Much of the TV I grew up watching dealt heavily in feminist themes. I was addicted to “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” before I turned 10 and Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom” (yes, I’ve always loved journalism content) had a slew of powerful (albeit poorly-written) women.
Despite this early exposure to progressive television, it wasn’t until I was 16 years old and watching reruns of “Veep” when I finally heard the quote that perfectly summed up what it’s like to be a woman today. It came from Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ character, Selina Meyer.
“No, no, no, I can’t identify as a woman!” She screamed in frustration. “People can’t know that. Men hate that. And women who hate women hate that, which, I believe, is most women.”
In “Veep,” an HBO comedy series that just began its final season, “Seinfeld” alum Louis-Dreyfus plays a woefully incompetent U.S. vice president (or “veep”) who just happens to be female. Her gender is not the focus of the show, nor is it a guiding moral, nor is it a political statement. For the most part, it plays almost no role in the show’s plot.
Until it does, and then it hits you like a ton of bricks.
In one such instance, Meyer gets called the c-word by someone (well, as it turns out, everyone) in her cabinet. In another, she is groped by a politician’s husband. These are issues that a male politician would not face, but they are not the whole show. They happen, they’re dealt with and they essentially disappear from view. So is life, and so is being a woman.
Meyer is an antihero. While she is the protagonist, her morals are questionable at best. We shouldn’t sympathize with her, but we do. She is — and I am prepared to be raked over hot coals for this opinion — a female Don Draper.
Draper cheats and lies. He is generally a lousy father and often pretty sexist. And despite all this, there are thousands of men who not only adore Draper, but actually want to be him. Audiences actively rally around him with a forgiveness that female characters are rarely afforded.
I am not denying the genius that is “Mad Men.” Don Draper is a well-written character with realistic flaws. He’s a believable 1960s ad man. But women in television rarely get to play such morally complex roles where they’re not expected to be either heroes or villains. In this way, “Veep” is a trailblazer.
We as audience members are so quick to excuse male characters for their shortcomings. A man who is a bad father but a great executive can still be something of a hero, where a woman with similar traits is often written off. But not in “Veep,” where Meyer being a terrible mother is a running joke.
I should probably clarify that I do not want all women to ignore their children and abandon their morals in the name of empowerment (though you certainly will accuse me of such, you crazy commenters!). But in the name of artistic representation, not all male characters are perfect or evil, so why should all female characters be?
Ignoring the veep’s gender would give the false and idealistic impression of a gender-blind society that does not exist, while making her gender the focus of the show would feed into the concept that female professionals cannot have value beyond being female. “Veep” is the perfect blend, acknowledging that women are as complex as men are while showing the unique obstacles they face.
Louis-Dreyfus is not the first relatable feminist comedian or comedy actress. Marlo Thomas got the ball rolling in TV with “That Girl,” and Sarah Silverman’s standup expertly addresses women’s issues while branching into historically male blue comedy territory. “Veep” is revolutionary because it blends every aspect of being a woman while reaching for success into a hilarious comedy.
“Veep” is the pinnacle of gender equality in comedy — a realistic story about a realistic vice president who is also a woman. And it’s exactly as relatable now as it was when I binge-watched it at age 16.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.