Crime dramas are shown on Australian televisions daily and can be viewed during the most competitive time slots at prime time nightly. I will be focusing on gender roles in crime dramas in relation to the critically acclaimed programme True Detective and programmes with strong female police figures. Crime drama television shows essentially follow police officers investigating a crime and arresting the perpetrator.
The issue of gender roles in crime dramas have been present since the introduction of the genre in the 1940s. The genre is notoriously masculine due to its focus on a mainly male dominated field of work. A well known type of crime drama is the buddy cop style in which two men work to fight crime in a macho duo. True Detective created by Nic Pizzolatto is a contemporary approach to the buddy cop style of crime drama however the serial narrative results in complex characters who differ from the typical buddy cop style of crime drama.
The main characters in True Detective; Russ Cohle and Marty Hart are flawed in various ways. Despite their weaknesses, Cohle and Harts flaws only serve to make them more heroic. This is unlike the main female character, Hart’s wife Maggie who never gets the chance to develop as a character and have an impact on the storyline. This selection of character involvement can be understood as the portrayal of Southern American culture in 1995. However it is the choice of Pizzolatto to portray women in such belittling ways such as Maggie as a minor character, Hart’s mistress as desperate and the many victims and prostitutes as lesser humans than the male police officers.
This depiction of a police investigation and the dynamics of a police department is vastly different to that of current crime drama series Castle in which Detective Kate Beckett is a strong and successful police officer working for the New York Police Department. While she is not the main character of the programme, the title character Richard Castle is surrounded by strong women in the show including Beckett as well as Castle’s mother and his daughter. Castle is a good example of how women can be portrayed in crime drama television. Similarly The Mentalist takes on this style of police procedural where Patrick Jane is the main character but Detective Lisbon stars as a female lead who is successful and strong willed. Criminologist Dorie Klein argues that a female centric crime drama genre “offers progressive images of strong independent women engaged in a quest for truth and justice”. She explains that these women do not conform to “mainstream definitions of social justice” and as a result these programmes represent issues relatable to women making the crime genre more enticing for females.
Gray Cavender and Nancy C. Jurik identified that crime dramas with a strong female focus feature plot lines that involve more social problems and uncover corrupt social systems. Similarly plots often address relevant issues women face in the workplace such as females having relations of parity with men. This is portrayed all throughout the series of Castle with Detective Beckett always presented as an equal within the male dominated police department.
However shows such as Castle, Bones and the tele-movie Prime Suspect do not contribute to the argument that success in work life results in suffering in personal life. Despite the general purpose of these programmes being solving crimes, there is always an underlying storyline of a love story or a family drama. In both Bones and Castle the two main male and female characters spend multiple seasons in romantic limbo before they eventually start a relationship. At which point the underlying storyline works to tear the two apart. Likewise in Prime Suspect, Detective Tennison achieves success by solving a major case but the consequence of this is her partner leaving her. These kinds of portrayals continue to support a gender stereotype in crime drama that women need more than career success to have meaningful lives. Furthermore the continuous story lines focusing on the female lead finding love further contributes to the crime drama genres need for a masculine figure in the show to ‘protect’ the female lead.
Cavender, G & Jurik, N.C 1998, Jane Tennison and the Feminist Police Procedural, Violence Against Women, vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 10-29.
Wizard’s Blog 2009, Castle – Interesting gender roles new police procedural TV series, Wizard’s Blog, viewed 27 October 2015, <http://www.wizardstower.co.uk/wordpress/2009/04/22/castle-interesting-gender-roles-in-new-police-procedural-tv-series/>
Feasey, R 2008, Masculinity and Popular Television, 1st edn, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh.
Browbeat 2014, True Detective Does Have a Woman Problem. That’s Partly Why People Love It, Browbeat, viewed 27 October 2015, <http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2014/03/10/true_detective_has_a_woman_problem_yes_and_that_s_partly_why_people_love.html>