During this past week, a question arose: who are your favorite women in television and why? The contexts changed occasionally–Buffy, True Blood, action heroes–but the reports came up with more jeers than cheers.
This topic remains complicated due to the lack of potential answers. In fact, I can’t remember any characters that I sincerely wanted to be friends with besides a choice few. Furthermore, they were typically supporting roles. If we were all to sit down and choose, what would we come up with? Most likely, we’d reach back into our past, and end up scavenging through most recent faves but most likely, we’d have to reach back even further for a satisfying representation of women we loved to watch onscreen. Afterwards, some of us might feel the urge to cross out women that we wouldn’t want to be identified with.
This is the dilemma that we’ve all experienced; right in the middle of enjoying a good show, it happens. We lose all respect for a character. Expectations are not reached, and we tend to stick to those judgments. So how do we tend to rate women in media? Spoiler alert: it’s mean and also a re-run.
s.e. smith raised a good point about how this boils down to our tastes as viewers. In her Social Commentary blog overa at bitch, she wrote about how our interpretations can end up sounding like woman-bashing as a result of poor programming and internalized sexism:
There are some parallels in the ways we talk about female creators and women characters in pop culture; both are subjected to some truly misogynist, in addition to antifeminist, critiques.
The Today Show also reported that there are changes ahead in the construction of womens’ characters. Guest speaker Jennifer Pozner, author of Reality Bites Back, elaborated upon the longstanding disavowal of stronger, or even fully defined, roles for women. As she made clear in her interview, her interpretation of popular culture and media is motivated by her interest in the power of imagery, and especially the latest concoction in television history–the “reality show.” I was especially struck by her well-researched dialogue–did you know that reality shows are more common now as a result of their bargain rates? It really makes me sad, especially when I think about Heather B and Julie, cast members on the very first season of The Real World; those women managed to exude genuine interest in other people and cultures despite the editing tricks that were used in order to market the show. Pozner and smith are right–lately, the imagination of women in our televised world can be limited.
What are your favorites? What memories do they bring up, and how did they shape your sense of self? Read The Museum of Broadcast Television‘s page about Gender and Television and jog your memory!
Here’s my top 10 list of women in television:
- Denise Huxtable (The Cosby Show): Although it was a toss-up between her and Claire Huxtable, the presence of a new-wave/hip-hop style icon proved to be ahead of its time and a welcome change of pace for young girls who didn’t look like Molly Ringwald (no offense, Molly!).
- Willow Rosenberg (Buffy the Vampire Slayer): Willow’s romantic interests were treated with respect, and she always offered smart commentary for posturing that typically characterizes action-packed fare. The lesbian jokes were hilarious and poked fun at conservative moralism.
- Laura Palmer (Twin Peaks): This character has haunted pop culture’s memory beyond the series’s short run, and her diary (written by David Lynch’s daughter, Jennifer) elaborated upon a figure whose controversial tale confronted serious issues that can exist even in scenic small towns. The concept of Americana was never the same.
- Liz Lemon (30 Rock): Funny, smart, and willing to satirize what’s popular–Liz Lemon is a Geek hero.
- Kit Porter (The L Word): Like Willow Rosenberg, Kit’s anchoring presence offered a distinct perspective about self-examination, love, and respect.
- Clarissa (Clarissa Explains It All): One of the earliest adolescent stars that existed for my generation–the special effects reinvented the Ferris Buellerisms that marked the Eighties teen sensibility.
- Winnie Cooper (The Wonder Years): The teen years were exceptionally portrayed by her character. While she was the sweetheart next door, Winnie also refuted the doormat personality that is usually attributed to such archetypes.
- Patty Greene (Square Pegs): So. Cool. Sex and the City would have been more legit with a lead like Patty.
- Laverne de Fazio (Laverne and Shirley): What’s not to love about a sarcastic roommate that always has your back?
- Lilly Munster (The Munsters): Lilly’s womanly instincts were at once morbid and playful; she also played a role which changed television history–she and Herman were the first to sleep in one bed together. No more twin beds or typical femininity, ladies and gentlemen…