Sugar and Spice and Everything…Catty?

Today’s EXTREMELY long-winded feminist rant will be brought to you by the letters C, S, and I. You have been warned.

Have you ever seen the first interaction between CSIs Catherine Willows and Sara Sidle? No? Let me share:

Not the most welcoming of people, that surly CSI Willows (just look at the video clip description: “Bitchy & Rude Catherine”). In Catherine’s defense, I should point out that Sara Sidle was originally brought onto the Las Vegas team to investigate one of their own for his role in the death of another investigator. She was an interloper, brought in to suss out the possible guilt of one of Catherine’s closest friends on the job. Not exactly the best setup for a warm and fuzzy friendship.

However, this animosity between our two heroines not only lingered, it evolved…or, rather, devolved into a series of biting comments, veiled insults, and out-and-out vitriol. True, some of it stemmed from personality differences. Catherine as originally created had a world-wise brusqueness to her, not necessarily spiteful or cruel, but direct and sharp. Sara, on the other hand, arrived with a quirky, nerdy sensibility and equal doses of naivete and a “black or white, no gray” outlook that often set her apart, not only from Catherine but from others on the team.

They weren’t the only ones on the team who had disparate personalities. Warrick Brown and Nick Stokes as first conceived shared very few commonalities. Our introduction to them also showed them vying against each other for a promotion. Yet right from the start they were still shown to share a comfortable camaraderie, a friendly competitiveness that served to bring them together rather than set them on opposite sides of an ever-widening chasm. Not at all like the steadily increasing animosity shared by our lovely ladies of the pink printing powder. (For the record, I love this scene for the fact that this is one of the rare moments from the show’s early days that showcases the previously mentioned contrasting characteristics of both women in a wonderful albeit short comedic moment.)

It’s not just this loopy lupine who noticed this decidedly disappointing development default in the relationship shared by Catherine and Sara. In this PopGurls Interview, Jorja Fox had the following to say:

You’ve said that the CSI writers and producers are really kind. That if there’s someplace you don’t really want to go with the character, you can talk to them, and generally they’ll change the course or direction. When was a time that you brought up a path w/the producers that you didn’t feel comfortable with for Sara?

There have been a couple of times over the years. The first one that comes to mind—very early in the show, the writers had wanted to create a real solid tension between Catherine Willows and Sara Sidle. They started off right away that we would lock horns and that this would be a theme that would go throughout the show. Marg [Helgenberger, who plays Catherine] and I talked about it and we both felt that, since we were the only women on the show at that time, to have [us] fighting each other and jockeying for position was an area that we were hoping that [we didn’t have] to go. We wanted actually to work well together—we could still disagree on things from time to time. Certainly Sara and Catherine are very different people and they go about things differently but we didn’t want to set a tone that would last throughout the show. We went to the writers and they were kind enough to pull back on that which was great.

I felt more passionately about potential for camaraderie coming from these two women being so different instead of the opposite.

Two sharp women are better than one...

Kudos to Jorja and Marg for putting their feet down to character choices that would have done nothing but continue to substantiate a dismal stereotype of women in the workforce. Sadly, however, as with most stereotypes, this particular one grows from a kernel of truth.

Admittedly, I’m little more than an armchair sociologist, but I have noticed something about the way my generation was conditioned as young girls that is both distressing and highly counterproductive. First, a confession: During my formative years, I probably spent more time interacting with boys than I did with girls. But that’s because the boys were all into fun things like riding bikes or playing football, and they had cool toys like G.I. Joes and Transformers. The girls all wanted to play house and put diapers and frilly dresses on grotesque plastic effigies that to this day haunt my darkest nightmares. I really, really hate babydolls.

That being said, I learned from an early age that interacting with boys is a much different experience from interacting with girls. Boys are rough and brash and to the point. If they say something that another boy doesn’t like, there will be a confrontation. It might get physical. But they get it out of their systems and they move on. They’ve also got your back. If you’re their friend, you’re in their pack, you’re on their team. And boys are taught from a very early age about the dynamics of teamwork.

Teamwork was still a foreign term for a lot of the girls my age. Title IX had already made its initial impact for opening up to the fairer sex the world of high school and college sports, but I believe that the concept of girls viewing other girls as teammates was still a holistically foreign concept for my generation. Why?

Because our greatest influences in character development were our own mothers. And our mothers grew up in a time well before when girls would take to the courts and baseball diamonds the way the boys were always able to do. The only viable competition available for these preceding generations of young women was for the sole prize that they were ever allowed to strive for: the ideal husband. Even my own mother saw a future in which her biggest expectations for me concluded with marriage and motherhood.

Don’t worry. I shuddered a little bit, too, just then.

You don’t get a husband through teamwork. You get it by being the last woman standing…and you stay standing by whatever means are at your disposal.

Is it any surprise, then, that when our predecessors began finally transitioning in larger numbers from housewives to working girls, they carried these same “values” with them into the workforce? We didn’t have the sports-based team ethics that the boys had. Hell, we didn’t even get the Godfather‘s rules of “It’s not personal, it’s business”! Instead, we were taught that the best way to play the boardroom game was to steal our secretary’s ideas in order to retain our sole seniority status AND gain the attention of the alpha male protagonist.

[Loba Tangent: Seriously, what kind of fucked-up message was Working Girl trying to convey? That women can’t work with each other unless they’re on the same low-level rung of the corporate ladder with no aspirations for climbing higher? That women who do make it to higher positions shouldn’t be trusted because they’re not going to try to help other women make it as far as they have? Instead, they’re going to use whatever means are necessary to ensure that they hold their competition as far down as they possibly can? Yeah, Sigourney Weaver met a perfectly Hollywood ending…but the movie still propagated stereotypes about women in the workforce that made me cringe almost as much as Baby Boom. But that’s a completely different tangent…and this post is already too long…]

Am I guilty of offensive generalizations and of propagating the stereotypes that I claim to loathe through this post? Perhaps. I am proud to say that I’ve been lucky to have worked for some amazingly progressive female supervisors. They’ve encouraged me, they’ve depended upon me for the skills I can bring to their team, and they’ve never been duplicitous in their dealings with me. I wish I could say this was the way it was across the board, both for my own experiences and for the experiences of all women in the workforce. However, I can’t. I daresay neither can most women my age.

The sad truth is that too many generations of women have long been conditioned to view the same sex as competitors that must be eliminated, not as teammates. But is it still this way? Are today’s young girls still being taught to view others of the same sex as the enemy, competition to be vanquished whether it be for that amazing job promotion or for the old-school brass ring of marital bliss and motherhood? I should hope not. Then again, it’s my generation that is now in the parental driver seat…and this was how we were raised. Will they pass along harmful lessons to the next generation? Or, like Fox and Helgenberger, are they going to say enough to petty stereotypes that do nothing but divide and weaken us, not only as a gender but as a society?