Bones Theory

Why Bones Is Good For Women


There are a lot of reasons to love Bones, the show. This blog published 100 of them, in fact.  One of the reasons I love the show, though, and encourage my teenage daughter to watch it with me, is because Bones is a particularly interesting show for women. It subverts and even obliterates television tropes about female characters and how they behave.

The first and most obvious example is the Smurfette Principle.  No, it’s not the reason Brennan hates Secret Santa. In this context, the Smurfette Principle is the tendency among works of fiction with an ensemble cast to have just one female character.  It is of course a reference to Smurfette, the sole female in all of Smurfdom. (By the way, Smurfette was genetically engineered by Gargamel in hopes that a female would cause such dissension in the all-male Smurf society that they would fall apart and thus make them more susceptible to attack. There’s some subtext for you!)

Since season two, the ratio of male to female major characters  (named cast members in the credits)  on Bones has been 50/50, a ratio not found in any other procedural except Castle, which actually has ratio of five major female characters to three major male characters as of its fourth season.  Brenda Leigh Johnson of The Closer might be an incredibly strong and powerful female character, but Brenda Lee, you are a Smurfette.

Then there’s the Bedchel test, which is a litmus test for well-developed female presence in TV and film. It poses three simple questions. Does the show or movie have more than one female character?  Do they interact with each other? Most importantly, do the female characters have at least one conversation that is not about men?   Brennan and Angela do talk about men. But they also talk about animal rights, Angela’s struggles with her job, art, and whatever topic is raised by the case of the week. Cam and Brennan talk about work more than anything, but we all remember the touching conversation they had about Michelle in The Doctor in the Den as well. Angela and Cam discussed the slave ship victims in Shallow in the Deep and they too often discuss work.

So Bones passes the Smurfette test and the Bedchel test. What’s next?

Of the three major female characters, two of them, Brennan and Cam, hold the positions of authority within the show’s universe. Their gender is virtually irrelevant in terms of their success. Brennan, for example, is referred to as the best forensic anthropologist in the world, not the best female anthropologist in the world. Booth objects to Brennan performing certain activities because she is not a cop, not because she is a woman.  “The gun goes first,” he tells her  (not the guy, the gun.) And speaking of guns, while gun ownership is an issue for Brennan due to her “shoot first, warn later” philosophy, in times of danger Booth has never been hesitant to give Brennan his own weapon (insert your own gun as penis metaphor here).

Those times of danger, by the way, are equal opportunity. Another trope Bones frequently subverts is the Damsel in Distress.  In a typical DiD scenario, a female character is in danger, forcing the  Hero,with or without the help of the rest of the cast, to rescue her.  Brennan is in danger about once per season, but minus one exception, she does not simply wait to be rescued but fights very hard to rescue herself.

In season 1’s Two Bodies in the Lab, Brennan would certainly have been killed had Booth and the SWAT team not arrived in time. But the fact that they had time to arrive was due to her tenacious fighting, even while bound. In season 2, she and Hodgins essentially saved themselves in  Aliens in a Spaceship. In season 3, Brennan dismissed wounds from a bomb full of human teeth as a mere “flesh wound” and continued working the case. In season 4, Con Man in the Meth Lab, she got shot in the arm, an injury she again dismisses, and goes about her business. Season 5, Harbingers in the Fountain, she takes a scalpel to the forearm, and placidly yanks it out to apply pressure to the wound.

The near-car accident in season 6’s Doctor in the Photo is the only time Brennan is truly a damsel in distress and rescued entirely through someone else’s efforts. But, a recurring theme of that episode was that Brennan was not  acting like herself.

What makes Brennan’s occasional forays into danger unique in procedurals  is the lack of a sexual element or explicit scenes of violence. The most damage Brennan has visibly suffered was probably her assault in Man in the Morgue. She is shown covered in blood, but fully dressed, and is quickly cleaned up.  We never see her being struck or hit. Olivia Benson from SVU, Brenda Leigh Johnson from The Closer, Catherine Willows from CSI have all been victims of rape or attempted rape.  Jane Rizzoli is impaled by serial killer, The Surgeon (which we see in a flashback).  Detective Eames, from Law and Order Criminal Intent, is captured by a serial killer,  partially undressed and strung up on a hook, then repeatedly tortured. Emily Prentiss of Criminal Minds is repeatedly hit by a cult leader in the episode Minimal Loss, then tied to a bed.

The violence that is inflicted on the actual characters is nothing, however, to that which is inflicted on the “victim of the week.” The victims on Bones are usually well past the point where they even look human.  Gross? Maybe. But not nearly as disgusting as the long, lingering camera pans up and down the scantily clad bodies of living or recently murdered victims (usually young, nubile and female) that you see on Law and Order SVU, CSI (in all its incarnations) The Closer, Criminal Minds, Homicide: Life on the Street, NCIS,  etc that essentially fetishize violence against women.

The Girl in the Fridge  featured a victim who was sexually assaulted; an assault that is  sensitively verbally referenced but not shown. Compare that to an episode of CSI: Miami in which female victims are show wrapped in plastic and covered in honey, or an episode of Criminal Minds in which  the victims are strippers, forced to dance for their captors, then gang raped and chased through a cornfield – all of which is shown to the viewer in slow and loving detail.

As gruesome as the bodies are on Bones, the show does not glamorize violence or the violent death of women.

The show does glamorize its female characters though. They are all physically attractive and those assets are occasionally on display. But so are the assets of the male cast members. By the end of season one, every character but Dr. Goodman appeared onscreen in some state of undress. For every moment Brennan’s cleavage is front and center, there is a moment when Booth is objectified or put on display (or put on a gurney and wheeled through the lab in just his socks and boxers.). You could argue that the ideal scenario would have no objectification, but this is a visual medium and the cast are pretty people and it happens. At least on Bones it happens equally among the male and female characters. In fact, I would argue that Booth is a far more objectified character, in terms of the comments that are made about his appearance by other characters (had Angela’s “you should buy a ticket on that ride” comment, for example, been made by Hodgins about Brennan…we’d have a whole different show. But probably still on Fox.)

Of course the show isn’t just about pretty people wielding guns and solving crimes and rescuing each other. It’s also about relationships. On Bones, the usual stereotypes about men and women in relationships are turned upside down. It’s the men of Bones who are eagerly searching for commitment and the women who are more practical and reluctant to “settle down”.  We see this in all couples. Booth/Brennan, Hodgins/Angela, Sweets/Daisy and even in our brief glimpses of Cam and Paul.  On the subject of children, we are given three different viewpoints: Angela, who has always wanted children; Cam, who has consistently said she does not want a baby, and Brennan, who liked children but did not particularly want them until she wanted to have a child with the specific person she loves.

The show is also sometimes about relationships that end and when they end on Bones there are no histrionics, no catfighting, no Alexis and Krystle tumbling into the fountain.  Although Booth’s ex, Rebecca is sometimes used to conveniently explain why Parker is offscreen, she and Booth ended their relationship with a mature, reasonable discussion in The Truth in the Lye. Booth and Cam are former lovers that have remained good friends. Angela and Hodgins broke up and remained friends. Caroline Julian and her ex-husband chat amiably during Max’s trial.   The love triangle of Booth, Brennan, and Hannah wasn’t really a love triangle at all, because everyone involved behaved like adults. Maybe that cost the show a little drama, but portraying Brennan as jealous or catty or bitter would have been such a disservice to her character.  Two women fighting over a man is not drama, it’s demeaning to the women involved and to women in general.  I had my issues with the Hannah storyline, but I am forever thankful that the writers did not pit Hannah and Brennan against each other in competition for Booth.

Behind the scenes,  59 of the show’s 134 episodes aired to date were written or co-written by women.  When you consider that only 16% of television shows currently on the air employ women writers at all (according to the Center for the Study of Women in TV and Film) those 59 episodes represent quite an impressive statistic.  Eleven of those 134 episodes have been directed by women.  Consider that only 11% of all television episodes are directed by women.

There are things the show doesn’t do for women. The very real issues of sexism that Brennan and Cam would face in the hard sciences is completely ignored, for example. But Bones has never been a show with an Issue of the Week and I would never want to see the typical, pandering,  Very Special Episode that other shows present to piggyback off of the current media firestorm. (“Tonight on Bones, Parker learns an important lesson about cyber-bulling!“). No, that doesn’t happen. It’s not that kind of show.  In fact, the show presents a rather endearingly optimistic vision of society in which sexism, racism, homophobia and intolerance don’t really exist. Brennan is an atheist. Angela is biracial and bisexual. Cam is African American. We all know that in the real world, how these women are perceived and treated would be influenced by those truths. But in the show’s world, they are simply Brennan, Angela, and Cam, three complex women whose gender, sexuality, ethnicity and religious beliefs are simply one aspect of who they are.

Of course, the show isn’t perfect in its portrayal of women. The costuming department did women no favors by dressing allegedly serious journalist Hannah in a see-through blouse and having her act as though she thought it was an entirely appropriate garment to wear on the job. (Really, show? Really?) There have also been times in season 6, and in these first few episodes of season 7,  that Brennan was in the rather concerning position of  being taught a lesson in human behavior by a bunch of men. Those were eyebrow-raising moments for me. I  hope  “Brennan makes a relationship mistake and Booth forgives her”  does not become the theme of the season.   Booth and Brennan have always been portrayed as a very “equal” couple, giving and taking, supporting and accepting support,  and I hope that equity doesn’t disappear simply because they are now in a romantic relationship.

But when the series is considered as a whole, when you look at the big picture (and all the little considerations that go into keeping a show on the air for seven years),  and measure it against all the other crap  programming out there, Bones is an exceptional show for women.  And it actually does well in the ratings!  Even in the key demographic! Networks, take note.


54 thoughts on “Why Bones Is Good For Women

  1. Cam holds a position of authority? You mean, like she’s the boss? Wow. She should really tell us that every once in a while. We might need the reminder.

    Sorry – couldn’t resist.

    I’ll sit quietly in the corner now.

  2. Amazing post! Thanks so much for writing it, it pointed out a lot of what I’ve always loved about the show. I take it for granted sometimes that it’s such an unusually positive show for women, but you’ve reminded me 🙂

    Great points well made!

  3. Very interesting post! I liked all the facts and figures about the different aspects of women and TV. While I am a female, I can’t say that I am a feminist per se, though I do support equality :)…and sometimes I feel that the whole “Women are just as good as men” thing gets shoved in my face a lot, and its almost offputting sometimes. Well, I don’t feel that way about Bones. Like you mentioned Barbara, in the Bones-verse, they just are who they are, accomplished people in their fields, doing what they do best. Women alongside the men. There is just an inherent equality that is just nice to see. I know I’m just speaking for myself, but I don’t need a to have female character constantly pointing out that she’s as good as/better than a man. On Bones, they just show it. Booth and Brennan work together because they are the best in their respective fields. She’s the best, he’s the best. Done. You made a great point here, “Brennan, for example, is referred to as the best forensic anthropologist in the world, not the best female anthropologist in the world.”

  4. Very informative and well written post. Thanks Barbara!

  5. While I usually worship the ground va36 walks on, not so sure I totally agree with this article. Does Bones portray women in a positive light? For the most part yes, but the recurring theme of abused and battered children is in contrast to Brennan clocking Booth (after she found out he was alive again)being played for laughs again. It’s bad to abuse, batter children and women but it’s ok for women to batter men. Don’t think so, the role reversal was interesting but it is getting old now. Since when does a committed man have to turn into a wimp as Hodgins has, Sweets is ambivalent with Daisy and Booth has to struggled to keep his relationship going with Brennan. I personally would like to see more balance between the genders, since they have known each others for 7 season now, but I guess that is just me.

    • I think we have to differentiate between the overall theme of the show and the episodic behavior of the characters, which changes as needed for that show’s script.

      In a big picture kind of way, I agree that BONES gets high marks for avoiding some of the usual tropes.

      The way characters are sometimes made to behave, though, can be problematic.

    • It’s definitely not just you, and I agree that there are individual events, plotlines, lines of dialogue, that are problematic.

      No TV show is going to hit every note right, every time. But from a big picture perspective — I remember when Cagney and Lacey first aired and the network was so afraid Sharon Gless’ character wasn’t sufficiently feminine, or the way violence against women is so grapically depicted on other crime shows..and from that broad perspective, I think Bones does a lot of good in an industry that routinely does women no favors.

    • I also have an issue with the balance. I would really love for Hodgins to speak up to Angela at some point. He puts up with way too much. Yes, and Booth has struggled with Brennan.
      Season 6 Brennan put up with an awful lot from Booth (I actually thought she looked like a doormat) As for Sweets and Daisy they just get sickening after a while.

  6. I, for one, like that they do a good job with the gender roles without shoving it our faces week after week. I am a female, but not necessarily a feminist, and I find it a little off putting when its “women are just as good as/better than men” being said all the time. Bones does it quietly. It just is. Like Barbara said, “Brennan, for example, is referred to as the best forensic anthropologist in the world, not the best female anthropologist in the world.” And I think that’s part of the magic that makes Bones work.

    I do also see a bit of Sky Lark’s comment above in the show. I think sometimes a tendency can be to overcorrect, and to be sure you have strong women, the male gender gets kicked to the curb sometimes. I have found Hodgela slipping into that at times, often its Angela’s way or the highway, but they seem more of a team, family unit now. I also didn’t realize that Brennan had hit Booth more than once. But overall, I think Bones handes the tricky topics of gender better than most. There are female squints, female FBI agents, just as many female as male leads, and they all work together without resorting to the male vs female dramaz that is typically shown.

    Specifically of B&B, we’ve seen them both cry, both bottle up their emotions, both save each other’s lives, both teach each other things, and both learn from each other. It’s really never been a male vs female thing between them. They are just similar individuals who are tops in their fields and found a good professional (and now personal) relationship.

    I know there are people out there that think the character of Bones is ruined because she is having a baby and being in a committed relationship, that she’s now needing a man to be complete, reversing her thoughts about children, etc. But I don’t find that the case at all. I think her comments about children/marriage in the past have been because she was in that mindset of “I’m meant to be alone” and #1 didn’t think it was in the cards for her, and #2 because loving people means being hurt if they leave you. I don’t see pregnancy and a relationship with Booth as her “settling”. If anything, its an awesome testament to her because she is showing you can have it all. Woman or man, if you can have a top notch career (two in Brennan’s case) and have a loving, committed relationship and have children, go for it! Why would a woman have to pick one or the other, career or famliy? You go Brennan!

    Thanks for this post Barbara, and yay for Bones being an awesome show with so much to chat about and explore! 🙂

  7. Bravo! I wouldn’t change a single word on this post, including the bits about season 6 and 7.

    There’s often discussion about the aspects of the whole “Robot-Brennan Debate” on the Bones World and that’s the only point of concern, because not only it seems inconsistent with seasons 1-5 but gives us the impression that on season 6 she was being punished because she’s a woman and she rejected a man’s offer. On Season 7, things got out of hand for the comic relief / “Brennan Lesson” of the week, but I hope things are not TOO out of hand.

    The Two-Year renewal on seasons 5-6 and “The Finder” (HH left Bones on the back-burner to take care of his shinny-bright new toy), at least for me, are to blame for the inconsistencies and the sloppy writing (not bad writing, but badly supervised writing).

    I hope it can get better because the first seasons are TV masterpieces and I would like to think the people responsible for said masterpieces is going to do some justice to the characters we love.

    Sounds like I’m venting, but I’m not, I promise!

  8. And let’s not forget in Mastadon when Brennan had to fight guerillas off by herself with no help from Daisy. Maybe she later admitted that she did because Booth wasn’t there to protect her, but methinks that was just her way of missing Booth because now she’s still resisting that protection.

    Though some of those heavy-handed “Brennan learns a lesson” moments can be cringe-worthy, I know that they are trying to show growth, which is usually done by learning. I’ve had my own concerns about a “Brennan makes a mistake” theme this season. But does it really happen more this season? Is it the same? I don’t know. Right now, it’s a perception that may or may not match up to reality. But I can also go back and frame past actions that way, and it doesn’t sound that novel. Interestingly enough, we’ve heard one clear apology from Brennan, but two from Booth.

    • In tDitP, she was definitely not herself. I don’t even know if she ever realized how must danger she was in. She was so focused on solving the case.

      In general, I think it’s kind of a win-win situation. When Brennan defends herself, it’s female power. But when Booth does it, it’s Seeley Booth in action. I think Brennan does appreciate her alpha-male counterpart, it just so happens to clash with her independent streak sometimes.

  9. What a lovely post.

    I am old enough to remember The Avengers on television with Emma Peel and John Steed fighting crime weekly and the producers never showed a woman being sexually attacked (it was the 60s) or bloodied. There’s a similar approach in Bones which I appreciate.

    While the shows sometimes stretches the characterizations of the main characters, it shows an enormous amount of respect for those characters. Yes, any of them can appear clueless or silly or foolish at times, but that is generally balanced with great warmth or compassion or sensitivity. Or brilliance. It isn’t perfect, but that’s fine.

    • Although I’m not old enough to remember The Avengers on television, we watch it at home, and I completely agree with you on that. And it wasn’t just Emma Peel, either, but the two other women that worked with John Steed as well (unfortunately, I’ve only seen a couple episodes with them, and that was via YouTube).

  10. Wow, you made me laugh and you made me think. Very nice.

  11. I absolutely loved reading this article. I agree with 99% of what was said, and some information was presented in a new light, which helped me to better understand certain situations.

    However, the only thing I’ve never been in agreement with others about is the “Brennan makes a relationship mistake & Booth teaches her lesson.” As someone who, like Brennan, has not been in many (meaningful) relationships, I understand where her errors are coming from, and why Booth is trying to help her learn. She’s not in the wrong for making the mistake in the first place, and Booth is not the bad guy for trying to show her the other side of the spectrum. Relationships, especially one as complicated as B&B’s, are all about trial and error, and I wish I had a “Booth” to let me know what I did wrong, and also how to fix it, rather than getting upset and walking away from us. Brennan is slowly learning how to maneuver through her new relationship with Booth, and mistakes are bound to happen. I don’t think that means the writers are dumbing her down for a plot point, and I also don’t think that makes Booth demeaning in whatever situation has occurred. He understands that she’s likely to make these mistakes. And, in my opinion, a few of the “mistakes” she’s made this season have warranted the need for a lesson, so to speak.

    Anyway, those are just my two cents. Other than what I discussed above, I really enjoyed and agreed with the majority of this article. 🙂

    • Interesting perspective Alanna, I agree with a lot of what you said.

      Sometimes I think there are some in the fandom who look up to Brennan so much, they can’t bare to see her make mistakes. There is an idolisation there that doesn’t allow for human mistakes. They perceive it as a weakening of the character, but I actually think the opposite, I find Brennan’s openness to learning how best to make their relationship work quite inspiring – lots of people are too stubborn to make changes and that’s how lots of relationships falter.

      At least B&B work through stuff together.

      • “I find Brennan’s openness to learning how best to make their relationship work quite inspiring.”

        I wholeheartedly agree with you! The fact that this woman, who has been set in years for most of her adult life, is willing to bend and open herself up to make her relationship with Booth work floors me.

      • I think its the whole “impervious” vs. “strong” difference that Brennan herself talked about. Where before she was impervious to anyone and anything, blocking herself from the world, she wasn’t free. Now, she is learning, growing, in a committed relationship, about to be a mommy, but she’s still Brennan. Only, now, she is strong. She is becoming the best version of herself. She is changing for the better. So is Booth. And that’s why we love these two crazy kids 🙂

    • Alanna, I totally understand what you’re saying. I’m like that myself. I think what is often up for debate is whether the lesson that Brennan has “learned” is something she’s known in the past. And we can all have different perceptions of her character. I don’t really mind Brennan making mistakes – she’s been making them from season 1. I’d almost suspect she would make more being in a relationship like this for the first time and how it all happened so quickly.

      The only thing that can irritate me is how the writers sometimes frame her rationalizations – it doesn’t always make sense or seem to fit how she reasons. For example, I didn’t get upset that Booth was at the ultrasound. But the reasoning she gave of him liking movies in color was just…weird. If her response was that he said he didn’t care if it was a boy or girl, that would have made more sense. But I’m surprised she didn’t update him after the appointment – Brennan isn’t usually hesitant to give someone all the facts, even the trivial or unnecessary ones. It didn’t have to be an emotional moment, just a factual one.

      • I thought the exact same way you did about Brennan’s rationalization for not having Booth at the ultrasound. Though I understand her not grasping the sentimental aspect of learning the sex of their child together, her comment about him liking movies in color was…random. I was also very surprised she didn’t at least call him after the appointment, but I attributed that to the fact that maybe they got busy with the case. That’s how I explained it away in my head, anyway. 😉

        As for the sentimental aspects that Brennan is slowly learning, I, for one, am loving how these new insights are developing her character even further. Even though she missed the fact that Booth would want to be there for the revealing of the sex, she knew him seeing the DVD would be something he’d enjoy.

  12. Wow this post is so relevant! Yesterday I was watching Law and Order: SVU and a young woman was describing her rape to the detectives and my dad asked how women can watch a show that shows violence against other women. I never realized that Bones does a really good job of not showing that much violence (aside from the bodies, of course). I love this show even more now! Great post!!

  13. You might have just listed almost all of the reasons why I fell in love with the show in the first place. Awesome, awesome, awesome.

    Actually, the other reason I fell in love with the show has to deal with the female element as well. If Brennan is being portrayed as having something similar to Asperger’s Syndrome (which they’ve pretty much admitted without the actual words, and since the earliest seasons, and it’s really been there since the Pilot, just not as noticible), then the show is breaking another barrier, too. Think of all of the other characters on TV presently that are AS-like. All of them are male that I can think of (and let’s include Zack in this, OK? Good). Well, there ARE women with AS out there, and there are statistics that say that girls tend to be underdiagnosed compared to boys (as children are usually the ones diagnosed, not adults), as it presents differently. I have both male and female friends and relatives who are AS. Way to break down more barriers, Bones!

    • I have tried to decide if Brennan has AS or if she just never developed social skills outside of the lab/scientific community because she lost her family at such a young age. She put a wall up after she lost them and her training taught her to rely on facts and logic instead of emotion.

      I love the fact that Boothe shows her the emotional side of a situation. He isn’t afraid to show his emotions and feelings. He has helped her grow and understand people better without changing her analytical perceptions.

  14. With the exception of the character of Hannah who did a major disservice to women in journalism, I agree that the show has served women as a whole well. My only caveat would be that I would like to see another female squintern other than Daisy. Women are making great strides in evening the playing field in math and science at the university level. In fact, there are more women for the first time in history entering those fields than men. I’d like to see attention paid to this fact by adding another female squintern that isn’t the silly caricature that Daisy is.

  15. this was a really good post.
    to piggyback on your points about Hannah’s attire– can we talk about what Cam wears to work?
    her skin-tight dresses and stilettos are a concern for me. she’s always been a sharp dresser but in the last two seasons, she’s become even more body-revealing.

    is this her way of asserting authority?
    “i’m going to come to work in a crime lab, where i’ll be up to my elbows in human remains, in this slinky dress, and i dare you to comment on it!”

    between her increasingly inappropriate sexy attire and her hair (that no one has commented on), i’m pretty distracted whenever she’s on screen. and not because i find it attractive, but i think it takes away from what’s being relayed re: the case or otherwise.

    • I think how she dresses bothers some people more than others. I’m not defending what she wears; I certainly wouldn’t dress like that (I also don’t have the body.) I think I can only conjure up one tight outfit in my mind right now, so it doesn’t have much impact on me. It helps that she doesn’t “act” sexy so I really focus more on her job and interactions with others. I don’t think it has anything to do with her authority. And I don’t think her hair is distracting. Didn’t she just get it cut into a cute bob? Liking it or not liking it is a matter of personal taste. Some people hated Brennan’s bangs last season – some people loved them. Practically every cast member has changed their hairstyle, sometimes several times.

    • Sometimes I wonder if the producers choose to have Cam wear heels because she may not be as tall as Brennan or Angela. Silly, I know. Just my opinion.

  16. Great post! I agree that in the larger picture Bones is good for women. I’m always amazed when I read some critics who only describe Brennan as “robotic” or “cold”. It seems that they can’t accept a portrayl of women outside the routine depictions we get on “acclaimed” dramas or procedurals. Temperance Brennan is a complex character. She may be “extraordinary” but as a woman I think she is also easy to relate to on some levels. Not all women do know that they want to be a wife and mother. Some women choose not to have children and lead fulfilling lives, and some women – men too- change their stance on having children when they meet someone and fall in love. Not that that storyline was fully fleshed out but that is essentially what happened. Anyway, I do appreciate that we don’t get the standard portrayls of women and relationships on this show. I appreciate that Brennan has been shown as saving herself when in peril.

    As an aside, I know that topic of what baby girl Brennan Booth should be named has been discussed before but I hope I’m not seeming too old-fashioned by hoping that she is given the last name of Booth. I know that there many sides to that issue but I don’t think it would be a loss to feminism if she was given her father’s last name. As far as we know Michael Vincent Staccato’s last name is Hodgins and Parker’s last name is Booth so….that’s just my hope:)

    • Well, Angela and Hodgins are married. Plus, even though Angela was first portrayed as a free spirit, she has given herself and her love to Hodgins, and I don’t think she feels like she needs to be a spokesperson for feminism. In fact, the three leading ladies probably represent the positive strides in feminism, but they don’t try to fit themselves into that box – they do what they want.
      I hadn’t thought about Rebecca naming Parker. Interesting that she did that, especially since she has primary custody.
      It will be interesting to hear Brennan’s thoughts.

  17. The reasons you stated, as well as some others, are why I chose to let my then 12 year-old daughter watch Bones over her dad’s objections. I know the bodies are gross (though not in a hyper-realistic way) and the discussions can be over the top, but where else are you finding three capable, smart, educated women on tv these days who are never depicted as helpless victims or in need of a man for self-validation? I find Brennan, Angela and Cam to be pretty excellent role-models for a teen, particularly in light of the pregnant-at-whatever, irresponsible sex/binging/cosumption programming currently available to younger viewers. Equally important as the portrayal of the female leads, though, is how repectfully the men on the show treat them. Booth, Hodgins and Sweets have all been painfully (sometimes excessively) loyal, supportive, kind men who have never been intimidated by the intelligence or the strength of the women they love. It’s a nice role-reversal, and one of the many reasons I’m a big fan of the show.

  18. Thank you for the summary on Bones I agree

  19. Uhm, yes. All of it. Yes.
    You should write a book. About Bones. Critical theory stuff like this. Pull from this blog. Get interviews. I’d buy that book in a second.

  20. I have to say that I agree with most of the article up to season six. For one, when you talk about the relationship between the three women, it was almost non-existent. Angela and Brennan had no real friendship for most of the season. As much as you liked that Brennan and Hannah were friends, it was totally ridiculous. To me, it was Brennan doing anything she could for Booth. The writers did the same with Hodgins and Wendall, a storyline I still cannot watch. Brennan became more abrasive in so many instances and too comical in others. The point was to have her grow, but she regressed back to season 1, and in some cases, worse than that.

    This season had Brennan not having Booth come to the ultrasound. The viewers are supposed to forget that this women knows everything about Booth and knows how he feels about Parker (going AWOL for his birth). Yet her reasoning is that he does not like black and white movies)
    Also, Brennan has to buy a less expensive house which Booth can afford to buy half of. Would this be the case if Booth made more money. Will she always have to downplay her success because of his male ego.

    I have a daughter and we watch Criminal Minds. I think that JJ is a wonderful role model for young girls and i think that show does a wonderful job of showing equality among the team and portraying women in such a positive manner. I have to say that they dress more appropriately as well.

    One last thing, in the scene with Brennan adjusting her breasts and complaining about her aching breasts, this was just so out there for Brennan. As you mentioned in your article, so many times Brennan has been hurt and gone on with her job, yet for comedy, etc. this season, they have Brennan acting like this and it seems like she is always making mention of fatigue, or how uncomfortable she is. I really would not have expected Brennan to act like this. Yet, she drives into a tornado. So inconsistent.

    Yes, this show does have some good points about women, but I think it is definately losing some ground.

    • Much as I hate to reiterate a tired trope from so many other blogs I would have to divide Bones into pre-100th and post-100th episodes. Pre-100th is a fascinating Brennan, smart, flawed, vulnerable, attractive, aggressive and irritating. But as any anthropologist worth their salt, she does understand people, particularly Booth. This was especially clear from the season 1 episodes that are being replayed on TNT. Brennan stops Booth from bullying the woman from El Salvador because she knows how that woman feels. There is no ‘I don’t know what that means’ about it. She’s strong and outspoken and at time infuriating but at all times an interesting character. After the 100th, the writers chopped her into little pieces. She became at times dense, ludicrous and clueless. They used her as the butt of season 6 jokes which were humiliating and deeply disrespectful of the character they had created. This season is somewhat better. She’s back on form among the forensics and her efforts to adjust to an entirely new life experience as romantic partner and mother have overall been touching. For a majority of the time Brennan has been a good role model so I’m inclined to try and overlook the loss of focus that was season 6. But I never want to go there again.

      • I just miss the old times when it seemed like the people she worked with actually liked her with all her quirks. Hodgins and Angela and truly her friends, but as far as Cam, i think Cam respects her professionally but there is no bond. I don’t have an issue with that because she is Booth’s former girlfriend, and her boss. Again, the whole Hodgins/Wendall/ Angela creeps me out. But it really seems like sometimes that she is more abrasive than in the past. The squints seem to have wisecracks and don’t seem to really like her. I was happy when she spoke up to Arastoo last year and sometimes Wendall seems to forget that she basically paid his way. He must know that

        I really disliked the first few episodes of this season She seems to be more equal in the last couple. I think people have to remember that Brennan is flawed but Booth is as well. As they say he puts up with her but he has a lot of baggage as well. A gambling past, a son who she now has to accept as part of the relationship, an abused childhood, strained relationship with his father (and often his brother) his history as a sniper, and his failed relationships with women. However, it is written like he is the catch. I would say they are about equal.

  21. It’s refreshing to read this take on a show I both enjoy and love. But just as you have pointed out about other shows, there are also things about Bones that I have to try to not think about to closely in order to enjoy it. At it’s heart, Bones is basically a gender reversal show. And in some ways that presents complications in that it takes a couple of aspects of male behavior that is abhorrent to us when it is presented to us in the reverse, but here is at best ignored or even viewed with a ” you go girl attitude”.

    Brennan has twice slugged Booth, not in self defense but in rage. We know what we would call a man who did that. Angela consistently uses sexually inappropriate language to the men she works with, even when it’s clearly not welcome. Clark had to bring in his girlfriend to play the same ” boyfriend” role a woman might to tell her to back off. What’s worse is her female boss is aware of her inappropriate behavior and doesn’t do anything about it. In each of your three major female characters you have a repeated demonstration of behavior abhorred by women when they are on the receiving end of it. And there is the danger in opening up the discussion of any form of entertainment to any kind of political agenda scrutiny. It never works unless you are willing to selectively pick and choose.

    • I agree that Brennan hitting Booth is not a good thing. However, in the 100th, I certainly never got the impression that any of the characters thought it was. Sweets is appalled (“You struck him?”) and Brennan looks ashamed of herself. (As she ought to be). Booth, ever the gentleman, steps in to make an excuse, but it’s a lame excuse and he delivers it lamely. That’s my interpretation of that scene, anyway.

      The incident in The Pain in the Heart is…yeah, just one of the many things wrong with that episode. Certainly no television show is always going to strike the right note in every scene in every episode. Sometimes they flop, sometimes they colossally flop.

      As for Angela, I think her aggressive sexuality is played for laughs (the female version of Scrubs’ character Todd the surgeon) and it’s just not always funny.

    • Brennan hitting Booth is definitely B-A-D. Brennan as we met her was a woman who basically hated emotions and chose mainly to ignore hers, and as a result was unable to deal effectively with intense levels of emotions. That’s not an excuse, that’s a reason. I think Brennan has grown past that point. It’s for things like these that I don’t just jump aboard the “we want the old Brennan back” train. I don’t think even she would defend her actions, even as they were quite impulsive.

      I think it’s safe to say that no one here is condoning every single thing that these ladies do. “Big picture” is the key phrase here. These hard-working women are thriving successfully on the merit of their own talent/intelligence, figuring out what kind of personal lives they want and trying to strike a balance. I think that is a theme that resonates with so many women. Being a woman I cannot speak for any man. Your perspective is appreciated and needed.

      • Hitting someone is never acceptable but I think we should look at those moments in context.

        Like you said, Brennan wasn’t used to dealing with emotions that overwhelmed her. In each case where she struck someone (slapping Russ, punching Booth, slapping Booth) she was in an emotional crisis. And frankly, looking at those three events separately, I can see why each of them occurred and I’m not sure I wouldn’t have hit out, too.

        She wasn’t hitting them to prove her physical superiority or enforce her will or prove her power over either man. She’s not a serial abuser waiting to happen. And she was in a different place back then than she is now.

      • I wanted to bring up context too, but I guess I was too afraid people would think I was excusing her behavior. But since you brought it up…

        That first argument they both said very hurtful things to one another. But as much as they were wrong, there was some truth to their words. Kudos to Booth for keeping his composure – some mix of character of training probably. But Brennan could be pretty volatile, and in her situation, “I’m not your dad” are fighting words. He doesn’t know anything about her, he grabbed her arm and pulled her out the room like a little girl. Remember at that time, Brennan had been abandoned by her parents and didn’t know why. She didn’t even know if they were alive or not. So, touchy subject. I wonder how I would have reacted in that situation myself. I know I would have been upset. Nobody deserves to be hit (that may even be debatable, like in tSitS), but it’s just as important not to provoke people.

        I don’t really have that much to say for the other instances, though. As I said, I don’t see her behaving that way now.

  22. I think much of this is spot-on. But the part at the end, objecting to Brennan learning from men…that’s troubling to me.

    Certainly, a lot of people have expressed concern that she appears to be learning things they believe she learned several seasons ago (or should have learned) and, while I don’t agree with it, I think that’s valid criticism.

    But saying ‘she shouldn’t still be having to learn these things’ isn’t the same thing as saying ‘she shouldn’t be learning them from men.’ That’s effectively saying men have nothing worthwhile to teach women, and very different from saying women can’t learn anything men don’t teach them.

    If she doesn’t know it, why the heck does it matter how she learns it? (I’m also not sure where the ‘bunch of men’ comes from, as I would have said some of what they’ve shown her learning in S7 came from Angela.)

    If the objection is that she shouldn’t have to learn anything about relationships from this point out, fine. But objecting to her learning from Booth because he’s a man makes me very uncomfortable. Or perhaps the show should only be watched by young girls? What message is there here for boys, if the men have nothing to offer?

    Brennan has always learned human relationship stuff from Booth, and yeah, maybe she should be over that by now and no longer making mistakes. But to suddenly object to her learning from him just because he’s male is essentially reversing the problem. IMO, it’s no better to say women shouldn’t learn from men than it is to say women need men to teach them stuff.

  23. Great post. Thank you for sharing this on BT. Just to add a couple things, in Season 1’s Two Bodies in the Lab, it was quite intentional on the part of the writers that Brennan “saved” Booth (when he was blown up by her fridge) before Booth “saved” Brennan, further adding to the fact that she is not just a damsel in distress.

    I know that there has to be a certain amount of T & A on television, so I guess I just have to live with Cam’s ridiculous wardrobe. It really does bother me, though that she (and House’s Cuddy, who was the head of the hospital), dresses so inappropriately for her role. As a former cop, she should know how to dress to be taken seriously.

    I have had no issues with how Brennan has been portrayed in this season. I think that one of the important arcs for Brennan as a character is her progression from someone who was so scarred by her experiences that she chose not to believe that love could last or that relationships would last, to the point that she was missing an important part of the human experience. After six long years, she has now allowed herself to believe in love. That’s a huge progression for her character, but it’s not surprising to me that she still needs some help along the way, in this particular aspect of her life. It just happens that the last few episodes have been heavy on this part of the B/B relationship. I expect there may be more to come, as Brennan continues to explore aspects of the human experience that she never really believed she would know (motherhood included).

  24. Great post – highlighted heaps of the reasons I fell in love withn the show.

    By the way, Hart hanson tweeted about this, with a link. Congrats Barbara & Bones Theory 🙂 🙂

    • From hearing some of Hart’s comments when he was on the Paley Center panel, I think this kind of representation of women has been intentional and is important to him. Apparently some people took issue with the fact that Emily wasn’t directing last season, and called him sexist, never stopping to consider that there were more things (her being pregnant) behind that decision.

    • That’s fantastic that you got some love from The Man himself! I’m sorry I missed seeing that!

  25. Someone made a comment earlier on Robot-Brennan, even though there have been many people who have brought that up in different places. IMHO, I wouldn’t describe her that way. That’s my tactful way of saying I simply don’t agree. 🙂 In fact, I suspect that some of what I like could be precisely what others don’t like or just take issue with things I don’t. One of my fears (from reading fanfic, not from evidence of the show) is seeing Brennan turn into an emotional person. Even with the drawbacks of her hyper-rationality, I want her to remain at core a rational person. That’s how she complements Booth, because contrary to popular belief, emotion isn’t everything. There were certain times where she has been emotional, and it has been helpful for growth, but in a way it’s almost unsettling to see her that way because it’s so unlike her. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I don’t like those moments. No (wo)man is an island. Life is tough, and nobody should have to go through it alone, and I’m glad she has Booth to lean on. But I’m also happy to see that she does indeed draw strength from doing so and doesn’t stay in that emotional, sensitive state. I’m always happy to see her get her mojo back. Like I said, those moments are still important, and Emily always does a great job in those scenes. I think they do a great job of not overplaying it so that we always feel the impact when it does happen, so I look forward to them happening instead of thinking “Oh boy. Is Brennan going to cry again?”. For example, with Brennan being pregnant and hormones flying around, how easy would it have been to see her get attached to certain cases? In order to do the job she does, she has her methods (i.e. mainly compartmentalizing), and if that were to change minus a few exceptions, I don’t see how that would benefit her.

    • Now that I wrote all that, I realize what I was really trying to say. I appreciate that they can show a woman being vulnerable without making her weak. Or at least I get the impression that showing vulnerability at times doesn’t make a person weak. Brennan is highly selective with her emotions. She’s selective with which ones she shows, how/when/where she shows them, and to whom she shows them.

  26. Thanks Barbara, what a fantastic and informative post.
    You have listed some of the many reasons why I love Bones.
    Showing a lot of violence toward women is one of the reasons that I don’t often watch other procedural shows. One night last year I (very stupidly) watched 2 eps of Law and order SVU and then one of Medium. I was so upset and depressed after watching them that I couldn’t sleep yet I have watched 4 episodes Bones in succession and not been adversely affected by it for hours afterwards. I feel this is because Bones is essentially a happy and optimistic show. It may have some very sad murders and storylines but it is about more than just catching a murderer, it is also about giving the victim a name and their family closure.
    For all the glamourising of the female characters I think overall the show has a very positive emphasis on body image, women in the workplace and in the field of science. Brennan, Angela and Cam are all attractive women, very successful in their careers and they each achieved this through using their skills, talents and hard work, not through using their looks.
    Brennan is a woman with no body issues, in Cinderella in the cardboard she tells Booth that if they were dating and he didn’t like the dress she would ‘re-evaluate, change or ignore you.” She refers to cosmetic surgery as being barbaric. Angela tells Zac that she is a great believer in people being themselves.
    Another point which I don’t think has yet mentioned is that the show is based on the book series written by Kathy Reichs who herself is highly qualified and works in a specialised field (she is one of only 88 certified Forensic Anthropologists in America).
    So because of all the excellent reasons listed not only by Barbara but in the comments as well I am going to continue to encourage my teenage sister to watch Bones.

  27. Wow. Great read!! 😀 😀 I’ve always liked how the women are portrayed on Bones, but never really realized how “respectful” the show has been to their female characters (and female audiences). BONES may not be the best crime procedural in the world or the best series in the world, but if anyone were to ask me “what show has the best relationships?” it’s definitely going to be BONES!!

  28. I think it is important to remember that while this show has some great female characters that they are real because they are also flawed in a real world sense too. They aren’t presented on a pedestal as the epitome of female empowerment but being that can be selfish, hurtful, and fallible as any other being.

    The show does a decent job with gender I believe not by being gender-blind, but recognizing gender influences our perceptions but it is not the most important defining thing in regard to stories and relationships. Whether a character’s bits dangle or wobble is not the forefront thing on my mind.

  29. I love this. This is the one of the reasons (the most important) why I love this show so much. Perfectly written.

  30. Excellent post, and very keen observations!

    I really hope that there are more shows like ‘Bones’ that break gender stereotypes and shift TV entertainment from the male gaze.

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