The Malta Independent 3 March 2024, Sunday
View E-Paper

‘Undercover’ Is an insult to policewomen – study

Malta Independent Sunday, 22 April 2007, 00:00 Last update: about 11 years ago

Policewomen participating in a study said that the portrayal of Eileen Montesin’s character, Becky, in the now discontinued Maltese series Undercover was “an insult to the responsibilities they have to face within the Malta Police Force.”

The study was carried out in 2005 by Bernice Cilia, who was reading for a Bachelor of Communications degree in 2005 and included interviews with female police officers and an interview with Eileen Montesin, who was the producer and main character (police officer) of the popular television series Undercover.

The policewomen said that their responsibilities are more complex than “the successful investigations, the screeching of tyres and the abduction of criminals portrayed in Undercover and other similar television serials.”

The main protagonist of the show, Eileen Montesin, had told Ms Cilia that the aim behind Becky’s image as a heroic policewoman was to “portray a woman who strives not to be a failure.”

The women also said that “the more stylised and stereotypical representation of policewomen” in Italian fictions portrayed a very attractive, successful and beautiful woman.

However, the female police officers also said that the portrayal of policemen was also stereotypical, and “insulting to the well-being of the Malta Police Force.”

The respondents said they felt the effect of these images, especially since the programme Undercover had been such a huge success. One respondent said that people often passed comments like: “You think you are Becky?” implying that all female police officers have to try to imitate her.

They added that as a result of the incorrect media portrayal: “The policewoman is often seen as a sex object, and as reliant on the policeman’s action.”

According to the report, the Maltese public look at policewomen “from a negative perspective, as it considers females as objects to be dominated rather than authoritative figures.”

The respondents said they were comfortable working in a male-dominated environment, but they all said: “It required an adjustment in one’s own personal self-identity.”

However, the report said, “by trying to prove themselves as effective and efficient as one of the boys, unconsciously, they might be turning into one of them.” One respondent said that her male colleagues had not accepted her when she started working – especially since she was the first female to work in that particular district.

The report stated that the “female recruits are critically tested by their male colleagues until they are convinced of their capabilities.” It added that femininity can undermine a policewoman’s authority, but “can also be an asset during interviewing sessions.”

However, “Becky’s masculine ways in undertaking her police tasks unconsciously promote the macho image of the policeman and lessen the effectiveness of femininity in the eyes of its spectators.”

One of the female respondents pointed out that a female inspector’s validity “is based on the number of convictions carried out and the number of people arraigned in court.” However, due to the intense competition within the structure, “this might lead to jealousy from male colleagues when their female counterparts outsmart them,” said the report.

All the female police officers said that they have to put in an extra effort to gain the respect of their male colleagues. One respondent said: “it was my superiors that gave me a really bad time.”

The report pointed out that, in Malta, the number of women who occupy a rank above that of police officer is also relatively small, and added that Maltese policewomen are “still denied promotions and tasks that are deemed unsafe.”

Several policewomen called for change in the “conservative mentality of the police occupational culture and the way promotions are given to both male and female police officers.”

One woman said: “Policemen don’t like to change things, they don’t like change, and in fact any attempt made to reform the police force has been shut down.”

In Undercover, Becky became an inspector after solving several complicated crimes. However, the respondents pointed out that, in reality, good performance at work is not enough.

All the policewomen said the job, which includes “undertaking investigations, interviewing victims and offenders, prosecuting criminals in court and doing all the paperwork concerned,” was very stressful. However, the report said, the stress and job altered their vision of the world. One respondent said that the job altered her perception to see the bad side of human nature.

Furthermore, the shift system, long working hours and the inflexible work schedules “all over-ride their personal needs for recreation and family affection.”

All the respondents pointed out that the media representations of women in police are sometimes a misconception of reality – “based solely on imagination.”

One woman said that women in the media are mainly portrayed as attractive, caring and always as a follower.

  • don't miss