Foreign Languages & Literatures ETDs

Publication Date

Spring 4-13-2018


CBS’s drama Madam Secretary, USA’s miniseries Political Animals, and ABC’s drama Scandal all debuted between 2012-14, each with a female protagonist working closely with the executive branch in Washington-based political circles. Each displays, however, a different engagement with political activity and its relationship to personal life and relationships and to personal identity and presentation. By examining the configurations of gender and power in Madam Secretary and Political Animals, both of which portray female Secretaries of State, this thesis addresses the visual and behavioral expectations for TV women’s access to power and visibility as women and political actors, using Judith Butler’s ideas on gender, Carolyn Johnston’s covert power, and Nancy Chodorow’s codes of gendered behavior. Further analyzing these two diplomats permits re-reading Gayle Rubin’s sex-gender exchange economy in diplomatic contexts. However, both series deal with white women working in white-male-led administrations, whereas Scandal stars a political fixer behind the scenes, who exerts power through others and remains the “other woman” throughout Scandal’s first season, refusing her an official position in a similar administration. While all three series seem to suggest new possibilities for re-signifying traditionally-male political authority, each operates from existing codes that do not let them establish a new image of feminine identity in TV politics.


women in politics, television, gender studies, media studies

Document Type




Degree Name

Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies

Level of Degree


Department Name

Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures

First Committee Member (Chair)

Dr. Katrin Schröter

Second Committee Member

Dr. Pamela Cheek

Third Committee Member

Dr. Rajeshwari Vallury