If you’ve spent any attention to the mainstream media, you’ll notice that there is an abundance of crime dramas. Who doesn’t like watching a good crime/detective drama right? I believe that we are drawn to these types of shows because it helps us find that resolution and have the euphoric idea of just society we crave, but I digress. The crime shows brought to you by the networks are all different but could not be more alike. They generally follow a particular structure given very specific stereotypes given the male and female protagonists. Women are always secondary and even when they are the protagonists, the typical female gender stereotypes are attached to their characters.
Let’s unpack this, shall we?
The show typically follows two protagonists, a man, and a woman. They are seemingly both equally dominant and headstrong characters. The female protagonist tends to have higher qualifications yet still serves as secondary to the male protagonist. He tends to be eccentric, irrational; thus, a rule breaker and typically charming and or has connections, therefore, makes it easier for him to get away with a lot of things that he wouldn’t have, had he been a female. She tends to be level-headed, rational and always follows the rules because she knows that if she goes against them there are much bigger repercussions for her. Did I do it? Did I just describe to you every detective crime shows in a paragraph? If you think otherwise, I invite you to evaluate the following shows with me.
- Two protagonists (Male and Female): Richard Castle and Kate Beckett
- Female character Qualifications: Beckett – a high ranking detective with the NYPD
- Male character Qualifications: Castle – Crime Novelist, serves as a consultant to the NYPD
- Female character traits: rational, follows rules, constantly questioned by her actions
- Male character traits: irrational theories to solving crimes, often breaks protocol, gets away when he makes mistakes: because of charm and or connections.
X-Files (1993 – 2018)
- Two protagonists (Male and Female): Fox Mulder and Dana Scully
- Female character Qualifications: Medical doctor and FBI special agent
- Male character Qualifications: FBI special agent
- Female character traits: Rational, a skeptic of extraterrestrial life. Bent on following rules. Questioned on her actions when they go against the norm.
- Male character traits: has irrational theories about the extraterrestrial life. Tends to bend and or break rules enforced by higher-ups and only gets away because of his education.
The Mentalist (2008-2015)
- Two protagonists (Male and Female): Patrick Jane and Teresa Lisbon
- Female character Qualifications: CBI Special Agent with several years of experience
- Male character Qualifications: CBI consultant and Mentalist
- Female character traits: Gained her position because of her through rationality, integrity and strict following of the law. If she does anything out of the ordinary her abilities are questioned
- Male character traits: A mentalist, someone who uses his observational skills to solve crimes. His tactics are unconventional and because he isn’t an officer, goes against procedures.
Elementary (2012 – Present)
- Two protagonists (Male and Female): Sherlock Holmes and Joan Watson
- Female character Qualifications: NYPD consultant – Private detective
- Male character Qualifications: Former surgeon, Sober companion, Private Detective
- Female character traits: Follows a strict schedule, perfectionist, believes in the justice system. Left her job as a surgeon because she believed she was not competent enough.
- Male character traits: His deduction skills are exceptional and unusual, but they get the work done, therefore no one questions him. Does not seem to care about other’s feelings and it makes it easier for him to go against the rules.
Lucifer (2016 – Present)
- Two protagonists (Male and Female): Lucifer Morningstar and Chloe Decker
- Female character Qualifications: LAPD Detective
- Male character Qualifications: The Devil posing as Rich Club Owner, LAPD Consultant
- Female character traits: Stickler for the rules, judged because of her performing background and must work twice as hard to convince other detectives of her abilities.
- Male character traits: He is the devil, societal the rules do not apply to him. He does as he pleases and gets away with it because he is the DEVIL.
- Two protagonists (Male and Female): Cameron Black and Kay Daniels
- Female character Qualifications: FBI agent
- Male character Qualifications: Illusionist, performer.
- Female character traits: Follows protocol, hard-working, fought through several social barriers to get to her position of authority.
- Male character traits: He is charming, witty and able to literally and figuratively get out of any situation. His unorthodox ways cause him to get the job done and because of that gets away with his actions.
If you thought that all crime/detective dramas revolved around male protagonists with the female character as secondary, you would not be completely wrong, given the formula I presented above. Nonetheless, there are several tv shows that have women at the center of the crime-solving, but they follow a different type of character formula for the said women. The females are generally amateur sleuths, who have another career in which they are highly successful because of their deduction skills. The clues relating to the crimes tend to come to them rather than the other way around. The women are often described through their families rather than have their own identities but that changes as the series progress. They share the stereotypical characteristics of women such as being gentle, nurturing and harmless. Unlike the male protagonist in the previous format of crime/detective drama, they do not take the law in their hands but rather just happen to find themselves face to face with the killer towards the end and talk them through until the authorities arrive.
Miss Marple (1984 – 1992, 2004 – 2008, 2009 – 2013)
- Protagonist: Jane Marple
- Occupation: No specified occupation, given that during her time women did not hold jobs. She hailed from a wealthy family that allowed her to be knowledgeable on various topics.
- Characteristics: An old spinster, who is often disregarded and that helps her solve crimes because the killer does not view her as a threat. Her ability to blend within the crowd puts her at an advantage to acquire evidence. She has the aura of a trusted ally; mother, aunt, grandmother, friend etc. Her experience has made it possible for her to acquire infinite examples of the negative side of humans. She also has an ability to remember casual comments and or situations relate it to the solve the case.
Garage Sale Mystery (2013 – Present)
- Protagonist: Jennifer Shannon
- Occupation: Antique Shop Owner
- Characteristics: She is a small town suburban mother of two children, who has a knack for finding crimes as much as the antiques that she sells. Her eye for details in situations and objects helps her solve these crimes that were not even discovered by the police. It often puts her in harm’s way but at the end of the day, she always prevails.
Murder, She Baked (2015 – Present)
- Protagonist: Hannah Swensen
- Occupation: Baker and owner of her bakery store.
- Characteristics: A young single woman, who is often pushed to find a partner by her family. They want her to settle down, but she ha not yet found the right person. She is an amateur sleuth, she is able to acquire the information she needs through the connections she has made because of her position in small town and the fact that her bakery is home to the women who hold all the gossips of the town.
Flower Shop Mystery (2016 – Present)
- Protagonist: Abby Knight
- Occupation: Flower Shop Owner
- Characteristics: Single mother of one, a former lawyer who happens to also be a crime buff. She uses her investigative and interrogative skills to find culprits for the crimes. Her abilities are often disregarded by the officials because she is seen a flower shop owner and her attorney credential do not hold much merit his her hometown.
However, we do see some change in the crime dramas, where the lead protagonists are females and they possess all the qualities of a male eccentric “do gooder”. But they do not tend to be picked up by mainstream networks because there is this fear for the broadcasters that they might not be popular and garner a following.
This is where streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon come into play, they take risks on the “crazy” tv show ideas. Even in this field, there is a certain checklist the tv show must follow. The protagonist must be a rule breaker, typically an outcast from the rest of the society must have an inner struggle that she uses to fight for those who need justice. She needs to have some sort of a superpower because according to everything we know and believe, women CANNOT be equal to men, therefore, she must have an upper hand in some way. All the while, she still needs to have the emotionality of the sensitive woman that resurfaces from time to time to show her vulnerability.
iZombie (2015 – Present)
- Protagonist: Olivia Moore
- Occupation: Medical Examiner
- Superpower: Zombie, who by eating the brains of the victims can acquire their memories to solve crimes. Super strength.
- Character Traits: Being a zombie, she often loses her humanity but given the righteous, perfectionist and all around good individual she used to be before her metamorphosis, she decided to take the job as a medical examiner, so she would not hurt living humans.
Supergirl (2015 – Present)
- Protagonist: Kara Denvers
- Superpower: Super Strength, Ability to Fly, Shoot Laser through eyes.
- Occupation: Assistant to Cat Grant of CatCo. (as Kara Denvers) & Aid to Department of Extra-Normal Operations(as Supergirl).
- Character Traits: Emotionally dependent individual who strives on having strong relations with everyone in her life. Wants to protect and make everyone around her happy. Always the one to come to the aid of others and will go to any lengths to fight against evil forces.
Jessica Jones (2015 – Present)
- Protagonist: Jessica Jones
- Superpower: Super Strength
- Occupation: Private Detective
- Character Traits: Unapologetic, bends the rules to get justice for those who deserve it. She is the only character that possesses mostly male stereotypes, such as substance abuse to deal with her problems, lack of maintaining relationships. However, it should be noted that this is because she was tested on and given the powers scientifically that caused her several psychological problems.
There you have it. Progress has been made given the male and female characteristics in the crime/detective shows but the gender role stereotypes still persist to this day and unfortunately, we cannot get rid of them, but we can create new narratives to challenge them and start a movement in which a character would not have to rely on their genetic/gender dispositions to be described. But until then we can’t escape the fact that this is a man’s world…on and off-screen.