|Ah, the dysfunction of Liz and Jenna...|
Well, a lot has changed over the last few years. Take a look at a few of the female friendships and buddy storylines that can be found in some of the newest TV shows today. And on a sidenote, can I just tell you how weird it is to watch culture change? I started writing about women in film and TV professionally about five years ago and so much has changed since then. Which tells me a couple of things.
1. That speaking up makes a difference. And...
2. That spending money makes a difference. When people showed up in droves to see "Bridesmaids" and even "Sex and the City" (Don't get me started, I hated that movie, but that's beside the point.) it showed that audiences could actually be interested in movies that didn't just revolve around men. I've never been so satisfied to sit back and see that something I feel like I once had to scream about has now not only been addressed, but things are starting to change. Just look at the evidence.
2. Parks and Recreation - Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) and Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones)
4. Up All Night - Reagan (Christina Applegate) and Ava (Maya Rudolph)
5. New Girl - Cece (Hannah Simone) and Jess (Zooey Deschanel)
There's even more female friendships than the few mentioned here. Add yours in the comments section.
Also worthy of mention, there's a whole cast of powerful female characters on "Once Upon a Time". And the best thing about that is the fact that there's some written complexity there. They don't all have to be friends or like each other, because we have (Hold your breath now!) character variety!
Though it would be easy for the show to stoop to stereotypes, the writers are consistently offering up character flaws to make the women of the show more three-dimensional. The innocent Snow White makes mistakes. The tough Sheriff shows plenty of weaknesses. And even the Evil Queen gets a backstory, showing that there are reasons (not justifications, mind you) but reasons for her behavior.
Why Are We Still Talking About This Again?
Think about it in a larger context. They're literally trying to bring the fairy tale culture into a real world. Though it often devolves into soap opera storylines, think of the years and years of little girls being told their only choice was to admire and aspire to be an impossibly perfect princess. Now, in the framework of those same fairy tales, they're able to choose from police officer, teacher, mayor, etc. Now granted, I don't think kids should probably be watching that show. But you get the idea.
This is what constitutes the slow decline of gender bias. Variety. When women on television are displayed the same way that men are...flawed, complex, different from one another and different from stereotypes...that is when we are finally starting to get somewhere. When female characters move beyond the confines of roles such as innocent love interest, dumb bimbo and best friend, that's all very exciting stuff. Stereotypes will forever exist and they're not innately harmful. They're only harmful when that's the only thing depicted.
Note, it's not about the rise of women over men. It's not even about saying men and women should be considered the same. They aren't the same. We're very different from each other. So sayeth biology. It's just about getting a more accurate and/or interesting portrayal of female characters out there into the public consciousness. Women and men both deserve respect in the media. And by the way, men don't always get fabulous or fair treatment in film or TV either. I just so happen to write from the female perspective.
But the world is accustomed to understanding and respecting the idea of the power of a man. It's not something we really need to be reminded of. But there's still a staggering amount of confusion, even blatant misogyny that goes unexamined and even unnoticed in American pop culture. That's why it's still an important issue. As long as there is film and TV, there will be unfair portrayals of men and women both. But it's about teaching the public to recognize that.
People always argue when I bring this up, the parents should be censoring what their kids see and teaching them the difference between realism and fluff. Stereotype and reality. The problem is, not everyone has parents who will bother to do that. And I often wonder how many little boys wander out into the world with a lot of preconceived notions about women formed from watching too much TV or too many movies. I know, that's a big leap. But don't you think there are some misogynists out there who may just be the victims of ignorance?
I'd love to kill my television just as much as the next person. But it's not going to happen in our lifetime, so we should probably at least lifeguard, discuss and watch-dog what's out there. Not censor. That's not what I propose. The most important of those being "discuss". More people should be saying to teens and young girls, "I know you'll probably watch it anyway, but just know that what goes on during 'Gossip Girl' and 'Two and a Half Men' isn't realistic. So don't bother emulating any of that junk."
It sounds so simple, doesn't it? We take for granted what we know about how to decode and understand the world around us. But some kids aren't told these things.
So if a kid can grow up seeing a variety of female characters, those who aren't censored will begin to understand the difference between the stereotypes that end up on Girls Gone Wild commercials and the intelligent and self-protecting female characters. If they're going to be exposed to all of the horrible untruths that TV provides about what it means to be a woman, there should at least be a continued presence of female starship captains, fighter pilots, scientists and detectives to widen that spectrum.