Is the Portrayal of Women in The Newsroom Problematic?

Kelen Coleman and Alison Pill in The Newsroom.
The Newsroom, Episode 9: Kelen Coleman and Alison Pill.

Photo by Melissa Moseley.

This question originally appeared on Quora.

Answer by an Anonymous User on Quora:

Your assessment is pretty spot-on, and this is one of my biggest issues with the show.

I’ve read some commentary criticizing the depiction of women in the series. I’ve also taken issue with the way that Aaron Sorkin writes women before. Female characters mostly seem to fit into familiar archetypes across his other works. I’m losing interest due to the lack of complex and nuanced women on the show. Most of them come across as unprofessional and boy-crazy, despite their accomplishments. -Question Details on Quora

I’ve worked in two newsrooms, currently at one of the largest in the U.S. in Washington, D.C., and have worked with several high-powered and accomplished women.

MacKenzie McHale would be eaten alive in this business. I find it incredibly hard to believe that this woman who can’t conduct a news meeting without constantly stumbling over her words, or send an email or deal with personal relationships outside of work, was a foreign correspondent in areas where supposedly “bullets were whizzing over her head.” With the exception of some scenes where she’s in the control room, I’ve yet to see this strong, accomplished woman they tried to paint at the beginning.

Some might say that “oh, but it makes her real.” Yeah, sure, there are women like that, of course there are. But they aren’t executive editors of major news shows, and they don’t lose their shit constantly or encourage employees to throw water in the face of the boss as a team. We have several female foreign correspondents, and they are some of the strongest and bravest people I’ve ever worked with.

Margaret “Maggie” Jordan is also an incredibly weak character. No woman in a professional newsroom would ever whine in a news meeting to their superior (even if it was on a weekend) about them being a liar or get all pissy about something that happened outside of work. I realize (now) that she’s the intern who perhaps got promoted possibly too quickly, but she should still have a grasp of the basic tenets of journalism. I went to a third-tier j-school, and it’s pretty well cemented in my mind. I find it highly doubtful she’d be at the level she is at, at a major network news show, if she was someone who couldn’t control her emotions (at work at least) or hold her tongue when it was necessary.

We haven’t seen enough of Sloan Sabbith (Olivia Munn) yet to really get a handle on how well her character is written, though right now it seems similar. She holds two Ph.Ds supposedly, but seems chiefly concerned with getting her boss laid.

The good thing is that it’s early in the show, and characters develop over time and as storylines occur. It’s been picked up for a second season, so hopefully he’ll take some of the criticism to heart (when has he ever done that) and make these women characters more realistic as strong, professional females.

More questions on Female Characters in Fiction: