Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Television Women

Reading about television women as analyzed by Tuchman in the 1970s was a lot different than what my impression of television women is today. To be honest, I don't even think about the kinds of women I watch on TV, and I watch a fair amount of TV. Tuchman makes the point to say that women dominate the soap opera genre and I don't know if that's suppose to be a "yay women!" or a "seriously? soap operas?" I took it as the latter because I am not particularly proud of the women in soap operas. What does it say about our society that the only forms of television females dominate are shows about rich, catty, delusion women who cheat on husbands, kill ex-lovers, and are horrible actors? I think that is a terrible niche to try and 'claim.' I understand Tuchman's other point that in regularly syndicated television shows (in the 70s) women were only seen as housewives and mothers, "incompetent, inferior, and always subservient to men." (16) I'd also agree with Tuchman and say yes, I do think that is a problematic representation and that it could indeed affect young women's perceptions on who or what they should be.

So where does that leave us lovely women today? Well, relatively in the same pickle. As I run through all the television shows I know and watch I can't help but noticed a trend in the 'inferior' female complex. Even when not placed in the household or in the family structure, there is most often a male counterpart to the female lead, most often the one that the female pines over (if even for an episode or two), and most often helps solve the mystery or get out of trouble for the female. Even something as trashy as Jersey Shore depicts the men as more put together than the women. There are at least two episodes that focus on the women's inability to cook a proper dinner and the men having to swoop in to save the meal. Not only does this say "these men are better than these women" it also says "women should know how to cook." So even while you say to yourself "I'm never ever going to be like these people and I don't want any one else to be like these people" the show's message still reinforces the gendered roles we are all to familiar with. How come Sammie keeps getting back together with Ronnie even though he treats her like dirt? Why is it a huge deal with Snookie sleeps with two men in a night but the Situation can take two women back home at the same time, have sex with both of them, then call up his back up for a 6am breakfast and roll in the sack? The point being that while the period in which Tuchman was watching television might be a little outdated on first glance, all of those issues are still present, just embedded in different types of programming.

There might be some hope though. My favorite show on TV at the moment is Modern Family. I am utterly in love with all the characters on that show. And while I know I could equally argue how Modern Family reinforces gender stereotypes, I want to focus on how this show is not doing what Tuchman would expect it to be doing. I believe that all the female characters in this show are very strong and challenge gender norms (with the exception of daughter Haley who is really just there as a way to comment on how stereotypical she is). Claire, as anal retentive and bossy as she is, is the backbone to her family and is set up as being way more intelligent than her husband. More importantly, her place in the home is celebrated and portrayed as equality as important as her husband Phil's real estate career. Gloria is also the one in charge in her home and while more sexualized than the other women, she comes from a background of being on her own and independent and still acts that way with her partner. Daughter Alex Dunphy is another cool example of a twist on the notion that girls can't be educated and book smart. While her sister Haley makes fun of Alex's lack of social skills, we see very often Alex doing just fine and often question whether or not Haley is actually even literate. And we all know in life, Alex has the upper hand. This may not address the under representation of women on TV that this particularly section talks about, and Modern Family may not even be a great example of how things are changing. But I do think that when looked at as a show, women are sort of dominating the family structure, the comic relief, and have some commendable qualities that I wouldn't mind being, or my daughter being, or even mind having represented to a worldwide audience (I might also secretly relate to Claire's neuroticism and really enjoy that there is finally a character for me on TV, but whatever. That's for another time.)

No comments:

Post a Comment