Women in cop shows are frequently portrayed in a stereotypical way, as victims needing protection or as feminine characters that use their sexuality (Cavender, 654). Consistent with this portrayal, female officers in police shows are often depicted in a manner that highlights their femininity (Cox, 151). In the popular crime genre television show NCIS, Ziva David defies this female stereotype. She exemplifies a woman officer who is able to break into the male-dominated police world. In order to be accepted in this macho environment, she must adopt typical male characteristics and overcome negative treatment by her co-workers. In contrast to her male counterparts, her behavior and performance must be beyond reproach. By breaking down the stereotype, Ziva is able to become a respected and contributing member of a male-dominated crime team.
Context and Methods:
For this project I analyzed ten episodes of season three of the popular crime drama NCIS, focusing on the role of Ziva David, a field officer, and her role on the show. I also read three scholarly articles: “The Construction of Gender in Reality Crime TV” by Gray Cavender, “Kicking Ass…With Lip Gloss: Mediating Gender on TLC’s Police Women of Broward County” by Nicole Cox, and “Silent Witness: Detection, Femininity and the Post-Mortem Body” by Heather Nunn and Anita Biressi. I was looking for articles that touched on gender stereotypes in crime shows. All of these articles analyze the role of gender in crime shows. Which relates to my analysis of the portrayal of a female character in a crime show. The main focus of all three of these articles is the female stereotypes and their relationship with the male characters. All articles touched on this fact and this stereotype of women being mothers and submissive. This is the most basic portrayal of females on television; they are not normally even shown as professionals or strong and independent. Also, all of these articles touch on the fact that in all crime dramas women tend to hold the same role; they are the victims or some type of sexual object. They all analyze the images of female characters in crime shows. Emphasizing the impact of these images because of the popularity of crime shows and the prevalence of media. “Kicking Ass…With Lip Gloss: Mediating Gender on TLC’s Police Women of Broward County”, is closest to the analysis that I will be doing on NCIS. This analysis of the female cops in Broward County gives a good interpretation of what stereotypes that women have to face when working in a male dominated work place. These women still face the stereotypes that are discussed in the other articles. They are sexualized and still seen for their physical appearance.
Females in crime shows are most stereotypically portrayed as victims and highly sexualized. According to Heather Nunn and Anita Biressi in their article “Silent Witness: Detection, Femininity, and the Post-Mortem Body”, women are “frequently and voyeuristically presented as either the sexualized victims or perpetrators of crime” (Nunn, 193). This was even true in the ten episodes of NCIS I reviewed for this paper. Half of the episodes I watched featured a main female victim who was murdered, and two of the female victims were highly sexualized. One of the shows included a female perpetrator who was eventually killed. In the episode Voyeur’s Web, the two female victims were naval wives who were running a porn website to make extra money while their husbands were overseas. The opening scene to the episode depicts one of the wives scantily clad in the bedroom, and then shows her being murdered. Another example of the typical female in a cop show is in the episode Model Behavior which features a fashion model victim. The model is a contestant on a reality show called “Boot Camp Babes”, where scantily clad models participate in a version of marine boot camp. In the episode Honor Code, the perpetrator and mastermind behind the crime is a female assistant to a businessman. Despite being in the corporate world, she is portrayed as a stereotypical female, dressed in tight clothing and showing a lot of cleavage. She plays innocent and the damsel in distress part well. These programs epitomize how females in crime shows are sexualized and most popularly depicted as victims. They reinforce the stereotypical image of women as sexual objects and weak, helpless victims.
Ziva David, one of the main characters in the television show NCIS, stands in stark contrast to this stereotypical portrayal of women in crime shows. Ziva is a field officer for the Naval Crime Investigative Services. She initially meets the NCIS team while she is still a member of the Israeli version of NCIS, the Mossad. She comes to the United States when NCIS suspects another Mossad agent of attempting to assassinate one of their NCIS agents. Tensions rise and she is sent to protect her fellow agent from being killed by NCIS. After meeting and working with the NCIS team, Ziva requests the position of liaison between the Mossad and NCIS and works alongside the NCIS team full-time. Unlike other women in cop shows, Ziva’s character is not overly feminine. She dresses in practical clothes for her job as a field agent, nothing revealing or sexy. She does not wear makeup; she keeps her look natural. She does not play up her femininity. Her appearance is consistent with her behavior, which is practical and straightforward. This works well in the NCIS team since the head of the team, Gibbs, is a no-nonsense, all business kind of guy. Under Gibbs is another male agent named Anthony DiNozzo, who ends up working closely with Ziva through her time at NCIS. Anthony is a skilled agent, but when he is not working he has a tendency to goof off. There is another female on the NCIS team who works in forensics and is treated paternalistically, almost like a daughter, by Gibbs and the other members of the team, who are always looking out to protect her. She is not in the field with the other men, but stays back in the offices in the lab. She is much closer to the stereotype of a female in a crime drama.
In order to break into the male-dominated NCIS department and be respected, Ziva must adopt typical masculine characteristics, demonstrating her toughness and lack of emotion, and must continually prove her competency. The stereotypical male officer is strong, focused, tough, aggressive, and unemotional, and Ziva embodies all these qualities (Cavender, 644). When she first arrives at the NCIS offices, she is calm and exerts an air of proficiency. She initially proves herself to Gibbs, the head of the NCIS team, when in the episode Killing Ari Pt. 2, she saves his life by killing the Mossad agent that is trying to assassinate Gibbs. Not only does this scene demonstrate her skill as a field agent, but also it shows her significant ability to remain unemotional since the Mossad agent she kills is her own half–brother. She is able to do her job and dispassionately shoot him, despite their family connection. In the episode Under Covers, Ziva and DiNozzo are undercover as Canadian couple who are assassins; they are taken hostage by a small group of highly trained assassins, who torture them. Despite this, Ziva is shown as strong and even sassy, negotiating with her captors and demonstrating her skill as a field agent by being able to remain calm and in control even in a time of high stress, while fighting against trained assassins. Ziva further proves herself as competent, maybe even more so than the male field agents, in the Silver War episode. In that episode, she ends up catching the criminals on her own. Moreover, when she and a male coroner get held at gunpoint, Ziva is able to stop the criminal and save both herself and the coroner, killing one criminal with a knife and holding the other two with her gun. When Gibbs and her fellow field agent DiNozzo discover what she has done, they both praise her strength and ability, with DiNozzo remarking to Gibbs, “remind me to never piss her off”(Silver War). In that moment the team recognizes her true competence, but she still needs to continue to prove herself to maintain this respect.
Unlike the male agents, Ziva has to aggressively fight for her position. Despite demonstrating her expertise and skill in the initial episode where she saves Gibbs’ life, she has to continue to win over the NCIS team and push to get assignments. After becoming a liaison between Mossad and NCIS she is constantly brushed off by the other officers during cases, being told to “just observe”, but Ziva doesn’t let these obstacles stop her. She pushes back asking for small jobs, and accepting whatever tasks she can get in order to prove her ability. Although she demonstrates incredible skill and knowledge in her field, her co-workers don’t give her the respect she deserves. For example, in the episode Silver War, Ziva is assigned to investigate with DiNozzo, and he readily assigns her the task of crawling through a dump truck full of dirt to look for evidence. Although not excited by this task, she accepts it. When she brings up to DiNozzo how unhappy she is that she is now covered in dirt, he responds, “You said you were tired of just observing”, acting as though he was doing her a favor (Silver War). DiNozzo’s comment is sarcastic; he is speaking as though he is helping Ziva, but knows he is just taking advantage of her. Similarly, in the Voyeur’s Web episode, Ziva is assigned the mundane task to get the neighbors’ statement, to which she comments about how she is always taking statements from witnesses. The jobs given to her are simple and do not allow her to utilize all of her skills or expertise.
When she first arrives at NCIS, Ziva is treated unfairly because she is a female. Not only is she made to do tasks which don’t allow her to use her talents, but she often is given the typical woman’s job. In the Switch episode, Gibbs assigns tasks to all of the male agents, leaving only Ziva without a job. When she asks what she can do, he quickly says, “the victim’s wife is on the scene right? Why don’t you go talk to her” (Switch). Gibbs makes a stereotypical assumption that as a female, Ziva is best suited to speak to the wife. As Nicole Cox states in her article “Kicking Ass…With Lip Gloss: Mediating Gender on TLC’s Police Women of Broward County”, the real life female cops she analyzed in the TLC show often find themselves “offer[ing] personal advice to female victim[s], ‘woman to a woman’” (Cox, 158). Females are known to easily be able to make bonds with one another and this stereotype carries into their work (Cox, 158). Cox references an article by J. D’Acci that states that policewomen “[paint] a ‘softer’ picture of law enforcement, while negotiating the space between the traditionally masculine ‘law’ and the ‘empathetic woman’” (Cox, 158). Most female law enforcement officers find it hard to break out of their traditional feminine roles, but Ziva rarely reverts back to her feminine side; she is all about the “masculine ‘law’” (Cox, 158).
When Ziva is mistreated, she is frustrated by the circumstances, but does not let this slow her down. She may roll her eyes or display her frustration on her face, but that is the extent of her complaining. In the episode Honor Code, Ziva and DiNozzo are waiting to attack a suspect and Ziva says to DiNozzo, “I got your back” to which DiNozzo replies in typical macho fashion, “Listen lady, if anybody is getting anyone’s back it’s me getting yours” (Honor Code). Immediately after he makes this statement, Gibbs gives them the signal to go. Ziva does not have time to react or get upset about DiNozzo’s comment. Her work comes first, so she brushes off this comment and continues to do her job. Even though there are occasional times where Ziva will complain to others on the team this mistreatment, she does not dwell or sulk about it and she continues to perform impeccably in each assignment. She does not let the ill-treatment get to her or get inside her head. Rather, she continues pursuing her job with intense focus. She knows what she wants and she is willing to fight until she gets it.
Ziva can never let down her guard and must always perform flawlessly because she is a female in the male dominated world of law enforcement. This need for perfection does not exist for male agents. Her character can be contrasted with her colleague Anthony DiNozzo who, although tough and competent, has a tendency to be distracted and goof off. Ziva remains focused on work. She is serious, has an exemplary work ethic and never lets her guard down. She will use witty comebacks when the others joke with her, but she never relaxes, always working to prove herself. In contrast, DiNozzo often plays games, pulls pranks, and jokes around when not specifically assigned a task. Although there are times when Ziva may respond to DiNozzo’s jokes with a sassy comeback or by making a sexual comment, these responses are more about showing her power and wit, rather than her partaking in DiNozzo’s games. This distinction can be illustrated in a scene from the episode Voyeur’s Web when the team is all working in the offices and DiNozzo is seen tossing crumpled paper into a trash bin, goofing off. Ziva intercepts one of his balls of paper and comments, “Its astounding you find time to do your job” (Voyeur’s Web). Ziva is focused and always on point. She takes her job seriously, while DiNozzo can be found playing silly games. Unlike a woman, DiNozzo can get away with this nonsense. Although he may be reprimanded at that moment, it does not affect his esteem as a field agent. As a male agent his ability and skill is accepted and he does not have to prove himself like Ziva does.
By assuming masculine characteristics and persistently showing impeccable skill, Ziva eventually becomes a respected member of the NCIS team. After pushing hard for small jobs and opportunities to prove herself to the rest of the NCIS team, she is accepted as part of the group. In later episodes, she is seen as an integral part of the team in contrast to what occurred when she was first introduced. When the NCIS team arrives at a crime scene, Gibbs assigns everyone a task including Ziva, with no second thought. In the episode Model Behavior she is even assigned to interrogate the staff sergeant who is a suspect. This is significant since interrogations are normally a job reserved for Gibbs and only occasionally given to other agents like DiNozzo. This is a crucial moment for Ziva for it is clear that she has finally become a valued member of the team and that her skills are being recognized and utilized. With this newfound appreciation and acceptance, Ziva pushes herself further, and confidently asserts her views. She is not afraid to stand up to her boss, Gibbs. In the episode Honor Code, when Gibbs refuses to think about the possible theory that a naval officer is faking his kidnapping for self-benefit, Ziva pushes the theory and shows how the evidence points towards this as a possibility. The fact that Gibbs listens to her views demonstrates that she has broken into the male-dominated work place and is perceived as a valued member of the team. The men no longer see her as just another woman, who needs to be protected or looked at in a sexual way; they treat her as a contributing member of the group. However, it is only because of her persistence that she is able to attain this respect.
Ziva breaks the stereotype of women in crime and is able to overcome the obstacles she confronts as a woman in a male-dominated field. As Heather Nunn and Anita Biressi state in their article, “Silent Witness: Detection, Femininity, and the Post-Mortem Body” women in crime genre shows are most frequently shown as sexualized victims (Nunn, 193). Ziva is the complete antithesis of this stereotype. She is tough, unemotional, and rarely shows her feminine and sexual side. She adopts the stereotypical male characteristics to help her gain the respect she deserves in her field. Ziva continually proves her competency to the team. She is ambitious and will work until she gets what she wants. She overcomes the discrimination she faces and is able to demonstrate her ability and skill. Through this excellence, she is ultimately able to gain the respect of her male colleagues. Although she is still not able to let go of her masculine characteristics and focused work ethic and stellar performance, she no longer has to continually push to prove herself to the team. Ziva portrays a female who is able to break into a male-dominated work place successfully. The lesson learned from Ziva is that women can successfully overcome the obstacles confronted by them in a male-dominated field. However, to do so they, like Ziva, often must adopt the characteristics of the men they work with, and usually must prove their competency and persistently fight to be accepted. Ziva portrays one path that women can take to gain respect in the macho world of law enforcement.
Cavender, G., Bona-Maupin, L., Jurik, N. C. (1999). The Construction of Gender in Reality Crime TV. Gender & Society, 13(5), 643-663.
Cox, N. (2012). Kicking Ass…With Lip Gloss: Mediating Gender on TLC’s Police Women of Broward County. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 29(2), 149-163.
Nunn, H., Biressi, Anita. (2003). Silent Witness: Detection, Femininity and the Post-Mortem Body. Feminist Media Studies, 3(2), 193-207.
NCIS Season 3:
Kill Ari Part 1 (September 20, 2005)
Kill Ari Part 2 (September 27, 2005)
Silver War (October 11, 2005)
Switch (October 18, 2005)
The Voyeur’s Web (October 25, 2005)
Honor Code (November 1, 2005)
Under Covers (November 8, 2005)
Model Behavior (December 13, 2005)
Boxed In (January 10, 2006)
Iced (April 4, 2006)
NCIS Death of Ari: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Smua7ZDD3XA
NCIS Silver War 08: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=khsDIHEM52E