Hail to the Chief: Women in power in TV and books

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We need to thank Olivia Pope for more than just her fabulous wardrobe. Since ABC’s Scandal (which features Pope as the lead character) premiered two years ago, major networks have been snatching up dramas and comedies starring strong, politically driven women.

This fall’s television season brings us two new promising shows with women in power: Madam Secretary starring Tea Leone, and State of Affairs with Katherine Heigl. Add in Kerry Washington’s Pope and Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s Vice President on Veep, and the silver screen is bursting with females we’re proud to call role models.

To celebrate these strong ladies, here are our four favorite shows starring women in politics, and the books to enhance your viewing experience:

Kerry Washington’s Scandal paired with Judy Smith’s Good Self, Bad Self

Strong but sensitive, practical and passionate, Olivia Pope is the woman we all wish we could be. Her intelligence is never belittled or undersold—she solves problems efficiently and with hard-earned skill. She’s also based on a real person: Judy Smith, a crisis management expert in Washington. And while we can’t all be Olivia Pope, we can learn some of Smith’s secrets from her self-help book, Good Self, Bad Self, where she teaches readers how to manage problems effectively and stop them from happening in the first place.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s Veep paired with Geraldine Ferraro’s My Story

Veep premiered right around the same time as Scandal and on the surface the two shows are polar opposites. Sure, they’re both about women in politics, but Pope is tough and savvy, while Selina Meyer, the fictional Vice President, is an exaggerated version of a bumbling Sarah Palin. But while Veep might be a comedy, and Meyer might not be 100 percent competent, she’s still second in command, ambitious, and a natural at playing the games that politics demand. Her strength might be a little on the catty side, but it’s still inspiring. This is why we recommend Geraldine Ferraro’s autobiography, My Storyin which she chronicles what it meant to be the first female candidate for the Vice Presidency with a major political party. Ferraro ran on the Democratic ticket in 1984, long before any of us had heard of Sarah Palin’s Alaskan adventures. We suspect that Ferraro’s time in office would have been a little more effective than Meyer’s – or Palin’s.

Tea Leoni’s Madam Secretary paired with Hillary Clinton’s Hard Choices

Madam Secretary premiered this past Sunday on CBS to positive reviews and a lot of buzz. The show follows Elizabeth Faulkner McCord, the US Secretary of State, as she works to balance her high-profile job and her family life. Hillary Clinton’s autobiography, Hard Choices, details her own time as Secretary of State, and is the perfect book to read while you’re devouring new episodes of Leoni’s show. With two tough females in one of the most important positions in the world, how can you not be intrigued?

Katherine Heigl’s State of Affairs paired with Valerie Plame’s Fair Game

Heigl’s latest foray into television couldn’t be a better one—she’s playing Charleston Tucker, a CIA analyst who has to deliver the President’s Daily Briefing about the largest security issues around the world, on NBC’s new political drama (airing November 17). Not only is Tucker a smart and resourceful female character, but her boss is played by Alfre Woodard, representing the first black female President. The two women promise to create a duo of strong women in power and the CIA angle is why we chose Valerie Plame’s book, Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House.  The autobiography examines her life as a CIA agent in the early 2000s, how she was “outed,” and what it meant for her career. Between her book and State of Affairs, we can’t wait to uncover all those spy secrets – especially if strong, political women are involved.

Rachel Carter grew up surrounded by trees and snow and mountains. She graduated from the University of Vermont and Columbia University, where she received her MFA in nonfiction writing. She is the author of the So Close to You series with Harperteen. These days you can find her working on her next novel in the woods of Vermont.

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