Media Portrayals Part 2: Women in Leadership


leader woman with men groupThe previous discussion regarded depictions of working mothers in film and television. But what about women in leadership roles generally speaking? What does that look like? Well, there are rather fewer of these. There are many, many excellent portrayals of strong women, intelligent women, and hard-working women in every genre you can think of, and there is a recent spate of action woman films. But nuanced depictions of leadership?

It’s a far more complicated question than can be asked in an action flick. Anyone can learn to use a fire-arm or train in a martial art, but can everyone learn leadership? Let’s take a look at a few examples:

The Devil Wears Prada: The titular ‘Devil’ in this film is the editor-in-chief of a fashion magazine.  She  is  demanding, brutal, and brilliant. In the film, working for her is an enormous advantage, but a miserable experience. Pair this editor-in-chief with the Sigourney Weaver character in “Working Girl” and you begin to see a very negative caricature forming…

The Proposal: A romantic comedy in which the boss in the publishing industry is a rather controlling and discourteous woman played by Sandra Bullock. She is powerful and unsympathetic towards her subordinates and it is implied that she is lonely and unfulfilled (a rom-com trope for women in high-pressure jobs, actually).

James Bond: With Dame Judy Dench as “M” we get to see the trend in which the older a woman is, the likelier it is that her role as a leader will be taken seriously. Though one could argue about the value of the character and the absurdity of James Bond plots vis-à-vis women, this role gives gravitas and intelligence to the leader “M.” There is both the professional and the matronly in her.

Suits: Perhaps one of the more intriguing portrayals of a woman in leadership. Gina Torres plays powerful, intelligent law-firm co-founder and manager Jessica Pearson. While brutally practical, she is not caricaturized as most women in such a position are. One intriguing feature of this leader is the fact that she knows how to pick the most talented people to work with. She knows who to employ and how.

In conclusion? A villain. A dissatisfied loner. A wise older woman. And a fierce powerhouse. No doubt an analysis of male bosses in media would produce a similar list of types. But what do these types indicate? What does this say about perceptions of women in leadership? More importantly, what does it say of the facts?


© Women’s Empowerment Initiative.  All Rights Reserved.