Most of you who know me know I love Frasier. It’s the only TV show I’ve seen every episode of, most of them multiple times. It is, in my opinion, one of the most smartly written shows out there. I’m grateful the writers have found new success in Modern Family.
Having watched so much Frasier, I’ve naturally begun to notice patterns in its characters. And it started bothering me when I realized that despite being one of the show’s five main characters, Roz Doyle’s story lines consist of little more than her sex life.
Roz appears in all 263 episodes of the series, yet nearly every conversation with her is about her date, her current boyfriend, her ex-boyfriend, her lack of a boyfriend, or her perceived promiscuity. At one point, Frasier’s brother Niles says, “I assume that at the next meeting of Seattle’s ‘Haven’t Kissed Roz’ Club’ it’ll just be me and the archbishop.” Roz replies, “I’ll save you the club dues” and kisses him. In fact, by the end of the show Roz kisses (or is kissed by) all three of the main male characters – Frasier, Niles, and their dad, Martin.
In a few episodes, Roz’s story line strays from this stereotype: when Roz finds out she’s pregnant, when Bulldog (the office chauvinist) confesses his love to her, and when she and Frasier get in a fight. These were some of my favorite episodes, as we finally see a deeper look at her life. She’s driven in her career. She has the same fear and occasional loneliness as other single parents. She sometimes blows up at her close friends. She finally was portrayed as something other than Man-Crazy Roz. We see her as Relatable Roz.
And then, as Smee would say, I had an apostrophe.
It occurred to me that over the series, Frasier has dated and slept with a large number of people, probably about the same as Roz has. Yet it doesn’t define his character. Sure, he’s the title character so he’s bound to get more screen time and, therefore, the audience sees more of his day-to-day life. But still, if a viewer were asked to define Roz in one sentence, they’d probably say, “She sleeps around,” whereas with Frasier they’d probably say, “He’s a psychiatrist.”
The other female lead, Daphne Moon, is portrayed only slightly better. She’s not overly sexualized like Roz, but she is frequently dismissed by the male characters as naive or eccentric (“She’s psychic,” Frasier says in one of the earliest episodes. “We’ve decided to find it charming.”). Moreover, Niles is in love with Daphne for seven years, a fact that is painfully obvious to every character and viewer, but magically escapes her notice until it’s told to her point-blank.
Another thought that struck me relates to Frasier living across the country from his son, Frederick, who lives in Boston. Frasier sees Frederick at Christmas, the odd Thanksgiving, and at Frederick’s bar mitzvah. In 11 seasons, we see Frederick in nine episodes, and a couple of times Frasier talks to him on the phone. Overall, it is easy for viewers to forget Frasier has a son. But if Frasier were a woman whose son was growing up 3,000 miles away with the same amount of contact, she’d be seen as abandoning her child. Viewers would be unlikely to watch such a show.
While I’m the kind of person who would love to dissect all the female characters of Frasier, I’ll shift topic now to what led me to write this post in the first place.
The other night I watched the following clip of Olivia Wilde:
I have to admit, besides hearing her name a lot, I know very little about Olivia Wilde. But seeing this clip has made my respect for her skyrocket. She smoothly articulates an issue to which I had never given much thought, but now that she’s brought it to my attention, I realize what a pervasive issue it is in media today.
The title of this post is borrowed from a chapter of the book Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood by Mick LaSalle. The entire book is worth a read, and has given me a laundry list of old movies to watch. But this chapter in particular shows the narrowness of women’s options in movie roles of the early 20th century: either the naive, fresh-from-the-farm ingenue who experiences the big bad world, or else the soul-sucking, seductive vamp who controls men until she gets what she wants from them – i.e. sex.
Granted, calling Daphne an ingenue and Roz a vamp might be a bit extreme, but they fit in the general vicinity of those stereotypes. What I find sad is that Frasier aired 50 years after these films with such strict restrictions for women’s roles, yet even its award-winning writers couldn’t entirely refrain from falling back onto these tired typecasts.
My hope is that with more people like Olivia Wilde – both in person and on screen – women can finally be seen as something more.