Believable Female Characters are Crucial for Good TV

Growing up in the aughts, I watched a lot of family-oriented sit-coms that presented themselves as representing good values and average homes in North America. It was through watching these sit-coms that I remember starting to question what it means to be a woman, a wife, a mother, and a daughter.

The women in these sit-coms weren’t unlike my own mom, but like many kids, I didn’t see my mom as a person, she was just my mom. It wasn’t until much later that I started to understand she had hopes, dreams, goals, likes and dislikes outside of those that concerned myself and my sisters.

In the sit-coms I watched—of which included Seinfeld, Everybody Loves Raymond and Friends—it was clear that the women had complex lives outside of the confines of their family and home life.

The mothers and wives in these shows were strong, forceful women. Elaine Benes from Seinfeld is one of the first female characters I remember seeing who had a career and no family of her own. In the context of the show, this wasn’t an issue at all. It was simply a fact. She was looking for love in the same way Jerry, George and Kramer were. She wasn’t looking for a boyfriend so that she could marry one day and have kids to finally be a “whole” woman. She was already whole.

Debra Barone from Everybody Loves Raymond was a stay at home mom but this wasn’t her identity. She wasn’t just Raymond’s wife, she was his partner and she had a voice of her own—which she used forcefully and to demand respect with. She was the butt of the joke as much as Raymond was and she was generating almost as many laughs as her TV husband too. They were a comedy duo, a true partnership, and good friends.

The women in Friends were some of the first representations of single adult women I can remember seeing on TV who didn’t seem to have everything figured out. This was not only refreshing, but it was also reassuring. Compared to all of the Disney channel TV shows ``perfect ``''cookie-cutter” mother characters, they seemed like real people in the world. They made me look forward to becoming a woman.

I think it’s in large part due to these women characters that I actively search out good female representation in the shows I watch today, and why I think it’s such an important thing to have on TV geared towards family.

So often in family-oriented TV shows, the women are presented as perfect, orderly, reliable, and always happy. They’re impossibly perfect, their flaws are minor, and they never have a hair out of place. They’ve come a long way from housewife characters from the 50s like Leave it to Beaver, or the 70s’ Happy Days, but they still aren’t as complex as real women are.

TV shows today like Grace and Frankie, One Day at a Time, and Atypical do a much better job at showing women who are believable, complicated, imperfect, good mothers, unsure of themselves at times, and yet, still great examples.

They’re proof that showing audiences women who make mistakes, don’t know what they’re doing, have doubts, fears and character flaws can actually make for more effective TV. Audiences are better able to relate to imperfect characters and when they can see themselves in the material, they’ll be more open to accepting the message that’s being relayed.

Perfect characters don’t make for perfect TV, and failing to show believable women characters does a disservice to women audience members.