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Film Fridays Part ii: women and tv, version fall 2007

October 19th, 2007     by Thea Lim     Comments

I have been meaning to link to this excellent article by Rebecca Traister at for months: Women are the new men on TV.

Traister runs through more than 5 new TV shows for this fall, and they all seem to have the same basic bizarre premise: in this “post-feminist” age (please draw your attention to quotation marks, if you look closely you will notice they are dripping with sarcasm), women have all the financial and emotional power, and men either have to do what their women want, or hit the road. In Traister’s words:

Welcome to the new world on television, where the women are strong, and the men are cavemen…all [of this fall’s shows] seem to be expressing an anxiety about what on earth is going to happen to American men now that their women are not simply competing at work, sex, friendship, money and politics, but sometimes winning.

If you read the whole article, the number of storylines Traister finds that contain a successful woman and an emasculated man is shocking.

You’d think that a fall line-up filled with sisters doing it for themselves would be a good thing. After all Catherine’s already talked about the dismal state of women in film today, compared to what once was. So what’s my beef?

These storylines seem to be perpetuating a pretty sick falsehood - one, that women have all the power, and two, that reality for men in a world where women are on equal footing is a terrible place.

I’ve had more than a few frustrating disagreements with people who tell me that women have everything men have these days, and feminism is a waste of time. The fact is that on average women in North America still make 79 cents to every dollar that men make. That’s an old, tired stat, but it seems like not enough of us know it.

Ironically, the storylines of Fall’s TV line-up seem to bring home the fact that women still have less power than men at the same time as they claim the opposite: Traister details the many male characters who leave their more successful female partners, or throw tantrums, or are just generally portrayed as weenies in terrible situations, because their women have more money. If our reality truly was one where women had as much power as men, a TV show about a strong woman wouldn’t be populated with deeply bitter men, who are portrayed as being justified in their bitterness.

What Fall’s TV line-up portrays is not so much reality as much as a cautionary tale for men. It’s saying: “This is what your life will be like if the women in your life have more power than you. Stop them, and stop them now.”

Back to Traister:

[Fall TV’s men] can’t just be normal nice guys who are no longer entirely in control, who do childcare or play a subordinate role at work but who do so in a way that is still sexy, still powerful, instead of in a way that is marked as submissive, beaten down or pansy-assed. Nope, they must be buffoons, caricatures, dopes or just angry, neutered bastards.

It’s discomfiting for women, too, to see television’s idea of what a feminized man is, since it is a reflection of what television considers feminine to begin with. If these men are “the new women,” then what does that say about what they take women for? Do they think we have hissy fits when we discover how much our husbands have in their bank accounts? That we flip out when a man comes on to us? That when we get passed over for promotions we walk out of relationships in defeat? If these are supposed to be girly-men, then the notion of what girly looks like is simply ghastly, an insult not only to the men, but to the women whose habits they are supposedly aping.

What really disturbs me is how at the same time as Fall’s TV line-up sets up this misogynistic carnival of shows, the proliferation of strong female characters prohibits us from saying TV today has turned misogynist. I can just hear the TV execs now saying, “Whaddya mean it’s misogynist? How can you say that when every single new show has a strong central female character?”

This doesn’t just seem like a reversal of TV’s Cagney and Lacey glory days, it seems like a reversal plus a detour that just might dead end in the 50’s. We finally get tough broads back on television, but instead of being role models or inspirations, they’re painted as a nightmare.

Dammit all to hell.

Tags: film fridays

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