Posted in Blog Posts, TV TUESDAYS

TV Tuesdays: Friends

Friends was one of the most popular television shows of all time, and ruled the world in the 90’s and early 2000’s, as it followed six 20-something friends figuring out life in New York City, and had some feminist moments while doing so.

Now, Friends isn’t exactly the epitome of feminism, in fact several story lines would not fall in line with feminist ideology at all.  However, there were moments of representation and female empowerment that definitely walked the line. 

The most feminist thing about Friends was the three, female characters: Monica, Rachel and Phoebe. All three women were very different and were pursuing different paths in life, work and love. All had their own careers and strived for advancement that didn’t just include a boyfriend. Perhaps the most feminist characterizations though, was the way the death with pregnancy and motherhood.

Motherhood is often divided from feminism  because to some, being a mother is connected with the domestic, patriarchal structure women have been forced to adhere to for generations. By excluding motherhood though, we exclude certain women which means we aren’t operating intersectional.  Nurturing and accepting a woman’s right to become a mother in whatever way she chooses is what really makes the movement inclusive.

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Credit: Scoopwhoop.com

Throughout the show, all three women deal with motherhood in very different ways which illustrates that there is no one right way to enter into motherhood or pregnancy, it is about a woman’s choices for her life and body.

Rachel becomes pregnant after a one-night stand with her ex-boyfriend Ross, and for the majority of the time they decide to keep the baby and co-parent as they live single lives. Monica is faced with fertility issues and she and her husband choose to adopt twins, after considering surrogacy and sperm-donors. Lastly, Phoebe acts as a surrogate for her brother and sister-in-law, carrying and delivering his triplets.

All very different story lines, but common themes of a woman’s right to her own body and choices when it comes to pregnancy and motherhood, which acts as representation for parents from all backgrounds.

Some of the other representation in Friends was both positive and problematic. The show aired an episode with a lesbian wedding in 1996, before same-sex marriage was legal anywhere in the world. I think that was  a great stride, but often homosexuality was the punchline to a joke which is problematic in its own way.

Pure problems with the show exist with the comedic and mocking representation of Chandler’s dad – a trans-woman and with the absolute lack of diversity. I can count on one hand the number of characters that were people of color, and all major characters were white, straight cis people.

Most of the problems with Friends’ feminism I believe existed because of the time and a lack of intersectional awareness from the writers. It would have been nice to see more representation and less mockery of diversity, but even with that Friends does have feminist undertones in regard to some women. I would say in today’s scope, the show appeals to white feminism , but did teeter on the edge of some more profound representation that just never came full circle.

 

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Posted in Blog Posts, TV TUESDAYS

TV Tuesdays: The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Female empowerment is a big part of feminism and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a relatively recent Netflix original that packs a lot of empowerment, giving it quite the feminist edge.

The title character Kimmy, is a survivor of an abduction/hostage situation. A religious fanatic kept her  in an underground bunker with three other women for several years and the series opens with her rescue. She moves to New York City to start the life she’s always wanted, meeting other characters along the way and trying to figure out life above ground.

 

Even though this sounds like a terrifying episode of  Dateline that would keep you up for days, the show is a comedic look at a serious situation which is part of the feminist appeal. Female characters are often categorized as weak and portrayed as being very fragile, so a man can rescue them. Kimmy is different because she is rebuilding herself and does not have or want a man to rescue her. The show’s characterization has taken the “female victim” trope and turned it on its head.

Throughout the show, Kimmy engages with all kinds of people (LGBTQ+, black, white, varying socio-economic classes, etc.) which gives the show a lot of intersectional characterization. Although representation of intersectional identities is one of the show’s strong suits, it is also its biggest downfall.

One of the characters, Jacqueline Voorhees is a woman who married a very wealthy man and defined herself by that status, but throughout the show she figures out more of an independent  identity. Jacqueline is Native American and she supposedly dyed her hair and got contacts to hide her original features because she was ashamed of her background. The bigger issue though, is that Jane Krakowski – a white woman – plays Jacqueline.

Proper, accurate representation of intersectional identities in media is a big problem that Hollywood has been trying and failing to remedy for years. White people have been dominating the industry and playing people of all background, donning variations of blackface , yellow face and more to white wash other races and make their portrayal more attractive and profitable. The attractive element goes back to white being the standard of beauty, and of course there are more well-known white actors in Hollywood so their appearances are more profitable.

Krakowski is a great actress who has a history with the show’s creator, Tina Fey, but that is no excuse for casting her to play a different race. The portrayal of Native Americans and Asians in the show is problematic and stereotypical. Some have argued that is more satire, but not bothering to cast someone of Native descent sort of cancels out that theory.

Although Kimmy Schmidt does a great job of empowering women and giving a female lead a compelling, victim-free storyline the show struggles with intersectionality and representation, making it guilty of white feminism. The show is on its second season, so hopefully in the future the casting is more intersectional and strategic and the writers listen to the controversy and try to better define their satire while improving their problematic portrayals.

Posted in Blog Posts, TV TUESDAYS

TV Tuesdays with Gilmore Girls

Gilmore Girls was an early 2000’s show about a wise-cracking mother and daughter duo facing life’s challenges and using hard work to achieve their goals. Right off the bat, sounds pretty feminist right? I mean a show with not one – but two female leads who have stories revolving around more than men (but trust me, there are men and love stories in the show too).

The show ended in 2007, but has remained popular with old and new fans alike. Netflix made all seasons available for streaming and is releasing a reboot in November, so more and more people are hopping on the train to Stars Hollow.  Feminists have praised and criticized aspects of the show for years, but I imagine a lot of loyal viewers don’t really think about Gilmore Girls and feminism aside from the obvious strong female leads.

One of the most feminist aspects of Gilmore Girls was their portrayal of female sexuality. The show makes no effort to hide the fact that our main character, Lorelei  Gilmore is single and has an active sex life with multiple partners. The premise of the show is her raising her daughter, whom she had at 16 years old.

She has multiple relationships and the sexual aspect is not removed or glossed over in them. She makes sexual comments and jokes, and is not ashamed of her sex life. Now sure, there are sitcoms with women who had more of a transparent approach to sex in this time period, but here’s the difference – Lorelei is a mom. 

There are not many shows, particularly not in that time frame, that have a mother with a sex life outside of a marriage or relationship with her kid’s father. A major principle of feminism is the conditional sexualization/objectification of women. By conditional I mean women are expected to live up to sexual standards based on patriarchal views.  Women are supposed to be okay with being objectified and sexualized by men whenever, but are not supposed to flaunt their own sexuality on their own terms. Also, once you become a “mother” or reach a certain age, you are stripped from any sexual connotation.

Lorelei refers to herself as a feminist on the show, and the fact that she’s a mom matters here too. More often than not, when people think of feminists they think of a woman who is bucking against all tradition and fits a very specific set of descriptions, and mom usually isn’t one of them. Lorelei was one of the first examples I ever saw of someone who had a child, and who was mothering in a consciously feminist way.

 

Perhaps the biggest take away is that there are several representations of women who are living different kinds of lives on the show, illustrating the feminist principle against societal gender roles and the idea that there’s no one right way to be a woman.

A major area of improvement for Gilmore Girls as a feminist show would have been furthering that representation though. There were less than five major characters who were not white. There was no real representation of anyone in the LGBT community, and the show’s society was very heteronormative. The fact is, Gilmore Girls is guilty of portraying white feminism.

The overall feminist impact of the show is major to female representation and character norms, but would be more inclusive and effective with some updates.