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May 21 2010

Profiles in Patriarchy: “The Girl”

No secrets will be revealed when I say that I watch television with depressing regularity, and that this habit chaps my hide a mile wide, but I can’t stop, because the carnage endlessly fascinates. Even the supposedly feminist shows (“30 Rock”) feature, not real feminism, but only bogus patriarchy-marketing TV feminism.

Bogus patriarchy-marketing TV feminism is when the lead character is a woman, but she’s doing a man’s job with a bunch of other men, only backwards, in high heels. And sexxxy.

The exception is Jada Pinkett Smith, non-threateningly depicted doing a woman’s job, but with attitude: she stars as a caring, nurturing (but sexxxy) head nurse on a mediocre hospital drama. Smith’s is a proper female minority character who lives to serve. She bosses the honky doctors around a little, but when she bucks the system it’s always for her suffering patients, and never for herself.

During the last TV season, the trend was toward saucy female leads as blonde cops with relationship problems and buttloads of sex appeal. In “The Closer,” Kyra Sedgewick — horrible South Carolina accent and comical chocolate addiction complete — simultaneously heads a homicide squad and amuses her FBI husband with endearing feminine airhead antics while dressed as June Cleaver. In “In Plain Sight” Mary Somebody plays Mary Somebody Else, a US marshall who has triple-X muchacho-on-gringa sex with her smokin hot Telemundo soap opera star boyfriend. Holly Hunter is every biker’s raunchy fantasy chick in “Saving Grace,” one of those shows where a Christian-type God is a wisecracking mentor character.

Despite featuring women in title roles, these shows all feature male knight-in-shining-armor characters, dudely authority figures, scenes wherein women are chained by the wrists in dungeons, and dialog that alludes to the female rape/murder victim as “the girl.”

The girl, the girl, the girl. It is beyond insufferable when TV cops allude to female rape/murder victims as “the girl.” “The girl” is a convention enjoying huge popularity since the invention of TV cops, and before. Why, just this morning, in another hot flash-induced state of TCM-watching insomnia, I saw 20 minutes of a godawful 1956 western called “The Last Hunt,” in which the central theme is two white guys, one “good” and one “bad,” fighting to the death over ownership of a kidnaped Native American “girl.” This character appears as a silent prop in practically every scene, has like 2 lines, and is named in the credits only as “Indian Girl” (but is played by a smokin hot honky actress). Every line of dudely dialogue includes the phrase “he stole my woman.” Dude Nation translation: questions of good and evil are questions for white men; whoever ends up with the captive mute squaw wins.

Speaking of TCM and Native Americans, currently they’re running a series called “Race and Hollywood: Native American Images On Film.”

They get a UCLA professor to say a few introductory words about how patriarchal 20th-century Hollywood portrayed Native Americans and pretty much invented the damaging stereotypes that persist to this day, then they show John Ford’s “Stagecoach” (Geronimo’s on the warpath!) to illustrate the point. That’s swell, but what drives me nuts about these things — they’ve done similar series with gays and Asians — is that they seem to think it absolves them of the crime of perpetuating racist propaganda. For a week or two they pretend to support a critical approach to these horrible, bigoted movies, but then for the rest of the year they show’em over and over again, without UCLA professors of Native American Studies introducing them, without offering the slightest critical analysis, and without compunction or apology or chagrin. In fact, if anything, the tone of the presenters toward Hollywood’s joyful immortalization of honky oppression is downright celebratory. And of course TCM completely ignores the massive sexism and misogyny that oozes out of nearly every “classic movie” ever made (see my essay on “How To Murder Your Wife.”).

Mang, I gotta get some sleep.

86 comments

1 ping

  1. Debbie N.

    Take a look at Treme on HBO, which admittedly is a David Simon show, so automatically miles above the average.

    Someone recently pointed out to me that Melissa Leo’s character on that show is “TV’s first working woman,” in the sense that she is always weighed down by bags of papers, looks harried, can’t accomplish what she cares about, and keeps plugging at it. We also have Khandi Alexander as a bar owner, Kim Dickens as a restaurant owner, both struggling with the effects of Katrina on New Orleans. And more.

    You’re still right, of course. But there’s one ray of sunshine.

  2. yttik

    I have to change the channel frequently. Every show is about some “girl” being tortured, raped, mutilated, and murdered. It’s pornography, the characters feign outrage while reviewing the crime scene photos over and over again, practically getting an erection as they contemplate how much she suffered. I wonder, do the strong lead female characters not notice their partners are sitting next to them practically masturbating at the thought of some women helpless and suffering?

    I worry about boys growing up having watched 152,175 women being tortured for sexual gratification and entertainment by the time they are 18. I worry we’re going backwards, that the horrors of the past are nothing like what we are creating today.

  3. norbizness

    Don’t knock it; I just learned the surprising fact that Dame Judith Anderson was not, in fact, a Native American.

  4. Alex

    I’ve been enjoying “V” this past season because, you know, who doesn’t love a good alien invasion? But the whole mommy parallel they’ve been playing up between Good Human and Bad Alien is driving me cah-razy. Evidently they have patriarchy on Rigel 7, too. Oh and also? Alien daughter using heteronormative teen sex to get what she wants from human son/human mommy. Argh.

  5. Kelsey B.

    Oh, Ms. Psmith, every time I check this blog and there’s a new essay, it’s like someone left a chocolate under my pillow while I was sleeping. As the French would say, Squee.

  6. lawbitch

    I don’t watch television. I’m glad that you summarize it for me and validate my lack of interest.

  7. ew_nc

    The really sad part is that these shows are an actual improvement over reality TV. Of course that’s kind of like saying Obama is an improvement over McCain.

  8. Snore Wife

    Such excellent points you make. Pretty much every show on television is some kind of crime drama set in a world where women are just plot devices to secure the badness of the bad guy in our simple little minds. I can’t imagine someone who’s afraid of blood being able to watch ten minutes on any channel without cringing.
    But thank gosh we can’t see nipples on tv. That would be wrong and dirty. Right?

  9. janicen

    I had high hopes for “Fringe”. It began with an independent, kick-ass, fearless, female FBI agent, but sadly, this season, they are “softening” her and making her more dependent on a male character who is not an FBI agent and has no investigative training. He is male, however, and these days she has to call on him for his opinion and he’s even rescued her a time or too. I miss the Olivia Dunham of season one.

  10. drsnacks

    Is “30 Rock” even supposed to be feminist? It’s the most directly patriarchal comedy on network TV (which explains its disproportionate popularity on the internet); almost all of the jokes serve that internet comedy purpose of reaffirming otherwise emasculated white males’ position above everyone else (two unrelated black characters are comedic simply because they’re black and effete).

    “Parks & Recreation” OTOH — besides being an under-praised gem it almost exists to provide the perfect counterexample of feminist comedy. Both 30 Rock and P&R are helmed by the two ostensibly feminist peers of the same run of SNL. But while 30 Rock’s lead is an “unlovable loserette” who hilariously fails at being a woman (i.e. getting a man), P&R never paints Leslie Knope as a “sad single woman” despite the fact that she’s single and nearing middle-age.

    I kind of hope Tina Fey is as embarrassed as she should be by the example Amy Poheler has made of her with her show. Knope dates, of course, but with the urgency of picking up a weekend hobby.

    I could go on forever about P&R but just check it out, it’s such a rare gem of a comedy that’s both hilarious and not a complete affront the person-hood of the majority of the population. If you quit the first season understand that the second season is of a completely different quality.

  11. Saphire

    You shoulda stopped with the TCM after ‘How to Murder Your Wife’. Fck that!!

    Showing the movies even after the ‘enlightened’ introductions? That’s not apologising btw, that’s enjoying the sheer retroness of the films. Let me guess, they give commentaries about ‘this would never be shown today (sigh)’?

    Dunno how anybody does it, my TV is just a black screen and stays that way. I don’t attend to things that discredit my value almost on everything shown. Scared of getting sucked into it – so I don’t.

    Media influences humans like the sea influences sea-life. We just don’t get it.

  12. Saphire

    ‘I wonder, do the strong lead female characters not notice their partners are sitting next to them practically masturbating at the thought of some women helpless and suffering?’

    Of course they notice, every woman knows when a young pretty butchered white woman is on the screen, why they’re really watching it. To most women it’s probably just merely an incentive to dye their hair after all.

  13. jaded

    Another profiling rampant in “Chick” detectives is if she is smart, she has to be doubly pretty and absolutely elusive to the hot-blooded GodMale that shares her breathing space every episode (See Bones, Castle).

    And when her “smart”-ness becomes too boring, they just make her fall in love with the GodMale. I am surprised I don’t see it coming. Every single time. I’m a masochist like that.

  14. missjulied

    @janicen: I disagree with your assessment of “Fringe”. Olivia just went to another universe to rescue Peter, not the other way around. And I like that they rely on each other, each using their own strengths. With a couple of exceptions (the nascent relationship between O & P – which I hope they don’t follow through with – as one example), I think her role could have been easily played by a male actor.

    Plus, the Olivia in the other universe is a total ass-kicker.

  15. minervaK

    Oh I am so glad you brought this up.

    http://www.minervakoenig.com/2009/11/how-to-write-non-sexist-crime-novel.html

  16. kristyn joy

    Oddly enough, Cold Case (a prime-time network non-cable crime drama) was really good for a few seasons. Single, badass (well, TV badass) lady detectives, even a not-so-secret Liberal Agenda — not so much as to become radical, but definitely enough that the right wing complained about it.

    But then, alas, the creators relented. Lilly Rush, Badass No. 1, grew her (blonde) hair out, started wearing a lot of makeup, sprouted a revolving string of boyfriends upon whom she is in various ways codependent, and was placed in not one but three life-threatening situations of vulnerability — the second of which seemed to offer a promising way for her character to grow, but which was sadly wasted. (All the foreshadowing, poof. Gone.)

    Kat Miller, Badass No. 2, could not last long as a single badass WoC. So she also grew her hair out, got a daughter to whom she frequently refers, and was seen in the company of a man (albeit as she told him in no uncertain terms that he was not getting visitation rights with their daughter). Heaven forbid that someone think she’s not only a WoC, but a … gasp! … queer! Although for all anyone knows, she still could be queer, as her child was conceived during “undercover operations” and she could have just been “faking straight” (still bad, but with a glimmer of better).

    Most recently, Rush’s partner (a decent character, other than the ‘stereotypical hotblooded Latino’ aspect) had an existential crisis after some creepo raped his mother, and I stopped even bothering to download the episodes any more. At this point, I actually HOPE Rush and Valens get together — at least he’s a pushover to her, and decently metrosexual as well.

    Shit, TV is bad.

  17. nails

    The Wire is the last show I really enjoyed. Everything is total shit next to that show.

    I realized awhile ago that I was actually paying to have Disney Channel beamed into my house (and into my step spawn’s brain), and so the cable is going away. What kind of crazy shit is that? To pay the assholes who make the 700 club and Cory in the House for what they do? I am firmly anti television from this point in time. It is a form of mass distraction that keeps people worrying about things other than what is happening in our communities and in the world, and what effect we can have on the world. It isn’t a coincidence that tv regurgitates the most hateful shit over and over again, it is there to depress and demoralize the population, to teach values that used to be transmitted via communities. It is there to piss us off and remind us of our inferior status, make you think about shopping or if your ass is too fat or what celebrities are up to or sports. It isn’t a conspiracy theory, it is what you would expect from large corporations who are trying to maximize their profits. Dumbing people down into superficial morons who will lap up total schlock is naturally in their interest, and it makes the voting population freakishly easy to manipulate as well (fox news invented a fucking political party recently, if anyone needs proof). The importance of controlling the minds of the vast underclass became more apparent to the social elites as the use of physical force was overcome repeatedly. The people responsible for this shift say it plain as day in books and articles written on the subject (the book Propaganda from 1928 is a good starting place, the word did not have such a negative connotation back in the day). Sexism and racism are very good tools for oppressing the population and keeping things the way that they are. Chuck out your tv twisty, YOU are the product being sold, not the crappy faux feminist shows.

  18. Boad

    “It’s the most directly patriarchal comedy on network TV”

    I think that’s really a stretch. It may not be feminist, but it’s no more “directly patriarchal” than any other sitcom on network TV, female lead or no.

  19. mearl

    Sing it, nails!

  20. mearl

    Addendum: It’s a good idea to stay tuned in to mainstream culture because then you can set up rallies against it, and critique the hell out of it, hilariously and right on the mark, like Jill does.

    I stopped watching much TV and listening to much mainstream radio years ago, and then when I’d go over to someone’s house who had cable, I would turn on the TV and scream like Macauly Culkin when I saw what had germinated there in my absence. I actually do live in fear that one day I’ll come back from a blissful hiatus from pop culture to discover that my debit card has stopped working, my job has been terminated on the basis that I’m female, the only broadcasts available will be from the Eye of God Network, and Robert Duvall is on his way to rape me. That’s when the old cyanide tooth will be employed.

  21. humanbein

    It’s true that TCM has unreconstructed patriarchal messages in all of it’s movies. This is also true of everything else in the movie theaters and TV, by and large. But it is also a relatively tamer version of much of the worst excesses of sex and violence you can see constantly in modern films and TV.

    There is a wider and less sexy variety of beauty standards on display, enough to arguably help us learn that the look of today is not the only look available, and to help us question looking like anything in particular.

    Nothing is perfect, but many old movies prove that it would be possible to have entertainment that doesn’t rely heavily on massive explosions and saline-stretched breasts. So do a few modern movies, but very few.

  22. drsnacks

    “I think that’s really a stretch. It may not be feminist, but it’s no more “directly patriarchal” than any other sitcom on network TV, female lead or no.”

    How does that work? I didn’t realize patriarchy was binary. If there are fewer “white men are normal” jokes one show than another then that show is less patriarchal than the other.

  23. nails

    Mearl- I read stuff like Fortune in my break room to keep up on the official news because you are right, there is some value in knowing what the elite opinion is.

    Needing to have the professor on every so often to ease the discomfort of racism is a kind of progress I guess. I am thinking that the 60′s had a lot to do with it. Needing to pretend to care doesn’t seem like much, but it is something, a sign of change in most peoples minds.

  24. Boad

    “How does that work? I didn’t realize patriarchy was binary. If there are fewer “white men are normal” jokes one show than another then that show is less patriarchal than the other.”

    Que?

  25. AM

    I just watch NCIS. Abby, Zeva.

  26. drsnacks

    @Boad thought that you were challenging whether a show could be more patriarchal than another patriarchal show, not whether 30 Rock is in particular the most straightforwardly patriarchal comedy on broadcast. I find it to be an unmatched barrage of exclusionary insults (not to mention the terrible delivery on the lines that actually are funny), but it’s nothing I can stand by so I won’t argue that much.

  27. ivyleaves

    I want to chime in on the “kill your TV” theme. I can’t get reception without paying for cable, and I decided one day that there was no way I was paying out the nose to have people sell me stuff. It was the best thing I ever did to protect my spawn from patriarchy brainwashing, even though that wasn’t my goal at the time. I watch some of the stuff mentioned here on hulu for free, so I still keep in touch with what’s going on out there in TV land, but only as I feel like it.

  28. Saphire

    Ivyleaves’ approach is definitely healthiest. I’m sure TV actually gets worse when I’m tuning in to keep track.

    Fact is, so many people hate TV who least define as feminist. TV is so openly sleazy nowadays (and that’s without all the soft porn).

    p.s. I vaguely recall Boad always posts to go against the grain. He/ she has yet to get banned.

  29. kristyn joy

    ” It isn’t a coincidence that tv regurgitates the most hateful shit over and over again, it is there to depress and demoralize the population, to teach values that used to be transmitted via communities. It is there to piss us off and remind us of our inferior status, make you think about shopping or if your ass is too fat or what celebrities are up to or sports. It isn’t a conspiracy theory, it is what you would expect from large corporations who are trying to maximize their profits.”

    Yes! Other than downloading Cold Case for a while (a lapse in judgment, please don’t ask me why I did it), I’ve been TV-free for six years. Likewise mainstream radio. I see or hear it in laundromats and on the occasions when I’ve been ill and thus forced to be around family members; when that happens, I react as does Mearl.

    It’s horrifying. Becoming more and more a parody of itself every day. Before long, it will be like living in an unholy hybrid of Fahrenheit 451, Mad Men, and Sex in the City, with a dose of terrible reality show thrown in for fun — and only the people who were outside of it will notice.

    Remember the analogy of the frog and the boiling water? Those bastards are turning up the heat every day.

  30. yttik

    I’m with humanbein on this. Old movies are patriarchal as all get go, but they are nothing compared to the pornographic combination of sex and violence that we see today. For example, I Love Lucy is far more feminist then the romantic comedies of today which seem to revolve around the hilarious antics of date rapists.

  31. Bushfire

    I guess I’m an odd one out here, because I love 30 Rock. When I first started watching it I had a brief moment of “is she or isn’t she a feminist?” but that question was answered pretty quickly. I was excited for her movie Baby Mama but it turned out to be worse than 30 Rock- really elitist and full of stereotypes.

    My girlfriend and I used to be addicted to Gilmore Girls because it seemed to be the only show around that was actually about women. We used to call it “a parody of heterosexuality” and were constantly talking to Lorelei through the screen about her bad decisions, and commenting on how completely unrealistic every single thing in the show was.

    Alas, those are about the best choices I have. That’s why I don’t pay for cable either.

  32. humanbein

    I love 30 Rock, too, but I do realize that it is all about how completely women give in to men in hundreds of ways every day. Sometimes, this idea is presented so overtly that I feel like there is a feminist thought behind this theme, and other times it’s just men acting like jerks and women putting up with it.

    The first episode set the tone neatly. Liz Lemon had her own show, called The Girly Show, or TGS, and new executive man Baldwin brings in a man to headline it with the same initials TG, so it’s still call TGS. The whole show is predicated on men keeping Liz Lemon under foot.

    It may be slightly subversive, but if it is, it’s in a way that men can’t possibly find threatening. I could cull a dozen really great feminist jokes from the show, if by feminist jokes one can mean jokes that show the exquisite torture men bestow on women out of the boundless love they have for women who cater to them.

    Many of Jill’s jokes could be described the same way! But she always veers between amusing comedy and instructive tragedy with conspicuous ease.

  33. Laurie

    I love early movies, but even the wildest Pre-Codes (like Safe in Hell, Three on a Match, Midnight Mary, Female) end up punishing (or neutralizing through romance) any woman who dares transgress against the patriarchy. And more than thirty years ago, Jerry Mander saw the TV monster coming and warned us in Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television. We should have listened.

    Sexism in modern film and TV is more explicitly sexualized and frank anti-female violence is played for titillation more overtly than in the past, but hasn’t the endangered woman served as the stuff of most “thrillers” from the silent era on — anyone remember the Perils of Pauline?

    As a kid in the 60s, I learned from TV that male-on-female violence was a rich mine for comedic purposes as well. I remember being disturbed by Desi Arnaz’s undercurrent of imminent violence against Lucy, and how she scrambled around in fear of his wrath almost every episode, to loud yuks from the laugh track; ditto Jackie Gleason in what was probably the most famous “joke” of the “Honeymooners” series: his ongoing threat to beat his wife Alice so severely it would send her “to the moon.”

    I guess the basic message of most entertainment media, then and now, is the same: woman in danger or pain is sexually exciting — or amusing.

    IBTP.

  34. Melanie

    Your descriptions remind me of a video on conquistadors we were made to watch in history class once: as Cortés kidnapped women, enslaved entire cities, and slaughtered his way through Mexico, the narrator exclaimed, “Ha! Classic Cortés!” A quick disclaimer at the end absolved viewers of any guilt they may have felt for cheering for the men so obviously portrayed as heroes; boys will be boys, you know.

    I haven’t owned a television in years but unfortunately I still read the Huffington Post, which is at least as disgusting.

  35. rubysecret

    “The girl” used to, in the theater days, be the “ingenue” love interest. Now she’s the rape victim. Interesting how far we’ve come, eh?

  36. Jezebella

    Mearl, I have the same nightmare. Margaret Atwood knows what the theocracy really wants, and it scares the crap out of me. Nolo te bastardes carborundum.

  37. Jezebella

    Pardon my bad Latin: Nolite te bastardes carborundum. Been a long time.

  38. Triste

    You know, I’m glad I’m not the only one who has noticed this shit about crime shows. I have to say, I sometimes feel like the only one who finds it fucking disgusting. My mother is a huge CSI fan: I rather vividly recall sitting in the living room with her while she watched an episode. It starts off with your typical voyeuristic scene, a hot blonde chick naked save for a towel, about to get in the tub, removing her panties in a deliberately seductive way despite apparently being alone. Back turned, having no idea that we are watching and thus vulnerable.

    Then cut to the next scene, where we see this girl dead in a shopping cart, her face mutilated. A few moments later it zooms in, and we see a rat coming out of the woman’s mouth, a nice wink wink nudge nudge see how this girl’s mouth is stretched around a thick elongated object reference for all the rape porn lovers who are especially fond of cocksucking images, likely due to the complete lack of direct female sexual pleasure involved. The main character, an adult male who is entirely average looking (as opposed to the female cast which consists of two skinny hot chicks, chiefly), cheerfully quips, “Looks like she ratted herself out.” Get it? He said “ratted herself out” and a rat came out of her mouth. Do you get it? It’s funny, right? Right?

    In case the viewer finds this disgusting and sociopathic, we are later to discover that the bitch deserved what she got – the mutilation on her face was of her own doing, a result of body dysmorphic disorder. For failing the duty of all women – that is, failing to not crumble under the burden of patriarchal beauty norms – and for making herself gross and unfuckable, her death was totally deserved and okay to joke about.

  39. tinfoil hattie

    To most women it’s probably just merely an incentive to dye their hair after all.

    Ouch. Kinda nasty, that.

    The other thing I’ve noticed about TV lately is that most of the “reality”-types shows available are about Men Doing Things. White men, of course. Ax Men. Deadliest Catch. Mythbusters. Dirtiest Jobs. Pawn Stars. American Pickers. And, of course, “Dude, What Would Happen?” which is a particulary loathsome breed of cockaldry.

  40. Comrade PhysioProf

    Jeezus motherfuck, mang. How the fucking fuck do you watch this shit? The only shit I can tolerate on teevee is fucking Yankees games.

  41. Pinko Punko

    And that is what makes you a gigantic cobag, other PP!

    It is so true that TCM tries to work the get out of jail free card by appearing sensitive, and of course they would never ever do the same thing with Hollywood and the Female. Because whatshisface would just break.

    I don’t want to excuse them, but to occasionally see something like The Red Shoes- I know I’m sure you could go to town on that one, but I thought it was phenomenal.

  42. minervaK

    Do any of y’all read Snarky’s Machine? She regularly says highly interesting things about TV and pop culture in general.

  43. Schnee

    I’ll vote for Parks and Rec too, despite the occasional sexist language. Also Fringe – especially as Olivia Dunham never wears ridiculously male-fantasy, unprofessional clothing. And I have to put a vote in for Nurse Jackie – again, aside from the sexist language.
    However……I will grit my teeth through the perky teenagers, the vile Will Shuester, the ridiculously token individuals with issues, because in spite of the rest of Glee, I do so love Sue Sylvester, aka, Jane Lynch.

  44. Jill

    Jane Lynch has remarkable charisma. She steals every scene she has ever been in. It would be good if tons of people would like to be her when they grow up.

  45. Jill

    fucking Yankees games

    Seriously? Football is, like, the most boring thing ever televised. Except for that channel where they try to sell you obscure gemstones.

  46. Larkspur

    I like me some TV.

    Fringe holds my interest, even though in season one, Dunham did have to wear some leotard thing when they put her in the magical tank thing.

    Bones usually holds my interest, despite its sillier episodes involving costumes. The women members of the forensics team are strong and capable, and Brennan’s Aspergerish demeanor can be refreshing. She really has no idea, for example, that she ought to wait to be rescued.

    Castle is borderline intriguing because the two main characters are built on the old Moonlighting theme, which is based on the whole Taming of the Shrew shtick, and yet neither character quite falls for it. Both are intelligent, and they don’t really pretend to hate each other.

    I don’t know. I’ve never wanted to kill my TV. It’s so easy just to turn it off. There are no children in my household, though, so that’s not a concern.

    I kind of like football, but I hardly watch it anymore because of the tedious and repulsive advertising and commentary.

  47. Alexa

    You what I find weird? My dad loves feminist TV. I.e a strong woman who is charismatic and capable. Loves watching ‘NCIS’ (<is that right?) just because there's strong women in it who apparently hold their own. My dad is much more feminist than my mum. He also points feminist quelms out – 'oo what about that pointless woman wrestling match in NCIS'.

    The only way me and my dad get on, is by humour, our love for documentaries, and hatred of shit TV ( and shit TV is the patriarchy). If someone hates shit TV, they're part radfem.

  48. Alexa

    Ew, turned my dad into a Nigel!

  49. Stella

    As far as I can tell, Tina Fey’s TV/celebrity persona is basically that of patriarchy-friendly feminist caricature.

    “Fiesty.” Check.
    Glasses. Check.
    Brunette. Check.
    No breast implants. Check.
    Allowed to have “creative control” of “major network TV show.” Check.

    Whatever.

  50. naomi dagen bloom

    “…not real feminism, but only bogus patriarchy-marketing TV feminism…” is a brilliant summary of all we see in media. As a member of the always-invisible class, i.e., gray-haired truly old ladies over 65, I’m always looking for defining phrases for our status. Thanks!

  51. Gayle

    This turned into a fun thread. I have a couple of things to add:

    1) Regarding The Last Hunt: It’s been a while since I’ve seen it, but isn’t this the same premise as The Searchers? A white guy chasing around a faux Indian woman? In John Wayne’s case, he was out to kill that nicely tanned Natalie Wood, but still.

    2) This:

    “fucking Yankees games”

    “Seriously? Football is, like, the most boring thing ever televised. Except for that channel where they try to sell you obscure gemstones.”

    I don’t know if that was intentional or not. Either way, I love you!

    3) Glee and 30 Rock are the only non Top Chef related shows I record and watch faithfully. My only beef with Tina Fey is her show is making Alec Baldwin seem likable again. Ugh!

    4) Yankees Suck!!!

  52. ivyleaves

    On TV: Baseball is more boring than football. Golf is more boring than baseball. NASCAR is more boring than all of them.

  53. Judi

    And don’t be thinking that you can avoid watching the ensickening images of patriarchal violence by sticking to nature documentaries. You can only watch them with the sound off. Otherwise you will be told, “No matter how coquettishly the female lizard resists, the male, with his superior strength and persistence, will ultimately have his way with her.” They’re certainly right about the persistence part–the damn P never misses an opportunity to instruct us. Every time it captures our attention with what looks like entertainment, it will hold up a pornified and conquered “Girl” to remind us of our place. Even if that role is played by the girl part of a rice plant.

  54. kristyn joy

    “Brennan’s Aspergerish demeanor can be refreshing. She really has no idea, for example, that she ought to wait to be rescued.”

    Are we sure that what is commonly known as “autism spectrum disorder” is what it says on the tin?

    On the one or two occasions that I’ve watched Bones, I’ve felt not that Brennan is autistic (although I know the character is supposed to be Aspie), but that she’s just very straightforward and kinda badass. At least as much as TV will allow a pretty-looking woman to be.
    Not “knowing” how to flirt and playact actually makes for a potential slap in the face to P, y’know. And eliminates a lot of the horrific aspects of human interaction (ie, passive aggression, etc). Perhaps this is not such a bad thing.

  55. Pinko Punko

    Best Jane Lynch line of course is from the relatively meh Christopher Guest folkie movie. “This candle represents [blah blah new age paraphrase. Also, a penis”

    Brennan on Bones is all over the place. Lately they have very much enhanced the Asperger’s like symptoms. What is this thread about? Oh yeah, TV killing my brain. Along with Texas State School Curriculum hearings.

  56. stickypaws

    Time for a little Nurse Jackie.

  57. tinfoil hattie

    BTW, Debbie N., I can’t get past the first half of the first episode of Treme. The entitled white dude’s naked ass soured me immediately, and I couldn’t follow the plot after that.

    One show on TV had such promise: Medium. The show is definitely more feminist in a matter-of-fact way than most shows on TV. The problem is, the entire show has been ruined because every single episode is the graphic depiction of mutilation, rape, slicing, beating, burning, and otherwise maiming women – and then killing them. Sometimes they show the act, sometimes “just” the crime scene photos. I can tell it’s supposed to be titillating, and that just made me sick, watching it. Bleccch.

  58. Pinko Punko

    Moderation! I should have used funky bratwurst instead of p***s. I wanted to get that Jane Lynch quote as accurate as I could!

  59. KJB

    Delurking for once – I enjoy 30 Rock, definitely agree that it’s not the most feminist show, but I also wonder whether (as someone above did, sorry can’t remember who!) if it’s doing it on purpose. I would say that it definitely to some extent seems to represent a third-wave feminist perspective. For example, there was an episode called ‘The Natural Order’ in which Liz and Tracy (who is black) argued over who had it harder: women or ethnic minority men, before both coming to realise by the end of the episode that such a comparison was futile and ultimately damaging for each of them.

    Sadly, I’m not sure that a feminist-friendly show would be allowed to survive for very long. :-( Anything approaching feminism in the mainstream is emerging in the shadow of a towering accumulation of ‘hairy man-hating FEMINAZI!’ stereotypes, and has little hope of survival without dilution. I mean, y’know, women are only 51% of the population, it’s not like what we wants MATTERS [/snark]. I don’t suppose anyone here has seen Hex? It’s a British show (I’m from the UK). If so, what did you think?

    Certainly, as a non-white feminist I really appreciate the skewering of white liberal racism (and also ableism) that frequently occurs in 30 Rock. It might not be totally feminist-friendly, but I appreciate the anti-racist aspect of it greatly.

  60. KJB

    Apologies, parts of my comment appear to have moved around (the second paragraph should be the final paragraph! *cringe*), and I have used ‘definitely’ twice, in close succession. This is why sleep is good.

  61. niki

    Scully from the X-files back in the 90′s was my hero until she started crying and talking about babies all the time. I guess all of those ‘My daughter looks up to you so much!’ compliments Ms. Anderson was receiving scared the Patriarchy and they had to femme her up some.

    The only other women characters I saw in my brief forays into TV town that were strong and independent were the women in ‘Third Rock From The Sun’, where gender roles were reversed and all of the men were hand-wringing drama queens, but it was so obviously a role reversal (tee-hee!) that of course it was encased in a comedy! Women aren’t really like that!!!! So funny!

  62. yttik

    Judi makes a good point about nature shows and documentaries. You can’t even escape the patriarchy by watching history or science. Not long ago I watched something about the Celts, who apparently spent all their time proving their dominance over women and engaging in human sacrifice. And how do we know this? Well, because that’s what we’d do if we were ancient Celts!

  63. SargassoSea

    Ah yes, “femme her up”. The most egregious example I can think of is Rachael Maddow. Brilliant intellect? Whatever, what you need is some lipstick!

  64. Kiuku

    I know Yttik, they made a whole documentary on dinosaur sex when they haven’t proven a single male dinosaur, much less a t-rex. The morphs are likely due to other factors, and only DNA sampling done on t rex’s was proven to be a female. It’s the same with hominids, but that doesn’t stop a prominent researcher from writing that the bones he finds in a cave belongs to a male (he compared the younger one to the older female and, without any actual proof, decided to call the younger set a male)

  65. Kiuku

    and can we ever forget about Man the Hunter. Meanwhile , during all of Man the Hunter, Feminists had been proving that gathering and cooking (and weaving and pottery) was the spearhead of humanity, and not, you know, spearheads, and that hunting was largely insignificant and ritualistic, and then the men come up with “man the gatherer, women were pregnant in the cave”. Dr. Socks writes a good one on this.

  66. speedbudget

    It’s very sad that the only way a woman can be non-Patriarchy compliant is if she has some disorder to “excuse” her behavior. We want a strong female lead, but we can’t upset the boys! I know! Give her Asperger’s! They don’t understand this compliance shit!

    Also, I’ve been watching Dexter, like, all the time now. I can’t get enough of that show, even if his girlfriend is the Patriarchal dream of an idiot. But he flat-out says he picked her specifically because she was damaged, so there is that.

  67. Larkspur

    Rachel Maddow: yes, femmed up some. But (a) television requires make-up (ask Richard Nixon) and (b) I think Maddow is asserting herself. The lipstick isn’t so red, I think she’s ditched the false eyelashes, and she is not afraid to leave her desk from time to time and show the non-designery blue jeans and clunky sneakers she wears beneath the tidy suit jacket. And the suit jackets are wonderfully free of frills.

    speedbudget: I know you are right about the Asperger’s hook (although as far as I know, the show has not alluded to any sort of diagnosis; the characters treat it as the quirk of a brilliant scientist). I guess it’s a variation of the fictional device of super-powers.

  68. Sarah

    There is a test you can put your movies and TV shows to called the Bechdel Test, that helps in a sort of reductionist way to figure out if it’s a worthwhile piece of entertainment:

    1. Does it have at least two named female characters
    2. Who talk to each other
    3. About something other than men

    (Source.)

    Also, I am sure you have all seen Adam’s Rib, yes? It is a glorious example of Robert Osborne’s complete smugness, and TCM’s dedication to presenting classic P in a totally uncritical and revelatory fashion.

  69. nails

    Larkspur- Maddow says that she gets more make up sometimes because she doesn’t pay very much attention to what the make up people do to her. I believe her, and I bet make up people are some of the worst you-would-be-so-pretty-if-sters out there. She says ‘give me what a dude gets’ and she gets that kinda inconsistently.

  70. yttik

    I think I watch Bones out of feminist hope, is her “aspergers” going to hold up and allow her to invest all her time in being a brilliant scientist or is she going to recognize her only worth as a woman is to find a man that her whole world can revolve around? Stay tuned!

    I’ve been hooked on American Idol this year for the same reason. Crystal Bowersox is an amazing artist, will she maintain her own identity or will she be sucked into the patriarchy? Sadly, I suspect she will succumb to the disease. She now has a boyfriend and lipstick and heels. She’s by far the most talented, but her time is no longer being invested in her talent. She’s now giving shout outs to her boyfriend, while her opponent is investing all his energy into his performances.

    She has 3 burdens, a baby, life threatening diabetes, and a boyfriend. It’s quite amazing that women are able to get so far with their time and energy so divided, their focus so distracted. It reminds me of a hiking trip I took once, in which the men wanted to compete with the women to see who got there first. We were carrying the toddlers and the back packs full of lunch. Dudes, I really hope that water bottle you’re packing doesn’t slow you down too much. Did they ever grasp the concept of the uneven playing field they had created? No, they celebrated their victory all the way home.

  71. mearl

    If Dexter were a woman, he’d have to be killed off fairly quickly, or subdued in love by a big, manly man.

    You can’t even watch the Teletubbies without constantly thinking about how the purple one is gay and the red one is a commie. IBTP.

  72. Jill

    The Brennan character on “Bones” is inconsistently written, the show jumps the shark every 3 or 4 episodes (such as when they go undercover as a knife-throwing carnies), and her Aspie-ism is merely a device for a taming-of-the-shrew-type-dealio wherein the Booth character is constantly training Brennan how to be more human (i.e. feminine and spiritual*) with his traditional hunky manliness and the myth of redemption through romantic het love. The show treats Brennan’s lack of feminine wiles as a handicap to be overcome (with the help of a Testosterone-American). On the upside, I believe that they occasionally write a scene between female characters where they discuss skeletal remains rather than relationships, and Brennan is an unapologetic atheist, so that’s good. But uh-oh, there she is chained by the wrists in a dungeon, and Booth has to rescue her.

    Oh well.

    ______________________
    *Spiritual can kiss my entire ass.

  73. Kiuku

    Also it is acceptable to act like this, defy patriarchy in some ways, as long as you’re a “girl” and not a “woman”. I guess once you’re married and you’ve got kids or you have meat on your body, then you’re a woman. Other than that you’re a giiirrrlll

  74. Kiuku

    it’s like how “sterile” ants can do the work in the hive and men are always trying to sterilize women who defy patriarchy.

  75. Pansuit Sally

    Re: nature documentaries- did anyone else watch the recent Life series on the Discovery Channel? I was struck by how many of the featured species involved a female that is physically larger and socially more dominant than the male. It was a nice antidote to all the usual crap that leads the patriarchy to shrug its shoulders and say, “You just can’t argue with nature!”

    It’s another example of the contradictions and hypocrisy required to maintain the patriarchy. On the one hand, there’s the notion that humans are superior to animals in some way, and therefore, we’re justified in using them however we want with no regard for ethics or sustainability. We can support the factory farm system, destroy wildlife habitat in the name of progress, and kill animals for sport, because they are different, lesser beings. But then when it comes to justifying the oppression of women, suddenly humans are lumped in with all the other animals and we’re just supposed to accept that the male is entitled to a dominant position, the female is condemned to submission, and it’s completely unreasonable to expect men to defy their biology and behave better than animals.

  76. Larkspur

    Well, we have a disagreement, Jill, on the Bones vs. Taming of the Shrew dealio. What makes the difference for me is that there’s genuine, expressed affection and respect among all of the characters. Brennan isn’t bitchy and unhappy, she’s brilliant but out of step in terms of typical human interaction. It’s sometimes amusing, sometimes off-putting, but never mean or even cranky. I acknowledge that thematically it’s real close to Booth being the natural guy and Brennan being the artificial creature who needs to be made human by him – but it never actually goes there. Booth can’t do his job without her and the team. They have the technical knowledge, expertise, and intuition that he doesn’t. Neither Booth nor Brennan can be as good on the job separately as they are together.

    Plus I adore Dr. Saroyan.

    But the costumes and knife throwing circus crap needs to stop already.

  77. Barbara P

    Agreed that TV is mostly crap. Occasionally, I watch the food network, and DVR saves me from most of the ads.

    However, last week I was subjected to the vile “Dr. Oz” while waiting for my car to be repaired. I brought a book, but it didn’t help to distract me. The subject matter was mostly just mildly annoying (diet advice), but the smarmy, condescending, mansplaining really made my obstreporal lobe throb. My only “respite” was a massive blast of obnoxious negative campaign ads (it was they day before the PA primaries) and stupid human-on-mop love affair commercials (or is it mop-on-human?)

    It got so bad that I actually starting holding my head in my hands and visibly wincing. The sweet old couple nearby (who were soaking everything in like they’d never heard diet advice before in their lives) actually seemed concerned, and asked if it was too loud. I said no. I didn’t think they would really get it if I started explaining that it was only too loud in a metaphorical sense, and that I was holding my head to prevent a lobe burst. Finally, I just up and left and sat in the showroom. It was early enough that there were no customers and I could finally breathe and just THINK my normal thoughts. It took a while for the lobe to cool down.

    I believe I’ve been spoiled, by DVR yes, but even more by this web site. It’s like I’ve become used to a steady diet of honeysuckle sorbet made with fresh morning dew and then forcefed a meal of scrapple with a side of nacho cheese sauce.

  78. Jezebella

    Barbara, every single time I am stuck in a waiting room with offensive daytime TV, I turn that sucker OFF. If there are other people there, I ask if I can turn it off, because it’s giving me a head-ache, and they always say yes. (head-ache, lobe-ache, whatever)

  79. Ames

    Nice points, Larkspur. Watching Bones of course I see the parts that are cringe worthy – and count mine as vote against shark-jumping circus episodes – but there is more nuance than usual TV fare. The show doesn’t rise to the level of even middling feminist discourse, but I ignore all the girl-in-chains-in-the-dungeon (and can’t-shoot-a-gun-without-endangering-partner) parts so I can make it to the parts where Dr. Brennan is different from every other female in pop media. A very low bar admittedly, but swimming in the pat with no sight of permanent homeland, it’s nice to get a tiny break once in a while.

  80. awhirlinlondon

    An antidote? Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple, particularly in “Murder, Ahoy!” one of a series of four films. Total pleasure. She is old. Stout. Full of wild, facial contortions. Consistently condescended to by the “Chief Inspector” whom she nonetheless manages to make look beautifully inept – particularly in this film where she’s allowed to be particularly active (the sword-fight is terrific). Her side-kick? A timid, befuddled little fellow. Generally considered the worst of the 4, but my hands-down favourite because of the above. Maybe that’s why it was particularly disliked. Here’s a telling excerpt from A H Weiler’s 1964 NYT review:

    “But the weight of these shenanigans rests, after all is said and done, on the ample frame of Miss Rutherford. In navy blues, brass buttons and tricorn hat, her jaw set at a pugnacious angle, she makes a brave attempt to make this “Murder” bright and cheerful, even to the point of literally fencing with the villain responsible for it all. It is a commendable try, but Miss Rutherford, poor dear, cannot do it all alone.”

    Poor dear indeed.

  81. Jill

    Margaret Rutherford! She steals every scene she’s in because she so flawlessly portrays her stock character: the dotty old British patrician. She’s a founding member of the International Society of Spinster Aunts. In fact, if you Google “dotty British aunt” her name comes in at #5 or 6.

  82. Level Best

    Margaret Rutherford! She was simply wonderful, and she was THE Miss Marple of all time. awhirlinlondon, the timid little fellow accompanying Miss Marple was Rutherford’s real-life husband, although from what I’ve read between the lines, he probably was a gay actor. They married, each for the first and last time, very late in life.

  83. Angie

    Hi all, a quick delurk to express my love of Breaking Bad. It’s male-centric but the main female character, Walt’s wife, is a strong, intelligent woman who is placed in a terrible situation due to her husband’s idiotic decisions. Rather than “stand by her man” and support him blindly she opts to act in her own and her children’s best interests.

    This means trying to keep the hell away from him and his world, and not accepting the bullshit justifications he makes for “breaking bad”. Not radical really, to any reasonable person, but it has made her an unpopular character with the fans. I am going by what I read on forums (fora?) and discussion boards where there is a theme of ‘Skylar is a cold/nagging/selfish bitch’ and variations thereof.

    It seems that when you do get a strong-minded, sensible female character it really upsets the fans; some of the comments about her character have been appalling. I think she (both the actor and the character) are fabulous and really enjoy watching her.

  84. Steve

    Margaret Rutherford! She was simply wonderful, and she was THE Miss Marple of all time. awhirlinlondon, the timid little fellow accompanying Miss Marple was Rutherford’s real-life husband, although from what I’ve read between the lines, he probably was a gay actor. They married, each for the first and last time, very late in life.

  85. ptittle

    Pity this thread is dead (I’m still working my way through the archives – and SO echo she who said “I think I’ve found the Mothership!”), because I’d love to hear all your minds re The Big Bang Theory.

  86. L

    If this thread is back I would like to posit Babylon 5 as one of the most feminist shows I’ve seen. It features lots of women in positions of power who are taken seriously. Delenn and Ivanova are amazing.

  1. what she said « Kelly Hogaboom

    [...] Twisty Faster’s pieces at I Blame the Patriarchy (my current extra-favorite post so far is “Profiles in Patriarchy: ‘The Girl‘” and her procured definition of “antifeminism”, or in other words, Shit I [...]

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