The XX Factor

The “Creepy Gender Politics” of Rizzoli & Isles

When Silence of the Lambs came out almost 20 years ago, Betty Friedan complained in an interview to Playboy about the movie’s “evisceration, the skinning alive of women.” The interviewer points out to Friedan that Lambs is about FBI agent Clarice Starling, played by Jodie Foster, who “fought back against violence toward women and triumphed.” To which Friedan responded, “But even she was manipulated by this evil monster [the serial killer played by Anthony Hopkins]. Instead of showing women in jeopardy, the new trend is to show women in jeopardy who then survive the jeopardy.”

I was reminded of this when watching the ham-handed new TNT show Rizzoli & Isles , which is about a tough woman cop played by Angie Harmon (Rizzoli) who solves crimes with the help of a fashionista medical examiner played by Sasha Alexander (Isles). The pilot episode, which aired last night, is basically a pallid retelling of Silence of the Lambs : Rizzoli is trying to capture a Hannibal Lecter-esque serial killer who tried to off her before the action of the show begins. Like Lecter, the serial killer is a doctor and has a bizarre, feminized affect. Like Lambs as a whole, Rizzoli & Isles is fairly shocking in its portrayal of violence, (especially for basic cable). Like Foster’s character in Silence of the Lambs , Rizzoli’s life is put in jeopardy, and then she survives the jeopardy.

In her review of Rizzoli & Isles for the New York Times , Ginia Bellafante decries the show’s “creepy gender politics,” which “imply that women, no matter how tough, always need rescuing, and that beauty, in the end, only gets you the most dangerous kind of attention.” Though Bellafante is correct about the show’s retro message, I was just as irked by the show’s bad writing. In the first scene with the serial killer, he tells Rizzoli that she smells the same as he remembers, like “lavender and fear.” If that’s not a deeply silly illustration of a woman in peril, I don’t know what is.