There was a time when women on television — much like in real life — were relegated to the roles of housewives, teachers and secretaries. In an industry that has always put breasts ahead of brains, TV is now thankfully portraying women in realistic careers onscreen. Now if they could only go one step further and start using realistic women in those roles, as well.
In yet another example of the networks continuing to underestimate the intelligence of their audiences, every other show this fall is tossing out more T and A than a Scrabble convention. It’s as if the entire season has been created around winners of America’s Next Top Model. I don’t need to name a few of theses shows, since it’s almost all of them that are guilty of doing it.
Click on the tube on any given night, and we’re treated to shows about tough-as-nails female cops… who just happen to wear crop tops and chase the bad guys while wearing six-inch heels and push-up bras. Change the channel and you will you find a show about a district attorney whose most important disclosure is her cleavage. One more click and you’ll find a hospital drama where the chief of staff looks like she’s barely out of high school and her surgeon’s scrubs double as a g-string.
How have we come so far only to grow so little? We’ve put women on TV into respectable roles, from lawyers to cops to doctors to heads of businesses and government. So why can’t we show women who look… real? And, while we’re at it, why are we still so afraid to admit that women don’t cease to exist once they hit forty?
Well-written shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men are drawing awards left and right and inspiring viewing marathons. Is it really necessary to draw viewers in by giving them scantily-clad females at every turn? One would expect such gimmicks from a nighttime soap or reality show dreck. But some of the top shows on major networks, priding themselves on excellent writing and great casts are still trying to make us believe that the head of criminology for the FBI just also happens to be a young cover model with an expensive haircut and apparently plenty of time to go to the gym and count her carbs.
It’s almost entirely sexist, as well, which makes it even harder to watch. Men are pretty much left alone when it comes to such casting stunts. Sure, there’s still the bad stereotype of the “Buffoon Dad” or the “Fat Guy with the Hot Wife”. But at least men are allowed to be somewhat normal looking on TV or — gasp — middle aged. Bryan Cranston is a believable as a suburban dad, and Steve Buscemi looks like everyone’s creepy uncle. Isn’t it time we gave the same treatment to the actresses out there? It’s going to take more than one Melissa McCarthy to convince me we’re turning the corner. And every powerful businesswoman can’t be played by Glenn Close.
It used to be that the gorgeous woman with the great figure was cast in the romantic lead, while every other actress found their way into the “best friend” roles or character bits. But now even the best friend is curvy and half-naked, and the crabby landlord is twenty-five years old. What are we saying to young women and girls when literally every single figure they see on television, no matter the role, is a size two? If the bankers and politicians on TV are all stunning and thin, where are all the realistic women going? Where’s the mother of a teen that doesn’t look like a teen mother?
Women used to be realistic on TV. Lucille Ball was 40 years old when she created I Love Lucy. Cagney and Lacey showcased realistic female detectives dealing with middle age. The Golden Girls remains one of the most beloved comedies of all time, and the entire show was about–get this–women growing old. Nowadays, The Golden Girls would be about four platinum blondes who are all skinny doctors forced to deal with the hardships of brain surgery, dating, and how downhill everything goes as they each approach thirty.
Women have been complaining about this sort of thing for years, and apparently no one is listening. This tells me that the networks are still under the belief that this is what men want to see. They think men won’t watch a realistic, middle-aged actress playing a lawyer on television, so they’re putting lawyers in their underwear on the tube instead. That’s not just insulting to women everywhere, guys; it’s insulting to men. It does nothing more than confirms the belief that we’re more interested in style over substance.
No more than I want to see a twenty year-old Abercrombie model playing a professor at MIT do I want to see a twenty year-old Playboy Bunny playing, well, a professor at MIT. But that’s apparently what the networks think of us. We shouldn’t be okay with that. By not speaking out about how unfairly women are portrayed, we’re confirming the negative way men are perceived. Neither should be okay with us. If it is, then we’re no better than the Buffoon Dads we keep insisting we’re not.