Friday, March 30, 2012

Primetime Reimagines Female Power

With the Hunger Games film being released last weekend, I've been thinking about portrayals of "powerful" women in television and film. I put powerful in quotation marks because the powerful women that grace our screens today represent illusions of what female power could or should be but is not in the real world (unfortunately). For example, I was watching the show Fairly Legal on USA. The lead female character is all about helping people and being a lawyer who cares about "justice." She walks around the office barefoot telling men that she can do whatever she wants. Well, I wish I had her job...

This archetype is visible on ABC's new show, Scandal.

In this clip, Kerry Washington's character, Olivia Pope, tells the president of the United States that she doesn't want to help him, and she prevents a shooting with a convincing verbal argument. She is a woman that always gets her way. Her gut tells her what to do, which is an interesting statement, since "female intuition" is constantly undermined and devalued. Women are often too busy fretting about their periods and appearances to be trusted to have any opinions at all. It is also interesting to note that Shonda Rhimes, the creator of Grey's Anatomy, is the mastermind behind this show. Grey's Anatomy, a show that can be viewed as progressive in some ways for its portrayals of successful female professionals, reinforces ideas about beauty and relationships. The doctors are all attractive, sleep together, and their personal dramas constantly prevent them from successfully completing surgeries (If this is true, I'm never going to a hospital!)

The tagline in another promo for Scandal states, "She's the most powerful woman in Washington and no one knows about her." Well, there's a reason why people don't know about her. She doesn't exist. I watch these shows and feel empowered, the same feelings I gained when watching Jennifer Garner kick butt on Alias. It's wonderful to get lost in these reimaginations of female power for a few hours, but how realistic are they given the current climate for women?

Jennifer Lawrence, who I think is a fiesty, intelligent, and cool actress, is either being oversexualized in magazines or criticized for being "big-boned." She makes daring film choices and doesn't seem to care what people think of her, and yet, every magazine I pick up is preoccupied with her love life or imperfect figure.

And where do these messages about female beauty perfection come from? I just saw this ad for Guess featuring Claudia Schiffer still sexy 23 years later. In fact, she has not aged at all.

I'm all about presenting more complex, strong female characters on television, but there's always some kind of catch on these shows. Female power always comes with a price tag, and often it's a lackluster love life for the workaholic female lead. And of course, these women are all young and beautiful since power only belongs to the young and beautiful! So, when I see these promos, I sigh a little because I want to be the women in these shows with limitless power, free from the lower paying jobs, sexual harassment, etc.

Another problematic aspect of these shows is that this illusion of female power creates the illusion that feminism is unnecessary, and women don't have anything to "complain" about anymore. If you've read anything on my blog, you'll realize that feminism is absolutely necessary, so I think these shows also serve as tricks that intelligent viewers should question and challenge.

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