Women on TV – A Little Ignorance

oitnbDeadline ran a piece by “special to Deadline” author David Robb about “How to Court the Female Audience.” Apparently this article culminates the wisdom Robb gathered from a conference called, ‘Produced By.’ Here is a brief breakdown of what Robb failed to learn, in the form of quotes pulled from the article and a few comments.

“As women’s roles continue to expand in society, so too are their roles growing on television.”

What a borderline condescending opening phrase. Women are equal (and are the majority population) in comparison to men. There is something inherently off-putting about Robb’s wording because it fails to acknowledge the reason women’s roles were non-existent in the first place–white, heterosexual male entitlement, which continues today. Robb’s blase attitude to the entire struggle women are still fighting to reach anything close to parity is subtly erased in this statement. Especially because recent research actually suggest women characters on screen(and behind the camera)–in filmand TVhas actually dropped slightly over the last few years.

“Notwithstanding The Real Housewives of Pretty Much Everywhere, reality shows offer some of the best opportunities for female viewers to see real women like themselves dealing with everyday issues that affect their lives.”

While this may be true of reality TV for some women, the Real Housewives is hardly the gold standard of TV programming which represents real women, mostly because those shows are often polarizing. Had Robb pointed out a wider swath of reality shows–including (just as a few examples) American Idol, The Voice, or even to some extent, Honey Boo Boo–his comment may have had more meaning. Anything with a little diversity where the title of the show has nothing to do with the idea of a 1950’s “housewife” (regardless of the content of the show)

How many women has Robb actually talked to that he understands “everyday issues that affect their lives?” My guess is not enough, since he implies the entire sum of womanhood can be summed up across the entire Real Housewives franchise. “Everyday issues” also sounds hum drum, like Robb envisions women standing in the grocery store wondering what mustard her husband might want. Mentioning shows with diverse, complicated women, like Orange is the New Black, The Good Wife, Parks and Recreation, Veep or Girls present a better informed opinion on that fact that women are indeed full-fledged human beings with a diverse set of life experiences. 

“Either way, “Female viewers are much more demanding and discerning,” said Matt Warburton, executive producer of Fox’s The Mindy Project. “They care about the quality of a show. For men, fart jokes and an explosion are enough.”

mindyThe Mindy Project’s executive producer, Matt Warburton provides an over simplification and lack of understanding about the problem with female representation on TV. Women are demanding and discerning because the overwhelming majority of female TV characters are two-dimensional, unrealistic and exist primarily to titillate or prop up men. Women should expect better, and the negative connotation associated with “demanding” in this case makes it seem like women are just nit picky and hard to please. Asking to be portrayed on screen as real people is not too much to ask. It’s about quality female characters who leave the tiring orbit of male-dominated worlds and sandwich-making. I would also argue both men and women want a quality TV show–not all men are fart and explosion seeking neanderthals.

TV critic, Maureen Ryan accurately points out that the majority of female characters, even on the critically acclaimed, cult shows, are relegated to one of these categories: “Crazy’ mistresses, nameless strippers, randy hookups, disgruntled daughters, dismayed wives.” The conclusion Ryan’s take leads to is: “We’re living in a Golden Age of Discrimination.” Robb, and perhaps the panel in its entirety, seems to miss an opportunity to start a conversation about really working towards equality between male and female characters as a tool to draw in more female viewers. But, there seems to be little interest that women are perhaps tired of an overwhelmingly white, male-dominated TV and film experience.

Why wasn’t a woman assigned to this coverage? After all, for anybody paying attention with their heads outside of their male privilege bubble (looking at you Robb and Warburton), it seems clear that engaging female viewers could be as simple as creating shows with meaningful, colorful female characters. And again. That’s really not too much to ask.

About VersusTheFans

Amplifying and celebrating the value of popular art, especially TV, in giving a voice to women and the LGBT community, in addition to serving as a media watcher on LGBT reporting.

Posted on June 9, 2014, in All Posts, Representation, TV Shows, Women and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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