In ABC’s new television series based on Marvel’s Agent Carter character, the “unhero” Agent Peggy Carter, a WWII intelligence agent, has to live in a “proper” apartment for young unmarried women, complete with a curfew, a no male visitors policy, and lectures from the landlady on etiquette. Her colleagues at work, all male, have both a wife—and a girlfriend. She gets asked to make the coffee by her boss more than to speak up in meetings. Carter can’t be seen “alone with a man” without people thinking the connection is romantic—because what other connection could a woman and a man of the same age have?
The episodes are shot in a smoky, color saturated, Vaseline-on-the-lens fashion that contributes to the feeling that you’re peering back into a post-WWII alternate reality.
But the reality that really comes home is how much Agent Carter’s fictional shtick is like the daily reality for many women entrepreneurs. In episode three, Jarvis, a man in a services role—a butler—advises her against calling in to the office with major find in an ongoing investigation.
“They’ll use it to discredit you,” he says. “They don’t like you.”
And that’s the rub. It’s easy to feel not only not trusted, but not liked sometimes—maybe not at your own office, but in your industry particularly when it’s a boys club.
- She’s excluded constantly by her peers, not because she’s not smart, or untalented. They see her strengths. It’s not because the men are inherently unkind, either. Nope, they’re “good guys.” It’s just because she’s ‘a broad.’ Socially, she’s too awkward to associate with. It’s easier to leave her out and not have to reinvent a new social calculus.
- It’s assumed she’s waiting for a man to marry her instead of getting enormous satisfaction out of her career. The show hasn’t been able to yet establish what actually motivates Agent Carter—and many female entrepreneurs can feel that, too.
- These realities force her to become even more of a self-reliant loner in the ways she does things.
- She can’t easily relate to her female peers—they mostly define looking-for-mr-right camp as their “big career move.”
Agent Carter has a way of coping too—she just keeps hitting back harder. She’s no Wonder Woman with “super powers”—this Marvel hero is nicely closer to reality, doesn’t rely on cleavage power, and hurts when she’s left out. Perfect chewing gum TV with an unusually wise nod to a reality many female leaders still live in. Plus cool 1940s vintage fashion!