Also cross-posted at Adventures of a Young Feminist.
Inspired by Ouyang Dan’s post at FWD/Forward on the TV character, Dr. House and his interactions with his co-workers regarding his disability, I decided to take a closer look at the TV show, Bones, and the character of Dr. Temperance Brennan, a brilliant forensic anthropologist, who has a mild form of Asperger’s Syndrome.
To be clear, Brennan’s Asperger’s is never directly mentioned by her co-workers. Her social awkwardness, typical of the syndrome, is frequently the punchline of jokes or leads to the repetition of one of Brennan’s favorite phrases, “I don’t know what that means.” However in interviews, Emily Deschanel, the talented actress who plays Brennan, often states that her character does have a mild form of Asperger’s.
The lack of awareness Brennan’s co-workers show about her Asperger’s, leads me to believe it could be considered an invisible disability. At first glance, Brennan appears “normal” and the only way her co-workers would know about her Asperger’s is if she tells them and then proceeds to advocate for her unique needs. In fact, she has made steps towards self-advocation already, at one point last season asking her psychologist, Dr. Lance Sweets, to help her understand social cues and to read facial expressions.
However, her other co-workers’ understanding of her disability – especially FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth’s – still remains rather murky. For example, after being asked by Brennan to be the father of her child – Booth confides to a co-worker that a child would be good for Brennan because it would help her to become more ‘personable’. Now, if Booth had a true understanding of Brennan’s Asperger’s, he would know that a child would not be a ‘cure’ for all her struggles with social awkwardness and personability. (Also, I think his statement harks back to the Victorian era thinking that for women – children are the solution to many ailments ie hysteria, depression – but that’s a post for another day.)
Yes, all characters need to grow and change – but instead of pushing Brennan toward the marriage/baby route – a plot twist I never liked, preferring the Brennan non-marriage/childfree, feminist stance portrayed so wonderfully in seasons 1-3 – why not show Brennan becoming more vocal about her invisible disability – why not mention it by name! And in turn, have her co-workers display true compassion and understanding rather than always cracking jokes about it.
Perhaps my expectations are too high – as Allie from Epic-Flail rightly points out in her recent post – the show’s writers aren’t exactly known for putting forth Emmy caliber material, so asking them to explore the subtle nuances and struggles of a woman and her invisible disability experience may be asking a bit much from this lighthearted (and sometimes corny) dramedy. But, one can always hope, right?
P.S. – If you’re interested in past Bones episodes, I highly recommend both Adventures of a Young Feminist and this ain’t livin’s excellent recaps/episode reviews from a feminist perspective.