Rise up, sisters! The campaign for real women on TV starts here

Where are the TV heroines and females we can look up to, asks Alison Graham


I was aware when watching Prisoners’ Wives (Tuesday BBC1) of a curious static buzzing in my brain, a kind of white noise that only I could hear. Setting aside neurological damage it could be only one thing, that aural tic I get whenever I watch TV dramas about plucky women who have to put on a brave face when their lives are ruined by men. 


Actually, I enjoyed Prisoners’ Wives, but though it’s a female-centric drama, there are no proper heroines; it’s just another group of women lumped together to be seen only through the prism of flawed masculinity, in this case, criminal and incarcerated husbands. 

I don’t want to get all Andrea Dworkin here, but come on, where are the TV heroines and females we can look up to? It’s 2012 but women are still being presented as if they should be sitting in the parlour knitting eggcup cosies as they wait by the newly black-leaded range for their menfolk to return home from the shipyards. 

Which chimes with my theory about why Downton Abbey was so successful, because women knew their place back then and were expected to jolly well stay put. People like that. 

Come on, think about it. Doctor Who has a woman assistant. An assistant, as if he runs a garage and needs someone to answer the phones and book the MOTs (all while wearing a teeny-tiny skirt). 

In Sherlock it’s the two boys, with Irene Adler a nigh-on peerless master criminal who gets her kit off, falls in love with our ascetic sleuth then is rescued by him from death. Swoon…..my hero! In the original story from 1891, A Scandal in Bohemia, she was tough and clever and she DID NOT flash her norks to try to unman our hero. 

Scott & Bailey were good cops. They should simply have been allowed to be just that, good cops. But oh no, one of them was brought emotionally low by a fella and the other one was shot by a man. In Shameless the women are hard-nosed and devious but exist only to outwit slow-witted males. 

Then there’s that long list of we’re-all-girls-together-and-we’ve-had-a-roughtime- with-blokes bubblegum dramas: Hope Springs, Personal Affairs, Candy Cabs, Sugartown. I still wake up screaming. 

We know the Danes can do it – The Killing’s Sarah Lund, Borgen’s Birgitte Nyborg: clever women who are allowed simply to be clever women – why can’t we? 

I know we try, but when we do get a heroine she isn’t any FUN (the drear Dr Eve Lockhart in The Body Farm. No gallows humour there). Or she has “demons” ie variations of “men” and “drink” (Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect, even Sandra in New Tricks). 

Good women characters can’t just be. Hell’s teeth, even when she’s the captain of a submersible (Minnie Driver in the terrible The Deep) her watery command was compromised by lurve. 

My favourite British TV drama heroine of recent years was Kierston Wareing as Honey in The Shadow Line. But by the end it emerged even she danced to a man’s tune. Still, she was kick-ass and fought dirty. 


So don’t expect any dramas any time soon about female armed robbers (though there’s one about male armed robbers on Inside Men on BBC1 this Thursday). Oh no, you can’t trust a woman to blast open a safe – she’s too busy crying into her flowery Cath Kidston hankie as Miss You Nights plays on her iPod.