Popped collars and power suits: Why we love fictional female bosses by Lee Winter

Lee Winter, author of new office romance lesfic, The Brutal Truth, ponders power outfits, the women who wear them, and why lesbians fall for them.

I’m having a renewed love affair with high-collar, white starched shirts and it’s all Jane Fonda’s fault.

I’d been roped into watching Grace and Frankie, a Netflix comedy/drama about a pair of septuagenarian lesbians women who are getting over their ex-husbands marrying each other by living together, starting a vibrator company, and sharing home-made yam lube. All of which is totally not gay.

What is extremely gay is the collar on this shirt, which a Facebook friend notes is very “PE teacher”. Actually if my PE teacher had worn her collar like that, I might have actually played sport. And by played, I mean watched my PE teacher blow her whistle with rapt attention.

I digress. What is it about this this look, this showy, why hello there greeting, that turns the head of ladies who love the ladies? I’ll give you a minute.

Lily “I’ll just check out your ass” Tomlin reports that the Jane Fonda Original Workout is not overrated.
Answer: It’s only about a tenth less gay than Heather Peace’s detective sergeant in Lip Service, and that woman was not afraid of collars that stand at attention and salute. Evidence A, officer.

Heather Peace and collars that could take your eye out and you’d still say ‘Ma’am, thank you, ma’am’.
But even Heather’s look was only a tenth less gay again than Jennifer Beals’s Bette Porter in The L Word, who strutted into rooms, her jaunty collars all white and fleek. She taught us the most important lesson about powerful, beautiful, corporate, alpha lesbians: they exist.

And bless her for it. No matter how many times I wanted to kill Jenny Schecter, and frankly, who didn’t, Bette Porter’s mere existence was a revelation that set me on a path I’m still on to this very day: An ongoing appreciation of women in charge.

Jennifer “do not by intimidated by my character’s sexual history which I freely display on white boards behind me” Beals. Also, nice collar.
This appreciation for the popping collar, along with power blazers, screw-you slacks, or make-way-bitches pencil skirts, has had a lot of help in recent years. I may have swooned when Regina Mills first strutted into the mayor’s office of Once Upon A Time, and I swear it had nothing to do with who she wanted tasting her “forbidden fruit”.

This is an actual quote from the show, by the way, and was in no way gay, despite Regina’s plan to offer her fruit to a shapely, soft-butch sheriff with whom she shared many a loaded, stormy gaze of confusingly protracted lengths.

So I’ll just stew in my bitter juices for a moment about that not-gay, so gay show, while we cast our gazes to Mayor Mills’ impeccable way with starched fibers.

Lana Parrilla, who makes you wonder about forbidden fruit. A lot.
What all these fine examples of snappy, eye-poking tailoring have in common is that they are worn by women in charge. Such women are catnip to lesbians.

But why is it so? It’s not just that these women look good in those jaunty collars or blazers of burning ambition, although queer audiences are partial to gazing at both. Nor is it the woman’s looks alone. I’ve seen lesbians swoon over ladies who, by any conventional measure, you’d call interesting rather than beautiful.

I’ve seen legions of women, straight and gay, a-flutter over a strapping, fifty-something Wentworth prison governor with grey streaks, a body count, and sinister black gloves – and Joan Ferguson has not one traditionally seductive simper in her whole cutting vocabulary.

Love or loathe the character, it’s impossible to tear your eyes off her.

Joan Ferguson…Governor, fencer, killer, awkward first-dater.
So, it obviously comes down to the power that’s a big part of the appeal. But what aspect of it? What is it about these women who rule their domains that is so ovaries-meltingly attractive?

I was curious enough to turn to online for the answers.

Rookie mistake. As Miranda Priestly from Devil Wears Prada once said, “Did you fall down and smack your little head?”

Meryl Streep planning how to eviscerate her staff in Devil Wears Prada and look fly while doing it.
Scour the psychology journals or news features and it’s a depressing stroll through article after article of looking at boss women through the gaze of men.

Are women still sexy if they outrank you? Yes, someone actually asked this. Or this: Should corporate women button up and play down the sex factor?

That’s a disturbing sample of a tiny number of articles I could dig up on short notice about the psychology of having boss women behind the big desk. The content is dodgy enough, but why are there so few?

Sadly, it’s because nearly every article on the topic of sex and power in the workplace is about men. You can find out anything you want to know about why women are drawn to Tiger Woods or JFK. You can discover the psychology of how the alpha male’s mind works and how irresistible his appeal is to the men and women who orbit him.

But virtually every single article or thesis picking apart bosses with power in the workplace assumes men are in charge.

Chandra Wilson, as Chief Bailey on Grey’s Anatomy, owner of a face that has 1.23 million subtle variations for saying “You are a special kind of fool.”
So we’re forced to go to the anecdotal for answers. We know that there is just something evocative about a powerful woman behind a desk or on the bridge of a ship or running a hospital ER, calling the shots, taking command.

We definitely know these women are popular. After all, businesswomen perched on desks in their taking-over-the-world jackets sell lesfics in the many thousands. Throw in an ice queen element – a woman who’s tough and strong and uncompromising and only rarely lets someone glimpse her soft side, a la the Queen of all Media, Cat Grant in Supergirl – and you have yet another popular market that has lesbian fans filling up their Kindles and dashing off fanfics.

Calista Flockhart’s face when Supergirl became all about the heroine’s ass of a boyfriend.

But what is it exactly about women in charge that has us transfixed?

I can’t relate to the male authors in those articles who subconsciously view female bosses with a sort of territorial glee – as an exciting challenge to plant a flag in. Objects to win or control or tweak or seduce so they still feel strong and hyper masculine and, I’m guessing, claim her power.

I can only speak as a lesbian who spends an awful lot of time admiring women when they’re running the show. And for me the appeal comes down to this:

These women don’t give a crap. The women who turn other women’s heads don’t care what men think. They don’t care what women think. They own it. They own their space. They own their power. They own their walk and image and sexuality. And when they look you in the eye, and tell you how they’re going to win, you don’t wonder if they’re too sexy or not sexy enough. You wonder, heart beating just that little bit faster, if you’ll get to watch.

One of the most gripping examples of this effect was Laura Roslin in Battlestar Galactica. Played by Mary McDonnell, she was cancer ridden, written off as the Education secretary, until the world blew up and she became the President by default.

Mary McDonnell in Battlestar Galactica reminds you your day wasn’t so bad.
She didn’t want the job. You can see it on her face the moment she’s sworn in. She’s all that’s left of government after her planet is decimated by invasion, but it’s down to her. She has to somehow win over a derisive, hostile military, and still be a voice for civilians. No one believes in her. No one has faith. And she knows it.

By the end of the series, the military would defend her to their last breath. The people love her. She’s astonishing. Strong and powerful and brave. A woman who now owns her power. Forget the cleavages and heels and hairspray. There is nothing more intoxicating to watch than a woman who has dragged her way to victory against every setback and the sniggering doubts of all.

Judi Dench…the only M who could simultaneously call James Bond out for being a “sexist, misogynist dinosaur” and pull off tweed.
Danish actor Mikael Birkkjær once said, “There’s something sexy about women in power, it’s dangerous, attractive, and smells good.”

He’s right. Power is both dangerous and attractive. It’s an addictive swagger on the wild side. And it does smell really good. Like high-octane forbidden fruit, with a hint of spicy yam lube.

It’s the crispness of a freshly dry-cleaned power suit, the whisper of it sliding onto the arms of a woman who doesn’t give the tiniest crap whether you’re intimidated or not.

As she perfectly aligns her sleeves, flicks her hair off her at-attention collar, shuffles through her papers, tells you to get back to work, tells you to do your job, tells you to win – for her, with her, it doesn’t even matter – there’s a crackle in the air as she focuses on her goals. That heightened awareness of her is the essence of what makes women in power so alluring.

She believes in herself completely. So we believe in her. We want her to win. And most importantly, we want to watch.

Popped collars, power suits, and all.


Lee Winter’s lesfic romance, The Brutal Truth, about an all-powerful media-mogul who challenges her love-struck assistant to a truth bet, is out on November 15.


  1. Really enjoyed this thought provoking piece. The examples were “perfect” and inspiring. We need more of these characters in our stories–powerful, three-dimensional women.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Confident women are sexy hands down. Thanks for providing all that beautiful proof in your post Lee. All those white shirts with open collars brought to mind that Vanity Fair photoshoot kd lang did with Cindy Crawford long before any of these characters you mentioned were even on our radar. Talk about women in charge! 😉
    p.s. The Brutal Truth was great; bonus seeing a character bearing my name in a book (a rare thing).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh GOD yes, a woman in power suits, in a position of power, is sexy as hell! I loved this article, and, you gave me a few things to go watch now…thank you! Said it all very well!


  4. For me, anyway, the differentiation is that with men in positions of power their ascent to that stage is determined by being the one to seize control, whereas with women who reach the top it’s all about mastery. Mastery of both their field and of the political machinations required to climb the greasy pole. Mastery, is sexy as fuck!

    On a slightly related topic I cracked up at the PE teacher comment. I must confess I buck the trend by favouring round-necked t-shirts but I know many of my mates from college are all about the popped collars while teaching!


  5. Also, for me, a woman in power is attractive because she’s not a member of the Patriarchy- I know she’s got her success despite the ‘Boys Club’, not because of it. Great images and captions too by the way, had me sniggering (and wanting to watch L-Word reruns without Jenny S in them!) Thanks, G


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