Why Are All Lady Detectives Lonely on TV?

Published on The Daily Femme – Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Contributed by Annamarya

As a journalist, I’ve heard the old adage (or some variation thereof) “Don’t expect to have a relationship as a journalist.” It’s true, say the people who’ve uttered it, because journalism is a taxing, grueling career, and the time and energy you put in it will leave no room for a love life. I have yet to find that true, being in a long-term relationship and all, but maybe there’s a grain of truth. Maybe…

It’s an adage, though, that’s clearly applied to most of television’s women law enforcement. As The Daily Beast discusses in an article centered around USA Network’s intriguing, witty (and my ultimate favorite) witness protection dramaIn Plain Sight, the female detectives on TV have to choose between work and love, never really achieving or sustaining both. The Killing’s Det. Sarah Linden,Law & Order: Criminal Intent’s Det. Alex Eames, and Law & Order: SVU’s Det. Olivia Benson are just a few examples of this supposed life.

But there are exceptions to this lonely women rule. For one, In Plain Sight’sU.S. Marshal Mary Shannon, the series’ protagonist played by the superbly sharp Mary McCormack, has a life and lives it without remorse, never fulfilling the bitter, spinster destiny of her trust and intimacy issues. Then there’s TNT’sThe Closer’s Brenda Johnson (played by Kyra Sedgwick) and NBC’s now-defunct Medium’s Allison DuBois (played by Patricia Arquette), both happily married characters. These women are strong-willed and confident. They’re not tortured because their love lives are in “peril”–and if they are in peril, it’s not the end all, be all. It’s just a part of life. They’re not defined by it.

And, as expected, entertainment doesn’t reflect reality. According to the real-life law enforcement officials interviewed for the piece, female officers don’t have to choose love over work or vice versa. One authority, NCIS Division Chief Dorian Van Horn has been married with kids for 18 years, and the majority of women in her division are married as well. Another, California Police Chief Kathleen Sheehan, was married and divorced three times (though, she doesn’t attribute the divorces to her career) but it doesn’t torment her the way it would, say, her TV counterparts. “I’ve gotten to do things that so few women do. I’ve worked in Pakistan and Israel and Indonesia and Dubai and South LA. I’ve had an amazing life,” said Sheehan.

So why is it that strong, single female characters are so destroyed by a lack of a love life? Jezebel’s Anna Holmes theorizes it may be a “marker” for them to have “internal problems,” as opposed to the single male characters, who aren’t seen as “problematic inherently.” Still, at some point, this dynamic – what McCormack calls “old-school” thinking – needs to end. The reality is: single women aren’t pathetic and struggling emotionally, and attached women with careers and a balanced life aren’t impossible. So why do we keep pretending they are?

The Daily Beast: The Lonely Lady Detectives


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