Updated: Oct 16, 2021
Unshakable beliefs about women control the film and television industries, at a time when young girls should have the chance to see female role models on the big screen. The inequity in film’s gender representation is solidified by 2019 statistics, as only “14 of the 100 top movies in 2019 featured a gender-balanced…cast.” Sadly, “audiences were almost twice as likely to see male characters as female characters.”
That’s why I was mesmerized by Madam Secretary, a political drama on Netflix that breaks through the glass ceiling, emerging as a show that champions the ideal woman inside and outside of the family. The show first aired on Sept. 21, 2014, on CBS and ended on Dec. 8, 2019.
Madam Secretary stars Teá Leoni who plays Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord. Throughout the show, McCord handles foreign diplomacy and makes inducements for summits and deals. She is quite the rebel, as she usually ends up defying the decisions of the president and the chief of staff purely to support the common man, exemplifying a unique nonpartisan approach in a sea of greedy politicians.
In the workplace, even though her colleagues are mostly men, McCord has an aura of authority around her that everyone respects, primarily for her ingenious ideas that often involve negotiating with the enemy for the greater good. McCord’s dynamic illustrates the true notion of good ideas: ideas have value and should yield respect regardless of the innovator’s gender.
Outside of the workplace, McCord has a perfect balance between her work and family; this reverberated with me the most. Stereotypes that still exist today dictate that “women are supposed to take care of the family, husband and pause their ambitions.” Madam Secretary directly challenges this notion by advancing McCord’s political career in one of the most important cabinet positions, all while raising a family with good values.
In one episode of the show, Elizabeth meets an arms dealer in a private airport, but in the middle of the negotiation, her phone rings as her 16-year-old daughter calls her. Elizabeth, quite humorously, leaves to a storage closet to watch her daughter’s college acceptance through video conferencing. This one moment captures the entire work-life balance the show is built on, proving that a woman should not only be limited to the household but can manage both spheres of life well.
People may argue that Madam Secretary is unrealistic by questioning how the Secretary of State can have time to push aside world-changing events for relatively small family events. While the show has been deemed somewhat unrealistic, since fictional dramas inevitably have the sole purpose of entertaining viewers, it’s the message that matters. When we look at a painting, such as works from Picasso’s Cubism period, do we look at the means or the ends? Do we analyze the visuals or the message? Similar to our process of interpreting an artwork, a television show’s message is the most important thing. For me, the message was that a woman can manage a busy work life and family life, all while rocking pencil heels. Madam Secretary should be a must-watch for all young women out there, as it motivates us to grow up with modern notions of feminism and the woman’s influence.