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Fall’s “Women-Friendly” TV Lineup: To Which I Say, What The Fuck?

“Whether fictional or quasi-real, TV’s women occupy a world of placation and sublimation through cupcakes and extreme couponing and physically impossible jujitsu. It’s Bravo’s ‘Housewives’ threatening to ruin one another, egged on by fans. It’s a false sense of outspoken independence, shackled by beauty myths and the pretend liberation of promiscuity.” ““ Hank Stuever, Bunnies, Babies and Broads: What Is TV Trying To Tell Us About Women?

“Wow. It really is easy to raise money when you sell out your gender.”
Britta Perry

“You’re the only man I know who puts his hand up a girl’s skirt looking for a dictionary.” ““ The Playboy Club

Whitney Fall Preview. Image copyright of ABC.

There has been much buzz about this fall’s new TV lineup consisting of women-friendly shows. With tag lines promoting edgy “It” girls or commending themselves by showing the beginnings of the “liberation” of women, it’s almost enough to convince viewers that yes! We have reached the new frontier of television! Women are funny! And hot! And raunchy! Behold! The new era of different women in television!

Except nothing could be further from the truth. These shows all still rely on the same banal formulas: stilted jokes that come at the expense of others, an excess of racial stereotypes or just complete erasure, women desperately trying to find or please a guy, and men barely making their way through the world because their dick is all that’s guiding them.  To which I say, what the fuck?

The shows exist in two camps: the first being modern day twee encompassing shows like The New Girl, 2 Broke Girls and Whitney. These shows rely on “one of the guys” type of gals, relying on white women with attitude to serve up some “realness,” yet referring to them constantly as “girls.” I’m guessing 2 Broke Women or The New Woman just don’t have that same sort of catchiness as the zany adventures of girls, or maybe its just not as fuckable sounding. Let’s make one point clear too: it’s not that women don’t crack jokes about their vaginas from time to time. It’s that we don’t do it with the intentions of being cute for thousands of guys, fitting nice and neatly into some Judd Apatow “guys’ kinda gal” stereotype for the hundredth time over, considering that you even fit with the narrow Apatow criteria.

But the stereotyping doesn’t end there, as evidenced by Zoey Deschanel’s character in The New Girl, who is portrayed as an awkward, ugly ducking in disguise, a difficult swallow when she has been all but lifted up onto the altar of typical hetero-normative beauty, as evidenced by the most recent New York Magazine cover. It’s not that these characters can’t be awkward or that “pretty girls” or “thin girls” or “white girls” can’t be weird. It’s just that they always are. Need an awkward girl? Find a good-looking actress, add a pair of glasses, a paint-splattered waitress uniform and call it a day. Hell, if you want to do a show about women being awkward, Issa Rae and her series Awkward Black Girl needs some publicity and funds. Or does that not fit into the dynamic of who gets represented and how?

Then there is liberation as nostalgia with shows like Pan Am and as of now canceled The Playboy Club, shows that framed sexiness and gaze in the service industry as women’s empowerment.  Both shows attempt to follow in the Mad Men aesthetic, yet gloss over what Mad Men does well; portraying the normalcy of life in the early sixties: racism, sexism, rape culture, warts and all. Pan Am and The Playboy Club are more invested in the sparkle, the “feel” of the sixties, which is to say, having a bunch of white girls in fancy uniforms and getting them to talk about the fabulousness and empowerment of their jobs. This is not to say that service industry positions weren’t routes to financial independence or autonomy, but it’s awfully convenient that the networks have chosen to showcase women only in these positions. What, was the Freedom Riders TV pitch just not sexy enough?

Other feeble attempts include shoe-horning in a few token characters range from a Breakfast at Tiffany’s style interpretation of Mr. Yunioshi named “Rice Lee” and Earl, a “smooth talking” black man, on 2 Broke Girls, while The New Girl has a whopping two characters that are relegated to supporting roles in the grand narrative of Deschanel’s character. Naturi Naughton existed as the sole “sassy black friend” as The Playboy Club‘s self-proclaimed “Chocolate Bunny,” whose persona is a casual take on the racial climate in the ’60s, existing as a feel-good, pull yourself up by your bootstraps lesson, meant more to soothe white viewers into feelings of, “See! Bunny Brenda was doing it! Everyone could have done it!” than as an actual rounded character. Pan Am is whiter than snowflakes in a snowstorm and in this vein of logic, Whitney keeps it solely to a white partnered duo that banters back and forth on “post-racial” humor at one point culminating in the statement, “So what’s next, black face?” in regards to one of Whitney’s social faux pas.

These shows are proof that not only do networks assume that women are too stupid to know the difference between a woman on TV and how a woman on TV is represented, but that being a woman is only representable by very narrow considerations of race, gender, and appearance. These shows rely on carefully crafted women, fit for consumption: white, thin, good looking, cute and sexy, but not too sexy, raunchy and wild, but in a way that appeases male viewers. Much like the 2008 election and its presentation of Sarah Palin, we are led to believe that the ultimate accomplishment is being accepted to the “boys’ club” and appearing as “one of the guys” as a bar for success. These shows are equivalent to being the lone girl in the “no girls allowed” club.

And Charlie’s Angels hasn’t even hit the air yet. (Ed. note: It actually has, and it’s worse than you think. It’s stupid AND boring.) Which is great, because check out the tagline.

It is said that TV is our culture reflected back at us and in many ways, is a reflection of mass desires, wants, and selves. Apparently this means that women only exist in two dimensions. One is the stuff of male ego dreams, the burping, slurping, raunchy, politically incorrect and racist joke throwing gal who loves beer pong and thinks, “All chicks are crazy! What are they, on the rag or something?” The other exists in a polished world, where everything is sculpted, sprayed, and made to perfection, their narratives only existing to serve and please, smiles on their faces, all while secretly having sex with married men as a means of liberation. All white. All thin. All pretty. Straight, relatively privileged, all vying for the same old male attention. These shows are apparently the reflected experience of “women,” because what would actual women have to say anyway?

Funny, I think we are right back at the virgin and whore complex. But its not like we strayed very far in the first place.

4 replies on “Fall’s “Women-Friendly” TV Lineup: To Which I Say, What The Fuck?”

In my experience, the guy in relationships has always been the “emotional ninja” but that’s just my experience, you know… the actual experience of a female human being… Clearly these shows are based on whatever the TV exec’s at NBC/CBS etc THINK young women are experiencing or what they want in a TV show. And if they consulted a female, it was Whitney Cummings, the start of Whitney, and the co-creator of 2 Broke Girls. She’s obviously got a pretty skewed view of reality and humor.

These shows make me want to vomit on principal. Instead of Whitney, can we just have another episode of Parks and Rec?

I have hope for 2 Broke Girls.  I think it’s important for there to be media directed at people who are in that scary, exciting stage between high school and fully-fledged adulthood.  I don’t think Max is supposed to be an “ugly duckling” though.  I think they’re trying to do too much with her character right now.  On one hand she’s normal and down-to-earth (I hope they smooth over some of the bitchiness if they’re not going to develop her backstory) while on the other she’s supposed to be the exact opposite of Caroline.  That results in two characters who aren’t all that nice to anyone, but they’re mean in different ways.

Love this, Coco! i watched ALL the ladypilots this year, and it made me want to crawl under a blanket.  There was a line in PanAm where one of the horny pilots says the pretty stewardesses are “A new breed of women, and they don’t even know they’re a new breed of women” and then something about instinctively taking flight.  Um, what? Peggy Olson didn’t have to have anyone tell us she was a new breed (ugh.) of woman,  And even in the early 60s, I’m pretty sure Mr. Captain Horny wouldn’t get anywhere by comparing a woman to something crawling out of the primordial ooze.

There are a handful of shows that do have great roles for women. Up All Night is funny and smart, as well as not sexist.  The women in Terra Nova are pretty badass and well fleshed out.  Hart of Dixie has terrible writing and a slew of unfortunate southern stereotypes, but the lead character has the potential to become interesting. Prime Suspect is much better than I thought it would be, even though Maria Bello isn’t Helen Motherfucking Mirren. Homeland (it’s on Showtime, but the first episode is online for free.  After that we non-subscribers are screwed until they release it on streaming.) has one of the most well-developed lady leads I’ve ever seen on TV. Again, all but the women of Terra Nova are all white, pretty and thin, and the TN women are still pretty and thin, but there are some characters in each of these who may show up on one of our fall brackets down the road.

Whitney and The New Girl both made me irrationally angry.

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