How Bones Went From Strong Women to Throwing Us All Under a Bus

GeekMom TV and Movies
Photo: Ray Mickshaw/FOX ©2011 Fox Broadcasting Co.

For seven seasons now, Bones has been one of, if not the single best example of, strong female characters on television. Two weeks ago, all that changed.

You may have heard of The Bechdel Test, which states simply that a movie passes if it has:

– Two (preferably named) women in it
– Who talk to each other
– About something besides a man

If you haven’t heard of it before, you’ll likely be surprised how hard it is to think of popular movies that qualify. And if you add a preference that they be strong, smart women, the list gets short. (You can, however, look through this list of movies to see who passes. Also see the TV Tropes page.) If you then try to move the test to TV shows, the list becomes really, incredibly short.

Bones, however, has always more than excelled. The show’s titular character is herself strong, brilliant, and exceptionally independent. She has three doctorates–anthropology, forensic anthropology, and kinesiology–and speaks seven languages, among a whole host of other fascinating skills. Her best friend and coworker, Angela, is equally strong, brilliant, and exceptionally independent, in her own ways. Add to all of that when Cam became head of the lab in season two, and it’s a show full of women talking about a whole lot more than the drama of their love lives–even though that comes up from time to time.

What, after all this time, could in one episode change the entire spirit of a show? Even if you don’t watch it, you could guess: Bones had a baby.

Two weeks ago, we left off with Bones having her baby in a barn. The next episode was a fast-forward of about six weeks to the day when the previously hyper-rational Bones returns to work. To recap what happens in this episode (spoilers, obviously):

– Bones has Booth use his FBI connections to illegally obtain the Jeffersonian’s day care director’s master’s degree transcript.
– Bones threatens to have said director fired if she doesn’t send her a picture of the baby every half-hour (because as I’m sure you’re aware, people caring for infants have nothing better to do than take and send pictures of them all day).
– Angela repeats her previous infraction of bringing and hiding her own baby in the office, which is not allowed.
– Upon discovering that Angela has already done it, Bones latches on to the idea and swears to sneak her own baby into the lab every day.
– Oh, and they solve a crime in a grocery store. Then buy organic baby wipes from said store while hauling away the criminal.

Meanwhile, Cam, who already had been vacillating between strong professional woman and neurotic mother, spent the episode entirely in neurotic mother mode, trying to prevent her 18-year-old daughter from dating one of the squinterns.

There’s already a serious lack of successful working mothers on television. How many times have you seen a joke about baby spit-up on a suit or a storyline about the mom who just can’t get it all done, sigh?

Sure, it’s better entertainment for rational, unemotional Bones now to fall apart when she has to leave her baby at day care. But read how show creator Hart Hanson recently described the current situation in a conference call with reporters:

As Stephen said, we have to contend with who’s going to take care of the baby and how is Brennan going to juggle her being a mom living with Booth–how is Booth going to juggle her and the baby and do their jobs. But they’re still doing their jobs.

How they’re going to juggle it and do their jobs? Well, let me see if I can work out how this would go in real life. Bones is exceptionally well-paid, and although Booth makes significantly less, he should be doing OK in the paycheck department as well. And they have on-site day care at work, which Booth assures her is one of the best day care centers, with a day care director who has a master’s degree in early childhood education (she struggled with her nutrition course). So to “still do their jobs,” they’re within walking distance of their baby for most of the day, can visit and feed her whenever necessary, and have plenty of resources to afford this exceptional care. It’s a rough life.

Do Hanson and the others who work on Bones have any clue how far above and beyond that is compared to what most working mothers have available to “still do their jobs”? Or how many women of childbearing age face workplace situations in which managers assume they won’t return to work or won’t be as productive after they have children? (Hello, sneaking your babies into a forensics lab.) There are laws that hold your job (some jobs) while you’re on maternity leave, and the 33-year-old Pregnancy Discrimination Act. But that doesn’t mean that motherhood–or even potential motherhood simply by being a woman of childbearing age–doesn’t lead an employer to look differently at a woman come time for promotion, raises, and career growth.

In the end, the three strongest women on television have been downgraded to the cliche of working mothers who can’t handle the combination of job and parenting. Thanks for nothing, Bones.

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11 thoughts on “How Bones Went From Strong Women to Throwing Us All Under a Bus

  1. I stopped watching Bones a few seasons ago- the emphasis was turning away from her intelligence and towards her looks when in social situations- though she still had enough brains to solve cases. I didn’t want her to be likeable- I wanted her to be her- and she’s been slipping away for a while. This is just another reason I’m glad I don’t watch it anymore.

  2. You forget that in the series that both Bones and Angela don’t need to work. Bones can live off her book royalties and Angela is married to a rich guy. They work because they love it. They can break the rules since they aren’t afraid of loosing a paying job, rather than losing a job they love. Not including the fact that it’s TV so they can get away with all of this.

  3. I thought it was pretty accurate.
    Except for the whole breaking the rules to bring the kid to work. But what new mother hasn’t wanted to do that?? Was it dumb for them to bring the babies in the lab yep to the extreme but not that far from what plenty of new moms have wanted to do.
    When you aren’t with your baby you miss them.
    Mom’s do get emotional. And I think they are just showing the Bones really is human. She’s not some android that can have babies. She does have emotions and flaws.

    1. I’m not saying I never missed my kids. But like Bones, I went back after six weeks after my first was born. There was no time when I thought, “Gee, wouldn’t it be awesome to have this baby in a file cabinet?” Because work is where I /work/. ESPECIALLY when the baby is in an on-site day care!

      I think she’s gone excessively emotional to an extent that’s out of character.

      1. I don’t think so. I turned from a never let anyone see my cry woman to crying at the drop of a hat when I had my first. I STILL get choked up when I see those blasted Folgers coffee commercials and she’s (my oldest) is 10 yrs old!
        Bones still thinks clearly and works well, she just has an emotional side added in there now. I’m interested to see where they will take it and how they will use this added depth to her character. I was terrified by the addition of she and Booth coming together but they’ve kept the working relationship intact and the show continuity intact as well. So I’m really curious how they work the baby in. It hasn’t ruined the show like putting Mulder and Scully together did.

        1. While I can see the point of this. I disagree. I like how Booth gets left out, he went along with the background check. Again so many other way worse examples of abuse of power exist on other shows it seems trivial to pick on them for using the resources they have available to make sure their kid is safe. I don’t think we will really see Bones take the baby into the workplace. I’d be really surprised. So what if the writers took the chance and made some obvious jokes. EVERY other show does it, can I forgive Bones for two episodes? Heck yes I can the trade off for 7 other seasons of fantastic writing. Beyond that I think having the on site day care makes it even more of an emotional challenge for them to not take their kids to their offices. If my kid was at another location it’d be easy for me to go I can wait, but down the hall? While I’m sitting at my desk working on a computer? Heck no, I’d have a hard time leaving the kid there. Bones was still incredibly able to keep work and the baby separate, she was still logical but at the end of the day she was a mom with emotions.

  4. I certainly see where you’re coming from, but I don’t really mind it. Is Bones acting irrationally? Yeah. Obviously. I like to consider myself a fairly rational person. I’m also a woman who doesn’t really like kids all that much. I had a baby, and it changes your emotions. You have emotional urges that are nearly unstoppable. She’s still doing her job and I have to say that if I worked somewhere with on-site day care and I could manage to sneak my kid up to my office for a little bit every now and then, I’d totally do that. The show’s in it’s, what, 8th season now? Things change. She’s got a baby. We already know that she’s a super genius. She still uses her intelligence to solve crimes. Also, independently of Bones having a baby, ‘extreme couponing’ is a thing (an extremely weird thing, but a thing), so I’m sure they were just trying to be topical as well as meld the professional and the personal a little. It was her first case back after having the baby. Let’s maybe give the season a few more episodes.

  5. I agree too – especially as a mom who works in a related field. I stayed at home with my son for about a year. And my first job after the baby? Law enforcement. So let me just say that the world is FULL of people who want to judge a new mommy who wants to work in such an icky field.

    More than a decade later, I still sometimes feel that it’s a struggle to be recognized as just an employee without my status as a parent (and a single parent at that) coloring people’s views of me.

    I haven’t seen the episode in question – or really anything beyond season 3 – but it doesn’t sound like Bones is helping the cause of working mothers in any field.

  6. Thanks for writing this Ruth — I get pretty annoyed when the characters “personal” lives get in the way of the cool cases being worked on.

    I remember my Dad saying he loves Law and Order shows because you know very very little about the characters’ personal lives. There’s a snippet here and there, but 98% of the focus on the show is on the case at hand.

    I hope Bones is able to stick to that pattern of great storytelling and can somehow have Bones get back to her work in a professional manner.

    1. I do agree that the “personel” segements are annoying when they do get in the way of the case, but at the moment, Bones is trying to sort out things, personel and professional. I do hope that it does go back to 90% case and 10% personel, and hopefully in the near future.

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