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HomePoliticsExploring Gender, Power, and Politics: The Diplomat Tackles Expectations and Misconceptions.

Exploring Gender, Power, and Politics: The Diplomat Tackles Expectations and Misconceptions.


Few would have predicted that a high-profile drama about a female foreign service professional would be Netflix’s next big hit. But everyone talks about “The diplomat– for good reason.

The series, starring Keri Russell as the US Ambassador to the UK, debuted at No. 1 on the streaming charts. Critics praise the great performances, tortuous plot And “wryly funny“writing what this consists of”gripping and driving drama.” Even the official Twitter account of the US Embassy in London tweeted a playful and mostly laudatory video checking the first episode.

With so many eyes on the latest TV portrayal of a woman in a high-profile political position, the portrayal of female leadership is significant. As a communication scientist who studies media real frame and fictional female politicians I am interested in how television and film shape our view of female politicians in the real world.

While “The Diplomat” initially perpetuates a popular stereotype that the only women who can be trusted in high office are those who don’t want to be there, it thoughtfully depicts the pervasiveness of everyday sexism in political culture.

Women and political ambition

“The Diplomat” follows Russell’s character, Kate Wyler, the newly appointed ambassador to the UK, and her husband, Hal, a former ambassador and the more politically ambitious half of the duo, played by Rufus Sewell.

The president must replace his vice president due to a looming scandal, and Hal has maneuvered Kate onto the VP’s shortlist — without her knowledge — by convincing the president’s chief of staff, Billie Appia, played by Nana Mensah, that Kate’s supreme competence and lack of political ambition is what qualifies her for the job.

Hal emphasizes that “no one with the temperament to win a campaign should be in charge of anything.”

The assumption central to “The Diplomat” is that politicians are bad leaders. That is undoubtedly the case for many viewers part of his profession.

Such as ‘The West Wing’, the series on which the show runner from the “The Diplomat,” Debora Cahn got her start — the show is part political fairy tale, envisioning a world where people who can solve problems are actually able to do so. While trying to convince Kate to consider the VP gig, Billie asks, “Can you imagine hiring someone for an important board position just because you think they’re good at it?”

This is tricky territory to negotiate, however, and “The Diplomat” initially reinforces one of the most pernicious stereotypes about female politicians on screen and in real life: women with political ambition cannot be trusted. In series like “Veep“”24” And “Safeguards: Power and Glory”, ambitious female politicians turn out to be incompetent or corrupt.

Conversely, ethical and successful female politicians such as those in “Commander in chief“”Madam Secretary‘ and now ‘The Diplomat’ are civil servants who need to be persuaded to participate in campaigning and partisan politics.

After discovering that people have been plotting behind her back to make her vice president during a foreign policy crisis, Kate cements her status as a non-political outright shooter by marching to the president and announcing : “I’m not cut out for this.” . I’m resigning. The good news is that it makes me the only person in the world who doesn’t try to kiss you, but who still knows a lot about Iran.”

Then, after teaching the Supreme Commander the finer points of foreign policy, Kate claims his willingness to cooperate with the British Prime Minister’s request for a show of force is because “you’re afraid your enemies will think you’re too old and weak to put Americans in the line of fire.

Since this is a political fairy tale, the president, played by Michael McKean, shakes her hand, tells her she’s doing great, and says, “Just stop the ‘I’m resigning’ stuff.” It really pisses me off. I don’t have that much time.”

The vision of a candid, non-political woman who wins the respect of powerful men by exposing flaws in their logic and emphasizing their weaknesses makes good TV.

But it complicates things when viewers become voters and are asked to support real female candidates who put themselves forward for public office and are punished for speaking their mind and asserting authority. Women politicians who express ambition often are rated more negatively by voters than their male counterparts, whose political ambition is not readily tolerated, but expected.

‘Borgen: Power and Glory’ is one of a number of series in which ambitious female politicians, even those who started their careers as successful idealists, become cynical political actors whose priorities harm their families, their parties and their nations.

Gender and power

“The Diplomat” recognizes that likeable female protagonists, like their political counterparts, should not appear power-hungry. But it also opposes the idea that the vice presidency is a powerless office.

While Billie and US Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Stuart Heyford, played by Ato Essandoh, try to persuade Kate to become Vice President, Billie emphasizes that the position would have significant leverage.

“The vice president spends more time in the Oval Office than anyone who doesn’t have a desk there,” she says, before promising, “We’d put you in charge of foreign policy.” Stuart appeals to Kate’s sense of mission with a line that also reminds viewers that Kate isn’t unduly ambitious: “You’d do it for country, not power.”

The convoluted and ludicrous sequence of events that has resulted in this conversation — in which the president’s chief of staff tries to persuade a rank-and-file foreign service officer to agree to become the vice president in the middle of a term in office — makes the show possible. comment on the absurd causticity of political campaigns. After reminding Kate that she “don’t have to survive a campaign”, there is the following exchange between Billie and Stuart:

Billie: “I mean it’s bad for the boys, but for the women – fuck me. Is she pretty, but not too pretty? Attractive, but not hot? Confident, but not bitchy? Decisive, but not bitchy?”

Stuart: “Cute bitchy, but not bitchy bitchy.”

Dress up part

Cahn also explores this double standard visually. While Kate prefers black suits, minimal make-up, undisciplined hair, and shoes to walk through her day, her impeccably coiffed staff urges her to adopt a more attractive, feminine, and camera-friendly look.

Instead of portraying Kate as sleazy or ignorant and giving her a mid-season boost, the show shows that she is well aware of the image she creates. During a photo shoot for British Vogue, Kate tells the photographer: “I don’t want to make your job more difficult than it already is, but it would be great if there weren’t shots of me looking wistfully into the distance as I caress my own neck. ”

“The Diplomat” packs insights into sexism in politics into the packaging of a political thriller. Its popularity is a good thing. As the 2024 campaign season approaches, voters need urgent reminders of the effect sexism can have on democracy — because patriarchal political culture is something we all need to negotiate.

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