interest when we hit play on the first episode in class, and I wasn’t satisfied when the episode was over. I decided to continue with the series after homework later that week. 

Suddenly, I was hooked. Never in my life have I fallen in love with a show the same way I did with the West Wing. The fast and snippy dialogue, the varying storylines, the political shenanigans – what more could you need for a top-tier tv series? What I love most about it, though, are the characters. They were written with such patriotism and good spirit you can’t help but root for the whole administration as they work hard to make the country better than it was when they entered the Oval Office. Even though I know those in government aren’t that good-hearted and charitable in reality, it gives me hope. When I hear the swell of the theme song it sometimes brings me almost to tears because I love the career field I have chosen and feel like I can make a difference like they can (or maybe I’m just sappy about these kinds of things, who’s to say?) 

Although West Wing has quickly risen to the top of the list of my favorite shows, I can take off my rose-colored glasses and recognize its downfalls. Some might claim the West Wing loses points when it comes to Toby’s character arc (which I do agree goes completely against his core values), and others might say it’s when Aaron Sorkin left the show after season 4 (again, another valid thought). For me, though, it isn’t something West Wing did that makes me disappointed; It’s what West Wing DIDN’T do. Which would be its lack of strong female characters with politically successful character development. 

Don’t get me wrong, the West Wing did give us some very iconic women who did some very important work. CJ Cregg, Press Secretary, demanded a room of reporters at least once an episode in a witty and intelligent manner. Abby Bartlet was simultaneously an exemplary medical professional, First Lady, and mother. And Donna Moss, my personal favorite, was ever resourceful and helpful to the scatterbrained Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman. There’s nothing wrong with these characters – in fact, I love all of these female leads. But from the beginning of the show, I knew that the writers assigned these women to gender-conforming boxes and would keep them there, maybe not on purpose, but because they never thought twice about putting them anywhere else. 

Historically, Press Secretaries have been more male than female. But where else in the White House could you put a loud mouth, bossy CJ Cregg? Abby Bartlet fit the perfect persona of First Lady – involved, but not too involved. Guiding her husband on women’s issues but never truly taking the spotlight in finding issue areas of her interest. And Donna Moss stays put in the “female assistant who is stuck pining over her boss but not noticing her boss is staring back at her” trope for 6 seasons. 

This last one gets to me a little bit because Donna got the character growth she deserved far too late in the show. CJ got the promotion of a lifetime when she becomes Chief of Staff to the President (which, if you think about it for more than a few seconds, seems widely improbable. When was the last time a Press Secretary became the President’s right-hand man?). Although Donna proves her worth over and over again by having educated debates with staff members on current issues, knowing the federal government inside and out, and holding the Deputy Chief of Staff’s office together, she isn’t given a major opportunity to shine until the last season. It’s a shame, really, and a dropped ball by the writers (in my humble opinion). To think of the amazing, kick-ass staffer Donna Moss could have become feels like a major loss to both West Wing and feminism as a whole. 

Look, I get it. This show was written in the 90s, and it did have some great representation of strong females found in Congresswomen and women reporters. But I do wish that I had at least one main character who rose in the political totem pole because she deserved it and not because the writers wanted to appeal to their female audience. West Wing makes me proud to go into politics, but I would feel a little bit more confident if I had some representation of women like me running the country in the way that countless men found themselves in characters like Sam, Toby, Josh, or President Bartlet himself. 

Hi! I'm Molly, a current Media/Communications and Politics Major at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC! I love baking, taking pictures, and adventures in the city!