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Women on TV: Why are we still calling them girls?

ByEllie Burgin

Sep 21, 2016

The second series of BBC war drama Our Girl has captured the nation through its constant adrenaline-fuelled action and embedded romance between army medic Lance Corporal Georgie Lane (Michelle Keegan) and Special Forces operative, Elvis (Luke Pasqualino). After being stood up at the altar by Elvis, Georgie travels over to Kenya as the medic for a unit hoping to complete a humanitarian aid project at a refugee camp. Due to the clear presence of Al-Shabaab fighters in the camp, events soon turn very sour leading to the kidnapping of Georgie herself.
Amongst the turmoil, the story of Elvis and Georgie’s relationship continues as, by coincidence, it is his special forces unit that is called in to rescue her. It is the skilful interweaving of intimacy and brutality in the series that captivates viewers and makes the series unmissable.

As the title of the series suggests, the drama focuses on the ventures of Lane and her experience as a woman in a predominantly male environment. Lane receives derogatory remarks from her fellow soldiers, with one squaddie shouting: “Give us a shout if you get lonely, sugar tits”. Such unpleasant comments are evidently a regular affair for female soldiers, yet it is her reaction that is of interest. Without fear of mockery, she bluntly and explicitly declines his advances, thus appearing to be of strong character and not allowing her gender to open her up to belittling comments. So why does the title of the series infantilise her as a ‘girl’?

In fact, this is a question that can be asked about television more generally. Following the coverage of the Olympic games in Rio this year, uproar has been sparked as commentators refer to female athletes as girls rather than women or ladies. The strength of these women, competing at the highest level in their fields is completely undermined as they are reduced to children through this condescending term. Like Lance Corporal Georgie Lane in Our Girl, these women prove themselves to be incredibly talented, strong, and often very brave, yet in contrast to their male counterparts they are still referred to on television as ‘girls’.

Looking further into the title reveals the token presence of a female in this series. Whilst the majority of the cast are men, it is the woman who takes the title of the show, “Our Girl”. This emphasises the fact that she stands out in this environment and that her company is unusual in such a setting. Furthermore, the idea of a woman not belonging in such a cruel and violent habitat is exemplified by the antithesis between Lane’s beauty and the sheer horror and unsightliness of the war. This absence of women in casts is shamefully regular in British television. A recent Buzzfeed article mocks the lack of diversity in television with a series of images of casts featuring little to no women and a shortcoming of ethnic minorities.
Whilst Our Girl does great things for women in television by celebrating the protagonist’s strength and independence, the series has also brought to light numerous underlying issues in television regarding women and other minority groups. In a country of such great diversity and an increasing acceptance of difference, it is disappointing to witness the continuing lack of diversity in television.

Image: Israel Defence Forces @ Flickr

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