February 2, 2009

British Advisory Group Says British TV Stereotypes Women

The National Skills Forum, an independent British group, has slammed British television, saying it presents a stereotyped view of women. Somehow, I'm not surprised. In a report to be released tomorrow, the group says
"No major British broadcaster has made any commitment to challenging gender stereotypes at work. This should change."

According to the Guardian, "The report does not name the unsympathetic portrayals it refers to, but they might include Jane Tennison, the police detective played by Helen Mirren in ITV's Prime Suspect. Tennison became an alcoholic who found it difficult to maintain a stable relationship. However, the report praises the BBC's Silent Witness, which starred Amanda Burton and Emilia Fox as pathologists, for producing a "huge increase" in the number of women training to be forensic scientists."

Read more here.

Gender stereotyping on tv and in film is nothing new. Whether it's because those who make films and tv think it's what the viewers demand, or it's because those who make films and tv really do think men and women fit into such roles is an interesting question. But the fact remains that we rarely see women tv lawyers, for example, in happy marriages and pursuing successful careers. Much more often, they're manipulating harpies who can't attract and keep nice guys.

It's not just true on legal dramas. I just finished watching a marathon of that hit, House (on opposite the Super Bowl for those of us who couldn't stomach another football game, no matter how hyped). The character is abrasive, and unethical, and selfish. Yet we are supposed to love him because he's a brilliant diagnostician. Actually he's not--I started to count the number of mistakes he makes per show. If he were female, would ANYONE put up with him, no matter how brilliant?

Even "nice" women are treated badly, and tv can show them as unsuccessful, measured against male norms of success, although this might actually be more true than we wish. Look at what happens to House's colleague, Cameron, when she objects to Foreman's "theft" of her idea for an article ("Sleeping Dogs Lie"). She's told to "suck it up." Unless she can adjust to male norms, she's not going to succeed. When she tries to patch up the quarrel with him, he refuses, saying, "I haven't done anything to apologize for," and "We're not friends. We're colleagues." It's a classic example of male-speak and a lack of ability to understand what she is saying. Further, it's a classic refusal on the part of a man to make an attempt to understand. Why doesn't Foreman reciprocate and apologize as well? Because he doesn't have to, and he knows it. Like House, he'll succeed because his gender makes the rules. The best advice, in a sense, Cameron gets is from the uber-boss, a woman, who tells her to write another article, and to wait until Foreman is "up for department chair" somewhere, and then needs her recommendation. The unspoken suggestion is that she can then give a poor recommendation, based on her inside knowledge. But would Cameron do that? Probably not. She's not mean-spirited. Her poor recommendation would in any case sound like sour grapes, and be dismissed as just that. She is in a classic "no-win" situation.

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