TV’s stereotypes make women look crazy

Editor’s Note: The author, Justin Wilhelm, is a student in the fall 2010 Women’s Studies Program Special Topics course, That Chick is Crazy: Women and Madness, at The University of Akron.

After watching Dee Reynolds (a character played by Caitlin Olsen on It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia) lose her mind and her temper after being repeatedly harassed by her brother to peel him an apple, I began to wonder why comedies or sitcoms take such a stereotypical approach to women.

Of course I understand that comedies draw on common stereotypes to make their characters funny and to relate them to the people and thoughts of their audience. (Yes, it’s true, your favorite shows do rely on stereotypes for humor and appeal, and you can read more about the negative affects of this practice.)

So I began critiquing some female characters in my mind and comparing them to some male counterparts. This thought experiment provides what I believe to be a good snapshot of how society — or at least the TV writers trying to gauge society — thinks of women.

I started by considering all shows in general and discovered that television shows that fall into the “drama” or “action” category came up the same. A lot of shows in this genre had strong, dominant female leads, but it seems as though their respective heroines are interchangeable.   A characters’ personality can be seamlessly inserted into the character of another show without disrupting the flow of the plot. Each is one branch cut off of the same proverbial tree, if you will.

Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, Law and Order: SVU, Criminal Minds, Hawthorne, Weeds, and many other shows of this nature feature a leading or supporting woman.

Here’s what I discovered:

  • Each is outwardly strong and dominant because women must always appear to be in control.
  • Each is outspoken and often confrontational, especially when it pertains to her male colleagues because women are meant to be quiet and not rock the boat, hence the reason why this tension creates such drama.
  • Each is, in truth, is much more vulnerable and lonely then her tough exterior image projects because, at heart, aren’t all women just poor, emotional beings with fleeting emotions who suffer behind the scenes from the pressure of being a tough women?
  • Not all, but most, feature intense focus on her love life because women are simply waiting for their male character to come and rescue them, aren’t they?
  • And lastly, most feature women working to succeed in male dominated fields like law or crime or medicine because drama is created from watching women struggle against men who may not respect them.

So what about comedies then?  Dramas are meant to provide entertainment through a glamorized female role that deviates from most of society. That’s why it is so edge-of-your-seat entertaining.  Comedies, through their stereotypes, offer a much better perspective — ”woman” as seen by most people.  Here the cookie-cutter female character is much more crazy, out of touch, and seems to be in constant struggle to keep up with the plot, which makes these shows funny.

Here are some examples:

  • Remember Friends? Of course, me too. Rachel was fashion obsessed, Monica was constantly cleaning or devoting attention to the home, and Phoebe was odd (as she was different from the rest of the women).
  • How about Two and Half Men? Judith (the ex-wife, a favorite role of many comedies, it seems) is constantly portrayed as a money-hungry bitch.
  • That 70s Show featured Donna, who was mocked for being tall and boyish, and Jackie, who was the typical skinny, cheer-leading, ditz that got the boys’ attention.
  • You can also add It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Modern Family, Scrubs, Saved by the Bell, or even cartoon portrayals of women like Marge from The Simpsons or Lois from Family Guy, to the list of shows where hilarious moments ensue from stereotypical women having crazy outbursts at the men around them.

Another interesting element is how different the situations are when we compare two similar characters of different genders. Monica (Courtney Cox) from Friends is a good character to use because she is constantly cleaning her surroundings and ordering things in a typical “women is the consummate homemaker” role.

Monk (from USA’s detective show Monk) is her male counterpart.  Each is attentive to detail and will force the other characters to be tidy and orderly, as they are.  Yet in Monica’s case it is only natural for her to be this way because she is a woman.  Monk, however, suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and is a germ-a-phobe, because men are not meant to be clean and organized so some other factor that is out of his control must be what makes him so “womanly.”

If you stop to think about, we’re hit with damaging stereotypes everywhere that we look.  TV is just one of many good examples of how society views women.

But don’t take my word. Look for yourself.  Think of your favorite shows or movies and how they portray women.  Then, think of the shows and movies that are most popular today and how they portray women differently.  You should see a stark contrast.

Society and body image: Is that chick really crazy?

Editor’s Note: The author, Myeisha Marshall, is a student in the fall 2010 Women’s Studies Program Special Topics course, That Chick is Crazy: Women and Madness, at The University of Akron.

Society portrays women as some kind of “perfect” beings, with perfection requiring a perfect body structure. This, of course, is impossible.

The perfect body is tall and skinny, with a flat stomach, straight hair, and flawless skin. This is not possible for anyone, as the images we see in the mass media are airbrushed. Websites such as shows celebrity photos before and after airbrushing.

How are women supposed to gain these perfect bodies when celebrities don’t even look that way in real life? Women are stuck with these images of “easy breezy beautiful cover girl” from commercials that sell all kinds of make up. Every other commercial shows how you can lose this ridiculous amount of weight or clear up your skin with Proactive.

Women are surrounded with pressures to be a size 4, while the average woman in America is a size 12. The average height for women in America is 5’3”, but what you don’t see is a model or actress of this height. Even the average height for Miss America is 5’6”. The point is that average women aren’t really portrayed as beautiful or desirable by the media.

Society affects women in many ways, and here are just a few:

  • Ÿ  Music videos that tend to show women with less clothing revealing their bodies.
  • Ÿ  Women’s magazines that tell us what healthiness looks like.
  • Ÿ  Commercials on television that constantly show what an average woman is supposed to look like.
  • Ÿ  Watching fashion models who tend to weigh 23% less than the average female.

Some of the effects of not being able to achieve these body types include:

  • Ÿ  Depression
  • Ÿ  Binge eating
  • Ÿ  Disordered eating
  • Ÿ  Bulimia nervosa
  • Ÿ  Anorexia nervosa
  • Ÿ  Plastic surgery

Overall, you can see that women have a lot of pressures placed upon them to achieve things that are impossible.

There is no perfect woman out there. Even the woman that they call the “Barbie woman” can never look perfect. There are effects of feeling inadequate, that you can’t live up to the standards of society, but every woman has gone through that stage. You are not alone in feeling that you may not be just like the women on television. These women who are on television don’t even look like themselves.

So is that chick really crazy? The woman standing in the mirror holding in her stomach or pulling back the skin on her face to get rid of wrinkles is not crazy. She is just dealing with the everyday stressors of being a woman in this day and age, when everyone is expected  to be perfect while keeping a sound mind.

Who’s really the crazy one? Women – or the people behind the media?



Women’s issues covered in the Buchtelite

Women’s issues are getting coverage in the Buchtelite, the University of Akron student newspaper.

Allison Strouse, arts and life editor for the paper, wrote an interesting piece about her experiences as a young woman who loves sports — and loves to cover them.

You can read her piece, “Make room for women in the press box on the Buchtelite Web site. You can also read her post, “New Indians regime arrives with optimism” on the Cleveland Magazine blog.

Alyssa Berthiaume, 2009 Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant in the UA Women’s Studies Program and a regular writer for this blog, is in her last year of study for her MFA degree. So she was a natural choice to write opinion pieces for the paper.

Here are links to her recent columns:

Reviews of feminist films: free online

Despite a killer cold that hit me during our plane trip to Atlanta, I would not have missed “Difficult Dialogues,” the National Women’s Studies Association Annual Conference last week.

I could say so much about all the wonderful speakers and programs we heard — starting with keynoter Angela Y. Davis Thursday night and ending with a Sunday morning program on travel abroad as a feminist.

But I don’t have time to go into detail now. So I will limit myself to telling you about a fabulous resource for anyone who likes to use films in the classroom.

Films for the Feminist Classroom” is a free online journal hosted by the Rutgers-based offices of Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society.

In the two online issues published so far, the journal offers reviews of feminist films and special features such as interviews with film producers. The goal of the publication is two-fold:

  • provide a quality resource to help instructors choose films to use in their feminist classrooms and
  • ensure that students critically analyze the film and its message.

The reviews, which frame films from an academic perspective, provide:

  • summaries of the films and their themes,
  • analysis of the films,
  • suggestions about how the films relate to larger issues and
  • recommendations of other resources.

This journal is a labor of love by its three active editors, its editorial assistant and its founding editors, all from Rutgers. And they are looking for feedback about the publication as well as proposals for future reviews.

Moms in their 40s worry about body image too

julia-louis-dreyfus-pictureBody image is not just an issue for young girls and women in their 20s. Women in their 40s also get bombarded with images of the perfect body, a flawless face and gorgeous hair. And if you have had children, how your body looks is another cross to bear.

The other day I read this blog titled “Unapologetically Female.” A post dated March 17 discussed body image. The topic was Julia Louis-Dreyfus and her cover photo for the April 1 issue of Shape magazine.

According to this blog, Dreyfus appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres show and apparently Ellen commented on how great Dreyfus looked for having kids. Dreyfus’ children are 17 and 12, and she is in her late 40s.

I must admit I did not see the show, but I still can gather from the blog that there was no conversation concerning world hunger or how to end the financial crisis. The conversation more than likely centered on body image and not intelligence.

Now, I think too much is made over body image for women at any age, and yes at times I fallen into the media’s trap of selling the perfect body, the perfect face and so forth. However, in all fairness why it is that when a woman gives birth she is considered to be out of shape? It always sounds as if after childbirth a woman’s body is wrecked, and she is no longer attractive.

Okay, maybe things shift and stretch marks appear, but whether a woman works out or diets to gain some semblance of the body she once had, why does society have to comment? Not every woman after childbirth lets herself go. It is not some curse we must endure because we choose motherhood and the idea of being healthy, using a hairdryer and applying make-up goes out the window in the labor and delivery room.

Let us also not forget Dreyfus probably has a personal trainer and starved herself for the photo shoot. And let’s also not forget the wonder of digitally altered photography that erases the flaws.

Society needs to get over the body image issue. Carrying a baby for nine months and giving birth does not mean the end.

I am quite proud of that accomplishment in my life. Not every woman who does have children ends up sagging and looking like a hag. And so what if she does.

A graduate student in the Spring 2009 Feminist Theory class wrote this blog post. To read more student posts, click here.