Bones: A Feminist/Gender Analysis

Bones is a Fox Network (fictional) crime drama following the cases of a female forensic anthropologist and her team (working at the Jeffersonian Institute in Washington, D.C) as well as a male FBI agent. The show not only depicts the complex crimes but the even more complex struggles and interpersonal relationships between the characters. The target audience for the show is people between the ages of 18-45 that watch primetime television. Although the show features some roles that are out of the ‘norm,’ it still manages to downplay it by showing the consequences of breaking the status quo and stepping out of the normal.  Basically, the show reinforces typical male and female societal roles. This can be seen through a liberal feminist (more specifically an occluded, preferred feminist reading) analysis of the characters of Dr. Temperance ‘Bones’ Brennan, Seeley Booth, and Dr. Lance Sweets.

 

In Bones, the female main character and arguably the star of the show, Dr. Brennan, is portrayed as highly intelligent and very educated. She is white, very wealthy, at the top of her field and world-renowned. However, all of these seemingly positive things are not portrayed as being so. She is seen as being unhappy despite all of her success; later on in the show, she seems to finally be fulfilled only after beginning a romantic relationship and conceiving a child with her male co-star. Another example of her character being downplayed can be seen in how Dr. Brennan seems to always have an answer for everything, which visibly annoys her colleagues (especially the male ones) on more than one occasion. It is not ‘typical,’ or ‘ladylike,’ of her to correct or outsmart her male colleagues. Dr. Brennan is depicted as being almost robotic or emotionless in the show, which could very well be due to the perception of women as being unable to posses both intelligence/a high career drive and have empathy. It is almost as if she sacrificed her emotions in place of her intelligence and career, making her undesirable. Her strong career drive, ‘stubbornness,’ lack of emotion, and emptiness makes her not an ‘ideal,’ role model and not someone the average consumer wants to be.

 

Detective Seeley Booth is the male co-star in Bones. He plays a typical gun-slinging FBI agent. The character himself has a very solid build, a square ‘manly,’ jaw line, and broad shoulders. In the show, he is always ‘saving the day,’ in some sense or another. On more than one occasion, he is seen ‘saving,’ Dr. Brennan from impending danger, despite her stubbornness and lack of co-operation. Outside of their personal relationship, the same dynamic still applies. Although Dr. Brennan puts in the majority of the analytical work that leads to case resolutions, Seeley Booth is almost always depicted as the hero. Although Dr. Brennan is portrayed as being far more intelligent and rational, detective Booth seems to always be the voice of reason, talking her out of doing ‘stupid,’ things and telling her what the ‘proper,’ way to act in certain situations is. An example of this is when Dr. Brennan is pregnant and trying to do her job, Seeley Booth warns her of the dangers of working during her pregnancy and even tries to physically stop her (although she has a medical degree and is very aware of what she should and should not do during pregnancy), and she is the one portrayed as being unreasonable.  The character of Seeley Booth always being the hero, being credited for all the work, and always being ‘right,’ in some sense or another reinforces male gender roles in today’s society.

 

The last character I have chosen in this analysis is Dr. Lance Sweets. He is a psychologist working for the Jeffersonian and his main job is to ensure mental health of the team. He is well dressed, white, has a tall thin frame, and curly hair. He is successful in his field as well, but is not portrayed as something people want to be. He is often emasculated by Seeley Booth and not taken seriously by the strong male lead. Even his name in the show, ‘Lance Sweets,’ says a lot about how the character is portrayed. He does not have a ‘strong,’ or ‘manly,’ name; therefore he must be weak, and ‘feminine.’ His profession demands that he often talk about feelings and things of the sort, things that are seen by society as being ‘feminine,’ because men need to suck it up and ‘take it like a man.’ Rarely do the male characters in the show (especially Seeley Booth) genuinely accept his help or respect his position. Even Dr. Brennan often puts him down in the beginning by saying things like psychology ‘is not a real scientific field,’ and insults of the like. Dr. Sweets is often seen almost lapping behind Detective Booth, wanting to be more and more like him; even he realizes that he is not the ‘ideal,’ man and idolizes someone who is portrayed as being so.

 

Although at first glance Bones seems to oppose normal social roles for men and women, at closer inspection, it becomes obvious that at its core it still sells the same messages that society has created. Dr. Temperance Brennan’s high intelligence and career success is downplayed and at times overshadowed by her lack of fulfillment and social incompetence, making her undesirable, Seeley Booth is the rugged and handsome hero, making him normal and something the average consumer wants to be, and Dr. Lance Sweets is the physically weak sensitive archetype, making him also undesirable. These roles and others in the show depict that even in seemingly oppositional character dynamics, society’s expectations of gender roles is often still met.

bones_wall05_1600x1200.jpg

 

Citations:
Fox Network. Bones. February 6, 2012 <http://www.fox.com/bones/_media/wallpapers/bones_wall05_1600x1200.jpg&gt;

 

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7 thoughts on “Bones: A Feminist/Gender Analysis

  1. To start, I have to admit that I have never seen of or heard of the crime drama show, Bones, but perhaps this is because I do not fit into the age group of the target audience. Considering my limited knowledge of the show, I was able to achieve a basic idea of some of the key characters (Dr. Brennan, Seeley Booth, and Dr. Lance Sweets), and a more descriptive analysis of how each of these characters represents typical male and female societal roles. One suggested area of improvement would be to add some aspects of media into your post such as pictures of the characters and possibly a YouTube video to add some excitement to the post, as well as make life a bit simpler for those who haven’t seen the show before.

    I thought Reem used an effective format, in that she divided the post into a paragraph for each character, giving a brief description of the person, and then getting into the details about how the specific character followed the typical gender roles put out by society. I think this layout is effective in making the information the most clear to a reader in that it states the basics of what one needs to know about the character as well as how it fits into the feministic theory.

    I agree with the type of feminist perspective that Reem chose, being the liberal approach. This approach focuses on providing opportunities for women in traditionally male-dominated areas. This aspect fits perfectly into the part, since Dr. Brennan is employed in a typical male career, being archeology. The description of Dr. Brennan described in Reem’s post typically does not agree with role women not only because she is a female archeologist, but also that she “lacks emotion” and is very “career driven.” These characteristics are perceived as atypical for a woman. That being said this next part reveals the occluded aspect of feminism in that Dr. Brennan is revealed as being successful, yet still unhappy until she is given the responsibilities of being a parent. The one suggestion I suggest to make this point stronger would be to focus a bit more on Dr. Brennan, specifically that aspect of how having a child has completely changed her from being an atypical female role to a typical female role.

    The section regarding detective Booth was done well in that it clearly displayed the typical male gender role of today’s society, by means of his looks, hero-like characteristics, and career. The example given was also informative and relative, reinforcing the main idea of the typical gender role.
    I found the last section regarding Dr. Lance Sweets to be a bit confusing because I found the character noted went against your statement that each character represents the typical gender role. The paragraph concern Dr. Lance Sweets typically argues that he goes against this typical role. I would recommend some clarification in the intro or exclude this character. What I would suggest overall is to focus more on the two main characters, Dr. Brennan and Seeley Booth, and the relationship between the two because I think you had some great points regarding feminism and their roles.

    All in all, you wrote a very informative post and analysed the characters thoroughly through the liberal feminist perspective.

  2. The interesting thing about Bones being emotionless is that she wasn’t always like this – You should check out a few chapters from the first season, Bones’s character is distant but a far cry from the robot in later seasons.

  3. I disagree with your post. I was reading your arguments, and constantly thinking… no, that’s not true, no, it’s not like that, and so on. First of all, Brennan has a very complex personality. From the first season until now it’s obvious that she is not a robot as you say, but a very kind and warm person who uses her intelligence to protect herself from being hurt since she was abandoned as a child, but from time to time, in different situations she reacts very emotionally (from the first season, even first episode she often shows that she is not emotionless as you say). Despite of that, her faith in science and everything that makes her who she is, stays the same through all seasons. And it’s not like she is the only one who wasn’t fullfiled. Booth, as well as she, was constantly looking for the pieces of puzzle that were missing in his life. And that’s the beauty of it, how each of them changed one another, and how they complete each other. I would say that in the beginning Booth was much more unhappy then she was. And it’s so not true that she is undesirable, everyone loves her, and she is very well capable of finding partners, but still keeping her independence. I agree that Booth is often portrayed as a hero, but so is she. Thanks to her most of the cases are solved, and without her Booth wouldn’t be able to do anything. I watch the show from the beginning, and I’m a very stubborn feminist, and as such, I was always so happy with Bones because it’s really different in many ways. There is nothing antifeminist in love, emotions or being able to change yourself because of someone you love. Persons do change because of the influence of his or her family, friends and partners. Concerning Sweets, I have to disagree one more time. Yes, Booth did make fun of Sweets in the beginning, but he makes fun of everyone around him, that’s who he is. But as time passed, Sweets became very important to him and to the team, and his expertise was appreciated and his help very useful for the case. I think Sweets is taken very serious, by Booth as well. Through season we can see how thanks to him Booths starts talking about emotions, and it doesn’t seem like he wants to be like Booth at all. He has his beliefs and a character that is strong and he is able to help Booth in so many ways. I don’t see why anyone would want to be Sweets. I’m sorry if I didn’t make myself clear, English is not my mother tongue so I apologize for any mistake, but I just couldn’t resist answering you. There is so much more things and arguments I would like to write but I’ll satisfy with this. 🙂 hope you’ll think about everything one more time, or see some more episodes of Bones 😀

  4. I happen to disagree. As an autistic women and scientist,I think this is exactly the sort of representation that we need. Dr Brennan clearly had Asperger’s. She is not actually robotic; throughout the show she cares for others a great deal. She just has difficulty expressing her emotions. It is VERY important that women are shown with varying degrees of social skills. I feel like women are always expected to be perfect in social situations. Men are allowed to be quirky; women are not. As for Sweets, what you are saying is that he goes against gender roles by being effeminate. The reason Booth and Bones disrespect his work is because of his field. Psychology is what is commonly seen as a ‘soft science’. There is no black-and-white, more like varying shades of grey. Booth and Brennan are both used to dealing with hard evidence. They don’t believe that Sweets psychology is valid because it doesn’t seem like proof. It has nothing to do with the fact that Sweets is effeminate. Also, I think Sweets has been portrayed this way just because he’s a lot younger than Booth, precocious, and inexperienced. Sweets becomes a valued member of the team when they see that his psychology is actually accurate and helps them with their case.
    I do agree with what you’re saying about Booth being a ‘manly’ man. Although I don’t think the actor’s physical appearance should come into it, just the way they’re portrayed. But you’ve got to remember- Brennan was carrying his child. Anyway, Brennan is not always reasonable. Another trait of autism is that sometimes we freak out, get angry and do something very irrational. I don’t recall Brennan seeming unhappy at all. Where did you get that? She was just happier when she fell in love with Booth. How is love unfeminist? I think they compliment each other very well. He has empathy, and she does not. She has logic, and he does not. Are women not allowed to be happy if they are in a good relationship? Is it unfeminist for women to enjoy having children? Maybe we should start growing babies in test tubes like in Brave New World.
    I think that you do not understand very high intelligence and Asperger’s at all. Brennan’s IQ is something like 160. When you get up to that level, guess what? A woman cannot actually be warm, empathetic, and perfect in every social situation. Intelligence like Brennan’s requires a certain intensity. It’s grossly unfair to women like me that we have to be good at communication as well. It’s actually very unfeminist. It is a stereotype, that women must be socially skilled, and Bones is the only place I’ve ever seen that broken. And what about Camille and Angela? Both very intelligent women and socially adept. They’re just not as intense as Brennan, which makes them seem not as intelligent.

  5. Really enjoyed this article. A few other problems I have with Bones on this subject would be the seemingly inability for anyone of the opposite gender without becoming romantically involved (Bones and Booth, Angela and Hoggins, Daisy and Lance, Cam and Arastoo…) and the fact that although Bones at first would claim she had no desire to have children, suddenly flipped and “healing” wanting and having children which I felt was a huge disservice to the show in the sense that here they were with this opportunity to show girls, women, everyone that it’s okay not to want to have kids. Instead no, they ruined it. They made it as if all women who claim to not want kids, eventually will. Very sad.

  6. Binge watching now and these are definitely ghee thoughts that have occurred to me amongst others relating to the portrayal of race, intersectionality, judgement of subcultures, etc…

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