Sunday, September 15, 2013

A Television Vent

I love television. I used to be embarrassed by this fact, but in recent years I've come to own it. It hasn't rotted my brain, nor has it messed with my perceptions of fantasy and reality. If I die at a relatively early age because TV somehow does that to people, I will consider it a worthy death.

That being said, sometimes it bugs the crap out of me. I don't watch shows that aren't good, that would just be a waste. Instead I watch shows that make you think, take you out of reality for a time, give insight into the human condition, or just make you laugh whatever your equivalent to my old man laugh is. However, even these shows can cause much eye rolling and several exacerbated sighs. The cause: how women are written.

Don't stop reading there. If you think this is a vent you don't want to listen to (or rather, read) because you don't think how women are treated in television or movies is a problem, think about some of your favorite shows and tell me if you can name any two recurring female characters that talk to each other about something other than a male character (look up the Bechdel Test for more on that). If you can't think of one, I'll give some good examples after my bad ones. And if you still want to know why this is problematic, go watch Miss Representation on Netflix. That discussion is way to long to include in this post, but it fits nicely into an 89 minute documentary.

Four things before you delve into the rest of this post: 1) As always, this will be long winded. 2) All of these shows are ones that I love. I don't make these accusations all willy nilly. 3) There will be spoilers. 4) I'm not even going to touch the shows I love that suffer from the Smurfette Principle. If you need to be enlightened on what that is, watch the video below:

So without further ado, here are three shows that treat women horribly, one show with mixed results, and three that treat women well.

Bad Example 1: Supernatural

Regular readers of this blog and knowers of me are aware of how much I love(d) Supernatural. Not so much season six or eight (what I saw of it, at least) and definitely not season seven, but I did enjoy seasons 1-5. Minus the women part. 

Almost every single woman we've seen in more than one episode has been either violently killed or was evil (or at least a bad guy). 
  • Their mother Mary was stabbed and burned alive on the ceiling by a demon 
  • Sam's girlfriend Jessica was stabbed and burned alive on the ceiling by the same demon
  • Bela was a bad guy and I think she died
  • Jo died a terrible and violent death
  • Ellen died the same terrible and violent death
  • Ruby was evil and died
  • Anna turned evil and died
  • Meg was evil and I'm pretty sure she's died since I stopped watching
  • Pamela had her eyes burned out and later died a violent death
  • The newest angel I met before leaving Supernatural behind me (Naomi?) seemed pretty sketchy
The only two women I can think of that haven't gone evil or died are Lisa, whose memory of Dean was erased so we can be sure we won't see her again, and Amelia, who Sam decided to ditch because of his co-dependence on his brother so again, we can be sure to never see her again.

Felicia Day has appeared in several episodes (I've only seen two of them) so that's something. Although the writers really need to get over the fact that that they made her gay. While this last episode she was in that I saw was entertaining enough, they gave me a headache by banging a "she's gay" frying pan against my head over and over and over...

Now, fellow viewers of Supernatural may say, "Wait a minute! All of the recurring male characters have been killed off violently too!" That's generally true (Bobby, Balthazar, Lucifer, John, Samuel, Zachariah...), but let's look at the current recurring characters: Castiel, Kevin, Crowley, and maybe Benny (really, if he's gone for good that's a terrible waste of an interesting character). The one thing they have in common: all men.

In conclusion, yes, everyone in this show has at one time or another died a violent death (except Chuck), but it happens much more often to women than to men. You meet a man on this show, it could go either way. You meet a woman, more than likely she'll turn out to be evil or die a horrible death.

Bad Example 2: Merlin

I thought they did a good job towards the beginning of the show. Morgana and Gwen were both strong and independent, willing to fight for those they loved. Obviously Morgana was going to end up evil, so I wasn't put off by that, but things just kept getting worse. Every woman who shows up is evil. Every. Single. One. Even Gwen goes evil for a few episodes under the spell of Morgana. Granted, it was a spell, but it was still kind of the icing on the cake. Plus, Gwen does less and less as it goes on. She's done a lot less of the saving and a lot more of the being saved since she and Arthur got married. I thought she did regain some of that old strength at the very end of the series, but it seemed like too little too late.

Bad Example 3: Doctor Who

Maybe this should be a mixed example, but it's consistent enough for me to put it in the bad pile. Let's look at each main female character on the show since it came back in 2005.
  • Rose Tyler: Grows throughout the show, fights well, compassionate, in love with the Doctor.
  • Martha Jones: Witty, fights well, intelligent, in love with the Doctor, grows more off screen than on, only realized her relationship with the Doctor was toxic after an entire year
  • Donna Noble: Grows probably more than any companion, witty, smart, independent, doesn't fall in love with the Doctor. I have no complaints against Donna. She's my favorite. 
  • Amy Pond: Grows a lot, witty, loves a lot, decides she wants to sleep with the Doctor the night before her wedding, decides to leave Rory BECAUSE SHE CAN'T HAVE CHILDREN (!!!)
  • River Song: Strong, independent, in love with the Doctor, was born to kill the Doctor.
  • Clara Oswin Oswald: Mysterious, quick witted, curious, intelligent, may or may not turn out to be in love with the Doctor, was born to save the Doctor. 
Plus all the one episode women who fall in love with the Doctor too. I'm okay with a little doctor love now and then, but come on. Every woman except Donna has had feelings for the Doctor, and that got old a long time ago. 

And really, Moffat? Really?! A woman leaving the man she loves because her uterus is broken?! Right, because that's the only use women have. Luckily that moment was short and has never been revisited, but seriously. SERIOUSLY! 

Mixed Example: Veronica Mars

Veronica Mars... She's intelligent, witty, tech savvy, independent, brave, and acts like an actual person. The show has it all - angsty teenage romance, the brutality of domestic violence, the hopes of multidimensional characters, real emotions, and scenes that make you laugh, cry, and cringe.

The big problem is the third season. The first two seasons are in part about Veronica trying to find out who drugged and raped her at a party. She deals with it in a very real way and they do a good job of portraying a subject as difficult as this one.

In the third season, Veronica goes off to college where a group of "angry feminists" (terrible portrayal of real feminism, by the way) pretend to be raped in order to... I'm not sure what, actually. It's terrible, especially since (contrary to what some people who haven't researched the subject even a little bit believe) that doesn't happen.

Despite its flaws, I do recommend the first two seasons.

Good Example 1: Parks and Recreation

I was actually really surprised when I found out that the creators and the writers credited with the most episodes are all men because this show is a breath of fresh air. Not that men can't write fully developed women. Just look at Joss Whedon or George R.R. Martin. But sometimes I forget that there are men in Hollywood who view women as people. It makes me sad that I forget this so often, but it's not unwarranted. Anyway, I love ensemble casts and this is one of my favorites. Each and every one of these characters is developed with their own personalities, ambitions, and quirks. Both the men and the women in this show are treated as individuals, not stereotypes. And just when you think you have them figured out, they do something to surprise you and continue to develop, just like real people do.

P.S. Anyone else excited to see how they try to make new, Tom Hardy-esque Chris Pratt look like the old Andy Chris Pratt? I'm also very excited for Guardians of the Galaxy.

Good Example 2: Firefly

Another ensemble case, and another near perfect show. It would have been perfect had it lasted longer than 14 episodes, but oh well. Zoe is a fierce fighter and soldier while obviously maintaining a great sense of humor that we didn't get a chance to see because she married Wash. Kaylee is kind of a girly girl without being overtly feminine and is also a brilliant mechanic and the nicest person you'll ever see on television. Inara is hiding a lot about herself and her feelings for Mal for reasons both known and unknown. She's a great business woman, a loyal friend, and much tougher than she looks. River needs codling and a constant babysitter, but it's because her amygdala was stripped by evil doctors and she has major mental and emotional trauma, not because she can't take care of herself. Cause turns out she totally can. Point being, each of these characters is an actual character. Not a stereotype.

Good Example 3: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

More often than not, the main cast of this show included more women than men. In the seasons that wasn't the case, the show had parity between men and women. It was kind of awesome. Cause really, how often do we see that in a show that isn't about catty relationships? I'm trying to think now... Spaced had a parity among the main cast, Wonderfalls had four women and three men, Pushing Daisies had a parity... or two men and four women if you count Chuck's aunts, and that's all I can think of right now. Okay, Friends too. And Once Upon a Time. I'm sure there are more, but I can't think of any. And I love TV so you know it doesn't happen often. Anyway, I'd venture to say that the more women you see in a cast, the more likely they are to be fully developed characters. As a general rule, at least. That's actually a pretty awesome idea for an academic paper. I'm sure it's been done several times... I'm going to look for those papers. And if I can't find one I'll just go get another useless grad degree and write a thesis on that.

Back to the subject at hand. I can't think of a single Buffy character who wasn't an actual character. One of the reasons I hate Dawn so much in season 5 is because she's a realistic 14 year old and you have to at least respect that.

So gentle readers, pay attention. It's possible to enjoy a film or show while still being critical of one or several aspects of it. I wouldn't love TV and movies if it wasn't. But Hollywood bigwigs think people don't like stories about women. Men don't like them because men only like women as sex kittens and women don't like them because women are in constant competition with every other woman to attract the attention of men. If you don't believe this is 100% false you really don't deserve to interact with the rest of society. So do me a favor and just pay attention. If that leads to a discussion with someone or watching one of Tina Fey's new shows instead of the next episode of Supernatural, that's great. If not, that's great too. At least you're paying a little more attention to what you consume. And that'll eventually lead to something.

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