HEROES & VILLAINS: Stella Duffy on CJ Cregg

The novelist (below) hails the real hero of `The West Wing'

CLAUDIA JEAN "CJ" Cregg - ooh, but she's lovely. And I don't mean Allison Janney - the actor who plays the chief of staff, her character in The West Wing - though I have no doubt she's lovely too. She's probably a wonderful woman, full of deeply meaningful insights on the nature of all sorts of important things. But I don't care. Allison Janney is an actor, and even in America, where actors are usually cast for their ability to be the character rather than act it - even in The West Wing where the political activist and actor Martin Sheen portrays President Josiah Bartlett - it is quite obvious that CJ is bigger than the sum of her parts. Great actor, wonderful timing, brilliant dialogue, inter-character chemistry - these are the things that make a character, rather than just an actor, stand out. CJ Cregg is the intelligent, adult, female icon that I never had when I was growing up. Not in real life and certainly not on the telly.

We had Charlie's Angels. And they really were pretty. Farah Fawcett had the hair, Kate Jackson looked good riding a horse, and Jaclyn Smith was cute. But their mouths were, even on a great hair day, far from smart. We had Wonder Woman, in her satin tights, fighting for the rights ... of the old red, white and blue. But in the wish-list Bartlett White House, CJ is an occasional voice of dissent, speaking up against the idea that America is always right and its President divinely inspired.

We also had Follyfoot Dora, who cried a lot. And I'm sure there was a girl in The Tomorrow People, though jaunting John and a computer made all the decisions. There were several more women in Upstairs Downstairs (slutty maids and/or slutty posh totty to contrast with frigid maids and/or frigid posh totty), and there was always some girl or other getting her kit off for Dennis Waterman or John Thaw. Or both. What we didn't have, not for several lengthy series in a row, not week after week, scene after scene, was the idea that a woman, a good-looking one at that, could be on screen and holding that screen. Could be seen to be part of a team, not the plot point that rips a team apart. Could just be there, not as an affront to male power, not as a challenge to ingrained prejudices, not even because she gave the camera something nice to look at, but just there ... as a person. Another person.

Which is not to say that CJ doesn't have hot politics. She certainly does - good, old-fashioned, not-afraid-to-call-herself-a-feminist politics. In the fantasy America that elects (and re-elects) a dream-vote Democrat President, CJ Cregg is a woman of influence who can silence the press corps with a perfectly pitched, exquisitely timed one-liner, ideally while simultaneously juggling two personal crises and her boss's ego. Probably the only thing that isn't believable about her is the idea that in a team of five, heading a "left-wing" government, one of them could be a woman. One hundred and twelve years after New Zealand gave women the vote (Britain only came to the suffrage party a quarter of a century later), the dream that a woman might hold sway in a major world power has only come true twice - and neither Margaret Thatcher nor Condoleezza Rice regularly speak of themselves as feminist. Though they do, too, look good in blue.

CJ has a great job, fine colleagues, good salary, designer wardrobe - all this and less. She wears Armani and her father has Alzheimer's. She has a stellar career and is rubbish at maintaining a relationship. She smart-mouth quips with the best of them - while walking faster than is generally assumed possible at six feet tall - and falls into swimming pools. More than once. She loves her work, has a scrappy private life, and hardly any family time. CJ has exactly half of what we were promised when the second-wave feminist fairy godmothers said we could have it all - on some days the sacrifices are worth it, and on others they aren't. She categorically does not have it all, which makes her a far more honest role model than almost any other woman on US-made TV, and infinitely more credible than the Sex and the City mannequins.

CJ Cregg is brilliant. And Allison Janney looks a lot like her. E

`Parallel Lies' by Stella Duffy is published by Virago, priced pounds 12.99. `The West Wing' is next on Channel 4 at 7.40pm on Friday

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Life and Style
Powdered colors are displayed for sale at a market ahead of the Holi festival in Bhopal, India
techHere's what you need to know about the riotous occasion
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant / Credit Controller

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

    Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

    Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

    £10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

    £17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable