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Does ''Wing'''s sexist tone go too far?

Does ”Wing”’s sexist tone go too far? Bruce Frett thinks playing down the smarts of the women is a mistake

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Mark Harmon, Allison Janney, ...
The West Wing: Warner Bros

Does ”Wing”’s sexist tone go too far?

NBC made two announcements about ”The West Wing” at its recent fall-lineup presentation: Next season, Mary-Louise Parker will become a regular as feminist leader Amy Gardner, and Lily Tomlin will join the cast in an as-yet-unspecified role. After watching the May 15 episode, you’ve got to wonder if these two women know what they’re getting themselves into.

”Does ‘The West Wing’ give women short shrift?” this column asked a few months ago. We can now answer that question with a definitive ”Yep!” There was barely a subplot in the entire hour that didn’t find some way to denigrate female characters. Amy was first seen slaving over a pot of stew for ”my man,” Josh (Bradley Whitford), whom she informed, ”All women count on you, Josh — we find you godlike.” Granted, she was being sarcastic, but it set the episode’s sexist tone. Once Amy found out Josh was working to pass a welfare-reform bill that included provisions her group opposes, she started acting like a latter-day Lucy Ricardo, dropping his cell phone in the stew, then snipping his land-phone cord. ”Josh, is there nothing you can do to tame that woman?” Leo (John Spencer) subsequently asked. Again, that could be dismissed as a harmless joke, were it not part of a larger misogynist motif.

How can you explain turning a once-strong distaff character like press secretary C.J. (Allison Janney) into a giggly flibbertigibbet who gets all weak in the knees when her bodyguard (Mark Harmon) displays his prowess with a gun? ”I like that you’re tall,” she gushed girlishly. ”It makes me feel more feminine.” Later, after he told her that he killed one of the President’s would-be assassins, she almost jumped his bones right there on the street. Implied message: All these liberal women really want is a big, bad man to protect them. I’m surprised he didn’t drag C.J. into her apartment by her hair. Then there was the search for a replacement for presidential secretary Mrs. Landingham, who’s been dead for a year. (What, have they been using temps this whole time?) Charlie (Dule Hill) limited his search to women, explaining of Jed Bartlet (Martin Sheen), ”I don’t think he’s going to be comfortable with a man.” Some liberal, this guy.

Presumably, Lily Tomlin (who guests on next week’s season finale) will be chosen as the most qualified candidate to make the Chief Exec’s coffee. Or maybe she’ll be the new National Security Adviser, since Anna Deavere Smith (who played Nancy McNally) is leaving ”Wing” to costar in CBS’ new hospital drama ”Presidio Med.” Or perhaps Tomlin will reprise her old ”Laugh-In” role as Ernestine the telephone operator: ”Hello, White House switchboard…one ringy-dingy, two ringy-dingies…” Sadly, such a ding-dong would fit right in with the other women on ”The West Wing” these days.

Do you think ”The West Wing” suffers from a gender gap?

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