BY ANY MEASURE, I’m the wrong person to lead a feminist crusade, inasmuch as I still giggle at Steve Martin’s line that he believes in putting a woman on a pedestal “high enough to look up her dress.” Still, watching reality TV lately, it’s a wonder the peasants haven’t rallied with pitchforks, or at least salad tongs.
This week witnessed two more steps backward for womankind in the form of ABC’s “How to Get the Guy” and CBS’ “Tuesday Night Book Club,” which, tellingly, each offer a “party girl” among their cavalierly branded casts.
“Book Club” reflects a particularly male-centric mentality, describing each woman strictly by her relationship with a man, as in “trophy wife,” “conflicted wife” and “loyal wife.”
Then again, the series itself is really a knockoff of Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of Orange County,” which showcases Southern California women with undernourished brains and overflowing bras. In its reunion show, one surgically enhanced mom expressed pride at being deemed a “MILF,” her point of reference informed entirely by the “American Pie” movies, with no apparent concept of “The Graduate.”
Granted, we’ve already endured “The Bachelor” and years of daytime TV, where men are generally selfish pigs and women the doormats who inexplicably tolerate them. These latest reality variants, though, further advance the notion that even accomplished career women behave like boy-crazy teenagers, almost completely defining themselves by their status vis-a-vis men.
By contrast, popular dramas such as “Desperate Housewives” and “Grey’s Anatomy” contain women possessing some dimension, depicting them at work and in their roles as friends, children, even parents. Hell, compared with unscripted TV, “Ally McBeal,” all is forgiven.
YET IN DOING RESEARCH to see if women are up in arms about reality TV despoiling their collective reputation, groups such as the White House Project (which pushes for more women to win elected office) and National Organization for Women appear more preoccupied lately with two other perceived slights: Elizabeth Vargas losing her ABC “World News Tonight” anchor seat, and the same network canceling “Commander in Chief,” which featured Geena Davis as the first female U.S. president.
“A TV show may seem frivolous — but television is, without a doubt, a guiding force in today’s society,” wrote NOW President Kim Gandy in her biweekly column. “Positive role models of women in the media (and negative ones) have an impact on women’s and girls’ views of themselves and each other.”
Hear, hear. And if NOW really cares about role models and symbols, organizers ought to focus on programs that young women actually watch, which, in the main, doesn’t describe the nightly news or “Commander in Chief,” whose profiles hew toward the elderly.
“How to Get the Guy” tanked ratings-wise, indicating that younger women aren’t automatically drawn to such fluff. Nevertheless, the fact remains that they’re the target audience, whether it’s because they identify with the situations or find comfort in thinking, “Thank God I’m not her.” Odds are it’s a combination of both.
By supporting such programs, then, do women tacitly reinforce the underlying anti-feminist mindset that reduces them to facile and dismissive labels? If so, even knuckle-dragging men owe it to their wives, moms and sisters to say you needn’t be a woman to see the insult in such imagery, and then, for the good of society, hide the remote control.
IN A FEMINIST FOOTNOTE, the absurd urge to cast ever-younger actresses in leading roles is highlighted twice this month — in the new version of “The Omen” and “Superman Returns,” with Julia Stiles, 25, and Kate Bosworth, 23, playing the mothers of six-year-old and five-year-old boys, respectively.
Granted, there’s an understandable desire to project sizzle onscreen, but would it be a stretch to cast someone pushing 30?
It’s well established the biz can be brutal on actresses over 40, but when these kinds of parts become an issue, we’ve crossed beyond mere youth obsession. Welcome to “Logan’s Run.”