I thought I would begin my first post explaining why I am going to be talking about portrayals of young women in the media. Firstly, I consider myself a feminist and in my personal life and with the limited influence I do have in this world I attempt to change and challenge stereotypes and perpetuations of ideologies that are damaging to women. I personally make an effort to include many people in discussions of gender. I reject most traditional gender roles, and also advocate for any causes that are concerned with breaking down those barriers and promote inclusivity rather than exclusivity. Secondly, because of these beliefs and new ways of learning and analyzing media I am introduced to, I have begun to notice patterns within the media I am consuming. As a 25-year-old who readily embraces her millennial status, I am constantly immersed in different forms of media. I watch entirely too much television, I have a deep love for movies, I watch YouTube vloggers on a regular basis, I read for fun constantly when I am not in school, and I enjoy fun music constantly.
In our world where these types of engagement with media is unavoidable, I find it nearly impossible to not notice how many of the ways young women are portrayed are problematic. This is why these images are important to me. I believe that in order to change the way we think about issues that affect women we have to infiltrate popular media and dissect the images we see. Where I am most interested and where I think it is most important to begin these discussions, is in the way young women are portrayed, and how they are spoken about in media. In these blog posts I will be discussing many issues and also achievements made in terms of representations of young women in different formats that I interact with on a daily basis. My hope is to introduce and begin discussions that will help us question what we are being sold, and demand more of the media in which we consume. Anyway, here is what I hope is an introduction to the way I think about social issues while interacting with different types of media!
First let’s start by broadly discussing a few ways that women/young women, many times teenagers, are talked about and what I think the consequences of these attitudes are. As a person who watches television religiously, I consistently am shown images of interesting, complex, and messy people. However, most of the time they are male (House, Walter White, Luther, Sam and Dean Winchester, Sherlock, literally every male character in existence probably). What I find sparser in the media, are examples of female characters that have the same depth. Additionally, when we do get these characters they are often vilified (Skyler White is one of the worst cases of this, I believe. Esquire has a very interesting article about her.). I find that from a personal standpoint, having a reasonable and intelligent discussion about television can prove extremely difficult. I, as an English major, enjoy dissecting things. I watch things and part of the way I enjoy them is to analyze them. However, I also know that many people passively receive their media which is also a totally valid way to interact with it. I personally in my perusing of articles and discussions, cannot ignore the continuous hatred of young women on television (and elsewhere).
A good example of this is in in relation to young women, is in the portrayal of Sansa Stark in HBO’s Game of Thrones. As a fan of the books, I had hoped that the show would take the story in a way that was fulfilling for me. It did not. That is another issue for another time however. Despite the fact that I no longer watch the show, I am still interested in the ways the Stark siblings are discussed by fans. Usually the reactions vilify Sansa while praising Arya. I cannot help but think this is because Arya displays tomboy-esque qualities and continuously acts like a male character would. This issue is debating constantly and in many many ways (1,2,3). I see this incessant complaining, hatred and reactions to a character who is 1) a child and 2) an extremely well written and understated teeenager as an example of peoples perceptions of women. Which Jen Chaney discusses this in Esquire’s article about Skyler White on AMC’s Breaking Bad that I referenced earlier. I ask you this, dear readers, what do you make of these ideas about women? Do you enjoy dissecting media in similar ways to me? Are you likely to be defensive of characters who are vilified in this way or do you agree with the ways in which women in these situations are classified? Game Of Thrones to me, is currently the most popular drama I see this happening in. Mainly because it so obviously continues to write stories and plots that pit her against Arya in ways that only further the hatred.
Game Of Thrones is obviously a very controversial show to begin with, and naturally discussion follows it. However, I find myself many times asking similar questions of less popular shows, and their audiences. Again, from personal discussions and research, I have noticed that the hatred of teenage girls on other occasions. The one I am still struggling to come to terms with is Julie Taylor from NBC’s Friday Night Lights. The show follows her father’s career as a football coach in a fictional town in Texas. It merges the love of football with very real and raw drama that both adults and young people can relate to. Julie, one of the youngest characters on the show, is a confused teenager scared of living her entire life in a backwards Texan town. The show’s message consistently is one of growth and understanding many characters are confused, struggle, and overcome hardships in their lives. However, naturally, Julie Taylor is one of the most hated characters. Buzzfeed, as Buzzfeed does, created a list of why her character is “the worst”. When reading this, along with many comments and episode reviews over the years, I was struck by the way her actions are discussed. In almost every single reason she is blamed for things that were either joint decisions between both her and another character, or her motives as a character are ignored in order to prop up the opinion of the fan favourite male characters. As someone who has watched this show upwards of 5 times over (it is hands down my favourite show), I find that the more I watch, the more I actually appreciate the way that the show portrays teenagers. Obviously the storylines are dramatized for effect as it is a fictional story, but many of the motives and mistakes made by Julie Taylor are things that many if not all teenage girls make. Confusion, parental arguments, worrying about the future, trying to find a place in the world, etc. are all issues common in I would argue, any teenager’s life. So why are her struggles overlooked and in many ways condemned, while male high school alcoholics with commitment issues are lauded and talked about in ways that romanticize the serious nature of the issues being portrayed on television? I believe it is because of similar reasons to why we see Sansa being hated, and why many times female teenage characters are criticized and held under scrutiny for just existing. To me, fan opinions and the way television frames many of these characters allow for themes of hatred to appear and become directed at these teenage girls.
These themes are not only prevalent in television either, as we can see discussions of young women across the board showing signs of misogyny (also internalized misogyny by women in many cases). I think many people are familiar with the sorority sisters who attended a baseball game, took selfies and were mocked by grown men for doing so. I was obviously offended by this behaviour, though sadly not surprised. I think that issues like this in terms of sports and the way we see young women either in sports or as fans of sports is full of sexist language as well as assumptions based on sex about why women are interested in sports, for example the term puck bunny for female hockey fans.
I have rambled (my blog title is fitting; don’t you think?) now for quite a while about ways that I have seen images of young women in a few different contexts. I would like to also quickly note and bring attention to the fact that these patterns in the way teenagers and young women are shown and spoken about appear also in discussions of music (One Direction and Justin Bieber fans), YouTube, and in general fan interaction online. Have you ever encountered discussion of young women that have ever made you uncomfortable or aware of the differences because the way we speak about men and women?
I hope that in this post I made you think about how we see young women on our screens, and how these images speak about broader issues that we face in the quest for equality and transparency in the media. These are just a few of the many examples out there of this kind of behaviour, and I wanted to use these as examples because I think they highlight the issues well, and are both specific yet broad enough to be understood without having watched. This post is, to me, an introduction to the way I interact with the things I watch and encounter. As the weeks go by I hope to narrow my focus to different popular avenues that both offer problematic views of young women, but also many ways and instances where empowerment and discussion are promoted and encouraged.
Stay tuned next week for two posts!
Tuesday: I will be starting my weekly review of FreeForm/Netflix’s new television show Shadowhunters, where I will both review the episode and also analyze the way in which is tackles gender and the representation of young women as I make my way through the show!
Saturday: I will narrow my focus and discuss ways that television shows use women and their deaths solely as plot points to move male characters stories forward.