Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Feminists Go to the Movies, part 2: The Angry Feminist Crime Drama "Scott and Bailey"


I probably watch as much British television as I watch American television.  I watch the sketch comedy shows, the sitcoms, the comedy panel shows, the police dramas, the interview shows, the sci-fi shows, the travel shows, and the documentary shows.  Now that I think of it, I probably watch more British shows than American shows.  I love British television.  Well, let me add an asterisk to that last sentence.

I love British television. *

* Except for Scott & Bailey

I recently came across the Manchester-based crime drama Scott and Bailey.  I found myself so irritated by the show that I could not bear to watch it for more than 25 minutes.  This is exactly the strained and bitter type of entertainment that you can expect to be produced by Bechdel test-loving feminists. 

The idea for the series came about as actors Suranne Jones and Sally Lindsay were sipping wine at a pub.  Jones explained, "We were talking about how it’d be great to have a female-led programme that wasn’t wife-of, sidekick-to, mother-of, mistress-to… all that kind of stuff."  They started to talk about Cagney and Lacey and thought it would be great to star in a series about two woman who were homicide detectives.  Television producer Nicola Shindler liked the female detectives idea and had the series developed by writers Sally Wainwright and Diane Taylor. 

Scott and Bailey's production has been dominated by women for its entire five-year run.  This could have been an opportunity to provide female perspective on career, family and crime.  But, for the last five years, the series' all-women creative team has worked hard to mostly produce a relentless stream of male-bashing.

The attacks on men have not gone unnoticed by the critics.  This is a passage that I found on the series' Wikipedia page.
One of the more persistent criticisms of the show. . . has been its indifferent or decidedly negative depiction of male characters. Tim Oglethorpe, reviewing the first series in the Daily Mail, wrote that "the men often appear to be feckless, devious or dangerous". . . Dianne Butler, who reviewed the programme upon its airing in Australia, made a similar point, questioning the relevance of the show's male characters: "there are some men in this but they're fairly incidental."  The Guardian's John Crace expressed his belief that most of the programme's male characters are deficient in some way, writing: "surely it must be possible to make a show with women lead characters without having to make every male a complete dork?  From Janet's useless husband and Rachel's idiot brother who can't boil an egg without burning down the kitchen."
This was not the first time that Crace had written about the portrayal of men in the series.  When the series first debuted, he remarked, "At home, at work, they’re either evil sexist pigs and homophobes, or dull brainless snoring twits.  Couldn’t there be just one reasonable male character?" 

Wainwright resented Crace's comments.  She said, "I don’t think the men on our show are weak.  I think the point is that we’re not concentrating on the men; we’re concentrating on the women."

The problem isn't that Scott and Bailey doesn't concentrate on men.  The problem is the series concentrates on men in a negative way.  David Brown of Radio Times wrote:
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: 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.
Keep in mind that I only watch 25 minutes of the show.  How much male-bashing could I have seen in 25 minutes?  A lot.

First let me say that it is only the white men who receive the scorn of these women.  The series is very friendly to people of color regardless of gender.  Black men and black women are featured prominently, frequently and respectfully in the series.


The murders in Manchester are entirely solved by dedicated, grim-faced women.  The few white men who are around sit at the sidelines acting like contemptible fools.  Tom Sutcliffe of Independent wrote, "Scott & Bailey, it is becoming increasingly clear, actually takes place in an alternative universe, broadly indistinguishable from the one its viewers occupy but given away by one significant inversion.  In our universe senior police officers are mostly men.  In theirs it looks as if promotion exclusively favours women. . . The glass ceiling appears to have been simply willed out of existence here. . ."


Jones, who drives most of the action, looks horribly grim in every frame of the show.  This is not at all how the actress presents herself when she attends social functions or shows up to photo shoots.  But this is an image that she is made to present in the series.  Being a strong, independent woman is no laughing matter.

I read that the show toned down its sexism in response to the criticism that the show received in its first two seasons.  So, this episode that I watched is a watered-down version of the series' brand of sexism.  That is hard to believe. 

Detective Inspector Rachel Bailey (Jones) has two white male subordinates: DC Pete Readyough (Tony Mooney) and DC Ian Mitchell (David Prosho).  Readyough is shown to be slacking off and stuffing his face in the middle of a murder investigation.  Bailey sticks her head out of her office to unbraid him.  "Get some work done, Pete!" she barks.  This is a man who has just gotten his nut sack torn off.

During a meeting, Bailey sees that someone drew the outline of Mickey Mouse's head on a map of the murder case sites.  She assumes that this joke was the work of Readyough and Mitchell.  She tosses the map at them like a teacher chucking chalk at naughty schoolboys.  The detectives respond predictably with an outburst of childish giggling.


Mitchell loses his day-planner, which falls into the hands of a journalist and allows information from the police investigation to be leaked to the press.  Bailey becomes so angry at Mitchell that she screams at him in public.

Wait, it goes on even longer.

She hasn't beaten up this poor guy enough.

The man, as this last screen capture makes clear, is left to feel useless.


I made a lot more screen captures of this scene.  The best way to study the scene and understand the severity of Bailey's castigation of Mitchell may be to view the screen captures in a slide show format.

Bailey reassigns Mitchell in the investigation because, she says, she "can't stand to look at him."  He is killed the next day while trying to apprehend a murder suspect.  Men are, in this alternate universe, useless and disposable.

The Bechdel test is truly honored in this episode.  You have many instances in the scant 25 minutes in which women speak to one another affectionately, intimately and respectfully.  Never do they ever speak of a man. . . unless, of course, the man is a murderer.

The two female detectives both live in men-free homes.  Detective Constable Janet Scott (Lesley Sharp) lives with her daughter Taisie (Harriet Waters) and her elderly mother Dorothy (Judith Barker).  In this scene, Dorothy admits to watching a lot of Internet porn, which is supposed to mean that she is sexually liberated and deserves our praise and admiration.

You have to know that these women are kick-ass.  DC Anna Ram (Jing Lusi) easily overpowers a brawny male suspect even though she is only 5' 3" tall.

A "Fuck motherhood!" decree is delivered at the 16-minute mark.

In television, it is presented as the ultimate sign of female empowerment when a woman renounces motherhood.  It just happened in an episode of Game of Thrones ("The Red Woman," April 24, 2016).  Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) defiantly proclaims that she has no intention of ever bearing children.

Those people who hear her say this are appalled and they accuse Daenerys of being a witch, but the young woman doesn't react as if being called a witch bothers her.

Another female character in the episode, Melisandre, is an actual traditional witch (although they call her a "priestess").  It is clear that men fear and admire this spell-casting woman for her great power.  Melisandre burns alive a child as a sacrifice to her fire god R'hilor ("The Dance of the Dragons," 2015).  She burns a baby to death in the book series.  The connection with female empowerment and child-murdering witches will be discussed in my next article.  The point is that the witch has become a role model.

Princess Shireen Baratheon (Kerry Ingram) is tied to a stake on Melisandre's instructions.


We have here, presented as entertainment, an angry, deranged feminist fantasy world.  It is not too entertaining.

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