Savvy Women, Old Boys’ School Politics, and The West Wing

  • Beth Berila


The women characters on the television show The West Wing are savvy, brilliant, and beautiful, and yet they constantly have to prove themselves. The story lines on the program reflect the bind in which intelligent women find themselves when they move into traditionally male-dominated fields, and the U.S. federal government is one of the most patriarchal of them all. Women in these professions need to be strong enough to go head-to-head with powerful male opponents and colleagues who consider women “aggressive” and “bitchy” if they are too assertive. If they are not direct enough, they are too “soft” and “weak.” If they are attractive and see themselves as sexual beings, they are viewed as “using their sexuality to get ahead.” If they are not perceived as beautiful, however, they are “threatening” and “manly.” This catch-22 facing smart women is nothing new. Feminist critics have made this point regarding the Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas hearings, the high-profile actions of Eleanor Roosevelt, the criticisms of Hillary Clinton, the media coverage of Dee Dee Myers, and the tenure of Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state. The more a woman’s politics support patriarchal, imperialist, and racist agendas, the more room she has to be prominent, but rocking the boat will always bring retaliation.


Television Show Popular Culture Feminist Politics Story Line Patriarchal System 
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© Sherrie A. Inness 2007

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  • Beth Berila

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