I spent parts of the summer watching decently "bad" TV and not feeling too guilty about it. I needed a counterbalance to all the theory reading I've been doing, and fluffy, drama-filled shows with implausibly lovely twenty-somethings posing as 16-year-olds fit the ticket. It started with Pretty Little Liars, a high-school drama/mystery, whose web I found myself entangled in, despite the ridiculousness of some of the story, and the frustration I felt at not being given quite enough clues to begin unraveling the central mystery after two seasons (unlike Veronica Mars...though, perhaps that's why it only made it two seasons).
L mocks me for my mild obsession, but the pacing, the cliffhangers, the nailbiting moments are addictive. And since I'm an academic in my heart of hearts, I began to analyze it in terms of feminism (of course). I actually like Pretty Little Liars quite a lot because its central characters are four (well, five sort of) female characters, with plenty of other female character lurking at the edges--and the central four aren't competing with one another for boys or grades or attention. It's stunning, really.
The female characters are the ones protecting the boys in their lives, not the boys protecting them. They take on the threats toward themselves and make sacrifices and exhibit bravery. There are many instances of male characters who are kind and generous and sensitive. And there's actually one gay character and several peripheral gay characters. (The show could use a little more diversity, but at least one of the main characters is some indefinite non-white ethnicity). They talk about drug/alcohol abuse, safe sex, and the difficulties of the gay characters coming out to friends/family. I think all these things are positive.
While there are still some decidedly non-feminist elements to the show--I mean, the make up and outfits are picture perfect, and there's a fixation on relationships. There are also some feuds and fighting among the girls in the high school, and fundamentally, the show is about the ways girls keep secrets and stab each other in the back. These characteristics are not positive (and feed the stereotypes of catty teenagers), but they are at least balanced out by the examinations of close female friendships and family relationships. Although fluffy, it has some interesting dimensions that I may try to explore further.
Netflix threw another show in my direction, so I decided to watch it because it only has a few episodes--Jane by Design. This show is more traditional: there is one, central female character (Jane), and most of the other female characters are competition for men or power or attention, and they are all bitchy and mean (except for Jane). This bothered me for reasons stated above: too many shows portray women as incapable of getting along with one another, feeding the stereotype of cat fighting, bitchy girls and women. Obnoxious.
The show has its charms, however, one of which being the ingenuity and intelligence of Jane and her adorable outfits that she fashions out of various finds (the show has several scenes where she is shown sewing, drawing, and creating her outfits). The other charm for me was that there was a male/female platonic friendship--there was no indication that they wanted anything more than friendship (they were both interested in other people), and I believe that more shows should portray a male/female friendship without insinuating they want each other (or like How I Met Your Mother, demonstrate that exes can be friends, even with lingering feelings).
However, that shifted in the final episode available on Netflix. Out of the blue, the male character "realized" he was in love with Jane, shifting the whole dynamic and chemistry between them. Uggh. I might keep watching since there are only 6 more episodes, and the show got cancelled, but why did they have to do that?
Finally, the last show I've been watching is Bunheads, a delightful little show by Amy Sherman-Paladino. The show is like a rebooted Gilmore Girls (with a lot of the same cast), but with a lot more girl power. All of the central characters are female since they got rid of the one central male character at the end of the pilot, and it moves between the horrible delight of being a teenager and the more adult drama of a woman with no roots or home who suddenly finds herself tied down to a place. The juxtaposition between the young ballerinas and the adult world expose Michelle's (the main character) nature with her immature tendencies coupled with moments of insight and wisdom drawn from her experiences, making her a unique mentor for the teenage dancers. The show had a ten episode run this summer, but it was picked back up, so I'm interested to see what they do with it--the interaction between Sutton Foster and Kelly Bishop is one that can continue to develop in fascinating ways.
A long post, but a bit about some silly TV I've been watching and the ways that women are portrayed...and perhaps should be portrayed.