Despite a childhood and adolescence throughout which I was routinely described as “bossy,” I find the day-to-day realities of being the boss to be very challenging. For example, sometimes I feel like the worst boss ever and at those times I want to run away and live on a raft on the ocean or go write a novel in the woods! Sometimes I want to smash pudding into my face! Sometimes I want to fire myself / everybody! Sometimes I don’t want to ever have to tell anybody else what to do, ever! Sometimes I want The Internet to die in a fire! But most of the time I feel lucky to have such a wonderful team and to work for such a wonderful group of readers.
It doesn’t help that there’s not much out there in terms of role models for Ladies in Charge. The archetypal female boss in the media is either incompetent or cold, ruthless and impersonal. She has no romantic life ’cause she’s “married to the job.” She is especially brutal to female underlings. She’s often a conceited meglomaniac! But every now and then, a lady comes along who breaks the mold and I cling to these precious few with obsessive fervor.
So, let us present our favorite television bosses — mine, with some expert opinions thrown in from other Autostraddle team members.
Top Eight Lady TV Bosses
Captain Janeway, Star Trek Voyager
Much like Adama in Battlestar, Janeway started Voyager in a hopeless place — marooned in the Delta Quandrant, 75,000 light years from earth, unsure if they’d ever see their home again. She was not only forced to lead fairly and ambitiously, but also to keep morale high in uncharted waters. The first female captain on a Star Trek show, she boldly went there with a style that wasn’t reminiscent of previous captains but firmly and uniquely her own. Plus then she went to prison with a bunch of lesbians and became Boss of the Kitchen and then Boss of the Greenhouse, so.
Leslie Knope, Parks & Recreation
Hansen: “Leslie Knope would be the best boss of all time because she’s an amazing, driven role model for all of her employees… even though they take her for granted. She puts her community first, because she believes in the goodness of people. She listens to the woes of her community and department and makes honest attempts to fix what is wrong, even when it may not be super convenient for her. She believes in the power of women and champions female leadership, never shying away from moving on up in politics despite the rampant misogyny in city council elections. She’s not perfect, either, and forgives others for their imperfections, as well. She also knows all of the words to Parents Just Don’t Understand, which is vital.”
Tami Taylor, Friday Night Lights
Tami Taylor is the best parent and the best wife and the best human and THE BEST BOSS EVER. She’s got this polished Southern charm that somehow softens the repeated blows she delivers to the bureaucrats and lazy assholes standing between her students and their education. She wants a better system and will fight for it, no matter what, and even stands up to her co-worker’s apathy. This tenacity lands her a job as the BIG BOSS of a University. Then there’s how she tells her husband that it’s time her career takes precedence over his for once, which is one of the best Tami Taylor moments and one of the best Friday Night Lights moments ever. I JUST LOVE THIS WOMAN I CAN’T STOP TALKING ABOUT HER ALL THE TIME
Miranda Bailey, Grey’s Anatomy
Cleo: “Dr. Miranda Bailey is the best boss at Seattle Grace Hospital. She rules her interns with an iron fist and a set of rules for their residency that include “not waking up her unless a patient is dying” and “not sucking up” — because she already hates them. She doesn’t play favorites, so each wannabe surgeon must meet her high standards of care when treating patients in order to earn the right to enter an OR. She instills in them the idea that residency isn’t about the glory of being surgeon, it’s about healing. On the flipside, she calls the interns her babies and takes time to give them what they needed to become better doctors as well as people. She never asks Christina to turn down her intellect or drive, but makes sure to remind her that each patient is person, not a career stepping stone. And while all of the aforementioned things contribute to her awesome bossness, the thing that makes her a truly awesome boss is her creation of the clinic at Seattle Grace. She created it because she was losing faith in medicine being about healing and needed a way to help people in a manner that was meaningful and drama free. By doing this she showed her interns and residents that self-care and career advancement don’t have to be mutually exclusive. And maybe more importantly, that you can change your plan and the world won’t end. Dr. Bailey is a surgeon, clinic head, mother and The Boss.”
Ellen Morgan, The Ellen Show
You guys, she’s a lesbian independent bookstore owner. That’s just inherently perfect.
Liz Lemon, 30 Rock.
Stef: “As the acting Kermit the Frog to TGS’ Muppet Show, Liz Lemon is in charge of keeping a thousand moving parts and unreliable human beings operational. She’s refreshing to watch as a character because she’s a smart, single woman attempting (and often failing) to balance a personal life with her demanding career. As a boss, she’s shown as mostly trying to remain rational, dealing with issues between her staff that logically shouldn’t be her problem (but often are). The staff of TGS operate as an enormously dysfunctional family with questionable strengths and often absurd complications. At the heart of all of this confusion is Liz Lemon, who cares enough to keep her team centered and on their game enough to deliver a live show week after week. Without Lemon at the helm, it’s unlikely that TGS would be able to thrive or even continue to exist as a show. Lemon is happy to go to bat for her colleagues, and recognizes potential and positive qualities in each of them. In rare episodes where Liz is presented with the option of a promotion or a more appealing job, it’s clear that her focus is on the quality of her work with TGS and her connection with all the people who make it happen.”
Bette Porter, The L Word
This sounds fucked up — but then again, so is the entire damn world — but until seeing The L Word, I’d never seen an example of a woman getting ahead in the workplace without pandering to male attention. I’d personally found my advancement and level of acceptance in every workplace I’d worked in, especially restaurants and temp jobs at banks, tightly linked to my ability to charm, attract or date male higher-ups or even well-liked male co-workers. But Bette didn’t take shit from anybody and often verged deliciously into misandry, whether she was heading up the California Center For the Arts, the Art Department at California University or that gallery situation with Jessie Spano. When in doubt, I tend to go meek, but when Bette Porter is in doubt, she defaults to strong. Plus she looks hot in pantsuits HEY-O.
Olivia Pope, Scandal
This weekend Kerry Washington spoke at BlogHer, an annual convention primarily geared towards lady-writers and I was there teaching people how to start their own Media Company (which required a certain degree of confidence I’m not always comfortable with). Prior to Kerry Washington’s moment on stage, I was telling a tablemate about how before business meetings, Alex and I will try to channel Olivia Pope and remind ourselves not to Take Anybody’s Shit and that We Know What We’re Doing and will Own The Room, and she said she does the exact same thing! Olivia Pope: inspires all of us to own the room and keep it pro. Oh, by the way, Kerry Washington is even more beautiful and perfect in person.
If you need more bossy inspiration, I suggest listening to this playlist my special activity partner made me to inspire me to remember that I Am The Boss, even when I Really Don’t Feel Like One.