Maude & Roseanne

To begin with, I have to say that I wasn’t familiar at all with either Maude nor Roseanne before I heard about them in class and read about them in the book. Shame on me for not knowing about these incredible female characters, running their own shows way before the “great” women-centric shows I grew up watching! It was very educational and interesting for me to learn about both Maude and Roseanne, and I will definitely look more into these shows, especially since I’m a film major and my biggest interest lies in writing interesting female characters, and these two are from what I’ve gathered so far, some pretty good examples!

Maude Finley was a middle-aged woman, tall, grey-haired, deep voice, and not traditionally feminine in either appearances nor in her personality. As the show’s tagline states; “liberal. independent. controversial. hilarious.” words that definitely describes Maude as a character. She was outspoken, challenging the people around her, not taking up traditional housewife-ing work but she instead focused on trying to make a political career, and in the show she tackled controversial issues such as abortion, menopause and growing old, issues that we rarely see on screen even today. Maude was a woman in control, sure of herself and her values, and always tried to get what she wanted.

Roseanne Connor was a many ways similar to Maude; she was also outspoken, not traditionally feminine (she was fat! oh the horror!), and she did not conform to the traditional housewife-stereotype – Roseanne was a working class woman, and brought up the real, modern issue of the second-shift, something that working women often had to deal with: after a shift at work, they are also expected to take care of the housework, the “second shift”. Her working class status made her different from Maude’s character, showcasing the many types of problems women faced in the workplace, and also the fact that she had younger children to parent, brought up other kinds of issues as well. Roseanne was a flawed heroine, she did not have it all figured to the same extent that Maude did, but she definitely had the courage to fight, work and stand up for what she wanted.

Maude was set in the 1970’s and Roseanne in the 1980’s into the 1990’s and that definitely had an impact on the shows and their different portrayal of its female heroines. The 70’s was a period of change, with again co-optation and backlash going on as the main themes in the portrayal of feminism in the media. Maude, as outspoken and strong-willed as she was, still received a great amount of opposition from those around her, just like feminists in real life. And also reflecting the views and perspective of feminism/feminists in real life, Maude embodied some of the stereotypes of feminists that many people had and disliked about it, like appearing more masculine, being loud and not shying away from saying what she thinks. Similar to this, Roseanne was in many ways a reflection of how society looked upon feminism/feminists in the 1980-1990’s. Between these years, feminism had gotten even more visibility in the media, but also more backlash, such as the faux-feminists in movies (see: Fatal Attraction). Roseanne on the other hand brought up a new, more modern and very relatable feminist, dealing with issues that many women at this time also shared. She was a more common woman, working-class and head of the family; she represented the great number of women out there in the real world who were in similar situations at this time period, but who didn’t get to see themselves represented on the screen. And so by Roseanne now showing all of these the struggles that an “ordinary” woman and families dealt, and then using feminism as a tool or mechanism to challenge sexism at work, beauty standards, financial problems, the second-shift etc, was controversial and absolutely necessary.

I think, or no actually hope, that audiences today would welcome and watch characters like Maude and Roseanne, because they still deal with issues relevant in these “modern” times. Someone like Roseanne Connor should be especially appealing, because when looking through lists and polls over TV’s Top or Favorite Moms, she ranks high every time! People loved her back when her show was on and still think of her as a great character decades after the show was cancelled. With that said, I do not speak for the general TV watcher, the shows I watch regularly rarely centers around families with prominent mother figures (unless you count Game of Thrones…). Nonetheless, when I read about more “family-centric” shows and hear people talk about them,  I don’t recall hearing about characters similar to those of Maude or Roseanne. Today TV-moms comes in many different varieties, but the types that Maude (middle-aged, successful, upper-middle class) and Roseanne (blue-collar working class, overweight) represent are not often seen, and never as the center of the show. I think that if mainstream audiences would react positively to see more characters like Maude and Roseanne, because they each represent a huge portion of real life Americans, not all women like those we see today on TV can juggle a career, raising kids, still have their good looks and on top of that have a nice, clean house all the time. One show that I do watch that actually centers around a working mother is The Good Wife, and while Alicia Florrick is a great character in many ways, but I don’t think that she is someone you’d find in real life as often as the more relatable and realistic characters like Maude and especially with Roseanne. We need more characters like them, because even though I might not be one the main target for a family show like that, I can still see the potential and the positive effect it can have on the right audience.

(Originally posted on 2014/11/26 for Melanie Klein’s class blog “Women and Popular Culture”)

Feminism in the 70’s

In the 1970’s, the portrayal of women and feminism in the media and on the screens, was predominated by a cycle of co-optation and backlash and it all started back in the late 1960’s when the Hays Code was abolished. The Hays Code that previously had restricted all sorts of “immoral” characters and behavior, now gave way to the current letter-rating system issued by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) which allows pretty much anything to be filmed and shown to mass audience as long as it is age-appropriate. The end of the Hays Code also coincided with start of the women’s liberation movement; now women were not only going to get more freedom on the screen but also try to get it in real life!

However, it is never that simple. With the Hays Code gone, movies undoubtedly became more interesting, and the 70’s produced some of the arguably best movies ever done (Jaws, Star Wars, The Godfather, Taxi Driver, The Graduate etc) because the filmmakers had more freedom in what they were allowed to do; but, the movies were still heavily androcentric. More so, with movies being allowed to show more violence and sex, women came to serve more as victims and sexual objects. Women were no longer portrayed mainly as the sweet housewife, but this new version of the woman was just as degrading and limiting. There was one other popular type of woman on the big screen that served for yet another purpose; the vengeance films. These films starred women who took revenge on the men who had wronged her, and while the films were women-centric, the women in these kinds of films were basically just a more sexualized version of a male character. Because if a women were doing these “manly” actions, like taking control, being violent, having power and usually besting the men, she still had to be feminine, attractive and sexy; she had conformed to the fighting fuck toy trope.

This co-optation and backlash of feminism themes (strong women, yay!…?) as a means to lure women and men to go and see these movies, is similar to backlash and co-optation of feminism in advertisements. With the advent of the women’s liberation movement, women were beginning to boycott companies and products that were anti-women or anti-feminist. This of course caused panic among the big corporations, because how would they make it without all these shopping women?! Well, co-optation! Advertisements adapted feminist language, images and themes in order to lure women back to shopping beauty supplies, clothes and other products intended for women (products that was the solution to fixing women’s insecurities about themselves, because —> not being attractive enough —> good luck getting a man —> a woman’s goal in life). These ads and the companies behind them used feminism as a way to profit, they were not interested in spreading or supporting feminism!

On television, the news coverage of feminist actions such as the Women’s Strike for Equality were suffering from backlash too. The media was condescending towards such actions, or they talked around it, focusing on trivial things to take away the focus from the event itself. This sort of zero-sum analysis stripped the complexity, the deep understanding and the meaning of the event; the media just wanted something easy and “catchy”. On the other hand, television shows, sit-coms especially, were getting more and more varied female characters, who embodied the modern woman much better, explicitly feminist or not. Mary Tyler of The Mary Tyler Moore Show was an independent, single woman, more interested in her career than in finding a husband to support her, and Maude Findley of All In The Family and her own show Maude, was an already successful woman, liberal and outspoken, divorced several times and tackling controversial issues such as abortion.

Overall, I still think that despite its set-backs (faux-feminism advertisements due to co-optation, negative media framing and backlash against feminism, the lack of varied, complex and feminist women in movies), the 70’s was a good decade for the feminism movement as a whole. Moving forward is the only way to go, and the 70’s brought the movement forward despite all the backlash. For example, the media may have framed the Women’s Strike for Equality in a condescending way, but still, just the fact that there was a strike and that it turned out to be so successful that the mainstream media feared its impact, that’s a great accomplishment! The movement had to start out somewhere with something right?! So, knowing that the 70’s was sort of the starting point for all things to come, today’s media has evolved for the better and for the worse. So, compared to what we see today, I think that the 70’s wasn’t as good with its portrayal of women and feminism in the mainstream media nor for the movement overall – but again, it is important to remember that it was still a progress from the earlier decades. It is going very sloooooow, but just as the 70’s was a bit better than the decades before, we have now come a bit further still, and that has to count for something at least…

(Originally posted on 2014/11/24 for Melanie Klein’s class blog “Women and Popular Culture”)

Women in Hollywood Movies

As a film student, I have read about the Hays Code before, and learned about its implications on film, what was allowed and not allowed, and how the filmmakers tried to work around it. However, I never learned what it really did for the representation of women specifically, and what the long-lasting affects and consequences of the code did for our society… As I have come to understand now, The Hays Code, also known as the Motion Picture Production Code, was a self-regulative moral censorship over the movie industry, in place for over 30 years, that contributed to the creation of the stereotypical views of family, women and femininity we still have today.

Before the Hays code, women and their femininity was represented in film by standards not unlike those we see today – there was variation among them and they had interesting storylines. Women on the screen worked; they were portrayed as sexual; they could be married, divorced, having affairs; they could be powerful and smart; they could be villains, heroines, good mothers, bad mothers; they weren’t always heterosexual nor always dressed in  women’s clothing, and there was no moral objective or slut shaming them. In contrast to this, after the Hays Code came in place, the representation of women and femininity became much more tame. If they strayed from being the perfect wife and mother, happy housewife, non-sexual, non-working woman, taking care of the family and the house, they were immoral and shown being punished for it. These new ideals, and the reason behind the Hays Code, came from Hollywood itself. After releasing some very risqué movies, and after some real life scandals involving movie stars, they thought it would be better to be self-regulated than having the government intervene, since movies were not protected under free speech.
Post WWII, women were almost exclusively portrayed as a white happy housewife, a stay-at-home mother, caring for the house and the family, consisting of a working father and (often two) children. This representation was not accurate, in fact, it was highly idealistic. After WWII, more women than ever worked outside of their homes, and divorce rates came to new highs as well. But these divorced working women had no place in the idealistic worlds of the movies and family-oriented television shows. The constant exposure to these images that portray women and families in this manner influenced the way we still imagine the “ideal” life is supposed to be; American Dream!
The first major action to challenge and critique the representation of women in media was the No More Miss America Protest in 1968, the same year that the Hays Code came to an end. In this protest, demonstrators filled the Atlantic City broad walk, with banners and signs, and with the freedom trashcan where objects of femininity that repressed women -were symbolically thrown away. Sadly however, the media focus and attention on this protest was on the unladylike demonstrators, instead on the demonstration itself, and also from this action, the idea of feminism and bra-burning was established and continues to be a negative act and stereotype associated with feminism to degrade it. I like the idea behind this protest, because not only did they bring attention to the problem, but they did it in public and with humor, but I also feel that protests like this doesn’t really do much for change, especially since the media focused on the wrong things to spread around. I liked the idea behind the Ladies Home Journal much better, because it actually forced a change. It might be more drastic and more unconventional, but it did cause a change and gained media attention in the way! The sit in caused the journal to reform its content and editorial staff to be more modern, and offer new interesting topics to its audience that were more in line with women’s actual life in the 60’s, and not pretending that women still lived in this idealistic 50’s life it usually portrayed.
In advertising, we still can see this old archetype of the woman as in charge of the household and taking care of the children, for example, when advertising for cleaning supplies it is usually being used by a woman, and when there are children involved, they are more often seen together with their mother than their father, regardless of the kids gender. Furthermore, in television and movies, women have fared a bit better, but the main archetypes that I have noticed are these three: the married woman, the single woman and the teenager just discovering her sexuality. All of these have one thing in common; men! The married woman is either living in a relatively happy marriage, and her struggles are concerned with balancing family and work. The single woman strives to get a man, either just for sex, or someone to marry and settle down with, but ultimately, she is lonely and wants a man in her life for one reason or another. The teenage girl is naive and insecure, has problems in school, at home (her mother might be one of those struggling married women mentioned above), with her friends (who can sometimes be like her, or more of the “slutty” single-type), but usually her main problem has something to do with a boy; getting him to notice her, keeping him, loosing her virginity to him, going to prom with him etc… Of course, this is just the way I see it, but as someone who does not fall into either type, they stick out all the more clear to me, since I often feel that I cannot to them; their problems are not my problems! These images are not accurate or inclusive, they leave many other types of women out. We do see other types (lesbians, women who don’t want children, independent women, women who puts their career first etc..) on screen, but not in the same capacity as these other “main” types, and when we do see them, they stand out and seem “abnormal” compared to the rest, and therefore, don’t seem as “good” or accepted – it’s only an exception from the norm… These images and themes regarding women still say that what women care most about in life is relationships with men, and that a woman’s life isn’t fulfilled or complete until she gets a man, and then her struggle continues because she now has to work to keep him. Now, I’m not saying that these aren’t real problems or that they don’t matter, taking about boys is basically all what my straight roommate does, all she wants is to find a man, get married, have children and settle down in a big nice house – but, if she got these ideas from the herself or from the constant exposure in the media that this is what she is supposed to do – that’s another question! Those who gain from this representation is the mainstream media and the industries out to make profit from women and girls who believe in and wants this ideal life, like the wedding industry, beauty and cosmetics companies, the health industry, and basically any company that sells products intended for women to become more attractive and thus, be able to get a man faster, or something that will make him stay longer.
I think that today, protests would do best in the viral world; using the media itself. Getting a video or an article viral, shared and linked and liked on the internet can reach an tremendous big audience, and create conversations with people everywhere. The mainstream media is important and still very powerful in spreading news and stories like this, but now with social media, the everyday person can do the same, and at the same time bypassing the media gatekeepers. Protests launched of sites like Facebook for example can spread to the outside world as well, you can rally forces by inviting people online and then meet up and hold a physical protest or demonstration if the cause is big enough. The media can be a friend or a foe, but in cases like this, it can be very useful to spread a message and get support and gain allies. After learning about culture jamming, ad busting, vidding and remixing in the last weeks, I also think that these kinds of methods can be effective, they are protesting in a way by highlight the fault in the mainstream media – but then again, you would need the media to spread theses new media creations, because what is a protest without anyone noticing it?

(Originally posted on 2014/11/10 for Melanie Klein’s class blog “Women and Popular Culture”)

Masculinity

After watching the video, I feel that I understand in a better way what we talked about in last weeks class, than men are more heavily sanctioned when they are not considered masculine enough. As this video point out, Barack Obama and 50 Cent (aka Curtis) embodies two different kinds of masculinities, and when Obama, the most powerful man on the planet, is being accused and doubted as a leader and a man, when his masculinity is questioned in regards to how great of a leader or president he will be, that’s when it really hit me – no on is exempt from being questioned or examined when it comes to being masculine or a “real man”.

In the video, two of our time’s most powerful black men, Obama and 50 Cent, are compared in terms of their masculinity. The view on masculinity is depended on the culture and time, and so in this case we’re talking about black men in the 2000’s century, where the overwhelming number of pictures, videos, songs etc shows us how we are all supposed to be, where the media set examples and creates role-models and ideals for us. The mainstream media is bombarding us with pictures, videos and songs depicting black men as gangsters, as dangerous, wearing baggy clothes and caps heavy chains – this is the stereotypical black man I grew up with, seeing it on my television screen and in the music videos of the 90’s – a man like 50 Cent. In this community, the masculinity of a man was measured by for example how many women he’s had, how many children he has, how many time’s his been in jail. He is tough, he is strong, he is aggressive and he is dangerous. President Obama however, is a different kind of black man (he is a family man, staying true to his wife, who is herself very strong, smart and competent, he doesn’t support war or violence and he hasn’t been in jail or in prison) and this is where the video got interesting because it pointed out that some black men don’t think that Obama has that masculinity needed for a black man and thus, doesn’t have what it takes to represent blacks and be a good leader. Of course, this is due to him being brought up in a completely different manner than 50 Cent and many others in that kind of black community. So, Obama has the style and manners that perhaps isn’t considered masculine enough in all black communities, and maybe not even among men in general, but what I’ve come to understand is that you can’t please everyone – there’s not even uniformity of masculinity within the black community, so how is one supposed to be able to be man enough according to the standards/norms/rules/conventions in every community/society/culture?! It’s impossible!

The mainstream media has generally portrayed the masculine man as a fit man with muscles, typically broad shoulders and a six pack; wearing fitted clothes, jeans or a suit; holding a high ranking position or generating high respect within his community; he is not one to talk about his feelings; he likes to hang out with his equally manly friends, talk about sports, drink beer and women of course, the masculine man in mainstream media is heterosexual! Any man who doesn’t seem to follow these conventions appears weak either in mind, soul and/or body, and being weak is the worst thing for a man, according to the notions of mainstream media. When it comes to black masculinity, it gets perhaps even more narrow, because there seem to be even less playroom for black men to be masculine in the mainstream media, and those differ a bit from the general masculinity as seen in media. Black men in film and TV, in my own view, often fall into two categories; the Barack Obama type and the 50 Cent type. The Obama black man has a high position, bossing over others, wears suits etc – or he is the kind side-kick type – and he interacts mostly with white people. The 50 Cent types is a gangster from top to toe, he is dangerous and often violent or threatening, some sort of criminal or someone holding a low position within the community, and he interacts mostly with others like him. This type is the one I see the most often, and the one that I think has had the most effect on the me and my view on black men, but I can’t speak for everyone. However, I do think that this negative stereotypical way for depicting a black man, as a thug, gangster, violent, dangerous, criminal, uneducated etc has something to do with the fact that our society is a white patriarchy, and so by constantly portraying black men in this manner, furthers strengthens white men’s power and domination – to maintain the status quo. Basically, creating stereotypes that portrays women as weak, helpless and vulnerable and black men as “bad” is all very important, because otherwise white men wouldn’t be able to keep their dominant power in society… I am super happy that Obama has broken down some of the boundaries for black men, showing that these stereotypical negative portrayal is just that, a stereotype, it’s a negative and exaggerated view, and not a generalization of the group as a whole – but then again, there are men like 50 Cent out there who support this stereotype…

(Originally posted on 2014/11/02 for Melanie Klein’s class blog “Women and Popular Culture”)