C.J. Cregg and sex on TV

So 2017 started well and then disappeared under a pile of activity and ill health. Today I am resting up and I want to blog so I am thinking over some general random topics I want to write about.

I got thinking about a post about The West Wing after watching the first series of the new ‘House of Cards’, which initially aired in 2013. The first series of The West Wing was in 1999 and despite making their debuts only 14 years apart, they feel completely different to me, and one of those ways is around women, sex and relationships.

C.J. Cregg from The West Wing is my favourite female TV character, because she is genuine and credible, and most importantly, it doesn’t feel like she was written for the ‘male gaze’.

As a quick aside, here is an overview of C.J.  – The West Wing was an American TV drama about the fictitious presidency of Josiah Bartlet. C.J. is the Press Secretary in the administration at the start, and subsequently gets promoted to Chief of Staff.

Claire Underwood and Zoe Barnes in House of Cards (also a contemporary American political drama series) feel like they were written in very different ways. Claire is a charity boss and the wife of the Majority Whip and Zoe Barnes is a journalist.

C.J., Claire and Zoe are all accomplished, ambitious, and successful in their own professions but the characters of Claire and Zoe are so much more sexualised than C.J. They are both shown in their underwear and Zoe’s sex scenes especially have very explicit moments. What strikes such a chord of contrast for me is that sex or relationships are not absent but built into the character of C.J. in a way that is much more authentic and relatable. C.J. is single for the overwhelming majority of the seasons, and at points she has men in her life and it is important to her, and then less so and then more so again, alongside all the other parts of her life.

Do female characters in TV need to have such similar body shapes and to be shown almost in the nude to narrate their sex lives? And does there have to be such a prominent sexual undercurrent?

So some initial, fairly unformed thoughts. But I have enjoyed thinking about this and might write more on another occasion.


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