Fighting with the Sky

Why It Sucks to be a Woman…On 24

Posted on: February 16, 2010

Last week, Melissa at Women & Hollywood was kind enough to cross post my post on the rape culture presented by the show 24.  In conjunction, she also linked to a post from EW on the role women are playing in this season of 24.  This post made me realize (one of) the reason(s) I am not liking this season as much as previous ones.

24 is now in it’s 8th season.  I’ve known from the beginning that it really is the “Jack Bauer Show” and no one better get in the way of that.  But despite that fact, there have been some representations of strong women in the past seasons.  Nina was pretty kick ass…even if it was in an evil way.  Audrey was also pretty cool.  Chloe has pretty much been my favorite character since she came into the show.  And even Renee was pretty strong when she was introduced last season.  But this season, it really does suck to be a woman on 24.

Chloe has been a technical analyst on the show since 2003.  She’s incredibly intelligent, is better than all the guys (until now) when it comes to computers (which is rare in media representation), and she always offers honest, witty, funny comments on the events of the show.  I used to love when she was on screen.  She usually made the scene.  She’s one of the few people that Jack actually trusts, and for good reason…she’s pretty awesome.  But this season, she has not been as awesome…

After leaving CTU, she’s back because he husband got fired and she needed a job to support the family.  But apparently technology has changed since she left.  In the first couple episodes, she is constantly being yelled at by the new director for being behind.  I, personally, find it hard to believe that Chloe doesn’t know the most recently technology.  And now, because she’s not as up-to-date, she has to depend on one of the other analysts, Arlo.  Things are getting a little better as the season moves on for Chloe.  She had a little more screen time this week.  But Arlo has pretty much taken the place of Chloe in terms of technology and witty comments.  He’s now the one that’s always in other people’s business.  When it was Chloe, it was because she was concerned about the mission and cared about the people around her (even if she wouldn’t admit it), but Arlo only does it because he is in love with Dana.

And speaking of Dana…  Dana is one of the new characters this season played by Katee Sackoff (of Battlestar Galactica).  She is also an analyst at CTU.  Now, I didn’t start watching Battlestar Galactica until after this season of 24 had started (please no spoilers, I’m only on season 2).  But I had heard a lot about the expectations of Katee Sackoff, and I definitely understand now that I’ve started BSG.  Sackoff’s character on that show was pretty kick ass in an all-around, general way.  But Dana is a push-over.  I didn’t like the character at the start of the season and I really don’t like her now that I have seen what Katee Sackoff is capable of.

Dana is haunted by her past indiscretions…quite literally.  An ex-boyfriend, that she committed some kind of felony with, is out of jail and blames Dana for him being there.  So he gets her to help him and a buddy steal a bunch of money.  She just lets this guy walk all over her and even commits a crime again for him.  She wants so desperately to keep her past hidden that she will do anything.  And we are meant to believe (after this week’s episode) that she is going to shoot this ex-boyfriend and his buddy.  Dana is just portrayed as a push-over and desperate.  Not really a great combination.

And speaking of desperate, let’s get to Renee.  Renee was introduced last season as a FBI agent working with Jack Bauer.  She wasn’t my favorite character, but she was a pretty strong woman at most points.  But, at the end of last season, she takes a page from Jack’s book and tortures a suspect (at least, that’s what we’re meant to believe) and leaves the FBI.  Since then, she regrets what she’s done and doesn’t think that she has anything to live for anymore.  We are informed that she had previously tried to commit suicide and asks someone to shoot her during the season (used as a tool to get this person to believe her, but we are meant to believe that she would have been perfectly happy if he had pulled the trigger).

Renee was the focus of my post on rape culture in 24, because she was raped this season while undercover, but the show will not present it in this way.  After this rape and a beating, she stabs her attacker.  Sounds like self-defense, right?  But the show is treating it as some sort of mental snap that has no connection to the fact that this man raped and beat her.  The show seems desperate to portray her as crazy.  All the men on the show (except, possibly, for Jack) see her as crazy and kind of at fault for losing their lead (her attacker).  Because of this treatment, Renee also blames herself for Jack’s subsequent capture and the loss of a lead.  I won’t go into this story line anymore because I did have a whole post dedicated to it and it still really pisses me off.  So…read it here if you are interested.

And then there’s President Allison Taylor (played by Cherry Jones).  She is the last main female character of the show.  She is the first female president (in the show, seeing as how the U.S. has never had a female president).  She was introduced last season as well, and she was a pretty good president, especially under pressure.  But this season, she just seems to be falling apart as her peace deal is.  Her time on screen has been reduced to phone calls to powerful men who kind of push her around (the IR prime minister — I think it’s supposed to be Iran — and the director of CTU).  I’ve been disappointed with her character this season as well.

As a commenter over at Women & Hollywood points out, the fact that 24 has zero women writers speaks loudly to their treatment of rape this season.  But I think that also translates into the treatment of the female characters as a whole this season.  I would be interested to know if 24 has ever had women writers working on previous seasons, or if they have never really had women writers.  I mean, women have never really played a great role in 24, but there have been some few examples throughout the seasons.  This season, all the women are weak or push-overs or crazy.

I think a good step in addressing 24‘s “woman problem” (as the EW post references it as) could easily be addressed if there were more women writers in the room.  It can’t just be one or two women, because then there is a likelihood that their voice(s) wouldn’t really get heard in the room full of men.  There needs to be a decent percentage of women on the writing team.  Not all women are going to be well-versed in what constitutes rape or not, for example, but I think that creating more well-rounded female characters would happen if there were simply more women in the room with a voice.

3 Responses to "Why It Sucks to be a Woman…On 24"

I was pleased when I saw even was picking up on this. You’re probably right about female writers being needed. Isn’t Mad Men’s success in creating interesting female characters credited to having women on the writing staff?

While having a woman on the writing team doesn’t necessarily guarantee that a woman’s point of view is going to be added to the show, it is definitely a step in the right direction. And having NO women on the writing team is definitely going to make it MUCH HARDER to include a woman’s POV.

I haven’t kept up with previous seasons, but I agree with your comments on this season (I think I’ve seen all the episodes so far). The Dana storyline is so annoying hubby (the one who watches the show religiously) fast-forwards through her scenes.

Last night I read your post on the Renee-rape episode and I asked hubby about it; he said the problem with Renee’s reaction was that she killed Vladimir with the first stab to the eye — that was self-defense. The problem was that she kept stabbing him over and over after he was already dead. That’s the part that will be seen as “mentally unstable” and where she’ll get in trouble.

I can kind of accept that reasoning (at least more than I can the “she should have kept her cool because she was on assignment” bullcrap) — I can see their thinking, because she’s supposed to be an FBI agent and yadda yadda so she should have shown more self-control after she killed him/eliminated the threat. It still won’t fly with me because she was NOT still an agent, she had been out of training and out of the FBI for however much time passed between seasons, and she was in an emotionally delicate place to begin with (and she was sent in to deal with a man who had already abused her). Jack kept saying he did not want her to go because she was not ready for it, so how can you blame her for not being ready for it? She got them the info they needed anyway, she put up with Vladimir long enough to get the info they needed.

The CTU director needs to fall down a well and stay there. He was screwed up several things in the four(?) episodes they’ve had so far. He’s really getting on my nerves. (And I don’t even watch the show…)

I never could get into 24 but great post and assessment. I watched maybe one season. Wasn’t it only supposed to last ONE season? That made it a novelty and I’m not a fan of Keifer Sutherland, never have been. But I do/did like the character of Chloe and it’s disappointing to hear that in her return they have dumbed her down in a sense. Katee Sackoff is pretty cool. Too bad about HER character as well.

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