Love this. Astute analysis and call for research participants.
Elke Weissmann is Reader in Film and Television at Edge Hill University, Ormskirk, north of Liverpool. She has published a book on British-American relations in TV drama production, Transnational Television Drama, and has co-edited with Helen Thornham. Elke tweets at @TellyElk
I am a woman. I am a feminist. I like watching television. And I am an academic.
In the 1980s, these parts of my identity would have probably led to the following problems: I would have encountered a barrage of popular and academic publications which would have told me that television, particularly the kind typically categorised as ‘television for women’ (i.e. the soap opera) is bad for me. I would have probably been repeatedly told by my peers, family and friends about examples of susceptible women who, after watching Dallas or Dynasty, demanded a more lavish lifestyle or went out to buy shoulder-padded clothes like the ones Joan Collins wore. And I would have probably encountered quite a few people who prided themselves on not owning a television set.
All of this highlights two things: that women were largely perceived as 'vulnerable’ audiences, easily duped and passively absorbing content, and that television was perceived as the bad object, particularly in its most 'feminine’ forms.[…] The reasons are simple. I am not sure these women are so strong or depicted in any way that I find interesting. Take Betty in Mad Men for example. In the first season, she clearly suffered from the “problem with no name” that Betty Friedan identified in her 1963 book The Feminine Mystique. But then, from season two onwards, she just turned into a horrible person and her problems were simply forgotten. Mad Men is actually one of the specific dramas that leave me conflicted. The other (and I have noticed I am not alone) is Game of Thrones. Both are quite explicit in their misogyny and place this within the context of the time period they portray: the pre-feminist 1960s in the case of Mad Men and a pseudo-medieval period in the case of Game of Thrones. Both dramas highlight the problem of the sexisms of their times, particularly for their female characters, and this is often understood as part of the feminist potential of these programmes. But there is something that still doesn’t quite sit comfortably with me and much of this seems to be connected to the female characters in them. Yet, I am absolutely drawn to these dramas; I find them utterly compelling.
Rest on the f-word and call for research participants below:
I am trying to make sense of all this through a study that I am currently conducting at Edge Hill University. This study will be presented at the Society of Cinema and Media Studies in Montreal, Canada, in March, and I would like to write another piece for The F-Word blog as well as a journal article about it. If you watch these programmes (or one of them), would you be willing to write to me and tell me what you enjoy and what you don’t enjoy about them? Any responses – no matter how short or long – are very welcome. I will of course anonymise your responses. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to your responses. Thanks for your help!
(Orig. posted on)