I’ve been watching the show, but I have to confess that I never noticed the gender role reversal between the characters of Patrick Jane and Teresa Lisbon. The reasons are probably cultural, because a man taking care of his appearance and neither using nor liking guns are not viewed as anti-masculine traits in my part of the world. In fact, I quite like it that Patrick Jane is not your stereotypical macho hero, because I don’t like macho heroes. And while Teresa Lisbon is a no-nonsense person (though not as no-nonsense as the delightful Agent Cho) and knows how to use a gun and frequently rescues Patrick Jane, I viewed those traits more as part of her job than as deliberately non-feminine. Never mind that the actress who plays Teresa Lisbon is a very petite and feminine woman. Besides, Patrick Jane is the sort of person who tends to get himself into trouble, so it’s kind of obvious that someone has to rescue him.
As for why there is not more romance between Patrick Jane and Teresa Lisbon (and there is plenty of sexual tension and sparks flying), partly I put it down to the fact that Patrick Jane is still mourning his murdered wife and child and mainly down to the fact that Americans seem to have huge issues with workplace romances, which are deemed unprofessional and sometimes downright illegal. And indeed the “secondary couple” of Agents Van Pelt and Rigsby, who meet and fall in love on the job, was forcibly broken up by department head (or whatever her actual job is) Madeline Hightower, a move which instantly made me dislike Hightower, even though I always felt bad about it, because strong black women are still rare on TV and when one comes along, she’s unlikable.
So I put the lack of a romance between Patrick Jane and Teresa Lisbon, even though the characters were obviously attracted to each other, down to the fact that Americans hate workplace romances and frequently get their panties in a twist when a workplace romance storyline pops up anywhere. I never even considered the fact that Teresa might be too masculine for US audiences and Patrick too feminine.
Though come to think of it, there are quite a few TV shows at the moment, including quite a few American ones, that play with gender roles. The sexually freewheeling Torchwood of season 1 had some interesting takes on gender and gender roles, before they toned it down to appease cranky (male) genre critics and appeal to American viewers and completely ruined the show. Someone in the comments at Mette Ivie Harrison’s post mentions Fringe (which I cannot stomach, because the storylines are stupid and the Olivia character annoys me) and Bones, which does work as an example, though they are taking great care to make the Booth character appear masculine (he’s an ex-soldier and sniper, plays ice hockey, likes sport, etc…) and seem to be moving towards softening Brennan’s character, a move I don’t like at all. Castle would be another excellent example, because once again we have the no-nonsense female cop (played by an attractive and feminine actress) partnered with a man who is neither a law enforcement officer nor particularly macho. Indeed, Richard Castle comes across as more “feminine” than Patrick Jane, because he is non-violent and does not use guns (except in very rare circumstances, when he picks one up from a fallen bad guy), he is intuitive, he is the primary caregiver for his teenage daughter and flighty actress mother, etc… Monk would fit as well, for even though the female leads does have the stereotypical feminine jobs of personal assistant/caregiver/nurse, they are nonetheless practical, no-nonsense women who had to deal with a man who is a bundle of neuroses, who obsessively cleans his apartment, whose most important quality is his intuition and attention to detail and who is not very masculine in general.
There are some literary examples as well. Eve Dallas from J.D. Robb’s In Death series is yet another no-nonsense police officer who is not very feminine at all and does not care for her appearance and is indeed both mystified and terrified by stereotypically feminine interests such as make-up and clothes and baby showers. And while Eve’s husband Roarke is a ruthless businessman with a criminal past who certainly knows how to handle himself in a fight, he is also portrayed as someone who appreciates the finer things in life. Roarke also has the nurturer role in his relationship with Eve, indeed large parts of the series are devoted to Roarke making sure that Eve sleeps and eats properly, Roarke comforting Eve when she’s troubled by nightmares or by her cases, Roarke showering Eve with expensive gifts she neither wants nor knows what to do with. Indeed, the vivid characters and unconventional gender roles are a large part of the reason why I adore the series. Yet you regularly hear complaints from readers, particularly on romance focused sites, that Eve is too rude and abrassive, frequently couple with snide remarks that the series is “pure fantasy” and that in real life someone like Roarke would be married to a very young and properly feminine supermodel and would never look twice at an unfeminine and “older” (i.e. in her early thirties) woman like Eve. I sometimes reply to such posters that if they’d actually read the series, they’d know that Roarke did date supermodels and found them boring and that he loves Eve, because she’s different. Still, the mere idea that a woman can snag a top man without having supermodel looks and being subservient and feminine seems to bother a certain subset of American readers a whole lot.
Indeed, female characters who are deemed “too rude and bitchy” and no feminine enough are frequently criticized, particularly by romance readers, as are male characters who are not “alpha” enough. Just recently someone complained that Yasmeen, the heroine of Meljean Brook’s Steampunk romance Heart of Steel, was too unlikable and that she never even said “I love you”. Now I didn’t get around to reading Heart of Steel yet (it’s next up on the to-be-read pile), but Yasmeen was a secondary character in The Iron Duke and I liked her quite a bit there, even though she was not stereotypically feminine. But then Yasmeen is a mercenary airship captain and stereotypical femininity wouldn’t suit her character at all. Besides, Mina, the heroine of The Iron Duke, is not stereotypically feminine either.
Hmm, looking at all this I wonder whether the rather rigid gender role pattern in the US (which is a lot more rigid than in Germany) is gradually breaking up.
Kate Elliott responds to Mette Ivie Harrison’s post and describes her issues with gender and gender roles in her own work. I certainly sympathize, because I sometimes worry if my female characters are not too passive and stereotypical. For example, I worried that Constance Allen was too passive in The Spiked Death, because she spends most of the story chained to a wall, even though Constance does fight off a kidnapper in The Spiked Death (though it ultimately doesn’t work) and is pretty damn awesome in Countdown to Death. I even worried that Teresa in El Carnicero was coming across as too passive, even though she is a guerilla leader and refuses to give in to or be scared by the villain.
Ironically, I also worried about an upcoming story which features four really awesome women. Sure, they were awesome, but were they maybe too awesome to be true (even though the story is not exactly serious)? Did they perhaps venture into the dreaded Mary Sue territory? Never mind that there is rarely more than one Mary Sue per story, because multiple Mary Sues would cancel each other out. And never mind that all four awesome women are fully developed characters with flaws and warts and everything. I still worried that some idiot would view them as Mary Sues, because they are female and awesome.
For some reason, I rarely worry whether my male protagonists will be viewed as masculine enough. I suspect it’s cultural, since gender roles in general and masculinity in particular are less rigid in Germany than in the US. So all of those “a real man would never do this” article aimed at women writing male characters usually leave me shrugging and thinking, “Well, I know several real, heterosexual men who do exactly that.” Indeed, male characters only worry me when they act like macho arseholes. The main reason why Sir Nicholas Harcourt does not get the girl at the end of Hostage to Passion is that he hadn’t sufficiently redeemed himself from his macho pirate ways in my opinion – and because I had an idea for a sequel, of course.