We’re getting less empowered with every minute we watch.
I was taking the subway home from work one day when some guy sitting behind me tapped on my shoulder.
I had headphones in my ears and was reading a book, but that didn’t stop this Casanova. He demanded I take my headphones out so he could ask me what my name was and where I lived. I gave him brief, clipped answers (that were lies) and went to put my headphones back in.
“What a bitch. Can’t even talk to me? Too good for me? You’re ugly as hell anyway,” he muttered bitterly as he walked away.
Just about every woman I know has a variation of this story they could tell – some situation where a guy expected them to exist in public to please them and got mad when we didn’t behave in a way that aligned with their rules on how we should act – rules we had drilled into our heads since we were old enough to be told the phrase, “It’s just boys being boys”.
When I was growing up, I remember feeling like I had a lot of rules to follow in order to fit into the accepted checkboxes of being a woman. No one ever said them directly to me, but I always understood if I wanted to wear shirts without sleeves I had to make sure my arms looked a certain way for men. I was supposed to wear makeup and I wasn’t supposed to be loud or abrasive. It was kind of okay to be athletic, but I still had to be feminine too. I worked hard at following the rules to a certain point, and then I stopped being able to make sense of them and quit entirely.
But I’ve always been a rule follower. I’m familiar with that gut stab of unfair betrayal when someone cheats on an exam and scores higher than I do even though I studied religiously for it. I hate that person far more than I likely have a right to, because I followed the rules, they didn’t, and they still turned out better for it.
And this is how some women respond to other women who refuse to follow these rules male society has set for us. They work so hard to follow these rules, rules outlined by shows like The Bachelor, which teach us to applaud toxic masculinity and reduce ourselves to aesthetic objects whose value is determined by how good we look in sequin ball gowns, that they can’t stand the women who refuse to follow them. The women who don’t follow these guidelines and are actually happier for it, are even worse. Because they prove what we don’t want to admit to ourselves: all our hard work at following the rules was a big fat waste of our time.
Our social conditioning is certainly a piece of this misogynistic pie, but it would be ignorant to pretend like television isn’t doing its part. The Bachelor is an obvious shot at women as to what they should and shouldn’t look or act like to be seen as valuable, but other popular shows aimed at female viewers, like The Big Bang Theory, do the same in much subtler ways.
The cast focuses almost entirely on men with the exception of two characters – Penny and Amy. Penny’s immediately and consistently penned as the dumb pretty blonde, and while Amy is graciously allowed to be as intelligent as the rest of the cast, she’s constantly blasted for not being attractive enough. TBBT‘s one-dimensional depiction of women is teaching us that while men are allowed to be multi-faceted and retain their value, women aren’t afforded the same luxury. You have to be as pretty as Penny or as smart as Amy to fit in with the nerdy cool kids. And obviously don’t ever try to be both, because that’ll never happen.
Reality shows like Real Housewives and Keeping Up With The Kardashians only further exist to turn women into our own worst enemies, parading contrived female characters on screen who’ve achieved so-called success in life through marrying rich husbands and leaking sex tapes. Ratings skyrocket as these women are repeatedly, almost relentlessly, shown tearing each other apart in dramatic arguments.
Sadly these shows are all pitched at women, and we’re eating them up. We really need to stop doing this to each other. We need to stop doing the work of misogynistic men. I get it – it sucks to learn you’ve followed these societal rules all these years, rules you thought for sure would get you your promised acceptance, only to find out they’re total bunk. It’s a lot of wasted time and energy and you have every right to be upset about it.
But direct that anger where it belongs: the shows, the media, the individuals who perpetuate it. Not on the few rule-breakers who finally found out they’re much happier just being themselves.
Image via giphy.com.
Comment: Do you agree women’s TV perpetuates damaging female stereotypes?