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Succession holds a mirror to sexist family dynamics

Succession is one of the best TV series of all time for multiple reasons, however, the show's continued commentary on sexist family dynamics hits close to home.

Succession sexist family dynamics: Shiv and Roman and Kendall Roy in Succession

There is no denying that Succession is one of the best TV series of all time. Throughout four seasons, we’ve seen tense power struggles, laughed at dark jokes, and been amazed at the opulent lifestyles of the Roy family. However, among all the otherworldly wealth and eccentric trust fund babies, there is one thing that hits uncomfortably close to home – the treatment of Siobhan Roy.

Whenever I watch Succession, I’m always astounded at how I can strangely connect to Shiv – something that I could never manage with her brothers Kendall, Roman, or Connor. Since season 1, she has been the only Succession character whose experiences somewhat mirrored my own. And seeing how the comedy series positioned her among her brothers in the bid for her dad’s company, Waystar Royco, I constantly feel a bit of empathic anxiety towards her ‘struggles’.

Now, don’t get me wrong, on paper, I’m nothing like Shiv. I’m not part of the 1%, I don’t have a toxic marriage, or a New York penthouse, and I could never pull off a pantsuit like Sarah Snook. I am, however, a woman with a brother and male cousins, and I know how tough it can be to be seen as ‘serious’ within a family setting.

Succession is a drama series that presents an entirely new world, one that the majority of us will never have the chance to experience. However, for all the women watching, the TV series also shows us a character who is constantly trying to prove herself to her father, remind those around her of her intellect and worth, and who is consistently sidelined regardless of her best efforts.

As recently as Succession season 4, we saw that Shiv was essentially ousted of company control by her two brothers. Following her dad’s death, she was forced to take on the ‘silent supporter’ role while Kendall and Roman run Waystar – and keep her out of the loop in all their schemes to destroy the GoJo deal.

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While all of us Succession fans can agree that none of the siblings are suitable Waystar CEOs, Shiv is the one who is constantly seen as an afterthought. Despite the fact that Kendall publicly tried to get his dad arrested or that Roman was sending dick pics to his staff, it is Shiv who was deemed the ‘unsafe’ option to the market and her family in general.

Although she has a successful career in politics and arguably had fewer handouts than Kendall and Roman, Shiv has always been Logan’s third choice. When you break it down, this outcome may seem baffling. Still, unfortunately, the reality of having to deal with gender bias is something that many women have to face, both in their family life and in their professional one.

According to the Family Business magazine, gender stereotypes in family businesses – such as the dynamic seen in Succession – are loaded with assumptions, and it is clear why Shiv was immediately pushed into the role of ‘supporter’ instead of a public co-CEO like Kendall and Roman.

Succession sexist family dynamics:

The article reads: “The blatancy of a woman’s role as mother, sister or daughter defines her personally and professionally as the nurturer. Likewise, for a man in a family business, his role as father, brother or son defines him as the protector and provider. Those roles are packed with assumptions and expectations as well as realities.”

The article continues to discuss how families are the “bearers of legacy” and how said legacies “perpetuate and teach familial characteristics—beliefs, morals, assumptions, standards, history, trauma, intimacies, triumphs and failures of past generations.” And as we see with Shiv throughout the entirety of Succession, sometimes patriarchal legacies hinder women in general.

Shiv is a shark, not a nurturer. She is a ruthless businesswoman and isn’t afraid to throw her loved ones under the bus for personal gain. However, despite her father having this same quality, she was still pushed into a ‘nurture role’. Logan never gave Shiv power; Kendall and Roman didn’t either once they took control of Waystar. Instead, Shiv is constantly having to fight for it, making shady deals, and play the role of double agent.

Succession sexist family dynamics: Shiv by herself

Seeing Shiv having to deal with a very different experience from her brothers in the battle for Waystar Succession is a stark reminder that stereotypes run deep and are an ongoing battle. How many women have had to thoroughly explain their careers to their families? How many of us have debated choosing to work instead of settling down?

And finally, how many of us have witnessed brothers and other family members dismiss that their gender is a get-out-of-jail-free card to all these (let’s face it) exhausting conversations?

Shiv isn’t always likeable. She is a deeply flawed human being. But she also reflects the very relatable and ongoing battles against gendered biases in family dynamics as a whole. And I don’t know about you, but personally, I think we need more shows like Succession to continue to address this shockingly universal experience of women.

Succession sexist family dynamics:: Shiv and Logan sitting on the couch watching TV

For more Succession content, here are our guides to the Succession cast list and all the Succession episodes ranked. Fans can also check out how many episodes are in Succession season 4, and read our Succession season 4 episode 6 recap.

Or, for more top picks, here is our list of all the new movies going out in 2023, and the best movies of all time.