Bodyguard proved the fatal errors we make when we gender stereotype both women and men

Annie Corcoran
It wasn’t just the female characters who challenged the stereotypes: BBC/World Productions

Bodyguard has become the most watched BBC drama since 2008 and it is easy to see why. Clever, tense and gripping, Bodyguard has dominated British TV over the course of the last few weeks and provided excellent entertainment. One of the things that made this show truly special in my eyes was the fantastic female representation and the way it challenged stereotypical views.

There was the enigmatic Anne Sampson, who was the head of the Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorism Command. Vicky Budd, the estranged wife, who was willing to stand by Sergeant David Budd (literally) and risk her life for the truth. And Nadia, the intelligent and deceptive bomb maker – and that is just for starters. Each of these characters was complex, flawed and not always likeable. They were also capable, professional and surprising in their own ways. None of them were perfect, but nobody is. To see such a diverse range of female characters that were not just reduced to being the love interest or sidekick was refreshing, and long overdue.

Bodyguard was not a perfect show by any stretch of the imagination. There were quite a few plot holes and unanswered questions. Killing off Julia Montague provided extra drama but it was a shame to not see the fantastic Keeley Hawes in more of the series.

What was really brilliant, however, was how the show subverted our expectations. The women characters made you scrutinise the dangers of stereotyping, which, in this case, meant failing to identify the right suspect. Literally, sexism and misogyny can prove fatal.

For the majority of the show, Nadia was portrayed as a vulnerable and subservient woman. A woman without her own power or agency. A woman, it seemed, who was completely at the mercy of the men in her life. One that could be forced and manipulated by her husband to sacrifice her life and commit a mass murder. For most of the series, we believed her to be the wide-eyed victim who could barely answer a question during interrogation. David Budd was brought in to play nice with her, to get answers. He thought he had a connection with her. But his mistake, a crucial plot device, was to severely underestimate her potential.

This stereotypical view of a woman, especially of a Muslim woman, is all too common in our society. We are eager to accept that women have no control over their own opinions or ideas – especially women of colour, and women wearing headscarves. I was completely shocked, and also annoyed at myself, when Nadia shifted from victim to mastermind in the space of a look. I bet I was not alone. I had taken Nadia on face value and let my assumptions about her lull me into a false sense of security.

This isn’t the first time that a woman being the killer or criminal mastermind has been used as a plot twist. Who can forget the first series of ITV’s Unforgotten? The killer turned out to be Claire Slater, a grandmother who was suffering from dementia. And in series four of Prime Suspect, it was the mother of the young victim, a shock twist right at the very end. Having a woman as the killer is often a successful way to fool the audience. However, we won’t be able to rely on this tool forever, as hopefully we won’t always assume the woman is the victim.

It wasn’t just the female characters who subverted stereotypes. Protagonist David Budd, who was meant to symbolise strength and alpha maleness, was clearly suffering as a result of toxic masculinity. The fact that he felt he had to hide his pain and trauma, and deny his mental health issues even after a suicide attempt, was telling – a clue was early on in the series when he told his young son not to cry. His belief he could not talk to anyone contributed to his marriage breakdown – and he, in many ways, seemed like a lost cause.

Once he was able to ask for help you could see that a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. Rather than perpetuating the idea that a man should just take it all on the chin, Bodyguard showed just how harmful not talking can be. When suicide is still a leading cause of death in men under 40, it is encouraging to see a drama tackle some of these issues head on by creating a character that was not infallible and who struggled like a lot of men do with ideas surrounding masculinity. Perhaps it will inspire more men to express their emotions and to reassess how they deal with their mental health, as well as how they judge women.

From not recognising Nadia’s power to overestimating how much David could handle a dangerous situation, the viewer was challenged throughout the six-part series. Making assumptions is something that we do in our everyday lives without thinking or realising we are doing it. The writer heavily relied on our ingrained stereotypes and our assumptions to fool most of us by the end – and in doing so he hopefully taught us the danger of underestimating a woman.