Positive Female Role Models in TV Necessary
In the first decade of the twenty–first century, there has been a rise in the amount of television shows led by a female protagonist. To a passive television viewer, this fact may seem obsolete, but it shows an important shift in the content of media in the United States.
Consider media in the twentieth century: think of all the iconic characters, adventurous explorers, determined career makers, or even just flawed characters looking for resolution in life. How many of those characters are women? There are a few, but most of the iconic female characters one thinks of are the femme fatale archetype: a woman who uses her sexuality to further herself in life.
One of the most successful solutions to this shortage, financially speaking, is the invention of the chick flick. I’ll be the first to admit, sometimes when you’re bored you just gotta put on The Notebook and have a good cry. The problem is that the film industry believes that making these so–called “chick flicks” is enough to make up for the lack of women being at the helm of films in general. And when the only films released about women have stories that basically revolve around whether or not the character can win over a man, or if a man can win her over, women get a warped idea of what their purpose in life is.
Fortunately for the next generation of young women, we are beginning to see a major increase in fully formed, ambitious, and (most importantly) realistic female characters. And while predecessors of these shows like The Mary Tyler Moore Show were good, they relied too much on the idea that this type of “career woman” was an anomaly in the world. Now we see multiple TV shows about women leading fulfilling lives, complete with healthy relationships and successful careers. On NBC, shows like Parks and Recreation, Up All Night, and 30 Rock showcase the lives of women being leaders in their respective fields. In Up All Night, the main character Reagan (Christina Applegate) is a producer for an Oprah–like television show, and her husband Chris (Will Arnett) is a stay–at–home dad. But the show doesn’t use this situation as a gimmick, and it never makes the situation seem abnormal. It’s just the family situation in this particular household. Depictions like that normalize family structures that were once considered “abnormal.”
Another side, albeit much more risky, is the road that cable TV providers have taken in their depiction of women. In AMC’s Mad Men, (a show based in the 60’s, a time when women’s rights were only just becoming a part of the culture) women characters often face sexist treatment from their coworkers. In a sort of backwards way, shows that truthfully depict the treatment of certain groups are in fact increasing awareness about a previously glossed–over portion of our history.
Women are depicted accordingly, but are never shown as weak — in fact the characters’ abilities to survive in a oppressive world speaks miles about their strength.
Okay, I bet a lot of you are wondering: it’s just TV, why should we care? Unless you don’t have a TV or a computer, and don’t speak to anyone aside from other hermits such as yourselves, you are consuming media at a rate higher than any other generation in history. We are constantly in a passive state of media consumption, which affects our perception of the world.
Despite making up fifty-one percent of the population, women are incredibly underrepresented in most fields. It’s important that women are represented in positive ways in the media, and not merely as the objects of desire, because it affects our perception of women on a whole. If media represents women as objects, we as consumers are getting a view of women that is just entirely false. When we present women in a realistic way, we, as a society, are promoting the idea that women are equal to men; an idea which should no longer something we have to disagree about.
As always, this isn’t the end of the struggle for equality in the media. There is a ridiculously low percentage of shows that represent people of color in anything aside from supporting roles. Fortunately, the audience has the ability to change things. Support films and TV shows that feature underrepresented groups by buying tickets, watching live, or creating something new yourself. These stories won’t be told unless we make it clear that the media needs to be diversified, and the change starts with you.