Portrayals Of Women Who Work In Law Enforcement: Media vs. Reality

Mirror Essay

The word identity is defined as “a person’s conception and expression of their own (self-identity) and others’ individuality or group affiliations.” (Tajfel, H. (Ed.). (2010). Social identity and intergroup relations (Vol. 7). Cambridge University Press.” I am a sophomore here at Portland State and I am majoring in Criminal Justice. I am not sure what I want my profession to be, however, I do know that I want it to be in the field of law enforcement. I have always been very interested in all of the television shows and movies that have to do with the law. As I grew older, I saw some stereotypes taking place when it came to the women who worked in law enforcement. I wanted to take a deeper look into exactly how women are portrayed by the popular culture compared to reality. When it comes down to facts, women only take up 12% of the U.S. law enforcement industry. (Davis, A. (1998). Masked racism: Reflections on the prison industrial complex. Color Lines, 1(2), 11-13.) You would think with this being such a small percentage that women would be looked at like superwomen by the people of our world. Individuals see women on the screen as officers who are gorgeous and being glamor up when in reality there is so much more to it. Truth be told, the media enhances and portrays women way more positively than reality.

One piece of artifact that I want to look at is a clip from the show Criminal Minds that was aired on May 16, 2012. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iN5LyINg5gc) In this clip, we see a suspect trying to run away and two agents that are not going to let that happen. Agent Morgan is an African American male who is portrayed as the handsome one who gets his job done. JJ is a Caucasian, blonde female, who is portrayed as the brains of the team and one who can hold her own. Having a female as his partner, Morgan trusts JJ with his life. In this specific video, we have guns drawn, a man jumping out of a two-story house, a small foot chase, and a very determined woman agent.

There are so many reasons why I think this clip is amazing. One of those reasons being a woman taking charge for once instead of a man having to. Honestly, my favorite part about this clip is the determination JJ has in herself, along with the look she has in her eyes. The fierce expression she has while shooting a gun at this man. She accomplished a head shot kill from somewhat far of range. It shows women that they can be the ones behind the gun protecting civilians or trying to solve a case. It gives them hope for a change. In actuality, men are usually always the ones to solve a big case or to catch the suspect. They are the ones in real life who handle all of the physical actions of a police officer. Men have respect in this type of occupation where women don’t. They have to earn it. While them men get respect handed to them. This is why I love seeing shows that switch up the roles a little bit and don’t care too much of what someone’s gender is. Morgan never had a clear shot at the suspect running away and he knew that. Having that connection with his partner, and the trust that she can handle it, he relayed the message over to her. Television gives women so much more value compared to real life. JJ was vocal during the chase and not a quiet girl that couldn’t take charge, which I feel, is absolutely wonderful. At the end of the day, the guy was killed and a woman saved the day. I think the media needs to realize that our world doesn’t revolve around men and women are independent and can handle taking care of themselves and others.

The media has so many different shows and movies that are not only cop related but just action portrayals in general. There are some that reveal women of course negatively, although, there is that handful that gives women faith. When you watch certain shows you don’t just watch it, you soak up the information being given to you. Just like when we go to school. We go to learn. One of my favorite female action movies is one titled, Charlie’s Angels. There are three girls who play as what you can call agents. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tS0HTeoHNjM) The scene that I have chosen to focus on is one that has Drew Barrymore is involved in. It is what you call somewhat of a fun type of scenario. This scene starts off with Barrymore’s hands and feet tied up as she is sitting in a wooden chair. There are five men in this room, one whom pisses her off by taking her lighter. They are good-sized “muscle men” that should be able to handle a female who has her hands and feet tied in a rope. The men don’t see Barrymore as a threat because she is considered a damsel in distress at this point. Well, what they don’t know is she is her own secret weapon.

Barrymore takes the situation into her own hands. She doesn’t look scared at all. Actually, she knows she is about to kick some ass so she is somewhat cocky. Almost instigating the men to attack her. The men laugh it off thinking all that she says isn’t about to take place. The men never even lay a finger on her. The media portrays Barrymore as this funny agent, but also strong willed female at the same time. She doesn’t get stereotyped into waiting for a man to come and rescue her, like a princess movie. Yes, these are indeed just movies, but why get into girls mind that they need a man to feel safe. Women should be portrayed just like Barrymore as an independent kick ass types of girls. Never once did she think she was in danger. She had confidence in herself and she knew what she was capable of. Women in reality, I don’t always feel believe in themselves as much as they should. I wish more girls in their late teens would believe that they are in charge of their own happiness and nobody can take that away from them. Too many girls watch the movies like Shrek or Cinderella, where the female is always saved and can’t hold their own. The stereotype that women can’t do what a man is capable of aggravates me. I can do anything that I set my mind to and I know that because I believe in myself. The media does a wonderful job portraying women in this scene. It closes out with Barrymore saying, “ And that’s me kicking your ass.” Isn’t that the attitude all women should have?

Occasionally, the media will give women the upper hand when it comes to a fight scene when it is male vs. female. The media does anything and everything to make the man look better or stronger than the female. They always want the man to be seen as superman. However, sometimes the media will switch things up just a little bit. I have never seen the movie Fight Night, but this next clip I want to focus on is in fact from that movie. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ek2DPTK3WFc) This scene is a no rules, straight up street fight and is male vs. female. A massive, muscular, scary looking guy, fighting a somewhat average looking female. The crowd is rowdy and loud. Having there been no rules she gets the guy in the choke-hold and then snaps his neck and kills him. Before the fight even started she saw whom she was fighting and was not at all rattled. She seemed excited she had the opportunity to fight this guy. It is really cool to see the media portray women like this because it is very rarely you see this on the big screen.

In reality, the only type of women fighters we see like this that are professionals is Ronda Rousey, who is a UFC fighter. She is the image of women fighters around the world. When I say the image she is the entire package. She has the record of 10-0, an attitude that you wouldn’t believe, and the determination that I have never witnessed before. Seeing her fight is inspirational to young girls and women nationwide. When girls watch her fight they get the sense that they could one day be just like her. Rousey is greater than some male UFC fighters which is unheard of. They compare her to Floyd Mayweather and Nate Diaz. Having her in the media is all facts and stats. As a female fighter and a successful undefeated one at that, is what people love to see. She’s doing everything the right way that young girls strive to be one day. Magazine covers, modeling, and acting, she does it all. The media can portray women in a male work occupation in anyway they want but when it comes down to it, women can do anything men can.

Looking at the true meaning behind the word stereotype from the What is? website: “In social psychology, a stereotype is a thought that can be adopted about specific types of individuals or certain ways of doing things. These thoughts or beliefs may or may not accurately reflect reality.” In my opinion the popular culture does not accurately reflect the reality of females who work in law enforcement. Females are not usually the ones who take care of the fighting crimes in real life, or the ones behind the gun when some gets killed and it makes the headline news. Women take up 12% of the law enforcement industry like I stated before, but it is not what you think. You are probably thinking that they are cops, or detectives, right? These women are mostly district attorneys, lawyers, judges, etc. They are the behind the desk, non-field agents. Although there are obviously a handful of female field agents, they aren’t treated the way the media portrays them. They have to work and earn their respect. They have to climb up the ladder before the men in their field of work respect them even a little bit. Honestly, there are some people out there who don’t believe women have what it takes to be an officer because they’re not physically strong enough. The media in my opinion gives young girls hope that they can be and do whatever they want. I can’t wait to be apart of the law enforcement agency and I will be someone who is portrayed like the media shows. Respected, independent, hardworking, an all around amazing agent.

All in all, I feel as if women get a lot more credit from the media than in real life. Every single one of my three artifacts proves this theory correctly. In reality, women have to earn their stripes in this type of work force they are not seen as these amazing women who do great things on a daily basis. The stereotype in actuality is that women can’t hang with the boys. Little girls watch television shows and movies and see women being the great agent who solves crimes and want to one day be that. The media takes up a huge part of our lives today whether it is in a negative or positive way. Regardless of the negativity or positivity people feed off of this information and have to learn the hard way that its not always true. I wish people in our world would give women working in the law enforcement just half of the respect that they deserve. They are the real heroes who risk their lives everyday to try and make our world a better place.



  1. JJ shoots unsub. (2013, June 8). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iN5LyINg5gc
  2. Charlie’s Angels “By the time this is over…” 1080p full scene. (2013, August 13). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tS0HTeoHNjM
  3. Male vs. Female Fight Night. (2013, June 10). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ek2DPTK3WFc
  4. Tajfel, H. (Ed.). (2010). Social identity and intergroup relations (Vol. 7). Cambridge University Press.
  5. Davis, A. (1998). Masked racism: Reflections on the prison industrial complex. Color Lines, 1(2), 11-13.
  6. Stereotype – definition – What is ? (n.d.). Retrieved from http://what-is-this.net/en/define/stereotype

4 thoughts on “Portrayals Of Women Who Work In Law Enforcement: Media vs. Reality

  1. Hi cccelena1!
    It was great reading your essay! It was refreshing because it seems like a lot of these essays talk about how their identities in the media are portrayed as being negative. Yours was positive! Although I haven’t really seen the examples you used, I definitely understand what you are trying to say. I like how you discuss that women should feel more confident in themselves. Your essay was written very well and I left feeling encouraged and upbeat. That’s not something I expected to get out of one of these essays. 🙂

  2. Hi Cccelena1!
    I agree with Abby that I was pleasantly surprised that your take on popular media was that there is a positive spin on your identity. It also reminded me of the unfortunate truth that women are not as respected in fieldwork like they are shown to be in the media. My old babysitter is now a police officer in a small city in Oregon, and we actually had a conversation about how much harder it is for her, simply in terms of respect. She said that once she was dispatched to a domestic disturbance at some house, and when she knocked on the door, the person answered, looked and her and asked if there was “a real cop” they could talk to! So, yeah, in the case of this identity, hopefully popular media can help respect for women in law enforcement increase.

  3. Really interesting topic. I wonder if the media will play a part in helping women to gain respect in the real world. I wonder what it is causing this divide in what “we” say we believe and what happens day to day. Very interesting!

  4. Hey there, cccelena1.
    I really enjoyed your essay, and the examples that you used from popular media.
    You have a very powerful writing style that gives the sense that you are very passionate about the topic. Hopefully more women can portray the same sense of self confidence as the examples you listed. {:

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