Mere hours after
"Good luck finding him,"
"Who said anything about a 'him'?" Varys replied.
If Clinton loses this election, it will not be television's fault. Many things have changed since she lost the Democratic Party nomination to Barack Obama in 2008, but few more pointedly than scripted television's relationship with women. Where once rare enough to be remarked upon, with inevitable comparisons to "Maude" or "Prime Suspect's" Jane Tennison, female leads now abound, many correcting the double standards that have historically kept women from positions of power.
As a controversial American personality, Clinton has directly affected the creation and narrative course of several series. On
Less generously, the nakedly ambitious Frank and Claire Underwood (Kevin Spacey and
Either way, these shows are but tremors of a much bigger non-Clinton-specific event. From Westeros to the White House, female characters are in power, and no one within the narrative universe or the television audience thinks it's a big deal.
On the recently concluded
On the opposite end of the digital and tonal spectrum, Claire Underwood spent the latest season of "House of Cards'" coming to grips with the fact that being married to power is not the same as having power. "Scandal" remains a weekly soap-operatic aria to the similar frustrations of powerful women (including a cuckolded first lady) kept one step removed from the Oval Office. On the other hand, "Veep's" Selina Meyer (
And those are just the overtly political roles. Elsewhere, television abounds with women calling the shots in a variety of arenas.
HBO's "Game of Thrones" is as much feminist primer as fantasy epic; on FX, Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell), the female half of "The Americans," is just as dedicated and competent a spy as her husband. For much of AMC's "Walking Dead," Michonne (Danai Gurira) has matched Norman Reedus' beloved Daryl in warrior status, while Carol (Melissa McBride) has transformed from abused wife to post-apocalyptic strategist (scheme softly and carry a big knife). Even the iconic title of
Compare this with the television landscape of 2008. The first series about a female president, the Geena Davis vehicle "Commander in Chief," had bombed previously, and a few scattered stars like
On the Big Four, scripted series, with a few notable ensemble exceptions (
In fact, as the 2008 presidential campaign heated up, many pointed to "24's" David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert), as well as
The NBC series, a half-hour comedy built around a straight woman and a gay man, did as much if not more in the fight against civil injustice and homophobia than any march or protest. It certainly helped prepare this country for the only recently unthinkable legalization of gay marriage.
Like a mirror doing double duty as a firestarter, television tends to both reflect and catalyze social change, and the increase of strong and complicated female characters is no exception. There has been a big shift in attitude since GOP presidential nominee John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008 on the daft assumption that even a barely vetted female partner would automatically bring him female votes.
Issues including rape, domestic abuse, gender exclusion and pay equity are once again hot topics — April 14 was the second-annual Equal Pay Day, marking how far into the next year a woman must work to earn what her male colleagues did the previous year. As high-end professionals like Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg offer women (often-controversial) advice on "making it," women are once again counting heads in boardrooms, newsrooms and representative bodies like Congress.
Characters like Alicia Florrick, Bess McCord, Daenerys Targaryen and Selina Meyer remain, like the women who play them, well within Hollywood's narrow definition of beauty; they, like their real-life counterparts, increasingly speak out against the unrealistic expectations successful women still face, especially regarding the traditional feminine yardsticks: motherhood and appearance.
While "Parks and Recreation" began with Leslie Knope continually railing against the "old boys club" and pointing out instances in which she was the first or only woman, those sorts of story lines are all but extinct these days. A female leader is rarely if ever remarked upon, and though many characters still face sexism, it is most often of a more subtle, non-institutionalized kind.
The challenges of balancing work and family are also acknowledged as difficult, but no longer are they cast as moral crises or insurmountable. Most important, that particular struggle is increasingly being presented as less a woman's issue and more a social one — Mom is no longer seen as the primary caregiver by default; husbands are depicted as supportive, participatory mates and parents while still remaining masculine.
None of which means that Hillary Clinton will, or should, become our next president. She has been a long-standing player in what has become one the most divisive eras of American politics. She enters the race with a lot of baggage, both personal and political.
But America's ability to accept a female president, something that seemed questionable seven years ago, now seems moot. And judging from the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, we are more than ready.