|Ah, the wonderful dysfunction of Liz and Jenna...|
There were several iconic examples, but current TV shows rarely passed the Bechdel test. Female friendship plots either revolved entirely around men or were used as wacky sub-plots.
Well, a lot has changed over the last few years. Take a look at a few of the female friendships and buddy storylines found on TV today.
Sidebar: Can I just tell you how weird it is to watch culture change? I started writing about women in film and TV professionally about five years ago and so much has changed since then. Which tells me a couple things:
1. Speaking up makes a difference. Especially collectively. And...
2. Spending money makes a difference. When people showed up in droves to see "Bridesmaids" and even "Sex and the City" (Don't get me started, I hated that movie, but that's beside the point.) it showed that audiences could be interested in movies that didn't just revolve around men. (Even though, I mean...we kind of knew that already with Alien and Tomb Raider and a million other examples, but here's some evidence outside of the action genre and film:
2. Parks and Recreation - Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) and Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones)
3. Up All Night - Reagan (Christina Applegate) and Ava (Maya Rudolph)
4. New Girl - Cece (Hannah Simone) and Jess (Zooey Deschanel)
There are more female friendships than the few mentioned here. Add yours in the comments section.
Also worthy of mention? The entire cast of powerful female characters on "Once Upon a Time". The best thing about that is all the complexity offered. They don't all have to be friends or like each other, because we have (Hold your breath now!) character variety! Let's delve...
Though it would be easy for the show to stoop to stereotypes, the writers are consistently offering up character flaws to make the women of the show more three-dimensional. The innocent Snow White makes mistakes. The tough Sheriff shows plenty of weaknesses. Even the Evil Queen gets a backstory, showing there are reasons (not justifications, mind you) but reasons for her behavior.
Why Are We Still Talking About This Again?
Think about it in a larger context. They're literally trying to bring the fairy tale culture into a real world. Though it often devolves into soap opera storylines, think of the years and years of little girls being told their only choice was to admire and aspire to be an impossibly perfect princess.
Now, in the framework of those same fairy tales, they're able to choose from police officer, teacher, mayor, etc. Granted, kids probably shouldn't be watching the show. But you get the idea.
This is what constitutes the slow decline of gender bias. Real world variations. When women on television are displayed the same way that men are...flawed, complex, different from one another and different from stereotypes...that's when we are finally getting somewhere.
When female characters move beyond the confines of roles like innocent love interest, dumb bimbo and funny best friend, that's very exciting stuff. Stereotypes will forever exist and they're not innately harmful. They're only harmful when that's the only thing depicted and those depictions spin into unrealistic real world expectations.
Actually, we need some kind of a magic eight ball or a female archetype generate that scrambles roles and descriptions. Writers could use it for writing exercises and scripts. You could press a button and it would take stereotypes and shuffle them around. You could get, like: Funny Love Interest, dumb best friend, innocent bimbo. Stuff like that.
Pleas note, it's not about the rise of women over men. It's not even about saying men and women should be considered the same. They aren't the same. We're very different from each other. So sayeth biology. It's just about getting a more accurate and/or interesting portrayal of female characters out there into the public consciousness. Women and men both deserve respect in the media. And by the way, men don't always get fabulous or fair treatment in film or TV either. I just so happen to write from the female perspective, so that's what I'm paying attention to.
But the world is accustomed to understanding and respecting the idea of the power of a man. It's not something we really need to be reminded of. But there's still a staggering amount of confusion, even blatant misogyny that goes unexamined and even unnoticed in American pop culture. That's why it's still an important issue. As long as there is film and TV, there will be unfair portrayals of men and women both. But it's about teaching the public to recognize that.
People always argue when I bring this up, the parents should be censoring what their kids see and teaching them the difference between realism and fluff. Stereotype and reality. The problem is, not everyone has parents who will bother to do that.
I often wonder how many little boys wander out into the world with a lot of ill-formed preconceived notions about women formed from watching too much TV or too many movies. I know, that's a big leap. But don't you think there are some misogynists out there who may just be the victims of ignorance?
I'd love to kill my television just as much as the next person. But it's not going to happen in our lifetime, so we should probably at least lifeguard, discuss and watch-dog what's out there. Not censor. That's not what I propose. The most important of those being "discuss". More people should be saying to teens and young girls, "I know you'll probably watch it anyway, but just know that what goes on during 'Gossip Girl' and 'Two and a Half Men' isn't realistic."
It sounds so simple, doesn't it? We take for granted what we know about how to decode and understand the world around us. But some kids aren't told these things.
If a kid can grow up seeing a variety of female characters, those who aren't censored will begin to understand the difference between the stereotypes that end up on Girls Gone Wild commercials and the intelligent and self-protecting female characters.
If they're going to be exposed to all of the horrible untruths that TV provides about what it means to be a woman, there should at least be a continued presence of female starship captains, fighter pilots, scientists and detectives to widen the spectrum.