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What a Kind of Feminist/Sexist/Misogynist Show This Has Been

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As the discussion topic in the Boston thread seemed to be taking on a life of its own, I wanted to start a separate thread.

 

It's wonderful to think of a world where men and women are treated equally. But the fact is society ascribes different meanings to each sex in similar situations. A feminist show is mindful of those implications and actively works against them. A feminist show actively avoids traditional gender role tropes (like "woman in distress" or "nice girl turned bad") or addresses them head-on. A feminist show does not address women's issues through the perspective of a man. A feminist show realizes men and women have different priorities and treats them differently.

 

(The argument is very similar to the one involving race, where people say "I'm colorblind, I don't see race." It's a wonderful ideal, but I don't believe it works at all in real life because different races have different issues and priorities, no matter how much people protest otherwise. Likewise with men and women.)

 

A feminist show does not, in my opinion, write a "nice girl gone bad" story using the perspective of a man, for the purpose of "story." "Nice girl gone bad" is not a story any feminist show would address without taking the perspective of the nice girl herself first. There's certainly a way to write that story from the woman's perspective and not spoil the mystery (see: the first season of "Veronica Mars"). But "Nice girl gone bad" is a very traditional story, and if it's told from the male perspective, it's not a feminist story.

 

Writing flawed women is not feminist if a man has the dominant perspective -- which he does on The Newsroom in nearly every single relationship, save Don and Sloan. The only way a woman seen through a dominant male perspective can be feminist is if the man's perspective is acknowledged as such. But the viewer's perspective and the man's perspective cannot be one and the same and have it be a feminist show. It doesn't have to be a misogynist show -- just a show with traditional gender roles.

 

Again, I don't believe Aaron Sorkin hates women -- I really don't. I think he's fascinated by them and in awe of everything they can do. That makes him a traditional writer or one writing to traditional gender roles. It doesn't make him the Devil Incarnate. It just makes him not a feminist, which is why I emphatically cannot see The Newsroom as a feminist show.

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According to Gloria Steinem, feminism is this: “A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.”

Feminism.com quotes a woman who says it's this: "[Feminists are] just women who don't want to be treated like shit."

Webster's dictionary says it's this: "The theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes." And this: "organized activity on behalf of women's rights and interests."

The first paragraph of the Urban Dictionary says feminism is this: "The belief that women are and should be treated as potential intellectual equals and social equals to men. These people can be either male or female human beings, although the ideology is commonly (and perhaps falsely) associated mainly with women."

 

Based on all that, I'd argue that your definition isn't feminist and is discriminatory. It sounds like you're saying a man is unable to write flawed women unless he chooses to have a female protagonist; basically, a male character cannot lead a feminist story. So do you also think a black woman can't write a story led by a flawed white woman (Shonda Rimes)? Or that a woman can't write a story that includes a major character who's also a flawed man (Charlotte Bronte)? Or that a white man can't be a lead in a story about gender and race (Harper Lee)? Or is it just male writers who are in the unique position of being incapable of creating stories whose lead characters are flawed and of the opposite gender? Before you answer, remember that Betty Friedan said this: "Man is not the enemy here, but the fellow victim."

 

(The argument is very similar to the one involving race, where people say "I'm colorblind, I don't see race." It's a wonderful ideal, but I don't believe it works at all in real life because different races have different issues and priorities, no matter how much people protest otherwise. Likewise with men and women.)

 

But this isn't real life. This is a TV show, and an incredibly optimistic and idealistic TV show at that. To present us with an ideal (whether it's related to journalism or feminism or ethics or whatever) is its whole point. No, the ideal of The Newsroom doesn't exist in real life, but that doesn't mean it's worthless either.

 

It doesn't have to be a misogynist show -- just a show with traditional gender roles.

 

If a female EP running a major network's biggest news show and a female economist/anchor who makes more money than her boyfriend and a female network exec are examples of traditional gender roles, then I'm totally OK with traditional gender roles.

Edited by madam magpie
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Writing flawed women is not feminist if a man has the dominant perspective -- which he does on The Newsroom in nearly every single relationship, save Don and Sloan. The only way a woman seen through a dominant male perspective can be feminist is if the man's perspective is acknowledged as such. But the viewer's perspective and the man's perspective cannot be one and the same and have it be a feminist show. It doesn't have to be a misogynist show -- just a show with traditional gender roles.

 

Again, I don't believe Aaron Sorkin hates women -- I really don't. I think he's fascinated by them and in awe of everything they can do. That makes him a traditional writer or one writing to traditional gender roles. It doesn't make him the Devil Incarnate. It just makes him not a feminist, which is why I emphatically cannot see The Newsroom as a feminist show.

I very much agree with this.  What I think is crazy-making about "The Newsroom" in terms of gender roles is that the show (and headwriter) is pretty traditional fare that thinks it is feminist.  As a result, we get a lot of things that sound good on paper (high-powered female executives, women who are allowed to be both successful and flawed) but the execution leaves a lot to be desired.  For me, a lot of the "girl-power yay!" moments ring exquisitely false because they are presented in a patronizing, patriarchal way (see Maggie's Great Triumph).  That's not to say that I think Sorkin is a sexist writer; however, I do think that he has problems writing stories about his female characters.

 

I actually stopped watching the show in Season 1 because I just despised Mac.  Season 1 Mac was basically a grown-up, more sophisticated version of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl (more info:  femfreq or tvtropes).  Her character existed to give cynical sell-out Will renewed life and dedication.  Her past and present were all about Will and his development.  Even worse, she was a classic case of poor characterization.  According to the show, Mac is a brilliant EP who is quirky and clumsy.  Unfortunately, Season 1 constantly showed her being quirky and clumsy, but constantly told us that she was great at her job.  And, just as in real life, if I'm constantly told a person is great but only ever see that person being an idiot, I will not buy what you're selling.  The friend who started watching the show with me quit because Mac was so ridiculous and still refuses to watch because of her character.

 

As a note, I hate the wedding shenanigans because (1) it's just more trivial and quirky Mac without much awesome Mac for balance, and (2) Mac is being a jerk about the bridesmaids thing.  If the wedding is supposed to be a celebration of your love, why force the groom to drum up eight random men just to balance out numbers?  Then again, I'm the person who would have a small ceremony (or go to City Hall or something), so I'm fully aware of my bias on that count.

 

Season 1 Maggie suffered from largely the same problem as Mac; she was just such a bundle of ineptitude that it was astonishing that anyone could stand to be around her.  Unlike the male characters, who are shown kicking ass and fucking up, Maggie and Mac were just constant basket cases who had good PR.  I was disappointed by her Season 2 storyline for basically the same reasons eolivet articulated; her story was not her own.  If we had followed Maggie through her own efforts to take on a bigger story and the tragic fallout that resulted, it would have offered actual character development.  (Since I'm talking feminism, I'll set aside the racial problems with that particular storyline.)  Instead, we get the weird "What's Wrong with Maggie?" deal with Jim and Will as our perspective characters.  They could even have fit Maggie telling her own story (experience and fallout) into the oddball flashback deal; I just wanted it to be about Maggie herself and not Jim trying to navigate his feelings.

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According to the show, Mac is a brilliant EP who is quirky and clumsy.  Unfortunately, Season 1 constantly showed her being quirky and clumsy, but constantly told us that she was great at her job.

 

The scene where Mac pulls together an entire live show with a new rundown in the very first episode shows her as being incredibly good at her job. Or how about that time she had to re-record part of a taped package because they'd said the wrong thing? (The French guy was only suspected, not arrested, something like that.) She had just minutes to figure out how to fix that and make sure the network wasn't opened up to a lawsuit. There was also the time that the fake people from a Syrian bombing called wanting to get on the air and Mac sorted out that they were lying while in the middle of producing the show. Every time an hour of News Night goes smoothly, that's showing Mac being good at her job. I think a lot of people mistake a good hour of News Night for Will being good at his job, and he is. But he's just the face and the mouth. They share the brain and would probably write most of the scripts together. When it comes time to air, Mac runs the show, which was her point in the pilot when she told Will she owned him from 8 to 9 (or 9 to 10?). It was basically, "Yeah, I know you hate me and are going to make me pay for hurting you, but do not fuck with my show." Notice too that Will stopped calling himself the "managing editor who decides what airs" long ago. That's because he doesn't really decide; Mac does. She chooses what goes in what block, if someone wants to get time in the broadcast they come to her, and she leads the rundown meetings. Will only has a say because she can't actually make him talk. That's why on the rare occasion when he pulled out his ear piece or didn't do what she told him to do, she lit into him. Because it's HER show. That's also why she felt so responsible for Genoa. It may be a failing of Aaron Sorkin's (may be) that he hasn't completely explained what Mackenzie's job is and assumes that the audience already knows, but it's clear to me, having worked in both a newsroom and a publishing house, that Mac is VERY good at her job. Plus, I also kind of feel like the audience should be smart enough to research what an EP does if they don't know.

 

If we had followed Maggie through her own efforts to take on a bigger story and the tragic fallout that resulted, it would have offered actual character development.

 

I will admit that Maggie's breakdown story always bugged me because I thought it was poorly paced and written. It all happened way too fast, and the boy being killed was telegraphed the moment he appeared on screen. Maggie should have been sent to Africa with someone the audience knew and that Sorkin was willing to sacrifice (not Gary...I love Gary). If that person had been killed, I think it would have been more upsetting to the audience and would have had more of an effect on the newsroom. Maggie is a secondary character, not the protagonist; her primary purpose is to move the larger story forward. So the main point of what happened to her in Africa, from the storytelling side, wasn't about her; it was about how that event affected the newsroom and the protagonists (Will and Mac). That was hazy, but it's just a bad story choice, not sexism.

 

For me, a lot of the "girl-power yay!" moments ring exquisitely false because they are presented in a patronizing, patriarchal way (see Maggie's Great Triumph).

 

For me, the most "girl-power yay" moments on this show were in this past episode when Will identified Mackenzie as his producer first and his financee second, and back in season two when Don told that producer guy (I forget his name) that Sloan had 50 IQ points on them both and he couldn't put anything in her head. I also really liked when Mac and Don spent most of an entire episode sitting in a bar talking. There was no sexual energy, Sorkin didn't have them fall into the cliche of friends who get drunk together and accidentally make out. They just talked...and drank. Maggie's triumph in Boston wasn't rah-rah girl power to me at all. It was, "Well done, kid. You're growing up."

 

 

Then again, I'm the person who would have a small ceremony (or go to City Hall or something), so I'm fully aware of my bias on that count.

 

So am I. I hate weddings and think they're a showy waste of money. But feminism is about being whatever kind of woman you want to be. It's anti-feminist of us to say that Mac (or Maggie or Sloan) sucks because she isn't the kind of woman we'd be.

Edited by madam magpie
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Based on all that, I'd argue that your definition isn't feminist and is discriminatory.

 

Against...men? That's impossible, because men are the default perspective on pretty much all television -- and all of life. Similar to reverse racism, I believe one can't have reverse sexism. I don't think one can discriminate against the majority or the default view.

 

To me, feminism comes not from how men write women, but if men distinguish the male perspective from the default perspective. Aaron Sorkin does not. The male perspective is the default -- there is little acknowledgment of how the female perspective is different. Female-centric stories are written from the male (traditional) perspective.

 

As for Shonda, Charlotte Bronte and Harper Lee -- the minority can always write the majority, because it's the default perspective. Everyone knows how the default perspective thinks because it's the default. And men can indeed write feminist stories. Rob Thomas, a male writer, wrote "Veronica Mars." Veronica was the main character, we saw how her trauma affected her, and most importantly, we saw how the men in her life thought her trauma affected her. That's a feminist story: acknowledging the male and female perspectives are different, and the male perspective is not the default. Veronica's story is the antithesis of Maggie's. Incidentally, Veronica's story was also a mystery -- proving a feminist story can be told about women going through trauma, and still be a good story without being about "nice girl gone bad."

 

What I think is crazy-making about "The Newsroom" in terms of gender roles is that the show (and headwriter) is pretty traditional fare that thinks it is feminist.  As a result, we get a lot of things that sound good on paper (high-powered female executives, women who are allowed to be both successful and flawed) but the execution leaves a lot to be desired.  For me, a lot of the "girl-power yay!" moments ring exquisitely false because they are presented in a patronizing, patriarchal way

 

Yes, exactly! I touched upon this briefly in the other thread, but it's treating women as special for being competent at their jobs. You can see Sorkin trying, but it's like a blind man trying to navigate through the desert. Enthusiastically cheering women for putting one foot in front of the other isn't feminist, it's a more subtle form of "other"ing.

 

Her character existed to give cynical sell-out Will renewed life and dedication.  Her past and present were all about Will and his development.  Even worse, she was a classic case of poor characterization.  According to the show, Mac is a brilliant EP who is quirky and clumsy.  Unfortunately, Season 1 constantly showed her being quirky and clumsy, but constantly told us that she was great at her job.

 

This. Where I also think Sorkin failed with Mac was we didn't see her perspective first about the engagement or the cheating. The default perspective was the male/Will perspective, which was "the girl who broke his heart by cheating on him." Having a Mac-centric story about the broken engagement first would've gone a long way to really humanize her.

 

The one example I can think of a feminist story is Sloan in season one -- when she made the on-air mistake with the Japanese translator. Her perspective was the dominant perspective -- we saw her make the mistake, get upset about it and we saw when Charlie tried to call her "girl" and she yelled at him. Seeing the story through Sloan's eyes, I was furious when Charlie called her "girl" -- and I didn't feel like we as viewers were supposed to sympathize with him. That was acknowledging the male perspective, and it wasn't the default perspective either.

 

But this is why I believe it is impossible for The Newsroom to be a feminist show. Most every storyline about a woman (Mac, Maggie), where the show could've taken the perspective of the woman about the issue, it chose to make the male perspective the default without acknowledging that was what they were doing. When the male perspective is the same thing as the default perspective, that's a traditional show. That's The Newsroom.

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Against...men? That's impossible, because men are the default perspective on pretty much all television -- and all of life. Similar to reverse racism, I believe one can't have reverse sexism. I don't think one can discriminate against the majority or the default view.

 

Men are the obvious target, yes, but any time you discount the capabilties of entire population or gender or race simply because of how they look to you, we all get a little smaller. And even if you want to argue that you can't discriminate against the majority (which I agree with if you're talking generally, but you can absolutely discriminate against individuals who fall into the majority), there's no argument for that approach being feminist. It's the antithesis of what feminism is.

 

Aaron Sorkin writes from the perspective of a man because he is a man. I write from the perspective of a woman; everything I say is filtered through my experience. Some women really, really get men (I'm not one of those; men tend to baffle me a lot of the time). Some men really, really get women. The author of Memoir of a Geisha comes to mind; I remember being stunned that that book was written by a man. Joss Whedon also does a good job, though I tend not to like the stories of his shows. And I think Aaron Sorkin clearly gets a certain type of woman. Maybe not all of them; that's clear. But for me? The dude gets me. I don't actually know anyone personally who considers this a non-feminist show. I know one person who thinks it's too talky, but I've got a circle of about 12 friends, mostly women, who love it. They're all writers, producers, editors, managers, and we watch this show and see the insanity of our jobs and lives. And the way the men (primarily Will and Don) view and treat the women they're with is amazing to us. There's no intimidation; the men don't go easy or get defensive because they're dealing with women. They go head-to-head. Every time Will tells Mac to fuck off, I smile; most men would never speak to a woman that way because they still see women as "women," not equals. The female characters are smart, capable, brave, and rich, and the men truly love them for it. Will likes that Mac will scream at him and tell he's wrong. Don likes that Sloan has a kickass job and is a brainiac. Even Jim, who is probably my least favorite guy, is absolutely awed by Mac and what she can do. That's groundbreaking as far as I'm concerned, and it says a lot more to me about the male characters than the female characters because the women being high powered is just a given. This show doesn't have a feminist agenda. Aaron Sorkin didn't write it to purposely create strong women. That's all true. But that's what's so great about it. He's just created a bunch of strong characters; gender is irrelevent. It's the audience that has an agenda and assigns it to the show. That's not always the case; Orphan Black, for instance, has a clear feminist agenda. There's nothing wrong with that, and I really enjoy that show. But I prefer The Newsroom way because that world where women are judged on their own merits and not because they were born girls is my ideal.

Edited by madam magpie

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(1) [snip] It may be a failing of Aaron Sorkin's (may be) that he hasn't completely explained what Mackenzie's job is and assumes that the audience already knows, but it's clear to me, having worked in both a newsroom and a publishing house, that Mac is VERY good at her job. Plus, I also kind of feel like the audience should be smart enough to research what an EP does if they don't know.

 

(2) I will admit that Maggie's breakdown story always bugged me because I thought it was poorly paced and written. [snip] Maggie is a secondary character, not the protagonist; her primary purpose is to move the larger story forward. So the main point of what happened to her in Africa, from the storytelling side, wasn't about her; it was about how that event affected the newsroom and the protagonists (Will and Mac). That was hazy, but it's just a bad story choice, not sexism.

 

(3) For me, the most "girl-power yay" moments on this show were in this past episode when Will identified Mackenzie as his producer first and his financee second, and back in season two when Don told that producer guy (I forget his name) that Sloan had 50 IQ points on them both and he couldn't put anything in her head.

 

(4) But feminism is about being whatever kind of woman you want to be. It's anti-feminist of us to say that Mac (or Maggie or Sloan) sucks because she isn't the kind of woman we'd be.

(1) I'm not confused about what Mac's job entails; I think that the show focuses too much on her "quirks" at the expense of her competence.  Perhaps I should clarify that I see the worst of Mac's characterization happening in the first half of Season 1; that's a big part of why I initially quit the show.  I tried it again after the first season ended because so many people told me that it got better.  Showing Mac as a relatively capable person was a big part of that improvement.  However, it often feels that Mac is not allowed to simply be competent; so many of her strong moments are immediately undercut by some sort of buffoonery or pseudo-feminist bullying (including hitting people, dropping f-bombs, and throwing hissyfits).  For me, her character is exhausting.

 

(2)  I have to ask, do you not believe us when we say we don't feel that Sorkin is particularly sexist or misogynistic?  Both Eolivet and I have been clear on that score.  There's a whole lot of territory between feminist and misogyny.  I think this show falls somewhere in the middle, commendable in some of its efforts but generally flawed in execution.

 

I'm glad we can find some common ground with the pacing and development of Maggie's Season 2 story.  However, I don't think that Maggie's secondary status means that her storyline can't be about herself and her perspective.  Jim is secondary as well, but his story arcs focus on his perspective even as they connect to the larger narrative.  I would also consider Mac a secondary character, although the show is moving more toward an ensemble this season (IMO).

 

(3)  Those moments actually illustrate my issue.  They are flawed in terms of female empowerment because they require the male characters to grant the women their status.  Perhaps part of the problem is Sorkin's fondness for speechifying, but when the "girl power" moments require a male character to publicly declare that the woman is empowered, the scene carries that paternalistic/patriarchal flavor that I find distasteful. 

 

(4)  I agree, which is why I didn't express any such opinion. :-)  I tend to view the wedding stuff as trivial, but that's not why I think Mac is being a jerk.  If Will told her that he wanted nine groomsman and she'd better find some friends, I would think the same thing about him.  I love Sloan and wish that they would treat Maggie better than they do.

 

(a) This. Where I also think Sorkin failed with Mac was we didn't see her perspective first about the engagement or the cheating. The default perspective was the male/Will perspective, which was "the girl who broke his heart by cheating on him." Having a Mac-centric story about the broken engagement first would've gone a long way to really humanize her.

 

(B) The one example I can think of a feminist story is Sloan in season one -- when she made the on-air mistake with the Japanese translator. Her perspective was the dominant perspective -- we saw her make the mistake, get upset about it and we saw when Charlie tried to call her "girl" and she yelled at him. Seeing the story through Sloan's eyes, I was furious when Charlie called her "girl" -- and I didn't feel like we as viewers were supposed to sympathize with him. That was acknowledging the male perspective, and it wasn't the default perspective either.

 

© But this is why I believe it is impossible for The Newsroom to be a feminist show. Most every storyline about a woman (Mac, Maggie), where the show could've taken the perspective of the woman about the issue, it chose to make the male perspective the default without acknowledging that was what they were doing. When the male perspective is the same thing as the default perspective, that's a traditional show. That's The Newsroom.

(A)  That's a really good point.  Even if the show had simply allowed Mac to speak like an adult giving her side, it would have helped.  The fact that Sorkin writes her as such a toddler doesn't help; I often just wanted to give her juice and put her down for a nap.

 

(B) Hey, I forgot to mention that as one of the female-centric stories that was well-done.  I love Sloan's character and that is largely because she is written more like the male characters in terms of being a whole person.  Perhaps it's because her quirks and spazziness (which all of the characters possess to a degree) are not tied to a romantic pairing, so we see them through her own eyes or a colleague's eyes (and not from the perspective of a love interest).

 

(C ) Yup.  I hope that the few remaining episodes will let Maggie remain relatively Jim-free; I liked her ethics/train episode where we got to see her experience through her own perspective and struggle with her to make that decision.  Give me more of that, show!

Edited by netlyon2
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(2)  I have to ask, do you not believe us when we say we don't feel that Sorkin is particularly sexist or misogynistic?  Both Eolivet and I have been clear on that score.  There's a whole lot of territory between feminist and misogyny.  I think this show falls somewhere in the middle, commendable in some of its efforts but generally flawed in execution.

 

Why wouldn't I believe you? If you say you feel that way, I have no reason not to believe you. My point isn't that you find The Newsroom sexist and misogynistic. It's that I find it to be a feminist show. I also think that you two and I have different ideas of what feminism is.

 

(1) I'm not confused about what Mac's job entails; I think that the show focuses too much on her "quirks" at the expense of her competence.

 

What you said was that Sorkin showed us Mac's quirks but told us she was good at her job. I disagree with that. I think we've seen her be good at her job many, many times. I also think we've seen her quirks, yes. But I find her quirks funny and charming for the most part. If what you mean is that the show focuses too much on her quirks, OK. I don't agree with that either, but it's entirely subjective. I do agree that on some level Mac is exhausting. She's relentless in all she does. But I admire that quality, even if the downside is that she can be exhausting, and I like that she's not all one thing. I love Mackenzie; she's hands down my favorite character. But my favorite thing about her is that she's deeply imperfect, much more so than Sloan (who is kind of perfect, though I love her too) and Maggie (who's just young and inexperienced).

 

However, I don't think that Maggie's secondary status means that her storyline can't be about herself and her perspective.

 

It's not that it can't be; it's that it isn't. It CAN be whatever the writer wants it to be. It looks like Sorkin wanted Maggie's Africa story to have an effect on the newsroom. The fact that you want Maggie's story to be something else is certainly a worthwhile critique, but it doesn't prove that the show is or isn't feminist. All it shows is that Sorkin didn't write to your agenda, which...I mean...that's kind of just too bad. It happens to me all the time.

 

(3)  Those moments actually illustrate my issue.  They are flawed in terms of female empowerment because they require the male characters to grant the women their status.

 

I disagree. The men aren't granting the women anything. It's already there. I don't need Will to tell me that Mac's a brilliant producer; I see it every time she runs a show. Just like I don't need Don to tell me Sloan is smart; I see it every time she opens her mouth. What the men are doing is acknowledging it; that's what revolutionary. This isn't really about the women for me; it's clear to me that the women on the show are smart and capable and I just accept that as fact. The feminist angle comes from the men, which makes sense since the writer is a man. As a general rule, men see and treat women as unequal, whether it's because they're actual sexist assholes who think women are less than or just because they have no perspective or because they're intimidated or because they think that's what society expects of them or whatever. But Will and Don don't ever do that. They view Mac and Sloan as equals and treat them as such. Jim is different, I think. Jim sort of sees most people as unequal to him. He idolizes Mac and Will, but everyone else is a little bit lacking. That's Jim's arrogance, but it's not got anything specific to do with his or Sorkin's attitude toward women, and just because Jim sees Maggie as inferior doesn't make it true. I don't think Mac sees Maggie as inferior. I think that until Maggie's breakdown as a result of Africa, Mac saw Maggie as capable and on her way up. Maggie's behavior when she got back made Mac doubt that, but after the Boston story, she changed her mind. That makes perfect sense to me and doesn't seem to have anything to do with the fact that they're women.

 

(A)  That's a really good point.  Even if the show had simply allowed Mac to speak like an adult giving her side, it would have helped.  The fact that Sorkin writes her as such a toddler doesn't help; I often just wanted to give her juice and put her down for a nap.

 

I have to say, when you say things like this, I see you as the one demeaning the women on this show, not Aaron Sorkin or the male characters. No one on the show has compared Mac to a child or treated her like one. That's your subjective interpretation, and the fact that you're willing to liken the most powerful female character (save Leona) to a child definitely makes me wonder what you think feminism actually is.

Edited by madam magpie

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This debate reminds me of a similar racial debate about something like (bad timing I know) "The Cosby Show." It was considered groundbreaking for its time because it showed a successful African-American family, with troubles and problems just like a white family. In retrospect, media critique acknowledges that the show completely "whitewashed" the issue of race. The Huxtables didn't have "African-American problems," they just had problems. Their race was seldom, if ever, acknowledged, which was not commensurate with reality. But it was thought by making an African-American family successful, it was showing how equal we all were. When it was really just ignoring race entirely. Same with the "token minority" characters on ensemble dramas -- stick a minority face into an all-white cast, never really acknowledge that the person is indeed a minority and the show can claim everyone is treated "equally."

 

Looking at Sorkin's previous shows, I believe he tries to write them as "egalitarian." As others, namely netlyon2, have noted -- he puts women in positions of power and says "Look, a woman is equal to a man." Crime dramas have been doing that for years, there's a "female boss" and the show can pat itself on the back for showing women as "equal" because they have power. When there is nothing uniquely female about any of the characters -- they're basically male characters written as women (just as "token minority" characters are white characters given a different race). They react like men in situations (except when it serves the plot). It's why I believe there's a weird dichotomy between how capable the women can be in their jobs and if one writes quirky and emotional dialogue for them or makes them care about relationships, it's acknowledging them as women (just as the "token minority" character occasionally got a line about "I didn't grow up in a nice neighborhood" whenever it was convenient to the plot, but it was completely ignored otherwise).

 

But I don't believe egalitarian is the same as feminist. Everyone is equal, and success is gender-neutral, but really there's nothing about the women that identifies them as women. If you took a scene from The Newsroom (that didn't refer to a wedding or a relationship) and erased everyone's character name, you couldn't tell the women from the men. I don't see that as progress, nor do I see it as feminist. Egalitarian is pretending everyone is equal when everyone is not.

 

So, The Newsroom is egalitarian: men and women enjoy positions of power, everyone is the same (except when it serves the plot). But egalitarian doesn't acknowledge the male power structure or the male perspective, it takes a traditional view of everyone. So, it's OK if women are quirky and emotional if they have a high-powered job -- because they're women and that's how women act! It's OK if we use female trauma as a plot device -- that's what works for the story (and how men see female trauma). So long as women are wielding power and can talk to men on their level and the men don't treat them like garbage, the show can use their (male-viewed) feminine traits when it's convenient for the plot or moves the story along, but quickly shove them back into that gender-neutral, egalitarian role because everyone is equal and everyone is the same.

 

I believe feminist shows acknowledge the male power structure and the male perspective, acknowledge that women and men are different people with different issues, priorities and feelings and even take the women's view on female-centric stories. The Newsroom does none of that. Therefore, it's egalitarian -- but I do not believe it is feminist.

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Some modern media critics criticized The Cosby Show for that, yes, but many civil rights activists praised it and it was absolutely groundbreaking in its time. (Though at this point, yeah, I doubt you'll find much of anyone praising that show at all, for obvious and awful reasons.) Personally, I don't have much respect for media critics, and like the old guard on The Newsroom, I'm absolutely a journalism snob who comes down on the side of old vs. new media. I tend to think that we've tipped way too far in the PC direction when it comes to race and gender and are doing ourselves more harm than good now. Only time will tell if that's true or not.

That said, fair enough, but your definition of feminist contradicts the definition put forth by the founders of the group. Everything is subjective and movements, etc. evolve over time, but at its core, feminism is egalitarianism in regard to men and women. The fact that we're arguing about whether or not a female network exec counts as feminist proves that feminism has already done most of its job. This conversation would have been unimaginable thirty years ago. (Remember Murphy Brown? She was a powerful female TV character who was vilified by the press for having a child out of wedlock.) I do believe that a man can lead a feminist story and don't think that Aaron Sorkin owes us a story with a clear agenda to prove that he or his writing is feminist. All he has to do for me is create a story populated by powerful women who are treated as equals. (As a contrasting example, I'd call Homeland a feminist show as well, and I can't stand that story. I hate that Carrie embodies the stereotype of a crazy woman who can't hack it in a high-stress, high-powered job, and Brody annoyed me to tears. But that show portrays women as intellectually and socially equal to men, so I call it feminist.) That's what I want to see. How the women Sorkin creates are interpreted by the public speaks more to how feminist or not we are as a culture, I think. And I really see the audience assigning an agenda to this show; it's not a part of the show.

I'll say too that aside from how they're treated by the men, the way the women on The Newsroom treat each other is also pretty amazing. They're so respectful and kind; there's no rivalry, and it's women boosting other women. That doesn't totally put The Newsroom in a class by itself (I think Parks and Rec probably does female friendship and support even more obviously and intentionally, which is awesome), but it's uncommon, and I call that feminist too.

Edited by madam magpie

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I just wanted to say that Mac is routinely shown as being very good at her job.  She's always in the meetings with Charlie and Will when it concerns the show and she's not just standing there.  She is shown to consistently go back and forth with well thought out and articulate arguments for why they should or should not chase a story.  And Will listens to her.  As does Charlie.

 

More often then not, she is leading the meetings where they decide what stories they are going to do and while her subordinates have seen her quirks, they all routinely look to her for the answers about what to do in a situation.

 

I dunno if I'd say the show is feminist, but it's certainly not sexist or misogynistic in my view.  The women, sans Maggie, are written as strong willed and good at what they do.  And so far none of them have changed for the men they're with.  I don't mind Maggie being written as a basket case because some women are.  That's true to life.  Every office has one.  Some people take longer to find their strength.  

And for every Maggie there's a Neal.  He's not exactly the pillar of male confidence and strength.  How long did he allow Will to call him Punjab before saying something?  

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And so far none of them have changed for the men they're with.

This is huge for me too. The women, even Maggie, are very "take me, or leave me" with the men they date. That's a really powerful message for women.

The one example I can think of a feminist story is Sloan in season one -- when she made the on-air mistake with the Japanese translator. Her perspective was the dominant perspective -- we saw her make the mistake, get upset about it and we saw when Charlie tried to call her "girl" and she yelled at him. Seeing the story through Sloan's eyes, I was furious when Charlie called her "girl" -- and I didn't feel like we as viewers were supposed to sympathize with him. That was acknowledging the male perspective, and it wasn't the default perspective either.

I just want to say, too, Eolivet, that I agree this was a fantastic moment...in what I'd say is probably the best episode this show has done. But what I liked about it wasn't that it came from Sloan's perspective; she was actually wrong in the episode and caused great damage. What I liked about that moment was the equality of the battle. I absolutely felt for Charlie there. What Sloan had done was so glaringly bad that he completely lost his shit. I think he was insulting her for being young, not female, and he was furious that she'd do something that stupid and damaging. For Sloan's part, she heard it as being insulting to her as a woman and didn't take it, but she didn't really defend her fuck-up either. She and Charlie came at each other equally angry, equally wrong, and equally right. I liked that we saw Charlie, who's been shown as not at all intimidated by or demeaning toward women, default to show his age and that Sloan, who's been shown not to be intimidated by anyone, come at him with no fear of losing her job. Neither of them is just one thing.

Edited by madam magpie

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(1) Why wouldn't I believe you? If you say you feel that way, I have no reason not to believe you. My point isn't that you find The Newsroom sexist and misogynistic. It's that I find it to be a feminist show. I also think that you two and I have different ideas of what feminism is.

 

(2) I have to say, when you say things like this, I see you as the one demeaning the women on this show, not Aaron Sorkin or the male characters. No one on the show has compared Mac to a child or treated her like one. That's your subjective interpretation, and the fact that you're willing to liken the most powerful female character (save Leona) to a child definitely makes me wonder what you think feminism actually is.

(1) I asked because, as with the text I quoted, your responses to our comments continue to argue that the show isn't sexist, when neither of us has argued that the show is sexist.  You have also called both of us anti-feminist at one point or another.  I think we do have different definitions of feminism and should just agree to disagree on this topic.

 

(2) I do feel the need to address this more targeted comment, though.  I dislike Mac (who I understand is your favorite character) because I often see her behavior as childish.  She throws tantrums and bullies people, sometimes striking out physically or unleashing a tirade of profanity when she doesn't get her way.  While other characters do this to a certain extent, Mac does it the most often.  My disliking the character is not based on the fact that she is female, it is based on her behavior.  Charlie, who indulges in many of the same behaviors but is not onscreen as often, is my second-least favorite character.

 

So, The Newsroom is egalitarian: men and women enjoy positions of power, everyone is the same (except when it serves the plot). But egalitarian doesn't acknowledge the male power structure or the male perspective, it takes a traditional view of everyone. So, it's OK if women are quirky and emotional if they have a high-powered job -- because they're women and that's how women act! It's OK if we use female trauma as a plot device -- that's what works for the story (and how men see female trauma). So long as women are wielding power and can talk to men on their level and the men don't treat them like garbage, the show can use their (male-viewed) feminine traits when it's convenient for the plot or moves the story along, but quickly shove them back into that gender-neutral, egalitarian role because everyone is equal and everyone is the same.

 

I believe feminist shows acknowledge the male power structure and the male perspective, acknowledge that women and men are different people with different issues, priorities and feelings and even take the women's view on female-centric stories. The Newsroom does none of that. Therefore, it's egalitarian -- but I do not believe it is feminist.

Cosign.  It's definitely a step up from many other shows, but far from the feminist end of the spectrum.  Do you think that the presentation of female perspectives has improved in this season? 

  • While I rolled my eyes a bit at the "Maggie's all grown up" moment, I did appreciate that the show allowed her to be competent.  I also like that she has a storyline that is driven by her own ingenuity, ethical dilemma, and decision-making.  I'm not a fan of the sniping back and forth with Jim, but it feels natural and incidental (as opposed to the center of her concerns).
  • Mac's current role is more a supporting player in the whole Snowden storyline, as does Will's.  Now that Neil is on the run, Will seems to be breaking away from that status; I wonder if Mac will as well.  There's the friendship with the FBI agent and the contact with Neil's source, so I guess we'll see.
  • Sloan's role seems to be support for the takeover storyline and comic relief with Don.  I wonder if her role in the first is ended and she will be limited to the second for the rest of the show.  Hopefully not!
  • The hostile takeover storyline is interesting in that it was initially presented through Reese's POV but seems to be shifting to Leona's.  At the same time, however, it's expanding to Charlie dealing with potential buyers of ACN, which pulls it away from Leona and centers more on him.  I guess it depends on how much we see her in the remaining episodes.  I do like that the whole storyline is driven by her determination and success; it even includes a flip of the "spouse takes you for half" plot that so often paints women as vindictive golddiggers. 
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You have also called both of us anti-feminist at one point or another.

I haven't actually. I said that Eolivet's definition of feminist was the antithesis of the movement, as defined by the feminists I quoted. I also said that an approach that says men are inherently incapable of writing/leading a feminist story was anti-feminist. I never said anything about either of you personally. I do think that some of the arguments here are anti-feminist, and if we can't address each other's arguments and ideas directly, what's the point of a discussion?

(2) I do feel the need to address this more targeted comment, though. I dislike Mac (who I understand is your favorite character) because I often see her behavior as childish. She throws tantrums and bullies people, sometimes striking out physically or unleashing a tirade of profanity when she doesn't get her way. While other characters do this to a certain extent, Mac does it the most often. My disliking the character is not based on the fact that she is female, it is based on her behavior. Charlie, who indulges in many of the same behaviors but is not onscreen as often, is my second-least favorite character.

I also said that your willingness to critique a powerful female character (by "powerful" I mean someone who has a lot of power within the world of the show: Will, Leona, Reese, and Charlie are also powerful characters) by comparing her to a child was demeaning, making me wonder what you think feminism is. And since the point of this thread is to discuss feminism (or not) on The Newsroom, the irony of that comment wasn't lost on me. Comparing women to children is a classic way to demean them because it removes agency and authority. Saying that the character of Mackenzie behaves childishly is one thing; it gives her agency and authority, but critiques her behavior. I don't totally agree with that, but I can see the criticism. Saying that she's written as a toddler whom you want to put to bed and give some juice is totally different. I also think it's interesting that in your explanation and response to my comment, you didn't lapse into similar language when refering to Charlie. Why, if you dislike them for similar reasons, was that language directed only at the female character and not the male character? What do you think feminism is? Eolivet and I have offered two definitions so far.

I once read a critique of this show where the blogger argued that there were no minority characters in the main cast (completely ignoring Neal) and then claimed that (I'm paraphrasing), sure, Olivia Munn is biracial in real life but there's no indication that the character of Sloan is. Because...she doesn't look biracial and we need to be told that? I feel the same way about the feminism. We aren't being overtly told that this is a feminist world or being clobbered with girl power; we're just being shown women who are capable and smart and flawed, good at some things and bad at others, equal parts annoying and charming and funny, and treated as equals by the men around them. For me, that's what feminist is.

The title of this thread is "What a Kind of Feminist/Sexist/Misogynist Show This Has Been," and it came out of a conversation Eolivet and I got into in another thread. I said I found The Newsroom to be the most feminist show on TV, Eolivet disagreed, and here we are. "Sexist" and "anti-feminist" aren't the same thing, but they are both going to come up in that kind of discussion.

Edited by madam magpie

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I did appreciate that the show allowed her to be competent.  I also like that she has a storyline that is driven by her own ingenuity, ethical dilemma, and decision-making.

 

I liked that story up until last episode, where Jim's complete and utter failure as a boss (i.e., not doing a pre-interview for the EPA guy) was painted as Maggie screwing up. Jim/Maggie is so, so wrong to me on so many levels because it co-opts and bastardizes the pretty awesome Josh/Donna relationship from The West Wing. Josh was Donna's boss, but she gave as good as she got with him. They each had their own moments of stupidity and moments of triumph, and it felt more like a relationship of equals, even in the early seasons. When Sorkin used to try his hand at feminism, he'd make both the characters loud and opinionated (Will and Mac feel more like a West Wing couple). But spunky-yet-demure gal Friday Maggie and all-knowing, noble Jim try my patience on so many levels.

 

And I really can't stand how Jim has been allowed to act as benevolent, well-meaning commentator on Maggie and particularly Hallie's decisions. The show could've done (and I guess could still do) something really interesting out of Hallie getting fired and potentially getting a job with new media, and scooping ACN on something. But because the show takes an "old media is superior to new media" approach, that won't happen, because Jim has been made to represent "the right journalism," while Hallie is "the wrong journalism." I wouldn't mind at all if the viewers were allowed to judge Hallie's opportunism for ourselves, but because the show has inserted Jim into the story, it's clear which way we're meant to lean.

 

(And if Maggie's nice professor turns out to be evil, I will roll my eyes so hard, they will fall out.)

 

Mac's current role is more a supporting player in the whole Snowden storyline, as does Will's.  Now that Neil is on the run, Will seems to be breaking away from that status; I wonder if Mac will as well.  There's the friendship with the FBI agent and the contact with Neil's source, so I guess we'll see.

 

I like Mac a lot this year -- I do think she's improved. As we've said, a woman doesn't have to drive every single story to be feminist, and she's not driving this one. But Will isn't talking down to her or acting pedantic -- she's just a supporting player in Will's story. That's fine, and it doesn't offend me. She offers a different perspective. I think Sorkin has cribbed a lot of Jed and Abby Bartlet with Will and Mac (minus the "she cheated on me, wahhh" story, which has thankfully been dropped now that they're together). And this storyline has found them a way to use the incredible Rebecca character, which is awesome.

 

Sloan's role seems to be support for the takeover storyline and comic relief with Don.  I wonder if her role in the first is ended and she will be limited to the second for the rest of the show.  Hopefully not!

 

True, but Sloan is being allowed to drive the Don/Sloan relationship -- we've seen it more from her perspective than his. She was also the one who figured out the twins' hostile takeover bid with her cool computer. Sloan has had more non-relationship story than Don, whose only role this year seems to be "Sloan's not boyfriend" and I kind of love it.

 

The hostile takeover storyline is interesting in that it was initially presented through Reese's POV but seems to be shifting to Leona's.

 

I like this storyline a lot -- this is egalitarian writing at its finest. There are "good" and "bad" women on either side of the table, both powerful and controlling. Reese and Charlie are there, too, but they're all sort of driving the storyline together. Leona and Charlie have shared stories all show, and this appears to be no exception. I like that Leona was made to be a "bad guy" who then turned "good" (even if the way they did it at the end of last year left me rolling my eyes a little, it was entertaining).

 

Overall, I think the show has improved this year, and reading this over, I'd say they've made great progress, except for the sore thumbs that are Maggie and Jim. I don't know how Sorkin got them so wrong -- whether it was casting or characterization or what: I loved Josh/Donna and Jeremy/Natalie on his earlier shows, and neither felt so offensive to me as this relationship. Maggie is just every bad female character trope ever and Jim needs to shut his mouth about other people and do his freaking job without being a condescending jerk. Or Will needs to smack him down or something.

 

Perhaps without Maggie and Jim, I could entertain the idea that this year, The Newsroom has become more feminist. But because they exist...I just can't.

 

I once read a critique of this show where the blogger argued that there were no minority characters in the main cast (completely ignoring Neal) and then claimed that (I'm paraphrasing), sure, Olivia Munn is biracial in real life but there's no indication that the character of Sloan is.

 

That's nitpicky, in my opinion -- all that matters in the news world is Sloan is pretty and competent, and she's both.

 

We aren't being overtly told that this is a feminist world or being clobbered with girl power; we're just being shown women who are capable and smart and flawed, good at some things and bad at others, equal parts annoying and charming and funny, and treated as equals by the men around them.

 

If I concede every single one of your points about the other relationships on the show except Jim/Maggie, I suppose my question is: how is the character of Jim or the Jim/Maggie relationship at all feminist? Can we concede Jim has been allowed to comment on Maggie and Hallie's decisions in the way no other man on the show this year (Will, Don, Charlie) has done of any other woman? I would understand the character of Jim if he was meant to be a villain. But he's meant to be a hero and his personal life has been nothing but sanctimonious judgment of women's choices. How do you reconcile that as a feminist? And if feminism is men and women being equal, why haven't Maggie or Hallie been allowed to comment on Jim the way he comments on both of them?

Edited by Eolivet

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If I concede every single one of your points about the other relationships on the show except Jim/Maggie, I suppose my question is: how is the character of Jim or the Jim/Maggie relationship at all feminist? Can we concede Jim has been allowed to comment on Maggie and Hallie's decisions in the way no other man on the show this year (Will, Don, Charlie) has done of any other woman? I would understand the character of Jim if he was meant to be a villain. But he's meant to be a hero and his personal life has been nothing but sanctimonious judgment of women's choices. How do you reconcile that as a feminist? And if feminism is men and women being equal, why haven't Maggie or Hallie been allowed to comment on Jim the way he comments on both of them?

Yes, Jim's viewpoint is very different from most of the other men on the show, but his commentary is just what he thinks; it's not inherently true or even what the show "thinks." I'd say Jim isn't being feminist. I think Jim is a young, fairly progressive guy who's self-righteous and somewhat arrogant. He still has the complex that many young men have of feeling like he has a lot of power over women's thinking and that his behavior can give them agency, as opposed to Don and Will who just treat the women around them as equal players whose power is their own. Where we get a feminist approach is in how Maggie and Hallie respond to Jim. I think the Jim/Maggie/Hallie story (especially Jim/Hallie) is much more traditionally girl power than the other pairings. I also think that Maggie and Hallie are presented as coming at Jim as intellectual and social equals. They don't cower from him or bow to his great intellect and superiority; they aren't mesmerized by him (though Lisa sort of was, and Maggie was at the beginning). They tell him when he's wrong, and they've also both bested him on occasion. I'm not one who wants Jim and Maggie to end up together, though it certainly looks like they will. That'll be a disappointment because I'd really like Maggie to take firm control of her life separate from how Jim views her (I do think he views her paternalistically; he sees most people through that lens). But that's my agenda, not the writer's.

Here's the thing: For me, every single relationship or character doesn't have to be progressive for a story to be. It's just the tone and what the story is trying to say that need to be clear. I mean, for example, Ann on Parks and Rec began as a typical "awesome woman with lousy taste in men" (at least in the first season or so; I haven't watched consistently after that) and Leslie was kind of bumbling and silly, but I've always considered that to be a feminist show. The characters don't have to behave perfectly for me to see the larger point as long as they're presented is as equal players and the story's intention is clear. In fact, I prefer that they don't behave perfectly because the flaws are typically what make characters interesting to me. I don't actually see Jim so much as a hero as a dynamic and flawed secondary player. I see the protagonists as Will and Mac (Will, really, with Mac acting somewhat as the Atticus to Will's Scout Finch), with Sloan and Charlie running as pretty close seconds.

That's nitpicky, in my opinion -- all that matters in the news world is Sloan is pretty and competent, and she's both.

I'm not sure what you mean. What part is nitpicky? Edited by madam magpie

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Sorry about the "nitpicky" comment -- it was meant to agree with you. I think the reviewer is being nitpicky about "not mentioning Sloan is biracial makes The Newsroom a bad show!" I don't think it's necessary, especially as she's in a profession where I don't think her superiors care about her race as long as she brings in viewers (due to her doing her job well and looking good while doing so).

 

I think Jim is a young, fairly progressive guy who's self-righteous and somewhat arrogant. He still has the complex that many young men have of feeling like he has a lot of power over women's thinking and that his behavior can give them agency, as opposed to Don and Will who just treat the women around them as equal players whose power is their own.

 

I agree, which is why I wish his behavior was called out -- by the other men or just if the show had him in a negative light. He's been a condescending jerk this year in a way no other man has been, including the guy who tried to buy out the network. Hallie talks back to him, but the show takes his side (old media vs. new media) in their debates, which I don't like. Jim needs to learn his side isn't always right. I wish Will would've read Jim the riot act after Jim (as Maggie's boss) didn't make sure they knew the EPA guy was going to say the world was ending in that interview. Instead, it was made to look like Maggie's fault -- that bumbling Maggie failed yet again. I don't think that's "progressive" to say it was Jim's fault -- just truthful. Managers should take responsibility for inadequate supervision of their subordinates, male or female.

 

And I don't think the show sees Jim as flawed. He's been on the "right" side of every issue, as far as the show is concerned. He was "right" about Maggie last year after her trauma, "right" about how wrong Maggie and Don were, "right" about the evils of new media (we're meant to sympathize with him over Hallie, as he's the regular character and she's only recurring). Even when he was kicked off the Romney campaign, he ultimately won over Taylor and "won" Hallie, so it was a net win for him. I don't care if the women say he's wrong -- what matters to me is the story/show thinks he's right. I'm really just waiting for Jim to take a loss. Every mistake he's made somehow ends up working out for him: the blown call on the Michigan 1st was a perfect time to humble him a little, but no...he got that one right, too. I'd love to see him confess feelings for Maggie and have her choose the nice professor. Or have Hallie take a job at Buzzfeed and scoop Jim on a story. But I fully expect him to scoop Hallie at Buzzfeed, while Maggie falls breathlessly into his arms. Everyone else has had wins and losses, but it can't work out that well for one guy all the time. That's not a dynamic character. That's a Gary Stu.

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Sorry about the "nitpicky" comment -- it was meant to agree with you. I think the reviewer is being nitpicky about "not mentioning Sloan is biracial makes The Newsroom a bad show!"

 

Oh, no worries. I just wasn't sure what you meant. Yeah, I thought so too.

 

I don't care if the women say he's wrong -- what matters to me is the story/show thinks he's right. I'm really just waiting for Jim to take a loss.

 

I can see wanting Jim to take a loss. He's definitely due for one, and I think that would humanize him and show growth. Right now, he's really the same guy we met at the beginning. But he's a secondary player so that makes sense. I don't think the character of Jim is really about Jim, if that makes sense. I think Jim's role in the larger Newsroom story is more to show growth in Maggie (which is why I REALLY want them not to get together at the end) and to back up Mackenzie's ideology and ethics. In many ways, he's just an extension of Mac as the conscience; he doesn't really have his own ideology.

 

But I also don't think the show thinks Jim's always right. He's right as far as journalistic ethics goes, definitely. That's just his role. But I think that where the show demonstrates he's wrong is in his self-righteousness. Whether Hallie is right or wrong about new media is irrelevent to whether or not Jim is a jerk to her. They're two totally separate issues for me. And those dualities are OK with me because I like the characters to be more than one thing. It might be nice for one of the other men to say something, and I can see the criticism that some viewers (men in particular) might not already see that and therefore might benefit from being told. But for me, it's not necessary because #1) I don't need one of the men to tell me Jim's a self-righteous ass because I can see it myself. And #2) I trust the female characters of Maggie and Hallie when they tell me.

Edited by madam magpie

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Moving from the episode thread...

 

Please don't ascribe opinions to me that I am not arguing. I am saying I think Sorkin does not succeed, and one of the reasons he doesn't succeed is that he writes cardboard characters

 

All of them, or just the women? Because this quote sounded to me like it was just the women: "Nope, I disagree. In Sorkinland, some characters exist in their own right. Male, white characters. That they may ALSO challenge others is a byproduct. Whereas, the female characters' major plot points is to do something for the men." If it's just the women, that implies an anti-woman stance since "cardboard characters" is a negative when it comes to good writing. I disagree that the characters of Mackenzie, Sloan, and Leona exist only to inspire and challenge men. I think they exist as characters in their own right. (Maggie...meh. She probably does too, but I don't like Maggie.)

 

To say that he writes from his own pov so it's ok if he fudges on women is no excuse. Substitute "Jews" or "black people" or any other group he's not part of and one quickly sees how that assertion falls apart. I demand of any artist spinning a tale that all the characters in it seem full and rounded. I don't think Sorkin exists at this. it's also why they all speak the way he does. He's not alone in this, but that doesn't make it OK.

 

 

I don't think it inherently makes it OK or not OK, and would probably say the same thing if people were ascribing a racist agenda to a similar writing style. Without a concrete example, I can't say for sure, but I do think people also tend to see racism where it isn't and that does a disservice to the larger cause. As for the word "agenda," I said that, not you. And yes, I do think people ascribe an agenda to Sorkin's writing that isn't there.

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I will repeat myself, sorry

 

It is about privilege

 

I don't expect Sorkin's shows to be feminist, whatever definition of feminist one uses (besides I have a big problem with the feminist organizations who are incredibly ableist and exclusionary, but that's another story). I do expect (or did) him to move away from his white male privilege and stick to what it seems to me, his initial idea about his female characters. He fails on that. He has all these women who are powerful, smart, competent, and then they are the ones to go hysterical, they are the ones who need a man to "feel complete", they melt down when they hear "I love you", they are the ones who can be made fun of for silly reasons. Yes, Sorkin has male characters who have been made fun of, who were made to feel ridiculous, but this is not often and it is deals with in a different way.

 

I disagree that Sloan was different. I think there were still moments that it was all Sorkin's lack of a clue showing up. 

 

If he could step away from that privilege, the way he writes women would improve drastically. I don't know how he works, but he does not seem to listen to women because this thing has been going on forever and he still doesn't get it.

 

I don't think he is misogynist at all. I think he is clueless, because he can't understand or because he doesn't want to.

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It seems to me that Will very much needed Mackenzie to feel/be complete. That's why Charlie had to go get her and bring her back. The idea is that they're destined to be together and are faltering without that connection. Some might call that paternalistic; others would say romantic. I'd probably call it a romantic, idealistic notion I've yet to encounter personally in real life that can come off as paternalistic sometimes. Do I like that kind of story? It depends on a lot of things. I liked this one a lot. But it's not that the women on The Newsroom are incomplete without their men; it's that the main characters are faltering without their complements. The need for that partner is totally egalitarian.

Stories about privileged people don't inherently bother me. I don't think everything needs to be a tale of the downtrodden or minorities among us. I just like stories about all kinds of people and can enjoy different kinds and different ones, even ones about wealthy white men.

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I am not expecting stories about underprivileged people. Actually I would love to see it, but that's not my problem here. My problem is that Sorkin cannot, or will not, even try to have empathy. He has been called on for how he writes women forever and he still writes them the same way. He can do it forever, and I will point this out every time I see it. 

 

As for stories of all kinds of people, I would enjoy it too, if there were stories of all kinds of people. There aren't. There are ll kinds of tokens, but not stories about them.

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I mean different stories by different writers. Sorkin can write about white men, Barbara Kingsolver can write about young women, Harper Lee can write about the people who populate a town in Alabama during the Depression, etc. All people don't have to show up in all stories for me to like something.

Who is Sorkin supposed to empathize with? Why should he alter his writing style to suit the audience that doesn't like his writing style?

Edited by madam magpie
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He could empathize with non rich white male.

Maybe I should say "I wish he would"

It does not require changing his style, it would only require empathy. I believe the writing would be more interesting. As I said before, his melody is good, his lyrics can suck (music analogy). since I really like his melody (the pace of dialogues), I wold love to see his lyrics improving. That would make my experience of watching him much more enjoyable (or in some cases at least enjoyable)

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He has all these women who are powerful, smart, competent, and then they are the ones to go hysterical, they are the ones who need a man to "feel complete", they melt down when they hear "I love you", they are the ones who can be made fun of for silly reasons. Yes, Sorkin has male characters who have been made fun of, who were made to feel ridiculous, but this is not often and it is deals with in a different way.

 

alexavillage, you have said perfectly in the bolded paragraph what I have been trying forever to articulate.

 

I'll take the example of Sloan and the tie once again. Sloan, who went and punched a guy when her privacy was violated on the Internet, who got in Charlie's face and screamed back at him "Don't call me girl, sir!" and who got her boyfriend back in line with a fake love declaration, and laughed gleefully in his face when he actually bought it.

 

To make Sloan go weepy and sentimental over a tie isn't showing how "complex" she is as a character. It's showing something that's not been true to her character before. But we excuse it, because (on a non-feminist show), there's a baseline "woman" reaction. Sloan was teary at the funeral, not because it was something we'd ever seen from her, but because "woman = emotional." If Joss Whedon defines feminism as the radical notion that women are people, a feminist writer recognizes there are different kinds of people -- not just "woman."

 

I would think it was weird if Neal came into the bullpen and instead of cleverly using his technical knowledge to shut the guy down, just punched that guy in the face and then cursed a lot. I wouldn't say "Well, that makes sense -- Neal's a guy and guys punch people and curse a lot." I would say "WTF, Neal? Why are you acting so weird?" But if a woman starts crying or showing excess emotion when she never has before, people are expected to excuse it with "Well, she's a woman -- look how deep and complex she is under that strong exterior" instead of "WTF, Sloan? Why are you acting so weird?"

 

Maggie, as we've been shown, should get weepy over a tie. That's absolutely true to Maggie's character and I would find that good characterization. But on a feminist show, I need to see that three different women would react differently to the same situation -- in the same way that three men would. I never saw that from The Newsroom.

 

Shonda Rhimes has taken a lot of heat, but she had a funeral episode where the two good friends of the deceased couldn't stop laughing inappropriately. Both were women who had a really hard time showing emotion. It would've been so easy to have everyone weepy and teary, because they were women. But while a few women were teary, a few were cracking up. There's just no default "woman" reaction in a feminist show, and I believe there is one for various emotional situations on a Sorkin show.

 

Do some women cry? Absolutely! But some women don't. And I don't see Sloan getting sentimental over a tie, except that her gender dictates she does. Maggie would be teary and sentimental. Mac might fight tears, but force a smile. Sloan would hand the tie back to Don and say "Thanks, bubba, but I think it's more your color than mine."

Edited by Eolivet
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Sloan has cried before. She was full-on weeping when those pictures of her came out, and once again it was Don who comforted her. She wasn't upset about Charlie because she's a woman; she was upset because she's a human being with feelings and her friend had died right in front of her after she'd done something to challenge him. The normal reaction to that is sadness and confusion. That her boyfriend, whom she presumably loves and trusts, gave her a gift to try and comfort her is also normal. Sloan is badass but she's also a person, and a pretty good, kind person at that. Of course she was touched by Don's gesture and didn't reject it. I don't think women have to be portrayed s robots to be empowered. Embracing emotion and being brave enough to show it is fine with me, no matter the gender.

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Revising this answer in light of Sloan crying over the photos (which I had forgotten).

 

I'll look past the emotion (if it was true to character in the past) and address the sentimentality. Not all women are sentimental. Sloan certainly has never shown to be sentimental. Plenty of women I know would be skeeved out by getting an old guy's tie, even if it was your former boss. But women showing sentimentality is fine to do, because they're women -- even when it makes no sense for their character.

 

Not all women appreciate sentimentality, and not appreciating it doesn't make them robots. But making a woman sentimental, when she's never shown to be such in the past, makes it seem like Sorkin is painting all women act this way -- even the ones who don't seem like they do all secretly do because they're women and women are sentimental. There is no other reason Sloan -- who has never shown to be sentimental -- would be sentimental except that she's a woman. And I have an issue with that.

Edited by Eolivet

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I agree. It seemed to me that Sloan was crying tears of rage. And feeling sorry for herself, too, perhaps, and more than that, angry with herself. But she hasn't seemed sentimental.

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You don't think she was deeply sad about those pictures? I do. What she said was "I want to die." She was humiliated and hurting. She was also angry, yes. I saw her once again as deeply sad about Charlie's death, and that she'd accept something important that was his seems perfectly normal and fine to me, and not unique to women. The notion that Sorkin should write around a kind gesture and normal response to death and sadness so as to satisfy an audience's agenda seems like a terrible idea to me, but to each her own.

Edited by madam magpie
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My agenda is for each woman to be treated as her own person, in the same way each man is treated as his own person. I haven't seen one piece of evidence to show Sloan is a sentimental person other than "It was a normal response." So, unsentimental Sloan suddenly became sentimental when it was convenient for Sorkin so he could get his nice moment. That's molding the character to fit the plot, rather than the other way around. That's what lazy shows and writers do.

 

And Sorkin wasn't always that way. Show me CJ's scene in "Take This Sabbath Day" from season 1 of The West Wing and I absolutely lose it. It was understated and gorgeous. CJ was also a successful woman, and she was dealing with a death penalty case. But she didn't get weepy or emotional. She's very matter-of-fact when describing her briefing after the man had been executed. Then her tone turns almost wistful as she says "I just wish I didn't know his mother's name was Sophia."

 

It's well-written, beautifully acted and an incredible moment. Sorkin didn't have to change who she was to come up with a uniquely CJ reaction to what was happening. Other characters display more emotion than she does (Toby and the President come to mind), as well. But we know how she's feeling, even if she doesn't really say it.

 

Perhaps much of that is Allison Janney -- an absolutely superior actress to Olivia Munn. Maybe Allison Janney could've sold being sentimental about a tie and made it seem in character. But Olivia Munn didn't, to me. Sloan had never acted that way in the past, and I didn't believe she would act that way, no matter who dropped dead in front of her.

 

It took skill and talent for Sorkin to write such an emotional scene from one mildly emotional line on The West Wing. But making Sloan sentimental because it was convenient to the plot took no skill or talent. It was just plain lazy.

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