I’m not usually one to encourage illegal activity but The Bold Type is good enough to turn me to a life of crime and drag everyone I know down with me. Unfortunately not currently available (legally) in the UK, The Bold Type is the story of three women working at the fictional Scarlet magazine in New York City as they navigate their careers, friendships and relationships. A story about young women with shiny hair working at a Cosmo-like magazine doesn’t exactly sound like groundbreaking stuff but prepare to be pleasantly surprised. Jane (Katie Stevens), Kat (Aisha Dee) and Sutton (Meghann Fahy) might be stunningly attractive and styled to perfection (well, perhaps setting aside some of Jane’s oddly severe blouses) but their aspirations and struggles feel genuine and relatable for female millennial viewers.
The Bold Type is attuned to the concerns of our generation. While essentially based on Cosmopolitan and with former editor Joanna Coles on board as executive producer, Scarlet magazine is more of a take on Teen Vogue, the magazine lauded for its powerful political coverage. ‘Donald Trump is Gaslighting America’, written by Lauren Duca and published in December 2016 rapidly became an online sensation and since then the magazine has become famous as a source of news and political analysis alongside its Kim and Kanye gossip.
Clearly inspired by this fusion of activism and fashion (fashactivism? Sorry…) Scarlet publishes everything from sex tips to in depth interviews with congresswomen. Jacqueline (Melora Hardin), the editor-in-chief, is no Miranda Priestley. While she’s formidable she’s no antagonist; encouraging her staff to pursue tough stories and essentially mentoring ambitious writer Jane. A female boss who is simultaneously severe and nurturing is unusual in itself as older powerful women are so often portrayed as villainous dragon ladies. Jane’s journey of self discovery via her writing and Jacqueline’s support culminates beautifully in the season finale with her realisation that she needs bigger things from her job.
Meanwhile, Sutton, the most fashion-passionate of the bunch struggles with her own career progression. While I rather dismissively assumed her storyline would be the least interesting to me, her fight to get the recognition she deserves is genuinely inspiring. While she accepts her dream job in episode 5 she soon realises that the pay is significantly less than what she needs. She marches in with a counter offer but is rejected and with her replacement already hired she’s faced with a difficult scenario. With the unwavering support of her friends, she returns with a list of perks to offset her living expenses instead and, perhaps miraculously, it works. She’s Nora Ephron, bitch! Ambition and a sense of self worth are not only encouraged, they’re actively rewarded.
Finally, Kat the social media director, perhaps the boldest and most confident of the three, has her own journey of self discovery as she falls for Adena, a lesbian Muslim photographer. Kat is initially confused about her feelings having never dated a woman before but the relationship quickly blossoms. It’s also made clear that she is still attracted to men, making her one of very few bisexual television characters. This is a joyous, not painful story that has already inspired its LGBT viewers and particularly LGBT people of colour. Jane and Sutton are fully supportive and remain physically affectionate towards Kat, avoiding the homophobic trope of the straight woman’s fear of the predatory lesbian.
Adena’s story also demonstrates the show’s most unashamed criticism of the Trump administration: she suffers racist abuse in the street and is detained at the airport when she returns to New York under the ‘Muslim ban’. We don’t know what the future holds for their relationship but show runner Sarah Watson has promised that she won’t let down her LGBT audience by having either character fall victim to the familiar “bury your gays” trope.
The recently aired finale featured its most powerful scene yet. Entitled “Carry the Weight”, it featured Jane interviewing Mia (Ana Kayne), a performance artist and rape survivor who stands in Central Park holding up weights and evoking Lady Justice. Fellow rape survivors approach her and temporarily relieve her of the weight and take turns holding it themselves. Their trauma is physicalised in a non-sensational fashion that grants the survivors respect. The three friends stand around Mia, holding hands in solidarity when editor-in-chief Jacqueline breaks the circle and takes the weight from Mia. It’s a revelation and we hear the story of her abuse as a young woman by a senior male colleague but it isn’t accompanied by violent flashbacks. It’s a woman’s story, simply told, with acknowledgement of how the majority of assaults are never reported and the reasons behind it. I was genuinely stunned that the issue of sexual assault was handled with such care and sensitivity. The use of Milck’s “Quiet”, the song about recovering from abuse that went viral after a flash mob choir sang it at the Women’s March in Washington D.C., made the scene even more powerful and subtly strengthened the show’s criticism of the administration.
At the heart of The Bold Type is the close friendship between our three heroines that really infuses the show with warmth and positivity. While the female friendships of teen shows frequently seem to involve on/off arguing and reconciliation these women are loyal, loving and constantly supportive. This may be an alternative universe where a fashion magazine is a feminist work environment which positively changes lives, where your best friends are always at your side and where your hair never falls out of place. The more cynical viewer might see it as a corporate attempt to commodify “wokeness” as a cool new trend. But fundamentally this show is an acknowledgement of millennial girls and women being passionate about more than the contents of their wardrobe or the number of Instagram followers they have. I’ll have my shiny, endlessly optimistic entertainment with some feminism, representation and political engagement, thank you. But I didn’t tell you to watch it, you’ll have to root out those dodgy links yourself…