“Everything is going digital.”
I’ve heard that sentence so many times that at this point, it almost makes my ears bleed. And it’s true – our society is becoming increasingly dependent on digital media every second of every hour of every day. Never before have we experienced such a dramatic lifestyle change so fast. But considering how much our society has changed in the past decade, we’re still relying way too much on our old ways. Especially when it comes to casting female roles in television. And the fact of the matter is, sticking to what’s old is getting really old.
I’m not going to start off by saying, “I hate to sound like an angry, ranting feminist,” because I shouldn’t have to defend defending myself. Yes, I am a woman, and I am a feminist. And I’m not going to apologize for stating the facts.
The way the media portrays the majority of women simply does not reflect who the majority of women really are. Television programs and script-writers have no problem letting men play the tough guy – the FBI agent, the criminal leaders, the business people… you know the drill. But when it comes to female roles, (which by the way still only comprise 29 percent of major characters) women are evidently and inevitably pinned to an irreversible stereotype. I hate to break it to you, world, but us women are not that f*ckin’ nice. And there are a whole lot of female lawyers who have absolutely nothing in common with Elle Woods.
This is the truth: women accounted for just 30 percent of all speaking characters in 2013 and only 12 percent of all clearly identifiable protagonists in 2014. Only 11 percent of female characters were Black, 4 percent were Latina, and 4 percent were Asian. What percent of female characters were White, you might ask? 74 percent.
One of the only shows truly challenging these unrelenting sexist norms is the Netflix original series Orange Is The New Black, which is deservingly at the forefront of television today. Created by Jenji Kohan and adapted from the memoir by Piper Kerman, the show takes what a television series about women supposedly looks like (according to societal norms) and flips it on its back.
OITNB follows the story of Piper Chapman, a woman in her thirties who is sentenced to fifteen months in prison after being convicted of a decade-old crime of transporting money for her drug-dealing girlfriend. She finds herself surrounded by whack jobs, drug dealers, and Crazy Eyes – all of whom are women, and none of whom would say pink is their favorite color.
The audience never knows which women can be trusted – in fact, it becomes increasingly apparent that none of them can be. The women on the show are not perfect robots who mirror a perfect image of what we’ve been told is the female ideal. The actresses play human beings and are redefining femininity – replacing the layers of makeup and superficiality with real examples of manipulation and deceit, which are just as often characteristics of actual femininity. The show is about women and made by women, and it’s killing audience ratings.
MTV News caught up with the cast of Orange Is the New Black on June 16, and they consider the series just one of many steps that need to be taken to get more women in positions of power in Hollywood.
“It starts with people seeing what we’re doing and saying, ’Oh, this works. Maybe I can take the risk and do that.’”
Hopefully one day, putting women front-and-center in Hollywood won’t be considered a risky move.
In the midst of my angry feminist rant, I stumbled upon an article that struck me as what my British ‘Women In The Media’ professor might call “potentially problematic.” The article was titled “5 ‘Girl’ Shows’ That Guys Should Be Watching.”
What even is a “girls show,” anyways? Is there some kind of list that defines all characteristics of female and male television shows that I haven’t known about for the past 21 years of my life? I’ve watched every episode of Entourage twice… have I not stayed true to my female identity? Am I going to grow a penis overnight? HBO’s original series GIRLS scored its highest ratings among White dudes over 50, and according to Nielsen data, 56 percent of its audience has got a “p” where they’re apparently supposed to have a “v.” So I can only conclude that the terms “girl show” and “guys show” are complete and utter BS, and mean absolutely nothing. And still, it’s a problem.
We need to stop using the “nothing is going to change overnight” excuse to justify things moving slowly. It’s time we see an end to the media treating female stereotypes as status quo, and we start recognizing that it’s a busted model.
OITNB star Uzo Aduba said it best:
“Men and women alike, all of us, use our voice… And recognize the very basic truth that women can do anything.”