Last week in my screenwriting class we watched an episode of The West Wing. I hadn’t ever seen the show before but have heard people raving about it for years. I liked the episode and the general topic the show covered so I decided to continue watching on my own. I love House of Cards and Scandal so I figured I would enjoy The West Wing as well.
I’m not sure if it was my classes this semester, Donald Trump’s unrelenting misogyny or something else that sparked it, but I noticed some very subtle sexism. To preface this, I haven’t truly noticed a lot of sexism in the shows that I watch. Maybe I’ve been naive and ignorant, but it hasn’t ever been something that has stood out to me the way it did in The West Wing. Here are some examples of the sexism I noticed just in the second and third episodes alone:
- Captain Morris Tolliver is showing Leo a picture of his wife and newborn daughter. A female staff member comes up and starts scolding Leo about not keeping her in the loop about a meeting, which is a justified, professional concern. Leo hands the woman the photo of the baby and says: “Here, it’s a baby and a new mother. Look at that for a minute”. The woman immediately forgets about the meeting and goes ga-ga over the cute baby…Seriously? In the next 30 seconds, you see her walking behind Leo and Captain Tolliver to show another woman the baby picture. The way the scene played out was very insulting to the attention span and intelligence of women.
2. Sam Seaborn accidentally sleeps with a call-girl named Laurie and tries to “save her”, even though she insists that she is putting herself through law school and doesn’t need saving. Sam crashes Laurie’s work dinner and insults her 3 or 4 times in a row. He then tells her to put his jacket on because it’s cold, and she refuses. 15 seconds later she gives in and puts his jacket on. Laurie explains that Sam humiliated her and that what he did was inappropriate. His response to that is: “I guess that’s just the way it goes”. Sam tells her that he is going to be her friend and that’s she’s going to accept it, to which Laurie gives into almost immediately. She is seen as weak and malleable because she is a woman.
3. During a briefing before a press conference, the president is shouting at everyone. Leo pulls him into a private conference room to chastise him for snapping at all of his staff members. Throughout the third episode, it is mentioned that the president had been snapping at his wife, Abbey, the most. Leo’s suggestion to the president to mend his relationship with his wife is to “send her some flowers”, because apparently women don’t deserve apologies in the world of The West Wing.
I’m not really sure what to think of this show now. I like the premise and I like the characters, but I dislike how women have been portrayed so far. I googled it before writing this post because I wasn’t sure if I was crazy or not, but this article talks about how Aaron Sorkin, the lead writer, was actually very sexist:
Screengrab from The West Wing, Season 1, Episode 2: Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc