This comedy, released in 2000, features Sandra Bullock in the title role of Gracie Hart, a female FBI agent who goes undercover as a contestant in the Miss United States beauty pageant to bring down a terrorist threatening to bomb the pageant. Single and childless, Gracie is as far from being a beauty queen as one can get. Her basic beauty routine is washing her face and maybe brushing her hair. However, when the investigation requires an agent to join the competition as a participant, Agent Hart gets a make-over, becomes a contestant, and eventually solves the case. In Miss Congeniality 2 (2005), Gracie Hart is asked to be the FBI spokesperson for yet another case centered around the Miss United States beauty pageant. This time Miss United States and the pageant’s host are kidnapped. Agent Hart is teamed up with Agent Sam Fuller (played by Regina King), a female FBI agent who has anger management issues, and they fly out to Las Vegas to rescue the kidnapped victims.
These two films are not the only comedies where Sandra Bullock played a “I’m just one of the boys” female FBI agent. She played a similar role in Heat costarring Melissa McCarthy who also portrayed an unkempt, disgruntled female cop, but with a much better love life. Yes, these films are comedies and are pretty funny. However, the female law enforcement stereotypes were on overload in these three movies. Single? Check. Acts like one of the guys? Check. Childless? Check. No wonder women are hesitant to consider law enforcement as a career if these are the images presented to them. These characters are not very attractive (pun intended) role models. Watch the movie trailers here:
Miss Congeniality is just like all the other movies and TV shows where the typical female agent is portrayed as single in relationships and singular in focus. Married women candidates or those looking to one day have a life that includes a spouse and kids may not believe the position will work with the demands of raising a family. On the contrary, most veteran female agents, like their male counterparts, are married and have children. If having a family is a goal, it can be done. But like any other high pressure position, it requires support to navigate the long days with unpredictable hours and out-of-town travel.
Success in law enforcement for a woman is not being one of the boys. It’s being one of the team.
When women are fully integrated into the law enforcement workforce, a female FBI agent will no longer be considered a novelty. Currently, twenty percent of FBI special agents are female and women hold only 12–15 percent of local policing positions, even though more than half of medical school and law school students are women, two equally demanding professions once considered off-limits to women. But law enforcement is still not a widely preferred career choice for women. Being a successful woman in the FBI and other local, state, and federal agencies, surrounded by men, requires the usual police skills and fitness, but above all else, it takes determination and confidence in one’s abilities. But success in law enforcement for a woman is not being one of the boys. It’s being one of the team. It is not important that you get invited to go out to a club or play a pickup game of basketball after work. What’s important is that you get invited along on interviews and arrests. Of course, if you’re the case agent, you get to do the inviting.
(Review excerpted from Chapter 3 of FBI Myths and Misconceptions: A Manual for Armchair Detectives).