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A Man’s Woman: The Portrayal of Women in Television

A Man’s Woman: The Portrayal of Women in Television

A Man’s Woman

Nancy L. ’17 & Alexa M. ’18

The average American adult watches over five hours of television everyday. (Kobley, 2016) hours of tv. We are constantly exposed to the entertainment industry’s interpretation of modern society. Media’s portrayal of women, particularly women of color, is often skewed and even discriminatory. Audiences are brainwashed by these unrealistic depictions, and form biases that impact day to day life. Female characters are rarely interesting. Their personas tend to lack complex qualities and emotional or intellectual depth. Traditionally feminine appearances, personalities, and circumstances are encouraged.

Actresses who fit the industry’s criteria for beauty tend to fill the roles that make it onto our screens. The video “Women in Television” clearly portrays the stereotypical image of the attractive woman, according to society’s standards. Out of the twenty one women who are being aggressively objectified in these clips, nine are blonde, and seventeen are white. Not one is overweight and the majority appear to be comfortable being scrutinized in this manner. A select body type and overall look has been normalized, and as a result, women who differ from media’s expectations often feel self conscious and ashamed of themselves. The immense pressure to adhere to these standards can even cause some to practice unhealthy or deadly behaviors such as extreme dieting or exercise. This body policing is an overarching theme in American television, but when one further examines media’s portrayal of women, trends in the depiction of women of color become apparent.

Additional tropes and standards regarding class and race are also prevalent in media. Black women in pop culture are characterized by a stereotypical sense of strength and assertiveness. Motherly Mammy-type figures are one common depiction of Black women. Black women also tend to be represented is in an oversexualized manner, particulary in music videos.  Although we see more and more black female entertainers with each year, most of the women are light skinned. The lack of dark skinned actresses contributes to colorism, a prevalent cultural issue. Hispanic women are typically depicted as fiery and hypersexualized. Most of these characters are maids, criminals, or immigrants. In real life, hispanic women exist in all aspects of society. Then there’s always the the tiger-moms, the nerds, and other over achieving Asian characters. These offensive images fail to show the wonderful range of women that make up our society. As audiences watch these types of female characters resurface again and again, a dangerous prejudice forms.

One way in which the negative effects of this bias can be seen is in the professional world. We have all heard the statistic that women make 72 cents to a man’s dollar. However, women of color make even less. Black women earn 64% of the white male salary, and Hispanic women make 54% (Leber, 2015). Some of this disparity is due to biases in hiring employees. Discrimination against women of color is fueled by the deep rooted prejudice perpetuated by pop culture.

Although some progress is being made in Hollywood, there is still much work to be done. Part of the reason that female characters are so widely oversimplified is because most of the characters were written by men. According to the Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA, 45% of TV pilots in 2015 had no female creators or producers associated with them, and 78% had no minority creators or producers associated with them (Bunche Center for African-American Studies at UCLA, 2016). It is no wonder that the portrayal of women in the many popular television shows is lackluster and biased.

Combatting these stereotypes may be difficult, but through continued effort, we can continue to improve women’s standing. By becoming a critical viewer, one who questions the content they are subject to, we can increase awareness about poor representation and form a better perspective on other women and ourselves.

 

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