Women of “The Wire”


  • Bruce A. Williams University of Virginia
  • Andrea L. Press University of Virginia


In this paper we analyze the representation of women on the popular television show The Wire. We discuss how, while writers attempt to portray race, crime, and inner-city life with sociological accuracy, characterizations of women, and of violence against women, are not especially complex or realistic. In particular, the crime of rape is underrepresented. While the show does feature certain competent, successful professional women, overall the portrayal of underclass women differs significantly from that of underclass men, featuring far fewer sympathetic female characters and demonizing several. In these ways the show succumbs to the sexist, patriarchal norms that characterize much of the representation of women in popular entertainment products. Some posit that this asymmetry of gender representation results from the male-oriented street experience of the show’s male writers.


The Wire, Women, Rape, African-American, Mother, Television


ANDERSON, E. (1999). Code of the Street: Decency, Violence, and the Moral Life of the Inner City. New York: Norton.

AULT, E. (2012). “’You Can Help Yourself/but Don’t Take Too Much’: African American Motherhood on The Wire”. Television and New Media, Volume 14, Issue 5, pp. 386-401.

BOURGOIS, P. (2003). In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio. New York: Cambridge University Press.

CAREY, K. (2007). “A Show of Honesty”. The Guardian, February 13, 2007. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2007/feb/13/thewire . Accessed April 3, 2017.

DOW, B. (1996). Prime-Time Feminism: Television, Media Culture, and the Women’s Movement Since 1970. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

GOFFMAN, A. (2014). On The Run. New York: Picador.

ITZKOFF, D. (2014). “For ‘Game of Thrones,’ Rising Unease Over Rape’s Recurring Role”. New York Times, March 2, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/03/arts/television/for-game-of-thronesrising-unease-over-rapes-recurring-role.html?_r=0 . Accessed April 4, 2017.

KENNEDY, L. and SHAPIRO, S. (eds). (2012). The Wire: Race, Class, and Genre. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

KOEHLER, S. (2014). “The Sexual Politics of Nudity on HBO’s Hit Television Shows”. Pacific Standard, June 30, 2014. http://www.psmag.com/books-and-culture/sexual-politics-full-frontal-nudityhbos-hit-television-shows-84737 . Accessed April 4, 2017.

LAUZEN, M. M. (2015). “It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World: On-Screen Representations of Female Characters in the Top 100 Films of 2014”. http://womenintvfilm.sdsu.edu/files/2014_Its_a_Mans_World_Report.pdf . Accessed April 4, 2017.

LEAP, J. (2012). Jumped in: What Gangs Taught Me About Violence, Drugs, Love and Redemption. Boston: Beacon.

LIPPMAN, L. (2009). “The Women of The Wire (No, Seriously)”. In: ALVAREZ, R. (ed.), The Wire: Truth be Told, New York: Grove Press, pp. 54-60.

LOTZ, A. D. (2006). Redesigning Women: Television After the Network Era. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

MILLER, R. and TRAISTER, R. (2007). “The Best TV Show of All Time”. Salon, September 15, 2007. http://www.salon.com/2007/09/15/best_show/ . Accessed April 4, 2017.

MOORE, M.H. and BRAGA, A. A. (2003). “Measuring and Improving Police Performance: The Lessons of Compstat and its Progency”. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies and Management, 26:3, pp. 439-453.

NEWMAN, M. and LEVINE, E. (2011). Legitimating Television: Media Convergence and Cultural Status. London: Routledge.

OLMSTEAD, K. (2011). The Wire: The Untold History of Television. New York: Harper Collins.

POTTER, T. and MARSHALL, C.W. (eds.). (2009). The Wire: Urban Decay and American Television. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

ROUSH, M. (2013). “Showstoppers: The 60 Greatest Dramas of All Time”. TV Guide. Pp. 16-17.

SIMON, D. and BURNS, E. (1998). The Corner: A Year in the life of an Inner-City Neighborhood”. New York: Broadway Books.

SMITH, S. L. (2008). “Gender Stereotypes: An analysis of Popular Films and TV”. http://www.seejane.org/wp-content/uploads/GDIGM_Gender_Stereotypes.pdf . Accessed April 17, 2017.

STACEY, J. (2008). “The Missing Feminist Revolution in Sociology.”

ULABY, N. (2013). “Working Women on Television: A Mixed Bag”. NPR Radio IQ May 18, 2013. http://www.npr.org/sections/monkeysee/2013/05/18/184832930/workingwomen-on-television-a-mixed-bag-at-best . Accessed April 4, 2017.

VENKATESH, S. A. (2008). Gang Leader for a Day: a Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets. New York: Penguin Books.

— (2009). Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

WILSON, W. J. (1997). When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor. New York: Vintage.

Author Biographies

Bruce A. Williams, University of Virginia

Ambassador Henry J. Taylor Professor of Media Studies

Andrea L. Press, University of Virginia

William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Media Studies and Sociology




Download data is not yet available.