Feminist, Uh, Friday–Women on Television

So I’m sneaking this one in at the eleventh hour, which is shameful for a variety of reasons, but mostly because I’m the one who suggested the Women on Television topic in the first place! Fifteen hours and counting until the link expires, but I can knock it out pretty quick. After all, I’ve been semi-composing this post in my head for almost an entire week.

And to think it all started on Twitter…

This is a link to the Feminist Friday hosting blog. Click it.

I am a Twitter newcomer, basically. So new, in fact, that I stayed up late to watch the royal wedding partly because I’d seen the other two live and mostly because I had a feeling that it was an event that would lend itself to the whole “live blogging” thing everyone seemed to have such fun with, and it was as fun to be awake and aTwitter as I had imagined it would be. So I knew what live blogging would look like when I encountered it the next time, which happened to be at an event that I know only by its hashtag: #tca11, which might be code for Television Critics Association or somesuch, and I know about it because I follow the Monkey See blog from NPR, and saw an awful lot of tweets come through my feed last week, ranging from Gloria Steinem’s refusal to comment on slutty clothing all the way to ascerbic remarks about a couple new show scheduled for fall, like The Playboy Club and The New Girl.

It was quite a feed.

The chatter about The Playboy Club particularly caught my interest, and as I had hoped it resulted in a full-on article by Linda Holmes about the contents of the program and how it was pitched to the audience by network executives, “The Bizarre Pitch for ‘The Playboy Club’: It’s All about Female Empowerment?”

But the pilot does end with the curious line, recited by Hefner, “Bunnies were some of the only women in the world who could be anything they wanted.” Given the fact that the Bunnies in the show have to ask permission to wear a coat when it’s cold outside and they’re working the door — permission that, in the pilot, is denied by the man to whom they direct the request — it’s a little hard to understand what kind of freedom that line is supposed to be talking about.

When someone at the TCA press tour session about the show asked about that, executive producer Chad Hodge said, in part, “Really, the show is all about empowering, and who these women can be, and how they can use their position to get what they want.”

Long story short–and don’t take my word for it; please click through to the article and read for yourself–the show is being explained as about empowerment even though the content contains no scenes of women actually being empowered. Later tweets from a different day shared how nobody wanted to talk with Zooey Deschanel about her actual show but rather focused on just how adorable she was. And then there was the string of reports on the Last Man Standing presentation, a show about how Tim Allen–a white man–is being drummed out of his own life because women have, well, taken over everything.

I don’t know if I want to use the word “lauded,” exactly, but much earlier this year, I heard more than one television critic comment on the unusual prevalence of female leads and woman-created shows in the 2011-2012 season of network television (I listen to television critics more than I actually watch TV). Beneath the buzz I sensed (or perhaps projected) some real enthusiasm for it, perhaps optimism that networks had decided that a) women were capable of being leaders and that b) women were a worthy audience all on their own (something book publishers figured out decades and decades ago). It is exciting to see new faces in the landscape, even if the plots and characters of these female-driven shows aren’t particularly groundbreaking or novel, or transformative or realistic or whatever else would elevate “Female TV” above “Usual Schlock” (not that I don’t enjoy schlock). It’s not like women have been waiting in the wings for their chance to do television “right.” They’ve just been waiting in the wings for the chance to do television. And now that they have, there’s all this weird baggage that comes with it.

I mean, it’s weird that instead of acknowledging that The Playboy Club is a silly, maybe even fun (haven’t seen it) show about women in the 1960s in sexy costumes that people will like to look at the network instead creates this elaborate ruse that it’s about women’s power. Why? Like Holmes says in her article, the network brought up the idea of “empowerment” in the first place. It’s not a pushy sell–it’s an out of left field sell. With all these new shows coming up that involve women that could be talked about in terms of “empowerment” far more understandably, why not talk about that? Is it because the networks think “women’s empowerment” is just a buzz term and they are trying to deliver a product they don’t personally care about? Is it because they don’t understand what “women’s empowerment” is? And in the midst of all this, why put out a Tim Allen show that portrays men as the real victims of society? As the ones with no power while women take over everything and boss everyone around? Who is that fooling? And is it a coincidence that this Last Man Standing show is premiering the same year that this rash of new shows by/about women appears? (As is Man Up  and Work It, shows about how men are too feminine and how it’s so hard for a man to get a job in a woman’s world respectively). Coincidence is probably the wrong word, but don’t you think the timing is interesting? Clearly there’s no small amount of social anxiety about what will happen to society if women get too much power, and by too much power I mean maybe six prime time shows.

So this is where I get to spin my conspiracy fantasies about how maybe the network executives are trying to sell the concept of Playboy Bunnies Is Empowerment so that women will spend more time trying to be like Playboy Bunnies and less time trying to be like network executives? Reminding men that it’s dangerous to let women have jobs and stuff because they disrupt the natural order of things (one of the crises on LMS is that Tim Allen’s wife gets a raise and makes more money than him)? Here’s a nice quote from ABC president Paul Lee at the TCA presentations about why Tim Allen’s show is important:

“We are a network that’s dominated, and certainly in terms of the value of our sales, with affluent women’s audiences. So to look at men in a women’s world was a very interesting take.”

Do you really think that ABC is a network dominated by women? Really? That men are floundering in this world? I guess that’s their story and I guess they’re sticking to it. I just don’t know who their intended audience is for that kind of rhetoric. It’s almost too confusing to be offensive. Almost.

Come on.

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