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It's okay to metafandom or link to this post. Feel free. My finals are almost over anyway.

One of my posts recently got metafandomed, and I had a commenter tell me that it's not a problem if women are inadequately represented on TV. This is a surefire way to get me to end a conversation, as I'll just throw my hands in the air and declare it hopeless. That discussion didn't really go anywhere.

But I do feel it's entry-worthy. As it's apparent to anyone that I'm feminist girl and getting awesome female characters on screen is one of my big wishes for TV. And it's not just because I, personally, want to see more. It's because, yes, it's important. It's important for the same reason it's important to show racially diverse characters or characters of various sexual orientations or gender identities.

There's a simple fact: TV influences our world.

I recently went into this a bit with a friend, but that was a digression, so here. It gets its own topic now.

TV is an incredible invention. Most of us watch it from the time we're children. It's there with us throughout our life. You do not live in a bubble. You are part of society. And society is affected by the media. Yes, even you.

How much does your average person in America know about China? Without TV? Maybe they learn something about it in school, though just in relation to the US. They might know someone of Chinese ethnicity, though odds aren't good on that. They might hear the typical stories about China. But the conclusions they draw will largely be based on ignorance. They've never been.

How about if that person watched TV their entire life and watched some shows that had episodes set in China? How much more would they know? Would they be any more knowledgeable than they were without TV?

In a way, they would. They'd have more information. But most of that information is fed to them through the glossified fiction that is TV.

TV shows us a warped view of reality. As TV affects our world, our world also affects TV. However, the media takes our world and glamorizes it, changing it so as to be "marketable" or more entertaining.

Odds are, most of us are not world travelers. And yet, we feel we have knowledge on the world. We've seen different countries on TV, and we base our opinions on these cultures partially due to those images.

I've never been to Italy. But I've seen countless depictions of the country in various TV shows and movies. Do I know anything about Italy? Not really. All I know is whatever fictionalized version of it I've seen on screen.

I realize that. However, not everybody does. Some people will take the common tropes as TRUTH. On top of that, while I recognize that my view of some things may not be correct, I've been watching TV since I was a child. Who knows how much I picked up from it that gives me a false view of the reality? Especially as there are so many experiences I haven't had to counteract any of those beliefs?

Okay, you do live in a bubble. It's a shared bubble. It's the bubble that TV has created. The bubble is the world as the media shows it to us. The real world is outside, and very few of us will actually move outside the bubble to experience it.

*has established that point, moves on to next*

Given how extensively TV affects our perceptions of the world, what do we make of the fact that women are underrepresented or poorly portrayed? Ditto with racial and ethnic minorities and people of minority sexual orientations.

The latter are often invisible. Gay people don't exist to some people because they don't exist in much of our media. I spoke to someone who honestly believed that gay people didn't "exist" until the 70s cause that's about when she started hearing about them.

Racial and ethnic minorities often get the burden of stereotypes. The urban gangsta, the smart Asian, the lazy Mexican (And now the terrorist Middle Eastern person). If that's what we see portrayed on TV, without real-world examples to show us differently, this is what will oftentimes be believed. And some people don't have real-world examples to tell them differently.

The same happens with female characters. If females are always being rescued or only there to be the love interest, this will affect people's perceptions of women. Even with women around them because, the sad thing is women aren't immune to this, either. It affects their perceptions of themselves, making them think the most important thing in life is for them to find a man to marry. Because that's all the media shows them. The highest station in life a women can aspire to is to find a good husband.

I used this example with my friend, but it's a good one, so I'll share it with the rest of you guys.

It's hard to comprehend how much of an influence TV has on us. We're immersed in it. Our society has been immersed in it for a very long time, now. We have no point of comparison in our own culture.

So let me give you something to think about in that respect.

Fiji is an island in the South Pacific well-known for its bottled water and as the place that Dave Lister was planning on living in Red Dwarf. It also lacked widespread access to TV until 1995.

Some really shmart researchers decided they wanted to see how Western media influenced the society, especially eating habits and body images. Previously, the people there supported a body image of full-figured women with robust appetites.

They surveyed young girls both in 1995, before TV was introduced, and in 1998, three years after. The percentage of girls indicating an eating disorder jumped from 12.5% to 29.2% in those three years. Additionally, the number who reported self-induced vomiting as a form of weight control rose from none to 11.3%. Finally, 83% of the girls surveyed reported that they felt television "had specifically influenced their friends and/or themselves to feel differently about or change their body shape or weight".

Becker AE, Burwell RA, Gilman SE, Herzog DB, Hamburg P. Eating behaviours and attitudes following prolonged television exposure among ethnic Fijian adolescent girls. The British Journal of Psychiatry 2002.

We are not immune to these influences just because we're special. We're not immune at all. We're in the bubble. Most people just don't recognize it.

This is why it's so important to me to see more and better depictions of female characters on TV. This is why the treatment of the women on AtS upsets me. This is why there's imbroglios about the depiction of racial minorities going on around the blogosphere. And this is why I'm actually happy with RTD's "gay agenda" in New Who, despite my lukewarm feelings about the show, itself.

TV is a powerful tool. It takes our world, replaces the "fat" women with beautifully flawless ones, white-washes the racial minorities, relegates the gay people to the background and then sprays a bunch of glamor polish on it to make it "palatable" to the masses. It reflects our world in the most twisted of ways. And we accept that depiction and take it to heart. When a subject comes up that we have no personal experience on, we turn to what we've seen on TV to fill in our knowledge. We don't even know we're doing it. It's subconscious. "Facts" learned from TV are mixed in with years and years of other bits of knowledge, and we can't even distinguish one from the other. When we meet something in reality that contradicts what's been drilled into us by the media, we cling hold to our old perception and think of the real thing as the "exception".

You're wrong. Let me explain my lifelong experiences with television to demonstrate why.

I'm not talking about you. I'm talking about society.

Even in Fiji, 2 out of every 10 girls would tell you that TV didn't affect her. Congrats. You're one of the 2. But your existence doesn't negate the 8 girls who were affected.

Fine. There's a problem. What are you gonna do about it?

Whine and bitch on my LJ.

Listen, the problem is simply this: We're filling our ignorance with distorted information. The easiest way to rectify this is to find other ways of learning about the world. Reading books, talking to people, traveling. Instead of trusting the depictions of South America that we see on TV, read a book about South America or, hell, take a trip. Instead of learning all you need to know about Japan from anime, read about the country or visit, yourself. Talk to gay people. Know no gay people? Visit a PFLAG meeting. Odds are, there's one in your area. And read about feminism. Yes, women are all around, but we're stuck in a morass of discriminating perceptions and "traditional" ideas of gender roles. In order to break out of that, you need to educate yourself about the problem.

I still prefer watching guys more than girls.

Fine. I don't care. But don't fucking tell me it's not a problem that there's so few women on TV.

You are not the world. It's not "not a problem" if it doesn't bother you.

Isn't it reverse sexism to want to watch women more than men?

Don't make me smack you. Seriously.

Well, this entry has been fun. It was nice to take a break from studying Sociology to...talk about sociology. *headdesk* I am such a nerd.



May. 12th, 2009 02:04 am (UTC)
One thing (of many) that bothered me in the response was equating "feminine" with negative traits and "masculine" with positive ones. It reminds me of the fringe element of the SPN fandom that keeps being linked on fandom_wank because they hate any propect of girl cooties touching their show.

I also have more than a quibble with the concept that a 'heroic and noble" female character must be a female character who in essence behaves like... well, I won't even say man because if the poster considers Scully to not be logical and rational enough, then clearly any character with emotions is just too 'irrational' and that pretty much includes not only any female but any male character that I would find remotely interesting. What does the poster want? Robots with boobs?

I've never seen the X-Files,
I admit to having a bias, but I pretty much consider Aeryn Sun and Dana Scully to be the top tier female heroines ever to have been on TV. :) All others are one or several rungs below them. Aeryn and Scully were women.

Scully was accomplished. She wasn't there just to be a love interest (though Mulder/Scully did eventually become a romantic pairing.) She was there because she kicked ass at her job. She was smart and a professional (Her undergrad degree was in physics. She had a medical degree, specialized in forensics, and then joined the FBI). She was always cool-headed in a crisis, and though she was only 5'2" she knew how to protect herself, how to fight back, and carried a gun. So, while there might be instances where Mulder rescued her. There were just as many (if not more) instances where she rescued Mulder (Mulder got captured and tortured a lot). And if she was caught in a dangerous situation, she usually saved herself.

The woman fought vampires, mutants, aliens, serial killers, and cancer...without superpowers. And she wasn't an emotionless robot.

All in all, Scully was pretty damn admirable.
May. 12th, 2009 03:09 am (UTC)
Heh. Well, Xena and Buffy are my top tier female heroes, though Aeryn Sun's high up there. And if you're looking for a "heroic and noble" female character, all three would qualify in my book (I'm sure Scully does as well).

I think I was most disturbed by the extreme reaction of "I hate these characters and therefore they have no redeemable qualities". No, you don't have to like Buffy, but you can at least recognize that she is a hero. She just may not float your boat as a character. There's a whole bunch of female characters out there, of many different "types". Not as much as there are male characters, obviously, but they're out there. I have trouble believing that a person couldn't find at least one female character that they enjoy.

Will have to watch X-Files sometime. Right now I'm going through a Farscape rewatch and then I've been persuaded to give Veronica Mars a try (and I still have to watch BSG). Good thing the semester's over.
May. 12th, 2009 03:18 am (UTC)
That'll probably take more than a semester!

(And if you ever watch XF, I'd advise going with the show not the movies. The movies are rather 'meh' but the best episodes are excellent (by the same token, the worst episodes are dreadful. :)
May. 18th, 2009 10:18 pm (UTC)
One thing (of many) that bothered me in the response was equating "feminine" with negative traits and "masculine" with positive ones.

Me too. It reminds me of comments I've heard about how women should no longer want to marry and have children, or enjoy cooking for the family, or have jobs as teachers or other 'caring' roles. For me, that's anti-feminist. Sure, women who want to should be able to remain single, or have their husbands/boyfriends do the childcare, or have well-paid jobs as high-flying business executives - but women shouldn't have to do those things. Gender equality should mean that we get the choice of what to do with our lives, whatever it is that we decide; and also that actions and roles and personality traits traditionally considered "feminine" should be regarded with the same degree of respect as those considered "masculine". And that "feminine" shouldn't be a label that people use to dismiss things that they don't like.
May. 21st, 2009 01:50 am (UTC)
Very much agreed. Feminism is about enabling women to do whatever they want. And that can be a housewife, nurse, construction worker, doctor, teacher, CEO, porn star, or a lazy bum. The point of it is that gender identity doesn't matter.


The One Who Isn't Chosen

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