Is Scott and Bailey the most sexist show on TV?

David Brown looks at the gender politics at play in Sally Wainwright's hit ITV drama

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If you’re a man on Scott & Bailey, there are three options open to you: idiot, stalker or killer. Don’t believe me? Well, in the manner of DCI Murray, let’s have a case conference and examine the evidence:

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There’s Pete, the constable caught with his kecks around his ankles in a pub car park. Then we have Nick the barrister, former boyfriend of Rachel who tried to have her killed. Creepy Andy who ruined Janet’s marriage. Rachel’s brother Dom who ended up in jail for killing Nick the barrister. And don’t get me started on the bloke with the graveyard under his floorboards. The whole thing’s a not-so-merry-go-round of fecklessness and murder.

Pure sexism, you may well cry. Especially when we have Scott and Bailey themselves being portrayed in a consistently sympathetic light while all around them swirls this morass of corrupt men.

But, then again, perhaps it’s about time. For years, TV crime drama has treated women as either conquests or shackles to be exploited or ignored. Look at the boys from The Sweeney, who spent the ‘70s snaring birds between their brown bedsheets. Or Inspector Tom Barnaby who, two decades later, was forever leaving Joyce high and dry at the dinner table while he went to look at the body of another Midsomer resident pinioned to a croquet lawn. Worst of all was Fitz from Cracker, the gambler and booze hound who ran wife Judith ragged. It’s not exactly been a level playing field.

There’s also the fact that the North has a knack for presenting femininity as seen through the eyes of masculinity in the work of writers like Tony Warren, Roy Clarke and Willy Russell. These are the chaps who created battleaxes Ena Sharples and Nora Batty, flighty pieces such as Elsie Tanner, tarts with a heart like Julie Walters in Educating Rita. With Scott and Bailey, there is a sense that creator Sally Wainwright is reclaiming this territory by showing credible, smart women who aren’t afraid to slap the handcuffs on the opposite sex.

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Yet as series three draws to a close, there is a yearning to see things tip back a bit the other way. For instance, was there any real need to have Janet Scott unapologetically pinch the backside of Sgt Rob Waddington in last week’s episode? It felt both gratuitous and out of character. Harassment under the guise of redressing the balance. Just when we get a capable male detective in the squad room, he gets emasculated in full view of his colleagues. Could it be that in accusing Scott & Bailey of being sexist, we actually have it bang to rights?