From the first shot of her chic, red high heels, we knew that Jane's (Katie Stevens) boss Jacqueline (Melora Hardin) on Freeform's newest girl power dramedy The Bold Type was going to be a force to be reckoned with. The Scarlet Magazine editor in chief had to be fierce, fashionable, and — one would assume — a bit of a nightmare to work for. Why wouldn't she be? All it takes is a furtive glance at the overused narrative of the young female professional to know that our sweet, little heroine was no doubt working for the dragon lady to end all dragon ladies.
And that's where The Bold Type decided to hang a sharp left, giving Jacqueline the kind of personality that defies every stereotype about successful women. Yes, she's intimidating and at times a bit blunt; but that's where her harsh nature ends. Jacqueline has all the smarts and grit of a woman who earned her success, with none of the toxic pride or cruelty. She's The Devil Wears Prada's Miranda Priestly, if Miranda had been able to muster a scrap of human decency. Jacqueline doesn't vindictively dismiss Jane's article pitches, she discusses them thoughtfully and helps Jane dig for the better story. She gives advice and support to her underlings, while still maintaining her position as a professional and a mentor.
And in that way, Jacqueline — and The Bold Type — has completely flipped the script on empowered female professionals.
"She is not a bitch, and she is not harsh, and she pushes her employees to be their best," executive producer Sarah Watson told TV Guide. "That's the kind of mentor I've been lucky to have, and that's the kind of mentor we don't often see on TV. You don't have to be a backstabber, and you don't have to be pushing the women around you down to succeed."
Take a look at other powerful women bosses on TV, and you'll start to see how much a rarity Jaqueline really is. As much as we adore Supergirl's Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart), she's a successful woman (a CEO in fact) who steeps her compliments in a flurry of sharp and dismissive insults. The same goes for Younger's Diana Trout (Miriam Shor), an insanely demanding boss, who calls for Liza (Sutton Foster) to take on humiliating and menial tasks. Her dragon lady tendencies even once landed Liza in the hospital!
"I know very many women of power who haven't risen there by being cutthroat and manipulative and backstabbing," Melora Hardin tells TV Guide. "They've risen there by having incredible integrity, having twice the skill as most men around them and working at least twice as hard."
The erasure of any kind of nurturing or compassionate femininity is a very real thing in the business world for women who want to climb the ladder, and it's something that's seeped its way onto TV. The purpose of female characters like this is two-fold: one, a harpy woman creates a funny and yet challenging obstacle for our compassionate and girlish main character to overcome; two, it reinforces the idea that for a woman to succeed in a man's world, she must become cold, calculating and heartless.
Watson says that this mentality is something that older generations of working women recognize as normal behavior, which is exactly the kind of mold she wanted to break with The Bold Type.
"I had a friend who worked in investment banking, and she had a female boss that was just brutal towards her," Watson recalls. "One day my friend finally snapped and just said, 'Why are you so mean?!' And [her boss] said, 'Because I'm jealous of you because you're never going to have to behave the way I behave. You're going to get to be a woman.'"
Where does it say that women who succeed in business have to lose their heart along the way? Why do they have to hate other women, especially their subordinates, and treat them like gum on the bottom of their shoe? Why do they have to be an absurd cautionary tale about ending up childless and alone, if you strive to succeed in the workplace? Instead, we should let them — both on TV and in life — be three-dimensional human beings, who can look at a young up-and-comer not as a threat or a reminder of their own mistakes, but as a reflection of their former selves in need of a mentor.
"Usually when you see women of power [on TV], if they're not a bitch, then they're really broken," Hardin says, "That kind of tends to be the stereotype, and that's just not the truth. They have families, they've worked out ways to have relationships. They're balancing their careers, and they find a way to make that work."
This depiction of a powerful, beautiful and well-balanced woman is where The Bold Type really thrives. By creating these supportive female dynamics in the workplace that feel instantly intimate, we get to see women who have personal lives in the office, and outside of it, too.
Other TV shows, and maybe real life? Take note.
The Bold Type airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on Freeform.