Work and Love: Can women have both?

This weeks reading about women in the workplace and  watching it in action in the Mary Tyler Moore Show got me thinking about other television shows where women are out and about with high powered jobs. In today’s world of situational comedies and television dramas there seems to be an abundance of these well respected working women. However, just because they are kicking ass in the workforce doesn’t mean they are doing the same with other aspects of their lives. This is a huge dilemma I see with attempts at this sort of television. Liberated women who work don’t seem to be allowed to have their cake and eat it too? In other words, powerful women can’t be powerful and also have a great love life.

scandal-olivia-season-3-epi-4-mainScandal, Season 3

Although I’m sure there are exceptions to this statement, the trend points to its accuracy. Take for example the ever so popular Shondaland TV drama Scandal. One could say that Olivia Pope is one of the most powerful women on television in terms of work, but her other relationships are in shambles. She can’t seem to stay with or even figure out what she wants with Fitz or Jake. Is she allowed to have one of them? Do we think that by the end of the series she will be riding off into the sunset with one of them? I really grapple with this idea of not being able to have both because as a feminist I want to be able to be independent from a man, while also having full control of my body. Does Olivia have this control?


Another show that has a powerful workplace woman is the 90s crime show, Ally McBeal. Ally is a independent, sharp witted, and fabulous in the courtroom, making her one of televisions most successful women. However, this is not her only depiction in the show. She also has hallucinations and a superbly dysfunctional love life, which plays right into the female stereotype of being impulsive and crazy. I don’t think Ally, just like Olivia, can have both love and her job.

-Katie Nelson



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8 Responses to Work and Love: Can women have both?

  1. mediaphiles says:

    I love your point! And I completely agree. I think its interesting that while men can be strong in both their career and their love life, you barely ever see this in women on television. Olivia Pope, Peyton Sawyer, Ally McBeal, Meredith Grey . . . there is too many to count. Why can men have it all but not women? This is definitely a topic worth discussion. – Ally Harper

  2. mediaphiles says:

    Wow, this is so true! Not just in TV shows, but I also have noticed this in several movies. It is either one extreme or another. The woman is super independent, has a great job, and isn’t afraid to stick up for herself OR she has a great love life or is happily married but her life is portrayed as crazy and hectic or in shambles. I wonder if this is purely for entertainment purposes or if there’s a deeper stigma attached to it.
    Kendall Fischlein

  3. mediaphiles says:

    I just read Ally’s post, so I wanted to come back and read yours as well. While watching the 70s workplace episodes, I was also struck by how women like Mary Tyler Moore were only able to have a successful career while men like Dick Van Dyke were able to have a successful career and a family. I think this was an important step in the 70s to show successful women in the work force, but why do we still see so much of this liberated woman with a career without a family \today? It’s a bit scary to me how few women we see on television sitcoms who are able to have a family and a career.
    -Valerie Medoff

  4. mediaphiles says:

    It’s crazy to think about the dominant women in television in this way because you are completely right. In Scandal for example, Olivia is at one point (or several if we are counting) explicitly threatened by her father if she chooses to follow her heart and take her relationship with Jake (or Fitz) to the next level. It’s sad that we can’t have an all encompassing female figure on television that depicts what so many women are truly striving for. What does it say that love always has to be the sacrifice for the sake of dramatic television? We have come so far to have women in powerful positions in the workplace but don’t get crazy! You can’t have everything! -Courtney Green

  5. mediaphiles says:

    I love this conversation. My mom was the second female District Attorney in Georgia (in 1993!!! How crazy is that!) and is pretty much just an overall bad-ass attorney, but shows like Scandal really frustrate her. I think it’s great to have a woman (especially a woman of color) as the lead, and I love Olivia Pope, but my mom feels like her character is just not an accurate reflection of working women. When my mom was appointed DA, she was newly married AND pregnant with me– she really had the best of both worlds. It feels like this kind of pigeonholing happens frequently to powerful female characters.

    -Callie Sartain

  6. mediaphiles says:

    All too often, society attempts to shape the roles of women. In this day and age, women are encouraged to become educated and get jobs, however, we also face the obstacle of balancing our work lives and our personal/love lives. Shows like Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy, and How To Get Away With Murder all use female characters as their lead roles depicting them as the badass scandal fixers, surgeons, and lawyers, however, in each show, their personal lives and love lives are in shambles. In Scandal, we see Olivia Pope struggling to choose between Jake and Fitz, and constantly looking for approval from her judgmental father. Grey’s Anatomy includes various characters like Meredith, Christina, and Izzie who each deal with difficult and sometimes-failed relationships, and How To Get Away With Murder revolves around Annalise, and the murder of her cheating and abusive husband. Hollywood lacks shows that depict strong female characters winning in the working world while also having a successful love life. This is probably partly due to the fact that these are television shows, and they need to find some way of building a story and/or a character in order to keep the audience entertained, but why can’t we see some examples out there in Hollywood of females successfully balancing the two? Shows like these attempt to shape society’s perception of women as having either/or, but not both. And why not both? It would be nice to see a show attempt to break these societal expectations.

  7. mediaphiles says:

    I’ve decided to make it my goal to sing the praises of BoJack Horseman as often as I possibly can in this blog. I’m writing my book chapter on the show’s depiction of depression, which happens to be what has received the most attention from critics, but the show does so much else really well too. Women in the workplace is one of them. Two of the main characters, Diane and Princess Carolyn, engage with the work-or-personal-life dichotomy in different ways. But Princess Carolyn probably comes the closest to these Olivia Pope and Ally McBeal -type characters (I’m assuming at least, I haven’t seen either show). She is a highly successful talent agent but seems to always put work ahead of everything else and can’t quite manage a personal relationship. Much of her arc throughout the series focuses on her discovering how to have both and why she’s had trouble with her personal life in the past. In a way the show presents the trope and then gradually breaks it, exposing its flaws. For this reason and countless others, everyone should watch it.

    –Kevin Pabst

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