Many times in television and movies, women characters exist not so much for their own edification but to facilitate the journey of the male character. It is unfortunate, but women characters are often less than fully formed. Many times, the men are the active, and the women are the reactive. In many situations, men know best; and all of these things are problems. I bring this up to answer this query:
So what's your opinion of House, M.D.? Cuddy, Cameron and Hadley (better known as Thirteen)all seem to be positive role models in terms of their professional careers, at least.I love House, mostly the first 3 seasons. I haven't seen a lot of this current season, because everyone else in my house has given up on the guy and there are only two televisions - and I never get to use them singularly by product of being the one person in the house without a constant partner (there are some benefits to be a twin or married in the television acquisition department). House is well written; House is witty, and interesting, and doesn't try to make its characters saints or even sympathetic. Gregory House is an atheist - though as much as I love that I do wonder if characters like House are part of the PR problem, since House is also a bit of a dick. But that doesn't mean House is problem free; it has never been problem free. Cuddy may be in charge in theory, but that doesn't stop her from being, at times, as well constructed as a piece of tissue paper - or House from insulting her sexual history, her dress sense, her intelligence, and her life in general before almost always getting his way. It doesn't stop Cuddy from messing up the cases she does become involved in, like when her handyman fell off her roof. This isn't an issue unique to House, as my one of my favorite writers ever, Aaron Sorkin, has the same propensity for making men the smarter sex, and women the hapless creatures who need men's guidance:
Men Are from Mars — and Smarter: At least that’s the world according to Sorkin. A favorite plot device was to have one character explain a complicated political issue to another. It almost always was a Smart Man explaining to an Ignorant Woman: Sam explaining the census to CJ (who gushed about how smart he is); Josh explaining many, many things to Donna.
The same sort of instance has apparently reared its ugly head on House, in a more blatant and, for my money, stems from an even more privileged perspective:
The biggest issue with this whole plot development is just how much of who Hadley is and how she develops is based on a man and how he manipulates her. She made the choice not to disclose her sexuality in the workplace but the straight male had no problem with declaring that she was bisexual. Forget about her agency to choose how and to who her sexuality should become known, all that we need is a smart man to figure everyone out. When she goes on her “self-destruct” mission it is Foreman who partly comes to the rescue. He offers her placement in a drug treatment study and admonishes her on giving up. When he feels she is not participating in the study to his liking he breaks into her home and checks up on her medication. When she is having trouble dealing with a more advanced patient who brings back painful memories of her mother he forces her to deal with the situation. Finally, when the fact that she has a terminal disease makes her less willing to be in a relationship, he arranges for her to “see” how well one patient is doing on the treatment.That doesn't make it any less problematic for House, but it does make it more of a systemic failure than a House failure. And it doesn't stop me from watching and enjoying the show on its own merits. In many ways, House and many of the male characters are complex and are three-dimensional. The women are categorically less interesting; it feels like the writers don't know how to write women - which is a problem that Bryan Fuller also said he has, and thus writes women with guy names (like Chuck) in order to connect to the character more easily. I should mention that I was highly offended and almost gave up on Pushing Daisies and Bryan Fuller - and only didn't because I was at a screening of the show with a friend. And while I'm happy I didn't, because I love Pushing Daisies, I'm still disgruntled at that comment.
House is problematic in the way above, but also for the reason articulated by MaggieElizabeth, a poster at Television Without Pity:
Ninety percent of the time, the woman gets to be the normal one.
Sure, she's competent, she's tough, and she's strong -- but she's ordinary, and all the while she's surrounded by weird and unpredictable male characters with funny, charismatic personalities.
House is the eccentric; he's the genius, he's the mastermind, he's the guy who does not conform to society's standards and doesn't have to because he's so damn brilliant. Cuddy may have been the youngest Chief of Medicine around, but she is still nothing special when compared to Gregory House. This isn't House's problem, not really. I'm not advocating a world in which men are always the normal ones and women get to be the weird, charismatic unpredictable ones. Just like the problem with a movie isn't that it in particular can't pass the Bechdel Test, but that most don't. The problem isn't that Star Wars in particular doesn't have two women discussing something other than men; the problem is that a significant portion of the films made don't. The problem isn't that House is a surly misanthrope genius, but that there are a bevy of male characters in House's shoes and very few women. The problem with the genius man or the man with incredible gifts is that there is no counterbalance. The Pie Maker on Pushing Daisies with his power to wake the dead; Chuck from Chuck having the incredible ability to see and remember hundreds of data-encrypted pictures; House; Walter Bishop; the guy on The Mentalist; the guy on Lie to Me; the guy on The Eleventh Hour; the guy on Journeyman. The women who are on these shows are sometimes capable, sometimes not, but almost always ordinary as well.
There is the odd show, most often made by Joss Whedon, that has the opposite, where the normal character in question is a guy. Buffy the Vampire Slayer's eccentric characters or characters with phenomenal powers were mostly women; Buffy herself, obviously, but also Willow and Tara and even Dawn. Xander and Giles were the normal ones. On the spin off Angel, Angel had superhuman powers, due to being a vampire; but there was also Cordelia, who had visions, and Fred - who was not only a genius but also socially awkward from years of being sequestered in a hellish alternate dimension. Wesley remained normal throughout the show's run, and Gunn - though there was some mojo in the 5th season - also remained an average guy. Firefly had River as the extraordinary one. And some shows aren't made by Joss. Bones has Temperance Brennan as the eccentric super-genius, and Seeley Booth as the every man, the intelligent guy who is still, even without virtue of being compared to Brennan, ordinary. Battlestar Galactica has Starbuck as the best pilot, and the one having prophetic visions. But these shows (most of which are off the air) don't carry enough weight to strike a proper counterbalance to the overall spectrum of shows where the opposite is true. And that is the issue with most of these problems. On their own, a show with stronger male characters, or smarter male characters, is not inherently problematic. But when most shows employ that narrative, it becomes more so.