Media Expectations of Women.

by Meredith O’Brien

 

What, exactly, do you people want from women? Really?

 

Over the past two weeks, women have been sent all manner of confusing, contradictory and, frankly, deeply insulting messages, all centered around their looks. A writer on a national magazine’s web site told overweight people that having to watch them in leading roles on TV -- and even just exist in the world -- is revolting. A prominent newspaper scrutinized all facets of how current female politicians dress, from women who wear form-fitting attire to women who don loose-fitting conservative duds. On the other end of the spectrum, two twentysomething stars of a popular high school TV drama were attacked for agreeing to pose in their panties in sexual poses while they draped themselves around a fully clothed male co-star.

 

A writer for Marie Claire last week made a series of hateful statements about the lead characters in the new CBS sitcom Mike & Molly – a new show about two overweight people who began dating after meeting at an overeaters’ support group. The article was entitled, “Should ‘Fatties’ Get a Room? (Even on TV?)” and claimed that the show promotes obesity. One of the writer’s observations: “I think I’d be grossed out if I had to watch two characters with rolls and rolls of fat kissing each other . . . because I’d be grossed out if I had to watch them do anything. To be brutally honest, even in real life, I find it aesthetically displeasing to watch a very, very fat person simply walk across a room — just like I'd find it distressing if I saw a very drunk person stumbling across a bar or a heroin addict slumping in a chair.”

 

Just how many large women – other than Roseanne Barr from Roseanne – have had leading roles in TV shows in recent years? As I struggled to come up with one, off the top of my head I could name several programs where larger men were paired with skinny leading women, like on According to Jim, The King of Queens, Still Standing, the two animated series Family Guy and The Simpsons, and the May-December pairing of Jay and Gloria on Modern Family. But when someone had the nerve to create a show where BOTH the male and female leads are, like a growing number of Americans, overweight and suddenly it’s grotesque and should be banned from TV? If bad or unhealthy behavior or lifestyles should be banned from TV by everyone who’s offended by it, then there’d be nothing left to watch.

vlarson
11.06.10

I agree, Meredith, but I need to add one more thing. We women and moms need to seeing Botox, boob-jobs and whatever other crap we do in the name of "beauty" as a healthy thing because our kids are watching and paying attention. And, you know, they see the hypocrisy. What happens at home is just as influential as what's happening in the media.

duffymom2x
11.05.10

Speak it! It's sickening to have to deal with it day in and day out!

hharkuli
11.04.10

SO TRUE. RIGHT ON.

geekymummy
11.04.10

Insanity, isn't it?

I think we need some young, fat, politicians half naked on magazine covers. Of both sexes.

Clicks
11.03.10

I'm a huge fan of "Girls on the Run" http://www.girlsontherun.org/ for the focus on self-esteem, self respect and healthy living. It's a great first step to change our culture and set healthy expectations for our daughters.

lengeft1
11.02.10

First of all, anyone who considers "Marie Claire" a valid media source worthy of outrage because one of its writers hacked up a jejeune commentary about fat people needs to to do a little literary re-examination. "Marie Claire" is an outrage simply because women feel it has any validity at all. I'd be loathe to let my daughter read it (if I had a daughter, I have two of the "other" sort, the "outies", as it were) until she was old enough to understand just how juvenile, poorly written and conformist it is. By that time, hopefully she'd be intelligent and independent enough not to want to waste her time on a rag like that.

Male politicians do not receive much in the way of wardrobe commentary because men don't have the same vast variety of choice that women do in the political/professional arena. Suits, shirts and ties...with a few regional variations. A limited color palette. A dress shoe is a dress shoe, and most male politicians stick to black leather (you want they should wear spats?). The mainstream candidates can't get away with eccentricity or oddities in their dress. Or truly promote their sexuality. Women don't respond to male candidates because of their wardrobe...it's their charisma (which always baffles me...who would find Bill Clinton or George W. Bush charismatic?).

But you mentioned Sarah Palin, and were righteously offended that anyone would dare to comment on her appearance. Her whole look is carefully contrived, and works, on a psychological level, on a number of people, both male and female. That "bedhead" hair? Women perceive it as slightly frazzled, the hurried do of a busy, working mom who doesn't have quite enough time (just like themselves) to get it just right. Men do perceive it as sexual, rumpled, capable of being tumbled down with the pull of a single hairpin or comb. Her slightly square glasses look practical and utilitarian to women...and hold images of removal and revealing the eyes (one of the most erotic organs for many men). Also, many people react to the removal of glasses as a show of vulnerability. Her ruffled, bow-tied blouses speak of a feminine, but still business oriented woman to other women...and teacher and librarian fantasies to men. Also, many men love bows that can be slowly pulled open, and buttons, the whole idea of the slow, "classic" striptease. And her skirts do hug her form (you're suggesting they don't?), and almost always feature a kick pleat. Pencil skirts are appealing to a certain sort of man as a symbol of "hobbling" and submissive femininity...which is curious, as they are almost the number one recommended style for upper echelon professional women (which is, of course, how Palin's female constituents view her wardrobe). And pumps indicate very different things to men and women. Sarah Palin is playing her audience more effectively than any other female politician in history, because she HAS to do it. She doesn't have the stamina, experience, education or world knowledge of her opponents, so she is using what amounts to psych-ops to gain and keep attention.

I wish that other female politicians would actually stop dressing like men in boxy suits and pants-suits, or unattractive vintage-looking squared off dresses dresses. It's just so...matronly. They're women, dress like women (I am not a man, by the way). I don't mean cleavage, and slits, but femininity is not weakness, and if you can't make it in politics based on your intelligence, force of personality, knowledge, experience, education and ideas...why are you there? Incidentally, Sarah Palin is a perfect example of using gender to garner votes, in the absence of all of the qualities listed above. She doesn't worry me, but the people who are susceptible to that particular brand of seduction do.

As for "Glee", good grief, the show is revolting on so many levels, and the actors are completely unconvincing as high school students. I thought that it was hilarious that people were so up-in-arms about the naughty frivolity of the Maxim photos, especially considering the antics that occur in the course of the storyline. AS for Miley Cyrus, too many intelligent people predicted her path in life years ago. With her parents divorcing, it can only become a more wild descent into the cosmic toilet spiral. Will she be a Britney, or a Lindsay, or an Anna Nicole...or will someone rescue her? I'm not going to be keeping track, but I'm sure it will make the "news".

O, there is an enormous protest against "Dexter", even as we speak. I haven't watched the show, as I don't receive that channel, but I have read all of the books and find them well written and amusing. I am also a fat woman, who has been both fatter, and thinner. Obesity is unhealthy, preventable (I say this as a woman with genetic tendencies, zero thyroid function, taking an anti-depressant, and suffering from body dysmorphia, anxiety disorder, bi-polar I and clinical depression), and not something to condone or find particularly "acceptable". Should fat people be reviled? No. But lauded? no, not that either.

jwilliams057
11.02.10

LOVE this. I have actually written about the Glee shoot and Marie Claire article on my blog. I have a daughter that is almost six. As she gets older these types of things tend to bother me more and more. I think it is great when people stand up and take notice and call the media out on it.

Mamakaryan
11.02.10

Thank you for putting paid to the extreme frustration I feel for the way women are portrayed and judged daily. The pervasive misogyny reaches into every little bit of the media we consume. As mothers we just keep fighting the good fight, and we don't mention to our daughters that you can be anything even the secretary of state and still be reduced to the "mannish" clothes you may choose to wear.

marlasci
11.02.10

Hurrah! The subtle (and not so subtle) misogyny that we see every day in the media needs to be exposed for what it is. I am tired of being accused of being "too sensitive", or of finding sexism where it doesn't exist (hah!). Why, oh why, at my daughter's high school is the standard dress for girls thign-showing short shorts, and for boys shorts past their knees? Why don't more people have a problem with this?