Thursday, July 21, 2011

Exploring what it means to be female in Bones

Reality TV shows tend to portray stereotypical male and female roles. Reality TV sends the message that women are supposed to be thin and look beautiful in order to get a husband, which is supposed to be the woman’s goal in life, as portrayed on the Bachelor. However, the show Bones, a non-reality TV show, portrays a non-stereotypical female who is intelligent, hard-working, and self-aware.  The character Dr. Brennan in Bones goes against the female stereotype and demonstrates that there is more to being a woman than just looking good and trying to get a man; she shows that it pays to be smart.

In the “Pilot” episode of Bones, Dr. Brennan is instantly portrayed as a strong, smart woman. In the beginning of the episode, she is put in holding for assaulting a homeland security agent, who she thought was a random man following her, and because they found a human skull in her purse.  She calmly explains that she is Doctor Temperance Brennan and was doing research on genocide victims in Guatemala for 2 months. She also states that she is a forensic anthropologist at the Jeffersonian.  This beginning scene shows her as a strong woman for defending herself against an unknown man who seemed to be following her. When they put her in holding, she doesn’t whine or ask for someone else to talk for her, she takes care of everything herself. The viewer is now aware that she is a strong, independent and smart woman.

In the article “The Unreal World”, Jennifer Pozner says, “In this summer’s defanged revamp of The Stepford Wives, impossibly thin, impeccably dressed and intellectually vapid women exist for no other reason than to cater to their husbands’ every desire, delivering fresh-baked cookies and midday nookie with equal aplomb”(Pozner 96). This female stereotype is also shown in reality TV shows. Conversely, Dr. Brennan in the show Bones does not portray this stereotype and this is revealed within the first few minutes of the “Pilot” episode. She is not dressed sexy or intellectually vapid; on the contrary, she is very intelligent, as the viewer learns when she says that she is a forensic anthropologist.

Another example of how Dr. Brennan is an exception to the female stereotype is when she convinces Booth to allow her to work in the field. Booth really wants Dr. Brennan on his team because he knows of her potential and intelligence. He consistently calls her a “genius” throughout the episode. However, she will join his team only if she can have full participation in the murder case, including field work, even though scientists aren’t allowed to work in the field. She uses her power as the only forensic anthropologist in town to get what she wants. Booth accepts her offer and agrees to take this risk because he knows she is highly intelligent. Her intelligence gives her the power and more freedom to get what she wants.

In the article, “The Beauty Myth” by Naomi Wolf, Wolf is talking about reality TV and says it gives the message that, “when women aren’t embarrassingly stupid, they’re condemned for being smart” (Wolf 97). However, in Bones, Dr. Brennan is rewarded for being smart. She wants to work in the field on a murder case and because she is intelligent, her partner, Booth, allows her to work in the field. Dr. Brennan uses her intelligence, instead of looks, to get what she wants.

During another scene in the “Pilot” episode, Dr. Brennan stays up all night trying to put all the different fragmented bone pieces together to make the skull, so they can identify the victim. This shows her dedication to her work. She is trying to work extra hard to solve this case, in order to prove that she is able to work in the field. Her main goal is to do her job as thoroughly as possible so she can gain more prestige in the workplace.  

Also in Wolf’s article, Wolf states that, “thirty-three thousand American women told researchers they would rather lose ten to fifteen pounds than achieve any other goal”(Wolf 120). This is certainly not Dr. Brennan’s goal; her goal is to focus on work and prove to the higher positioned bosses that she is able to work in the field. Dr. Brennan does not make any references to her weight or physical appearance throughout the episode; she does not care if she loses ten pounds or not.

When Booth isn’t totally convinced that Brennan can work in the field, she goes to the shooting range to practice using a gun. When Booth walks in the room, she hits the bull’s-eye. Booth also tries and he doesn’t hit the bull’s-eye, so she thinks she should be allowed to help solve the murder by being in the field. She has evidence from the bones, which she thinks is more important than asking psychology questions to the victims; the evidence never lies. Booth agrees and allows to her to go in the field to help solve the case. Dr. Brennan, again, proves her self-worth by working hard, not by looking pretty.

In “The Unreal World,” Pozner says, “the genre teaches us that women categorically ‘are’ certain thing-for example, no matter their age, they’re ‘hot girls,’ not self-aware or intelligent adults” (Pozner 97). Bones definitely does not teach us this message. Dr. Brennan is certainly a self-aware and intelligent woman and is rewarded for being smart. She shows that it is important to work hard to get ahead in one’s career.

In conclusion, Dr. Brennan in the “Pilot” episode of Bones shows that women can be intelligent and have life-fulfilling careers. Women don’t always need to depend on a man for money and security, which is the idea portrayed in reality TV. Dr. Brennan shows that she gets what she wants and advances her career by being intelligent and working hard. She demonstrates that a woman can be strong, independent and smart; a woman is not necessarily thin, fashionable, intellectually vapid, or a husband-seeker.

Works Cited

"Pilot". Bones. Fox: Sept. 13, 2005. Television. 

Pozner, Jennifer L. ""The Unreal World." Ms. Magazine. Fall 2004: 96-99. Web.

Wolf, Naomi. “The Beauty Myth.” Female Beauty. 1991: 120-125. Print.


  1. Ashley-
    Overall, well done for your first assignment! A few clearer specifics from the show would have helped you here in relstion to defining "smart" in the context of Bones and why you believe that this depiction is a deviation from hegemonic norms of femininity. Also, if Bones is not a reality tv show and doesn't fit Pozner's argument, try to find a source that is more conducive to your piece instead.
    See socs assessments and my "grade book" note for your the basis for calculating your grade.

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