The Sofa Spudniks discuss how women are depicted on TV.
I’D like to think we can tell our young ones that they can aspire to be anything they want to be when they grow up – a pilot, a social worker, a policymaker, a doctor, a journalist, a homemaker, a cop, a scientist, a dog trainer or a teacher. Girls or boys, they should be able to choose what they want to do. After all, it’s the 21st century and a girl should be able to do anything a boy can and vice versa. But if we were to look to television for inspiration, would they get this sort of affirmation?
Yeah, I know, we sit in front of the TV but don’t consciously think about gender identities and stereotypes. We want to be entertained.
However, if you see something often enough – particularly if you are young and impressionable – you may begin to believe that what you see on TV is a reflection of true life.
Are women supposed to look after the house while men go out to work? And, if women work, are they expected to perform double-duty and still look after the household? Everybody Loves Raymond used to be a favourite sitcom of mine but it didn’t escape me that all the women on the show don’t work.
They are house-mums who may not have necessarily have chosen their roles. We’re not really informed about whether or not they had a choice in the matter but judging by Debra’s frustrations, I’m guessing she’s a little resentful.
On The Big Bang Theory, Bernadette is an accomplished microbiologist but she still has to prepare the meals for Howard and pick up after him and on Desperate Housewives’ Wisteria Lane, it’s more or less the same. You have the Stepford Wife (Bree), the frustrated, struggling wife and mother who used to be a successful corporate woman and resents the fact that she had to leave her job to look after the kids (Lynette), the trophy wife who is sexy and pretty and is concerned with appearances (Gabrielle) and the single mother looking for a man or to be less obvious, love (Susan).
Really? Are these all young girls have to aspire to be?
There has been some development in the manner in which women and men are portrayed on television but in many cases these aren’t fully developed.
The Good Wife has some strong, powerful women characters who have choices and dictate the course of their lives. And to be fair, despite its extreme melodrama, Shonda Rhimes’ medical drama (or soap) Grey’s Anatomy places women in equal professional standing as men. Despite the romantic relationships that develop on the show, the women tend to lean on each other for support and not the men. So, yay for Rhimes. (Although I have strong negative opinions about her other female lead in her current hit, Scandal. But I’ll not rant.)
In the award-winning sitcom Modern Family, the situation is a little confused. Yes, there are glaring stereotypes but there are also instances where common gender perceptions are challenged. Firstly, unlike traditional family sitcoms, the family structures in this comedy are more diverse and inclusive: apart from the traditional family (the Dunphys) the show also has a homosexual couple (Mitchell Pritchet and Cameron Tucker who have an adopted Vietnamese daughter) and a marriage with a considerable age difference (Jay Pritchet and his South American wife, Gloria) in the mix.
On the surface, the show does seem to challenge our idea of a traditional family structure. Two gay men in a monogamous relationship; married, in fact, with a adopted Vietnamese child? Progressive, isn’t it?
Almost. Up until the last two seasons, Cam and Mitch were portrayed very stereotypically. Cam as the archetypal flamboyant gay who wears vibrant custom-made shirts and is overly and easily emotional, and Mitchell, the repressed, fussy gay lawyer who is still uncomfortable around his very heterosexual father from whom he constantly seeks affirmation and approval.
Thankfully the writers have added some dimension and diversity to their roles as we now know that Cam was a footballer and now coaches the school’s team (to victory, mind you). This kind of turns on the traditional idea of what a jock is and should look like. Mitchell, on the other hand, who is the more “masculine” of the two is not at all aggressive and is the more nurturing one to Lily, their daughter. One small step.
In the case of Jay and Gloria, however, the stereotypes still abound. As the younger Latina wife, Gloria is stereotypically sexy, hot-tempered, ditsy and financially dependent on her Caucasian husband. And though it elicits laughs, the way she pronounces English words is also a cliche. We do not know much more about Gloria – what her educational background is and her profession prior to marrying the wealthy, much older Jay.
And then there are the Dunphys. Clare is the housemum and Phil financially supports the family. But he clearly doesn’t run the household or wear the pants. So the scales are tipping, albeit in slow motion. – SI
I BELIEVE I like watching police procedural dramas because they usually depict both men and women in the same way. From as far back as I can remember, there were always “strong” women in law enforcement. Take Charlie’s Angels, for example. So maybe people then thought of it as jiggle TV (sexy young women dressed skimpily fighting crime?), but as a kid – the show was popular in the 1970s – I thought the world of Kate Jackson, Jaclyn Smith and Farrah Fawcett.
As the opening credits went, if I remember correctly, the three girls had graduated from police academy but were assigned mundane jobs (probably because they were girls) like meter maid, office worker and crossing guard. Unsatisfied with these jobs, they went to work for the Townsend Agency as private investigators, and subsequently kicked some serious butt.
Now to me, that was girl power – so what if they occasionally flaunted their assets? They had both beauty and brawn and they waited for no man to come and save the day. Fast forward to today, and we have a whole slew of police dramas with female characters that hit the ball right out of the park.
LAPD’s fictional Major Crimes Division’s Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson played by Kyra Sedgwick on The Closer comes straight to mind. She’s all woman – she is in constant turmoil over the men in the her life, the most organised part of her life are the evidence boards at the office, she keeps candy bars in the top drawer, she has a cat and she loves her sheets clean.
She is all these things and yet if you get a case to solved, you’d want her on the job. She’ll get the job done better than anyone else.
Same goes for Kate Beckett of Castle (Stana Katic) – she is one leggy beauty but when it comes to keeping things going like clockwork at the Twelfth Precinct Homicide Squad of the New York City Police Department, Beckett’s your man.
Likewise, the CSI units, be they in Vegas or Miami or New York, all feature strong, bright women, eager to get the job done. And ditto for Criminal Minds, NCIS and Law & Order.
Also, while I am at it, there were a whole bunch of other outstanding women who definitely had an impact on me – Mary Tyler Moore, Murphy Brown (Candice Bergen), Ally McBeal (Calista Flockheart), Ann Romano (Bonnie Franklin of One Day At A Time). None of them was flawless; in fact, all were far from perfect. But they always made me proud to be a girl, and they inspired me enough to believe I could do anything. – AMC