Negotiating gender: Female protagonists as role models in Scandinavian TV drama series

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For audiences across the world the portrayal of strong, yet ambivalent female protagonists is one of the most important aspects of watching Danish and Swedish TV drama. With Sarah Lund (Forbrydelsen), Saga Norén (Bron/Broen), and Birgitte Nyborg (Borgen) women characters are central to the three internationally most successful series. Yet these protagonists are no glamorous heroines, they all struggle with their circumstances and their gender roles (Jurik & Cavender 2017). The characters are thus a blueprint for women in their 40s who have advanced in their jobs and who live in complicated relationships with their partners, their parents, their children and their colleagues (Eichner & Mikos 2016). The focus on strong, ambivalent woman as lead characters offer new ways of dealing with problems and establish new forms of conflicts that would not arise if the character would be male. By incorporating the female perspective into the story – instead of simply replacing a male by a female character – Scandinavian drama series offer a new perspective on social and psychological problems that drive the stories. This chapter argues that the strong female lead works specifically at the intersection with the very specific portrayal of the image of a Scandinavian society that serves as blueprint and positive fantasy of a modern, equal society. These portrayals go beyond the presentation of women from earlier TV shows as we know them (see for example Brundson 2013) since they are located within a society that allows them to perform outside of traditional role structures and that places them within a society that is presumably more gender equal as other societies (whether or not this is true is up for discussion, see for example Turney 2015). Based on a global audience study, this chapter illustrates how viewers across the globe and from different cultural backgrounds relate to Danish TV Drama through character involvement and how this is based on the negotiation of gender roles. •
Brunsdon, C. (2013). Television crime series, women police, and fuddy-duddy feminism. Feminist Media Studies, 13(3), 375–394.•
Eichner, S. & Mikos, L. (2016). The Export of Nordic Stories: The International Success of Scandinavian TV Drama Series. I Nordicom-Information (38)2: 17-21.•
Jurik, N., & Cavender, G. (2017, June 28). Feminist Themes in Television Crime Dramas. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Criminology. Ed. Retrieved 5 Aug. 2018, from •
Turney, J. (2014). A Sweater to Die for: Fair Isle and Fair Play in The Killing. Textile: The Journal of Cloth and Culture, 12(1), 18–33.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2019
Publication statusPublished - 2019
EventNordMedia 2019: Communication, Creativity and Imagination: Challenging the Field. - Malmö University, Malmö, Sweden
Duration: 21 Aug 201923 Aug 2019


ConferenceNordMedia 2019
LocationMalmö University
Internet address


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