Sorry, television, but it’s not me, it’s you.
If you’ve read any of my other posts on TV, you’ll know that this post has been brewing for a while. This morning, while procrastinating, I read this article on turning off your feminism in order to kick back and watch an hour of TV. The author was arguing that feminists (or any other viewers with strongly held beliefs) shouldn’t have to feel guilty about watching TV with questionable morals, and I agree. I don’t think you should feel bad about it. My only comment is that you shouldn’t have to choose.
As I’m sure you’re all well aware, there’s a lot to say about TV/movies and discrimination of all kinds. But as an able-bodied, middle class, white woman the only one that I feel justified (read: entitled) to weigh in on is the portrayal (or lack there of) of women. And weigh in I often do – loudly. Unfortunately, the only person listening is generally J., who already gets it.
But a friend asked the other day if I’d seen Breaking Bad, which he’d just finished watching. I said no and he asked why not. My answer was: I know it’s supposed to be awesome but, to be honest, I’m just kind of bored of stories about men.
And that’s the truth. I’ve been watching shows about white men for 28 years and, no matter how good the twist at the end is, I’m ready for something different. Studies from last year show that, in film and TV in 2014, women made up only 30% of speaking characters (both major and minor), just 12% of protagonists, and the majority of these characters were under 40. (Also, can we take a moment to think about the fact that 74% of televised women were white, while “otherworldy women” came in at 3%, just below the 4% respective representation of actually existing Latina and Asian women?)
To whit, I recently read an article (that I can no longer find) about a woman who made a conscious decision to spend a year only watching shows with female protagonists (it’s sad that this takes conscious effort). It inspired me to try something similar so lately I’ve been trying to watch shows with mostly female casts or female protagonists. While talking to a friend one day about my TV options it struck us that, judging by the TV shows that feature strong female protagonists, you’d think the only bad thing sthat women deal with is rape, cheating husbands, sexual assault, raising children, and rape. Don’t women also have financial problems? Or academic integrity issues? Or, I don’t know, concerns about the sun exploding and killing all of humankind?
This same conversation also brought to light that many of the shows with strong female protaganists are still usually created/written by men – think The Fall (aside: But, GOD, how awesome is Gillian Anderson??), Bletchley Circle, The Good Wife, Doctor Foster – which begs the question: do men actually think that’s all we know how to deal with or are interested in discussing?
It also brought up the question of why is it that when there’s a gritty drama starring a woman sexual assualt always has to be thrown into the mix just to make sure everyone understands that this is A Serious Show About Bad Things and Also Women?
(This isn’t to say that shows about women BY women are always better. I had high hopes for Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder and these hopes now lie in mangled ruins far, far below us.)
Moving past the lack of representation and the narrow thematic matter, there’s also the simple question of how female characters are written. I’m not going to get into that because there frankly isn’t enough space in all of the internet. Suffice to say, women’s dialogue and characterisation leave much to be desired.
All of which isn’t to say that I think that women should boycott shitty TV or only watch shows that depict three dimensional female characters (first of all because that is a very, very short list). We all need to unwind. However, personally, it does mean that I don’t feel the need to watch shows like Game of Thrones (Just because “it’s in the book” doesn’t mean it’s okay. Also, how come ice zombies and dragons can be included in an Accurate Protrayal of Medieval Life whereas a society in which rape is not used as a punishment or treated as an inevitable part of life is somehow Too Unrealistic?) or The Walking Dead, because there’s enough misogyny in the real world – I don’t want to spend my free time watching more of it.
However, what all this does mean, is that when someone catches me yelling at the TV and tells me not be an angry feminist killjoy who can’t take a joke, my answer will inevitably be: if it were funny, I’d be laughing. Make better TV and I will yell less.