After an hour and a half of hogging our family televisions and messaging back and forth, we finally finished airing all of our grievances like the Great Festivus of Feminism.
Warning: SPOILERS BELOW
Karen: Ok… So – let’s get some background as to where we’re coming from
Maya: Sounds good.
Karen: We both have issues with the way Cat is portrayed.] I really hate the fact that no matter how hard they try to make her multidimensional, she comes off as shrill.
Maya: It bothers me that she’s written as a compilation of stereotypes. A friend of mine (male) said it was as if they used a deck of flashcards with stereotypical traits then shuffled them each episode to write her dialog.
Karen: It feels almost as though they can’t figure out how to not only do a woman but a mature woman.What bothers ME most is that here is a chance to say that modern, matured women aren’t this shrill, overbearing, almost cruel stereotype. It would also be a great place to show that women who are “of a certain age” can have both feelings and business acumen.
Maya: I agree. I also feel that they blur the personal and professional where there should be boundaries. Sure we all say unkind things about others but there is a time and place for it. How did she get as far as she did without understanding this? Understanding what we teach our kids about what we can say at home vs what we can say in a professional setting.
Karen: I mean, I’m 37 (almost 38). The way Cat is portrayed comes off as a combination of “Older Second Wave Feminist” who gave up everything to have a job combined with unsavvy twenty-something who doesn’t know how to be professional. I don’t feel that Cat represents a late-40-something working woman.
Maya: I’m 51, and I see in her many of the stereotypes women bosses were battling when I was in my 20s. I don’t see Cat representing my generation at all. To me, she represents a caricature of what people believe women bosses are like. Also? I keep reading people talking about her in the comics. Cat evolved in the comics. She went from a lightweight to battling alcoholism, she lost her son Adam. She grew. Cat on this show is supposed to be in her late 40s. Jimmy has grown, he’s no longer “gee whiz Mr. Kent”. Cat should have grown too. Sometimes they show that. For example, the scene where she dealt with the email leak. She was a force and somebody to fear.
Karen: This is why I think “Strange Visitor from Another Planet” is a great episode to use to look at Cat because there is this attempt to move Cat beyond “b**** boss” and give her more depth. Somehow, the show still fails.
Maya: They tell us she is inspiring and badass. Yet they fall back on the cheap insults. This overtired digs at Lois Lane are exhibit A. That’s another relationship in the comics which evolved. Cat was the one who snapped Lois out of her shock in the Funeral for a Friend arc right after Superman died. I really don’t like this constant belittling they have Cat do to other women. This episode tried to move her past it. Yet they again fall back on the ridiculous personal jabs.
Karen: If we saw a male boss doing that, it would be highly inappropriate.
Maya: Everyone would be asking why he hasn’t been reported to HR? No male boss would be written like that. Cat isn’t written as somebody to respect and maybe fear a little. She’s written as a punchline. I’d much rather see her written more Hillary Clinton inspired (hate or love her, she’s a formidable powerful woman).
Karen: If a man were written like Cat, it would automatically be sexist. Even the way Cat walks into the meeting at the start of the episode. She throws down the binder, throws up her hands, places them on her hips, and almost eyerolls.
Maya: Yes! The way they have her walk into the room. Why?
Karen: The speech isn’t bad – it then comes down to the body language. I love where she’s talking about a cash grab and is particularly business like. She says that Jimmy has to get a quote that “will offend virtually everyone.” Fine. That is excellent business acumen. The way she’s portrayed as eye rolling and hand on the hip, sticking one hip out undermines the power and moves her into catty. I’m waiting for a sassy head bob.
Maya: I agree, the speech wasn’t bad. This is what is so frustrating. There are times she says some smart and powerful things but they undermine the character in the next beat.
Karen: She looks at Adam and her tone softens. She’s got her head to the side just slightly vulnerable. Excellent millisecond.
Maya: I loved the way she said Adam’s name and her whole manner changed. This would be how to separate the personal from the professional.
Karen: It’s not that Flockhart can’t play something better. She can. So, I can’t fault her as an actress in those moments where she does portray Cat more multidimensionally. And honestly, “my letter, of course.” As she turns, her demeanor changes. Her whole facial structure changes. It’s not that she’s a bad actress. I feel it becomes easy to blame her for the portrayal and being an unskilled actress.
Maya: I don’t fault the actress at all. I think she’s doing the best with the material she is given. I think this is very much how they are writing Cat. And her anger at Kara for overstepping, which Kara did, was well played facially.
Karen: And there it is. The first moment I lost it with the episode’s portrayal. “I have a million things to do right now.” Boom. It’s in that moment that we get that Second Wave Feminism throwback. And I hated that line. Hated it. There seemed to be something right there they could do. Then they fall back on, “work comes first because an emotional woman is one who can’t work.” It undermines everything about modern working women. That’s where it starts to get outdated, to me.
Maya: As if it would make her weak to take a moment out of her busy day to spend with her son that she hasn’t seen in forever.
Karen: The whole reason she was willing to give up her empire during the attempted corporate takeover was to protect him. The need to make her fit the stereotype here falls flat and undermines the character as a whole.
Maya: It made no sense. Yes, I get she was blindsided by the letter she didn’t write but they could have written her with more depth, not “here’s your hat”
Karen: “I will make myself free” made no sense in the narrative. Ok, the scene where she reams out Kara. Your thoughts? I agree, Kara overstepped her boundaries.
Maya: I think there were great moments “oh my god he is here” for example.
Karen: My favorite moment of the whole episode, gives me chills. I think that was the best moment of emotional depth we’ve seen. I loved it. And it also shows that despite what people say about Flockhart botox whatever, she is not unable to emotionally connect.
Maya: She is able to connect. It shows that they can transcend the one-dimensional dialog they write for Cat. But then they get lazy and fall back on the easy laugh. Let’s have her insult Lois Lane. Let’s have her mispronounce Kara’s name. Let’s have her mock people’s clothing.
Karen: Why can’t we have her doing more things like talking about how bigots are click bait. That was hilarious. That was powerful. That was good business in a female character.
Maya: That showed substance with her understanding marketing and yes, what needs to be done to get clicks. It’s not that Cat can’t be mean, or she needs to like everybody. However, the way they have her express it is so juvenile. For example, the conversation she and Kara have about what Cat should say to Adam. Telling Kara to “Shut up”? And then name drops? Seriously? Now this Adam dinner scene. Awful.
Karen: I was just starting that scene. I do notice the nod to her alcoholism there though. She sniffs the red carafe that looks like wine. Then puts it down.
Maya: I liked that.
Karen: Oh. Here comes the pain. Does she have to roll her eyes at her son she hasn’t seen in forever and ask him questions like caring about him is painful? We just saw that she cares in previous scenes. I get it. The nerves, the awkward. These kinds of meetings? I can’t be one to judge what it would be because I’ve never been in the situation. But for **this character** specifically? It goes back to what you said before the lazy writing for the shorthand and the laugh.
Maya: I get that she’s stressed and feels she needs to be “on” but she’s not so clueless as this scene tries to paint her. And this deviates from how she treated her son Adam in the comics and her younger son a few episodes ago. She knows how to be multidimensional.
Karen: She’s supposed to be awkward. She doesn’t like feeling weak. The situation makes her feel weak because she feels vulnerable. But, we talked about this before briefly, do you think that they would do something similar if the character were younger meeting a teenage kid? I feel that what our problem with her character is lies deeper than just “poor portrayal of a female” and crosses into the intersectionality with ageism. Older women are either dowdy or shrews.
Maya: The intersectionality of an older woman in power. She’s written almost grasping, insecure and petty. They wrote Henshaw (before we knew who he was) as cold, in power and not sympathetic but he wasn’t juvenile. Cat’s constant personal insults at people makes her look insecure and petty. Going on and on about Bill Gates and Taylor Swift doesn’t make her look in charge, it makes her look pathetic. “Look at me” vs “Fear me”
Karen: We all have talked about the comparison to Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada. We could argue that there’s a not-Meryl Streep playing a similar character. But I don’t think that gets at what you’re saying either.
Maya: And as you pointed out, that was a fashion magazine so the comments around appearance and fashion at least had a foundation. I think there is this idea that an older woman who is in power is also somehow less complete inside. The way she’s written makes her seem worried about getting older (hence personal comments about other people’s looks). She also comes across extremely insecure. Of course, she’ll have regrets over Adam (and other things in life) but the way they write said regrets? It makes her look like a foolish narcissist.
Karen: And when you look at how Priestly was written, going to the Internet for a list of quotes (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0458352/quotes) even when she’s belittling, the way it’s done is never petty. Cruel. Not petty.
Maya: The thing is to get to that level of power? You do have to be a little ruthless. That is fine. Nobody is asking her to be a soft or cuddly. But she’s not written as ruthless. She’s written as a stunted mean girl from high school.
Karen: The difference seems to be that the Miranda Priestly character is mean but she’s meaningfully mean. Her insults are intended to demean but not to be empty. She isn’t using them to empower herself through undercutting others but to make others just feel terrible. The way Cat is written, she undermines others to gain a sense of personal self-worth.
Maya: And if you look at her slams against Lois? I think that illustrates it perfectly. It’s not based on professional arguments. It’s tearing down somebody perceived as a proverbial giant in the field to make her feel better about herself. It’s foolish. The scene after Adam storms out and she calls Kara? That was ridiculous. She’s yelling at Kara for not prepping her when that is exactly what Kara tried to do. Then telling her to jump off the balcony? What was that? I know. A joke because Kara is Supergirl. But another joke at the expense of Cat’s character.
Karen: When she tells Adam that she wasn’t going to be a good mom, she wasn’t ready. He looks at her and says, “I get it. It’s about you. It’s always been about you.” I think the writing of that was intentionally awkward. She was misunderstood. Yet there was a moment when she could have come back from it. They chose to not take that step. She could have even been given a moment after Adam walked away to look upset. All we see are pursed lips, rolling eyes, and a head shaking no in frustration, seemingly at Adam. All her discussions with him in this episode do the same thing. Using him to make her feel better.
Maya: And they could have said something important about her not being ready. She had ambitions. She made mistakes. And she’s learned from them with her second child. That could have been the hook. They could have talked about how she is different with the second child with Adam understandably upset by that. This is a gender neutral lesson. Julian Lennon and Sean Lennon are an example. One child grew up in the shadow of the Beatles to a young father. The other to a mature person.
Karen: That would have made a smoother character transition. Shown the evolution of the character. But no, we have to keep it flat. We have to portray the older woman in this “work comes first” way.
Maya: I think it’s older powerful women in particular. Women who had to make sacrifices to get to the top are written in this very one dimensional way. I was hoping when she said she wasn’t ready to be a mother they’d go deeper. But nope.
Karen: And what then becomes “older”? Because I don’t want to see 40-something be “older”.
Maya: Currently it is. Sadly.
Karen: Again, adjusting for age and seeing what they’re trying to do? Miranda Priestly was in her late 40’s in the 1990’s when the book was published 2003. That places her at 55-60 today and maybe makes her part of that generation that was perhaps forced to be one dimensional and choose.
Maya: I don’t know that much has changed for my generation? The “you can have it all” messages were mixed to say the least. Granted, the Cat is probably 5 to 6 years younger than I am? So I don’t know. At 51 that puts me in the middle of Priestly and Cat.
Karen: Then let’s take it from assuming your generation – do you think that the women you’ve worked with who’ve heard the “choose” message are really as hardened and callous as the way Cat is here?
Maya: Not at all. I think it is so much more complex. And that is what I think is missing whenever I see older women in these roles (CEO,etc). They don’t show the complexity of the choices made.
Karen: Because if we go back to your comments about the lack of personal and work boundaries, the professionalism aspect, we see Cat unable to negotiate the personal in a professional, harsh way much the way we see her take her personal life out cruelly in an unprofessional way. I don’t think that clearly represents women – regardless of generation – as a whole. If she were rude and harsh in the business but ok as a person, I think that would make more sense, especially when they give her these personal story lines.
Maya: I think it’s because they haven’t given her any nuance. She’s written as behaving in one way no matter the circumstances. Most people don’t act that way. I go back to a male CEO. They can have all the flaws in the world but they aren’t written in such a petty way. “I don’t like that red tie” or “he didn’t get the looks in the family.” What is that? Nonsense. Yes, we all say mean things in our personal life. I have. But you don’t behave that way in your professional life.
Karen: Which makes me think of Elf. Long lost child. Tries to hate him. The whole ending of that story is that he has a heart. With Cat, we get that cold-hearted CEO in the same way.
Maya: She’s written one note. With some exceptions which show how much potential this character has. In the comics when they started to explore her character? They began to write her with more depth. Perry called her out for her drinking and out of control behavior at work. She pulled it together and became a formidable force. (Until post-Infinite Crisis when they fell back on the stereotypes). In the show, she’s being used as comic relief instead of an effective mentor to Kara.
Karen: I don’t feel she gets allowed the redemption that the male CEO is allowed to have. Which is where that second dinner with Adam slays me. We get to that second Adam dinner. She tells him “I never got to put your pictures on the fridge.” “I never got to be your mother.” I want to get shivers. I want to have the emotional connection. The way the scene is directed? She isn’t allowed that redemption the way a male character of equal status would get. She’s not given the chance to come to this on her own. In male characters, the growth comes from the characters making the choices themselves not being told how to do it. I think that’s the other thing – Kara ends up mentoring her emotionally. That would be fine. However, she isn’t really a clear role model for Kara. Show us what she gives as the formidable force.
Maya: When Kara was explaining Cat to Adam? I felt it was telling me not showing me. Because we rarely see that side of Cat. We see the “Kira” side. Not the tough love boss that we’re supposed to believe she is.
Karen: There it is – there’s a difference between “tough” and “tough love”. All we get is “tough.”
Maya: I don’t even see tough very often. I just see shallow and mean for no purpose (other than as you said, to make her look better in comparison). Perry White is another example of “tough love.” He is gruff. He yells. He has high expectations, but there is purpose there. The proverbial method behind the madness.
Karen: Then, they fall back into that shallow at the end. Here Kara has helped her. Adam asks where she is. We get the petty “she’s probably in the bathroom picking muffin out of her hair.”
Maya: What was that? Gratuitous personal insults. It’s unnecessary. Cat is used as comic relief more often than not. Not a serious force to be reckoned with.
Karen: And we need the serious businesswoman. I think we all want to see the serious businesswoman. I want to see something more than an older woman mocking a younger protege. It’s 2016. Miranda Priestly is 2006. In ten years, haven’t we earned the right to see a woman who mentors and leads without tearing other women down?
Maya: A serious businesswoman who doesn’t mock people she feels threatened by. Kara should be her protege. Yes. Be mean, but not about her personal traits but about her professional path.
Karen: Where she tries to send Kara away thinking she’s Supergirl? That’s the right kind of mean. That’s the mentor. I know better. Your being here is a waste of everyone’s time. Go be more.
Maya: That was tough love. That was strong. We deserve to see a woman in power not threatened by other women around her. Be it Lois or Kara. There is no need to tear them down. Let’s see her build Kara up.
Karen: Building up doesn’t have to be kind.
Maya: No it doesn’t. Nobody is asking Cat to be kind. I’m asking her to have a point to her criticisms. Who cares if somebody wears cardigans or their clothes are off the rack? Unless you think this person should dress a certain way to be more professional? Then you tell them without cutting them personally. Not demeaning but constructive.
Karen: Women are viewed as catty and backstabbing in society. This kind of version of a female boss reinforces that. Women don’t need to be cutting each other down. We see it all the time. Be it breastfeeding versus formula feeding. All that unnecessary, unproductive, demeaning judgment is right here all in that one character. We don’t need to see a fictional character furthering that stereotype.
Maya: Cat’s character is a caricature filled with stereotypes of how people believe women treat each other. And all the negative stereotypes of the woman boss to boot.
Karen: Add into that the fact that she (and all the other older female characters) are viewed as deceptive or cruel with no emotional connection meaningful enough to make them moral? You have what makes Cat, specifically, the culmination of all of those right there. So, I guess my question is: now that we’ve complained about Cat. What would we really like to see in future episodes? If you were told that you could have one thing change, what would it be?
Maya: I would have her stop making snide personal comments. “She’s in the bathroom trying to get muffin out of her hair,” “Lucy, you got the looks in the family”. Nonsense like that. I would ask that her criticisms be relevant to the situation at hand and have purpose to further the story. Instead of a punchline.
Karen: So, you’d prefer her to make comments to Kara about having no ambition and being more than willing to bring her coffee than picking muffin out of her hair?
Maya: Why are you satisfied getting my coffee? And? Why don’t you correct me when I call you Kira? Stand up for yourself. They could use that Kira gag to show Cat trying to goad Kara into speaking up for herself, showing a backbone.
Karen: That would give the whole thing meaning. And yet, all we get is Kara rolling her eyes “I’m Kara to literally everyone else in the whole world.” As an aside, if it is Adam who gets her to finally stand up to Cat, I’m going to barf.
Maya: We know Cat was listening to their conversation because she told Adam and Kara to go out to dinner. So she heard what Kara said about her mispronouncing her name. Now let’s use that as a purpose. Cat doing it to teach Kara to speak out when she’s being wronged. Unkind but building her up. Tough but not petty. (and agreed, if Adam is what gets Kara do do this? :p)
Karen: Which overlaps with what I’d like to see. I’d like to see Cat be able to be both strong and emotionally connected. I’m very tired of the “removing nurturing makes a strong female character” narrative. Women are skilled businesswomen without being emotionally stunted. I’d like to see a mature woman be allowed to be both sexy, nurturing, and powerful. I feel like we have to choose one. I want to see Cat be used to show us you can be all of them. Just because we’re not twenty-something doesn’t mean we are suddenly snarky, cruel dowagers with no sexuality.
Maya: Or hypersexuality (cougars).
Karen: YES. So to summarize, in our individualized ideal worlds: how would we describe, in three words, the best representation of a matured female businesswoman character?
Karen: Smart, Snarky, Sympathetic.
Maya: Smart, Authoritative, Empathetic