MURDER & MOTHERHOOD

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Submitted Date 08/09/2020
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Detective Annie Redford leans over the corpse of a young man who apparently plummeted to his death at the foot of a cliff. She uses the end of a pen to move aside the body's shirt sleeves and reveals telltale signs of bondage. This man was bound by the wrists! It was no accident, it was murder! It's the very first murder case for local detective Redford, who is intelligent, observant, and capable. She is, of course, also slender and pretty, but not overly makeuped and practically dressed. I'd settled into watching The Loch, hoping for a really good, absorbing crime drama. I was starting to get into it when the show revealed that Redford's home life is a mess. Her teenage daughter is a brat who constantly contradicts Redford and muddies the investigation. Her husband complains that she's never around. What started out as a promising story quickly turned into me rolling my eyes at yet another television trope.

I've been absorbing British crime dramas lately like they're in danger of going extinct. A lot of them feature a female protagonist, but a lot of them also present that character as a woman who's great at her job and a failure as a wife and mother. Over and over again, I see this same tired flaw given to women investigators. Marcella, Happy Valley, Hinterland, and Vera all seem to follow this trend and that's only the British examples. American crime dramas are full of the same. Why can't a woman be a great cop and a decent mom at the same time? And hey, maybe it is hard to juggle crime-fighting and raising kids at the same time. But, why do we only see this precarious balance when it's a female character?

There's a scene in episode one (or maybe two) of The Loch where DCI Lauren Quigley (Siobhan Finneran, Downton Abbey) asks DS Annie Redford (Laura Fraser, Breaking Bad) if she's a cop or a mother. It's very clear that, in the world of television crime drama, no woman can be both.

There are two exceptions I can think of to this rule:

One is Gillian Anderson's character, Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson, in the show The Fall who is not a mother or a flawed wife. She's smart, sexually active, and doesn't really give a damn who's around to talk about it. She is, of course, stunningly gorgeous too. But, not even Gibson is free from sexual harassment and questions about her validity as a woman. Her competence is constantly called into question not because she's a bad investigator, but because she's female. She can't just be really smart, she has to be sexy too.

The other is Aaron Hotchner, played by Thomas Gibson in Criminal Minds. He's the only male investigator I can think of who struggles with his home life the same way as most of these female detectives do. His constant absences from family activities creates tension and eventual separation from his wife. But, I can't help wondering, didn't she know he was an FBI agent when she married him? Was she laboring under the delusion that he'd be home for supper every night? Doesn't she grasp the concept that hunting serial killers might be slightly more important than shopping for back-to-school supplies?

Can we please have a female detective that's just great at her job without having to drag her home life, or lack of one, into it? Can she wear practical footwear, examine corpses, and have a beer without having to justify why she's single or not mother of the year? Could she potentially be a stellar detective without having to be masculine?

If you've seen Marcella, did you notice that once her family life falls completely apart, she's suddenly in tight skirts and bright red lipstick? It's as if she's either a hot mess of an unkempt mother or a sexy femme fatale. These are the two choices she has as a female character in a crime drama. Actually, there is another role - a corpse. But, she'd have to be a sexy corpse because men only victimize attractive women, right?

I haven't finished watching The Loch yet and I will finish. Despite its flaws, I enjoy the story. But, it annoys me the way the talented detective holds back. She's smart, but she's mousey, tentative, and doesn't stand up for herself. It takes a male character to take notice of her skills for her to be reinstated to the case after her daughter screws things up for her. Her boss, Quigley, is a take-charge, no BS character who's not entirely unfair to Redford - even she has to nearly constantly rebuff the consulting forensic psychologist who, though he may be her ex-lover, has to remind us all that Quigley is a sexual commodity.

I don't know any real-life detectives, female or otherwise. I wouldn't know where to find one outside of a police department and even if I did, there's no reason for us to strike up a conversation (unless, god forbid, I get into trouble). But, I'd be willing to bet there are certain similarities between them and their fictional counterparts. It's not a stretch to think they have to deal with harassment from their male colleagues, arguments with their domestic partners, or feel the need to justify their positions simply because of their gender.

In the idealized world of television though, you'd think a gal could catch a break.

 

Read more on this topic:

Married To The Job (TV Tropes) https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MarriedToTheJob

BBC's "The Fall" Takes On Violence Against Women (Literally, Darling) https://www.literallydarling.com/blog/2015/02/20/bbcs-the-fall-takes-on-violence-against-women/

She's a Genius At Work, A Hot Mess At Home (Dame Magazine) https://www.damemagazine.com/2014/05/19/shes-genius-work-hot-mess-home/

Between Victimhood and Power: The Female Detectives of Television's Crime Dramas (The Los Angeles Review of Books) https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/between-victimhood-and-power-watching-the-female-detectives-of-televisions-crime-dramas/


 

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