Monthly Archives: June 2012

All the Single Ladies: Postmodernism and Consumer Culture in SEX AND THE CITY

by Sally Howe

In “Ex and the City,” Sex and the City’s Season Two finale, the episode’s narrative structure, production of character, cinematography, mise-en-scène, and costume choices position the four main characters as selective consumers, delineating their identities through tasteful consumption—of goods, certainly, but also of people. Through this consumption, Carrie, Miranda, Samantha, and Charlotte are liberated, and yet they, as well as the show as a whole, have limited feminist relevance for this very reason. Carrie, the show’s protagonist, is not only a consumer but a commentator, narrating the romantic minutia of her and her friends’ lives from a safe, writerly distance even as she participates in those lives. A close examination of “Ex and the City” brings to light these two central conflicts—that is, the postmodern implications of Carrie as narrator and the relationship of consumerism to female identity—the way they inform each other, and their bearing on criticism of Sex and the City.

Carrie as Narrator

According to Jane Arthurs, “Sex and the City self-consciously explores the instability of feminist identity in a postfeminist, postmodern consumer culture” (Arthurs 320). This is perhaps most evident in the narrative structure and production of character in “Ex and the City.” With Carrie as our anchor, the episode moves through the romantic struggles of the four friends, all of whom are attempting to reconnect with—or, in Samantha’s case, rebounding from—an ex. (Charlotte spends the episode trying to overcome her fear of horseback riding, the result of a teenage fall, but her conflicts with her horse are consistently paralleled with Carrie, Samantha, and Miranda’s conflicts with their men.) Carrie, as always, is the center of this episode. The four women are seen together twice, once at the beginning of the episode and once at the end, each time sharing a meal at a restaurant. Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha are never together, in any combination, without Carrie, but Carrie sees each of her friends separately, just once, over the course of the episode’s action—Miranda at the beginning, when they discuss the end of relationships and Miranda spots Steve, her most recent ex; Charlotte in the middle, as she attempts to ride a horse for the first time since her adolescence; and Samantha close to the end, after she tries to have sex with “Mr. Cocky.” These are seminal moments in Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha’s narrative arcs, respectively the opening, climax, and close of their individual stories in this episode. Carrie is present in each instance, allowing her friends to tell their stories and connecting them, through the group scenes at the episode’s beginning and end, to each other. In addition, the opening sequence shows images only of Carrie, and of New York City, not of the other three women; she is the show’s focus, and the character that ties the women’s four divergent narratives together.

Carrie’s narration also serves to frame the central problem of each episode— in this case, ex-boyfriends. At the very beginning of “Ex and the City,” Carrie says, in voice-over: “Life is all about making choices. Some choices, like who you marry, are big, while others are even bigger. [This is followed by a shot of Carrie choosing between two bouquets of flowers.] Another choice is how to deal with an ex-boyfriend.”

This is the problem that Carrie and her three friends explore in the next twenty-eight minutes, and this is the question that Carrie, still in voice-over, meditates on for the rest of the episode. In its final shot, having just confronted Mr. Big, her then-ex, Carrie walks directly past the camera and, again in voice-over, says:

Then I had a thought. Maybe I didn’t break Big. Maybe the problem was, he couldn’t break me. [Cut to Mr. Big getting into his car.] Maybe some women aren’t meant to be tamed. [Cut to Carrie, flipping her hair and beginning her slow- motion walk out of camera range.] Maybe they need to run free until they find someone just as wild to run with.

Thus the central theme of each episode is carried through, from beginning to end, by Carrie’s narration. The mise-en-scène of this ending, with this voiceover narration overlaid on a slow-motion shot of Carrie walking off-camera, tossing her mane of golden curls against an out-of-focus backdrop, reinforces our protagonist’s privileged position in the narrative. The focus on her hair—girlishly styled, but, in its luster and length, also a symbol of fertility and sexual power—suggests that the locus of Carrie’s power lies at the crossroads of her sexuality and style, completely on the surface; this final, lingering shot emphasizes her exceptionality within the appearance-obsessed framework of Sex and the City and the thematic prominence of her story.

However, this narration not only explicates the episode’s theme, but distances Carrie, as well as the viewer, from the content of the show. This distancing is one of the many reasons that Sex and the City resists the traditional “image-of-woman” analytical approach, defined by Jeremy G. Butler as a presumption that “television is a direct reflection of society” (455). The women on Sex and the City are not truly reflective of societal stereotypes of contemporary women, but are instead positioned as aspirational visions of liberated, upscale modern femininity. More importantly, however, with Carrie as both observer of and actor in this drama, the show’s representation of women is filtered through a layer of analysis—meta-analysis, one might even say—even as it reaches the viewer. As an observer, as a writer, Carrie is able to comment on the action of “Ex and the City” in a detached, somewhat impersonal way, indicating a level of televisual self-awareness rarely seen in earlier shows. As Arthurs writes: “Carrie’s performance is constructed around her role as a successful and famous journalist researching her newspaper column that bears the same name as the TV show. She is shown as a detached observer of her own and her friends’ sexual desires and experiences. She self-reflexively and playfully deliberates on their consequences, not in terms of some overarching ethical position, but from an aesthetic point of view of someone who has to write a witty, readable column. The same is true of the show’s address to its viewers. As an audience we are positioned as detached observers of this sexual play … to be amused” (327).

As we are presented with the values and experiences of these four women, we also—via Carrie—participate in a “complicit critique” (Arthurs 325) of these values and experiences. (Though whether the entire audience is aware of this postmodern critique is open for debate; according to Sarah Hepola, writing for the New York Times, “girls ages 12 to 17 make up only a sliver of [Sex and the City’s] audience — 93,000 out of more than 6.6 million viewers — but those numbers don’t reflect the show’s cultural impact on that age group.” Fifteen-year-olds, one can assume, are not capable of understanding the show as an exercise in postmodern irony; Hepola quotes Kasie Wilson, 17, who says, “I think it’s so fun because everybody can see themselves in at least one of those girls.” Perhaps their raving enthusiasm is indicative of what audiences really enjoy about Sex and the City: the straight-forward drama, the idealized characters, the spectacle of shoes and shopping and sex.) This critique, writes Arthurs, is the aspect of Sex and the City that is most “characteristic of postmodernism” (Arthurs 325).

Carrie’s narration complicates any analysis of Sex and the City. The ironic detachment provided by her centrality to the narrative, her voice-over narrations, and her job as writer of the “Sex and the City” newspaper column can perhaps best be seen in the show’s opening sequence—common to all the episodes, of course, but also a feature of “Ex and the City.” As mentioned above, only Carrie is featured in this introduction. Shots of her smiling, raising an eyebrow, and walking down a street are interspersed with images of New York City bridges, streets, and buildings. At the end, she is splashed with gutter water by a bus with a poster bearing her likeness with the tagline, “Carrie Bradshaw knows good sex.” And so the image of Carrie as she truly exists, a moving, breathing person, covered in dirty water, her designer clothes soiled, is contrasted with her idealized, sexualized, professional self—indeed, these two images are shown to be in conflict with each other, with her “real” self losing out to her “ideal” self. (It is notable, though, that Carrie’s “real” self, even after being splashed by the bus, is still immaculately made-up, clad in a tight pink dress, and the object of attention of all the passers-by. One could even read this—the splashing water, the flesh-toned clothes—as a sex scene.) Thus, as in the rest of “Ex and the City,” Carrie’s identity and the identities of her friends are on the one hand idealized and on the other critiqued, complicating not only the “lesson” of the episode but also the characters’ relationship to consumerism as a site for identity formation.

Consumerism and Female Identity

Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte create their identities through selective consumption—of shoes, of clothes, and of men. Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte’s characters are produced, in part, through interaction with Carrie, as noted above, but a significant portion of their identities are also grounded in the show’s focus on consumerism. This occurs in a number of ways: through narrative structure; through costume, of course; and through cinematography. In Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, Judith Butler writes: “[G]endered bodies are so many ‘styles of the flesh’. These styles are never fully self-styled, for styles have a history, and those histories condition and limit the possibilities. Consider gender, for instance, as a corporeal style, an “act,” as it were, which is both intentional and performative, where “performative” suggests a dramatic and contingent construction of meaning (177). The women of Sex and the City “perform” their genders through clothing and through their interactions with men and each other. The narrative structure of “Ex and the City” allows for each woman to enact her particular brand of femininity by trying on a man—or, in Charlotte’s case, an activity—and either accepting or rejecting him (or it). Samantha, for instance, tries on “Mr. Cocky,” a new man, but is forced to reject him; Charlotte tries on horseback riding, for the first time since her teens, and finds that it “fits”; and Miranda tries on a casual sexual relationship with her ex-boyfriend, with some success. Writes Arthurs, “Sex in this context becomes like shopping—a marker of identity, a source of pleasure—knowing how to choose the right goods is crucial” (327).

These women are consumers of men; the main value of their heterosexual relationships, their male companions, is the way they accentuate their womanliness. Miranda, the most cynical and most straightforwardly “feminist” of the group, affirms her rationality, her lack of feminine “weakness,” by becoming “friends who have sex” with her ex- boyfriend, Steve. Samantha’s (much) more overtly sexualized version of femininity is reflected in the ease with which she picks up a man on the street, and in the dedication with which she attempts a sexual relationship with him despite significant physical complications. In fact, the women’s consumer-and-consumed relationship with men is very clearly explicated in Samantha’s conversation with Carrie about this relationship.

SAMANTHA: You dated Mr. Big; I’m dating Mr. Too Big.
CARRIE: You know what, you’re unbelievable. You broke up with James because he was too small, this guy’s too big—who are you, Goldicocks?
SAMANTHA: Yeah. I’m looking for one that’s just right.

Samantha is the show’s most sexual and least romantic character, but, nevertheless, her dialogue epitomizes the four women’s relationships with men, whether sexual or romantic: they are seen as signifiers of taste, objects—in this case, penises—rather than fully realized individuals. The characters’ costumes are also parts of their relationships to consumerism and identity. Shopping is not one of the themes of this episode, but the women’s characters are very clearly created through and symbolized by their clothing. Carrie, the writer, observer, and central character, has a “Carrie” script necklace. Her style, part of her “bourgeois bohemianism” (Arthurs 325), is exemplified by tight-fitting, stylish dresses in light colors and shiny materials and her long, wild, curly blonde hair. Miranda, the practical one, is shown in unflattering sweatpants and, in more formal situations, high- necked and loose-fitting dresses in dark colors, usually black. Charlotte wears chic, preppy workout clothes and lacy dresses. And Samantha is shown in tight, low-cut clothes in vibrant colors and patterns—blood-red, leopard print, black lace. Through consumption, they define their gender and sexual identities; as characters on a television show, these costumes clearly symbolize their personalities and distinguish them from one other. But as representations of the modern female consumer, they claim power, the power to self-define, through their clothes and the other accoutrements of their cosmopolitan lifestyles.

While the characters’ plotlines and costume clearly reference consumerism within the context of the narrative, the show’s cinematography evokes consumerism in a subtler way. According to Arthurs, “Sex and the City’s treatment of sexuality can be understood as a re-mediation of the content and address of women’s magazines for television” (322). Carrie and her cadre are always brightly, though not harshly, lit. Their presentation, even the way that shots are framed, is reminiscent of the presentation of images of women in glossy magazines. In addition, the mise-en-scène of many of the scenes in “Ex and the City,” as well as Sex and the City as a whole, is evocative of the composition of shots in women’s magazines. The women are often shown engaged in leisure activities: lounging on their beds, as when Carrie chats on the phone with Mr. Big; eating (small portions, of course) at a fashionable restaurant; and strolling down New York City streets. Even when not explicitly promoting consumerism, Sex and the City is still promoting consumerism.

The feminist potential of “Ex and the City” is complicated, though not nullified, by the heavily consumerist overtones of the episode and show. Through selective consumerism, the women of Sex and the City determine their identities without relying on men—in fact, since men are seen as little more than lifestyle accessories, they can form relationships with men without becoming dependent upon them as signifiers of identity of worth. Some feminists have even argued that consumerism can be “a source of pleasure and power than is potentially resistant to male control” (Arthurs 320). In addition, the culture of “bourgeois bohemianism” (Arthurs 325) embraced by Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte allows them considerably more freedom, sexually and otherwise, than earlier modes of identity-creation—they are liberated, in a sense, through their consumerism. Even Charlotte is given the power to create and recreate her identity, in this episode, through horseback riding: a skill, certainly, but also a signifier of taste and a marker of identity. And yet, an identity constructed through consumerism is limited in a number of ways. Writes Arthurs,

[Sex and the City] establishes a space in popular culture for interrogation of our own complicity in the processes of commodification—women’s narcissistic relation to the self, the production of fetishistic and alienated sexual relations— that continue to undermine our self-esteem and contentment … [but] whether this has the power to translate into feminist political action [is unclear] (328-329).

Sex and the City, however, does not itself interrogate consumerism—instead, it lauds it. Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda, and Samantha are defined as consumers, and the scope of their characters is limited by consumerism; as mentioned above, the women of the show, and especially Carrie, have moral centers that are defined by their tastes and class rather than a larger, deeper, and more complex understanding of the world. As the show’s main character, and as its narrator, Carrie reflects on her and her friends’ lives without searching for any greater meaning—after all, “Can we be friends with our exes?” is not a very profound question. And yet her narration, her presence in the series, does involve some critique of consumerism. The scene in which Carrie is splashed by a bus plastered with her own larger-than-life image is certainly indicative of some awareness of the weakness of postmodern consumer culture, a culture “characterized by the commodification of the individual’s relation to the body, self, and identity” (Arthurs 319). Through her narrations, her position as a writer, and her conflicted relationship with her own image, Carrie Bradshaw exists as a commentary on postmodern culture, both distanced from and embedded within the conventions she (lightly) critiques. She may not be a feminist, and Sex and the City may not be a feminist program. (In fact, it almost surely is not.) But it is certainly reflective of the postmodern, perhaps even post-feminist consumer culture of the late 1990s—a culture with a sometimes laudatory, sometimes limited understanding of consumption as a site of female empowerment, a complicated relationship with the “liberated” woman, and, always, an ironic detachment from these women’s more meaningful struggles.

Works Cited

Arthurs, Jane. “Sex and the City and Consumer Culture: Remediating Postfeminist
Drama.” Television: The Critical View. Ed. Horace Newcomb. New York: Oxford
University Press, 2007. 315-31. Print.

Butler, Jeremy G. Television: Critical Methods and Applications. Mahwah, N.J.:
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2007. Print.

Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York:
Routledge, 2008. Print.

Hepola, Sarah. “Her Favorite Class: ‘Sex’ Education.” New York Times 22 June 2003,
Arts sect. Print.

King, Michael P. “Ex and the City.” Sex and the City. HBO. New York, New York, 3
Oct. 1999. Television.

Roseanne: The Mother of All Television Mothers

by Ava Watson

What we view on television is usually a variation of what is happening in the real world.  This idea is supported as we observe the evolution of the television mother during the development of the feminist movement that was reignited in the 1960s.  I believe that television mom Rosanne Connor has encompassed attributes of the television mother including the traditional stay at home mom of the 50s, the single mom of the 70s, and the 80s independent woman.  She also helped to popularize and give voice to the imperfect and frustrated moms that are commonly seen on today’s sitcoms.  Rosanne is the quintessential television mother.

Cultural Theory

The role of the TV mother has evolved with the pace of women and mothers in the real world.  In order to prove this I will use Cultural Theory. According to sociologist Michael Richardson, “culture is simply what human beings produce and the means by which we preserve what we have produced.”  Culture is the social (rules and practices), physical (clothing, music, tv, etc.) and attitudinal (values and concepts of right and wrong) forms that are shared among groups of people (Ott 124-125).

Culture cannot be attained by one individual.  It has certain traits.  Culture is:

  • Collective – shared among a group of people;
  • Rhetorical – Symbolic meanings to text are attached;
  • Historical – It changes, evolves, mutates or may even disappear; and,
  • Ideological – How we interpret the world (125-126).

Contemporary Cultural Studies (as it relates to media) is used to analyze how “media texts shape the way we think about the world” (124). It examines the meaning of text and looks at how text may influence the viewer. Cultural theorists argue that what we see in the media is usually shown from the perspective of the dominant/more powerful group.  A main issue that arises from that structure is that other, less powerful groups in society can be (and usually are) excluded or misrepresented (124).

In addition to economic class disparity, theorists also discovered that other distinctions are made according to gender, sexuality, race, age, disability and other classifications (135). Theorists may examine: 1) the message(s) within the text, 2) how the text is being interpreted by viewers within a culture, and 3) the political and economic power structures behind them to discover if they have a negative or positive affect or influence on the culture (Fineman).

Cultural Studies is an umbrella term for a large group of studies which include:  feminist culture, social culture, political cultures, fashion and beauty culture, sports culture, etc.  This paper looks at how the evolution of the feminist movement in the real world was reflected in the roles of mothers on television.  It centers around one mother character in particular who I believe to be the mother of all television mothers, Roseanne Conner from the television sitcom Roseanne.

Roseanne

Roseanne was a sitcom about the everyday life and struggles of a working class family in the fictional small town of Lanford, Illinois.  The Connor family consisted of father, Dan; mom, Roseanne; and their children, Becky, Darlene and DJ (Dan Jr.).  Dan and Roseanne Connor were blue collar workers struggling to make ends meet while raising their family.
The character of Roseanne was the main focus of the show.  The character was based upon actress and standup comedian Roseanne Barr’s routine in which she became famous for coining the term “domestic goddess”.  Rosanne and the Connor family represented the working class, whose numbers were growing in the 80s (Chillman 191). Original episodes of the show aired on ABC from 1988 to 1997.

Roseanne as the Traditional Mother

Before the revival of the feminist movement in the 60s, the television mother was a man’s dream.  One of the most popular and beloved television mothers from that era was June Cleaver from the sitcom Leave it to Beaver (1957-1963).  There was father, Ward, who worked a white collar office job; the older of the two sons, Wally Beaver; the star of the show and youngest child, Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver; and then, of course, there was mom, June Cleaver.

June Cleaver was the traditional mom; a true domestic goddess. Her hair was perfectly coiffed at all times.  Makeup was applied perfectly whether day or night.  Her clothes – usually a dress that was snug enough to highlight her small waist while revealing a glimpse of her leg, yet securing her modesty – were perfectly starched and pressed; never a wrinkle in sight.  Most days she wore high heeled shoes – even while vacuuming.  And don’t forget about her pearl necklace.  She was never seen without it.

While some may argue that Mrs. Cleaver’s perfect appearance was unrealistic in the real world, her role as a traditional American mother was not.  Mrs. Cleaver would rise every morning to prepare a fresh pot of coffee for her husband; breakfast and a bagged lunch for the kids before seeing them off to school; and then she would tend to her household duties.

The character was literally a man’s dream.  She was birthed from the imaginations of writers, Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher.  June Cleaver was created in a time when real American women were on the verge of declaring their discontent with the happy homemaker image – post World War II.  During the war, women had been encouraged to work in factories while men went off to battle.  After the war, women became reluctant to give up their jobs and return to their roles as happy homemakers.  They began to question their roles in society.  An excerpt from a letter sent to the Women’s Bureau of the US Department of Labor around 1944 indicates the attitude that some men had towards women who had worked, formed unions during the war, and were now questioning what they would do once the soldiers returned home: “Wishing you success in your work and hoping for the day when women may relax and stay in her beloved kitchen, a loving wife to some man who is now fighting for his beloved country” (Anderson 237).  In others words, a woman’s place is in the kitchen, and there was no need to think or do for herself because she has a husband to do it for her – at least that’s my interpretation.

When it comes to appearance, Roseanne was the antithesis of June Cleaver.  Roseanne was overweight and for the most part – at least in the early episodes – her hair could hardly be considered as stylish.  Her clothes appeared to come from bargain stores like Kmart or a thrift store.  Her “dress” was usually blue jeans and a sweat shirt.  High heels were only worn for a rare special occasion.

I would argue that Roseanne was the traditional mom of the 80s.  By the 1980s, which we will discuss in more detail later, it was more common than not for mothers to work outside of the home while still being responsible for taking care of the children and maintaining the household.  Roseanne did just that.

In the tradition of television mother’s during the June Cleaver era, Roseanne was also responsible for directing household duties and taking care of the children’s needs. As we see in the very first episode, despite the fact that Roseanne worked full-time in a factory, it was still her duty to maintain the household and care for the children.

The first episode of Roseanne called, “Life and Stuff”, opens with a routine family day for the Connors.  The Connor children — Becky, Darlene and DJ, are busily getting ready for school.  Among the chaos of the children, Roseanne’s husband, Dan, is the figure of calm and authority.  Although he is present in the kitchen, it is clear that Roseanne is the one the children turn to when they are in need.

While Roseanne prepares school lunch for the kids, DJ enters the kitchen to ask her to help untie his shoelace.  Dan then comes in and asks for coffee.  Suddenly their oldest daughter, Becky, comes in the kitchen and starts to remove food from the pantry.  She states that she is collecting food for a school food drive.  Roseanne reminds her not to take too much.  Dan supports Roseanne’s commands when he points at Becky and says in a serious tone, “Don’t touch that creamed corn”.  This leaves the impression that Roseanne is in charge, but Dan has the final word.

Roseanne then has to break up a fight between Darlene and DJ.  She tells them to stop, but they continue until Dan says, “You heard your mother.”  This tiny act once again shows that the male figure is in control.

Before running out the door Darlene hands Roseanne a letter calling for a parent/teacher meeting later that day, and Becky tells Rosanne that her new book bag is broken and asks her to replace it for her.  After the kids are off, Rosanne asks Dan to handle one of the tasks for her, but he backs out.  He had just put in a bid for a job and if it came in, he would have to start that day.  Besides that, he had to fix the sink.

Roseanne voices her frustration.  Running both errands would mean that she would have to take off of work early.  Dan sticks to his guns.  One can assume that this is because Dan makes more money as a construction worker than Roseanne does as a factory worker. Roseanne has to do both errands.

It may have been the intent of the writers to show the sacrifices and pressures of mothers, but the narrative also reinforces the ideology of the traditional family structure where the father has the ultimate authority and his job holds more importance and value than the mother.  Hence the ideology that men are more important and powerful than a women.
It is also a reinforcement of gender roles.  The male, Dan, does masculine chores like fixing the sink and working in construction; while the female, Roseanne, takes care of the children, household chores, and does the shopping.  Those are traditional male and female roles in American society.

Roseanne as the Single Mom

The women’s movement brought independence and power to women on a larger scale than ever before in American history.   The dominant idea that the role of a wives was to be subservient partners to their husbands and support to their children was a diminishing ideology in American society.

Because of the accomplishments of the women’s movement, women were becoming free to voice their opinions and flex the muscle of the economic and political power that they obtained. Women now felt empowered to leave unhappy marriages and relationships.  As a result, there was a substantial increase in the divorce rate in the period after the rebirth of the feminist movement in the 1960s (Spain 30).

The connection between the effects of women’s movement in the real world and became more evident on television.  One show in particular that reflected this change was One Day at a Time (1975-1984).  The show focused on life after divorce for newly single mom Ann Romano.  Ann had been under the command of men for most of her life.  She married her husband immediately after leaving her parent’s home.  She went from being under the influence of her father to being under the eye of a domineering husband.  This was the first time she was technically out on her own.  In addition to claiming her own independence, Ann was now faced with the hardships of being a single mom raising two teenage daughters.

Many would argue that Rosanne was married throughout the entire series and was not a single mother; but there was a point in the final season (episode 13, season 9) when Dan cheats on Roseanne and she asks him to leave (“Say It Ain’t So”).  The couple separate for a while and Roseanne is the sole parent in the household.

In the previous season Roseanne had given birth to another son, Jerry Garcia Conner (“Halloween: the Final Chapter”), and DJ was now a teenager (Becky and Darlene were adult women).  However brief a period, when Dan left, Roseanne was now the sole caretaker of her dependent children.  She had encountered life as a single mother.

Roseanne as the Independent Business Mom

By the 1980s it was common to see women in powerful professional positions, especially in the media.  Women were now leading news anchors and editors of prominent newspapers and magazines (Heinemann 302-303).  Viewing women in those powerful positions allowed society to adapt quickly to the idea that women could do and have it all.  They could have a career, get married, have children, and still take care of the home.  No character exemplified this version of the American mother better than The Cosby Show’s (1984-1992) Clair Huxtable.

Clair Huxtable was a powerful attorney by day and a loving, wise, and patient mother at night.  She also had elements of the 50s traditional mom: She was the main care taker of the children, and it was assumed that she was responsible for maintaining the home (although they could clearly afford to hire a housekeeper).

Roseanne portrayed the independent mom that could do it all in season 5 when she launched her restaurant, The Lunchbox. In episode 6 “Looking for Loans in All the Wrong Places,” Roseanne decides to open her own business; a restaurant specializing in her creation, loose meat sandwiches.  The Lunch Box was Roseanne’s attempt to obtain financial independence and put an end to the string of disastrous experiences with her bosses.

While some may not agree that a restaurant owner whose educational experience did not exceed high school can be compared to those of a highly degreed attorney, I believe otherwise.  The feminist movement was about empowering women; not necessarily obtaining a power position.  What’s more empowering than being able to be your own boss?

Roseanne as the Frustrated Mom

Roseanne has been the poster child of the real life struggles of mothers.  During the very first episode she makes it clear that she was not from the June Cleaver era.  When her responsibilities became too much, she did not sit quietly.  She did not hesitate to ask her husband to pitch in and help, nor did she pause to vent her frustrations when he didn’t.  She was also vocal at expressing her frustrations to and about her children.
June Cleaver would never do such a thing.  Roseanne’s sharp wit and sarcastic humor are now commonly seen in the TV mothers on current family sitcoms.  You can find television mothers like Claire Dunphy (Modern Family) and Frankie Heck (The Middle) reprimanding and scolding their children and husbands every week.  Voicing frustratios is now a common, accepted and understandable trait associated with American television mothers. With the assistance of blogs and social networking this trait has slowly been working its way into reality (which is converse to previous eras).

Conclusion

As the feminist movement progressed and changed the lives of American women in the real world, those changes were displayed and supported by the female characters on television.  The evolution in the role of the television mother reflects these changes and Roseanne Connor embodies them.  She is independent, empowered and powerful while never abandoning her role of nurturer.  Roseanne is the mother of all mothers.

Works Cited

Anderson, Mary. “The Post War Role of American Women.” The American Economic Review 2nd ser. 34.1 (1944): 237-44. JSTOR. American Economic Review. Web.

Chillman, Catherine. “Working Poor Families: Trends, Causes, Effects, and Suggested Policies.” Family Relations 40.2 (1991): 191-98. JSTOR. National Council on Family Relations. Web.

Fineman, Elissa. Powerpoint Presentation and Lecture.  “Cultural Studies: Identity Politics Audience Reception.” Columbia College. Chicago, IL. Spring 2011.

“Halloween: the Final Chapter.” Roseanne. ABC. WLS-TV, Chicago. 31 Oct 1995. Television.

Heinemann, Sue. Timelines of American Women’s History. New York: The Berkley Publishing Group, 1996. Print.

“Life and Stuff.” Roseanne. ABC. WLS-TV, Chicago. 18 Oct 1988. Television.

“Looking for Loans in All the Wrong Places.” Roseanne. ABC. WLS-TV, Chicago. 20 Oct 1992. Television.

Ott, Brian L., and Robert L. Mack. Critical Media Studies: An Introduction. Malden, Mass: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. Print.

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The Decline of Female Writers in Television

by Kayla Rosenberg

As a society, we are heavily influenced by what we see, and what we hear. Our role models and heroes are based on our earliest understandings of stories. The people who write those stories are powerful because they guide the direction of the media being produced. Television has been affecting our world since 1939. Since that time, television’s impact has continued to grow and has even become what is arguably the most influential media of all. It impacts the public as a mass, in the sense that we share common and universal experiences and memories. Television as both a creative outlet and big business has altered the individual experience. However, “the percentage of women working as writers on broadcast programs plummeted this season, declining from 29% in 2009-2010 to 15% in 2010-2011” (Lauzen 1). When the voice of fifty one percent of the population is diminished, our experiences as viewers change. The amount of women in the television industry as a whole is starting to become scarce as well. As a result of the genre of the media being produced, the number of female television writers has been steadily decreasing, which affects the target demographic and the television writing industry as a whole.

When addressing the issue of the decline of women writers in television, one must look at production theory analysis. Production focuses on the balance or imbalance of power and control. There are two types of analysis in production theory, actional and structural. Actional analysis looks at how people get others to agree with them, and identifies successful ways to do just that. Structural analysis focuses on how the superstructure influences media makers. Depending on who holds power over who, results in how the content is affected and altered. This is because of the hierarchy of production theory. The hierarchy includes macro, micro, and mid-range criticism. Macro is concerned with the concentration of ownership by big corporations and its affect on programming. Mid-range criticism looks at the way that networks influence affects content in the sense of the brand identity, hiring strategies, and intra- and inter-networking. Micro, which is the lowest on the hierarchy, deals with the specific workers in the television industry and the pressures that they face (Ott). The decline of female television writer is primarily categorized as an issue of micro level criticism as it deals specifically with the writers. This is important because it begs the question: how much power does each of the three hierarchies really have, and how is it affecting not only the content being produced, but the number of people being hired and who those people are.

Women writers in television have been decreasing for many reasons. Not only are there economic issues to factor in, but also the style of popular shows currently being produced is affecting the employment of women writers. Marc Guggenheim stated, “that the size of writing staffs and the number of job opportunities for TV writers have been shrinking since the [2007-2008] writers’ strike and the start of the recession. . .While that wouldn’t explain the disproportionate decrease percentage-wise, my instinct is that when jobs are harder to come by, it’s minorities — including women — who are disproportionately impacted” (Ryan). Also, television networks separate their programming into three sections: daytime, prime time, and late night. These time slots reflect the network’s belief about who is at home watching television, and thus the programming is geared toward that demographic. Because of this, female television writers are often restricted to divisions that would be considered more feminine, such as dramatic soap operas, television movies, and children’s programming (Ryle 426). In the last ten years, dramatic shows that are perpetuated by an ensemble,  such as soap operas, have become less popular and are instead being replaced by television shows that are more episodic and big event shows. Because women are often associated with writing these styles of television shows that are dying in popularity, male writers are being employed alternatively, due to the predominantly male governed nature of episodic television writing and big event shows. The current vogue genres are also creating an obstacle for female television writers. Because of the surge of popularity in the genres action and comedy, women are less likely to be hired to write for shows that presently have a heavy mastery over television. A good example of this is the new Fox show, “Terra Nova.” Terra Nova is a large budget, action-adventure series that includes some of the biggest names in film and television including Steven Spielberg, and former Fox executive Peter Chernin. The show has twelve executive producers, which is a large number for one show. Out of the twelve executive producers, only two of them are female. This is interesting because “Terra Nova” is being pitched and previewed partially as a family show, however, neither of the two women involved are getting to creatively guide or give input to the project (Ryan). This is due to the fact that men dominate the genres action and comedy. According to Martha M. Lauzen’s report of Employment of Behind-the-Scenes and On-Screen Women in the 2010-11 Prime-time Television Season, reality programs employed twenty eight percent women and seventy two percent men.  Dramas employed twenty five percent women and seventy five percent men. Situation comedies employed twenty two percent women and seventy eight percent men (1). Because of the current genre trends, female writers are becoming less relevant especially in comedy. The 2009 Hollywood Writers Report stated, “women staff employment in comedy [had] declined 17.7 percentage points over the period, from 43.3 percent during the 2005-06 season to 25.6 percent in the 2007-08 season” (Hunt 34). Because of their lack of relevance to modern television programming, female writers are not only less likely to be hired, but also less likely to be trained and mentored. Because they are not being mentored, female television writers cannot gain the experience they would need to start their own television show. This cycle of barring women writers is creating a thicker glass ceiling, which could spiral into a depletion of women writers as a whole. According to production theory, with less of a need for female television writers, they eventually won’t fit anywhere in the format for the hierarchy of production, making them obsolete in the world of writing.

Confining women to working in a very narrow range of television shows has had an obvious effect on the content being produced. Sons of Anarchy is television drama created by Kurt Sutter about an outlaw motorcycle gang located in the fictional town of Charming, CA. This show is a prime example of misogyny and sexism taking reign over television due to a lack of female writers. Because Sons of Anarchy has a writing staff of mostly men that write for both the male and female characters, often the female characters are misrepresented. Katey Sagal, one of the show’s lead actresses, was asked by Hollywood interviewer, Charles Mihelich, about the inorganic feeling, inherent sexism and misogyny in the biker culture, but the woman’s ability to maintain influence and power. Her response to “the research [she] did about the world” of Sons of Anarchy, revealed that “[she] can not really find much about the women, because it is a very misogynistic world, but just like in any group, you would think that there would be some sort of hierarchy that forms between the women that have been around for a long time,” but there was none. Because of the unperceptive acceptance of sexism on television, the restrictive gender roles not only reign over television content, but also the restrictions in the employment of female television writers. Based on the statistics of Martha M. Lauzen, “on screen, females accounted for 41% of all characters [which] represents a decline of 2 percentage points from 2007-08. However, programs with at least one woman creator, or writer, featured more female characters than programs with no women creators or writers” (1). Sexist content, that was once defining our culture, can be considered the most realistic visual and narrative depiction of our past, when producing a period piece,  but it is instead reaffirming the sexist nature of our present in that the audience willingly accepts the treatment of women on new popular television shows.

With such a diminishing number of female television writers there is a serious imbalance of power. This imbalance of power creates an uneven and gender biased control over how content is shaped through limited influence of the female participants. With an observed rapid dwindling of female involvement or need for female television writers, the television writing industry is creating a noticeable gap in wages for female writer and male writers. This is partially due to television’s “revolving door” employment which “creates not only risk and uncertainty in careers, fostering a kind of environment at every turn in which the sources of gender bias that enter into executives’ decisions about whom to hire are likely to be subtle, and indirect, and subject to the stereotypes and preconceptions of decision makers who place a premium on social similarity” (Bielby 246). According to Denise Bielby in 2009, “women’s sizeable overall gender difference in earnings – about seventy cents for each dollar earned by males— remained consistent at about 25% when compared to men of similar age and industry experience. Thus, the effects of employer bias that appeared early in female writers’ careers persisted as continuous disadvantage in the form of an enduring salary differential that affected them equally throughout their careers” (246). Because of the glass ceiling created by the industry that is based on sexist assumptions and inequality of power within production of television content, women writers cannot break in to the business expecting to become something more or even equal to their male constituents. “If women aren’t hired to write on staff they can’t be mentored. They can’t gain experience and they can’t move up and then ultimately create their own show. They can’t have overall deals” with studios and, “they are essentially shut out of the process. We are seeing the effects now of women being shut out of the process” (Ryan).

This directly affects the content being produced and is directly influencing the targeted audience and their understanding and interpretations of the content. What is most unfortunate about this cycle of exclusion is, even if there was a writers room full of men, and a few women were added to it, it would still not only be heavily male dominated, but also it would still be very heavily influenced by the “boy’s club” that has become the television writing industry.

Audience “connectedness” is defined as an intense relationship between audience and television program, that extends beyond the television watching experience, into individuals’ personal and social lives. . . connectedness is mediated by high involvement while watching the show, as manifested by identification to the characters, as well as commitment to the television show (Russell 397).

The audience is readily trying to connect directly to all the programming being projected on television. The writers of the show control the audience’s perceptions of all aspects of the content. This includes characters, subject matter, arguments, and messages. This sways the opinions of the people watching. Although some may say that the decline of female television writers has had no affect on television as a whole or the content being produced, audience connects heavily with the television content they consume in that they can relate. If they relate so much to the characters being created, they are only being influenced in one main way because there aren’t as many female television writers as there are male controlling the content they consume. It reaffirms the gender inequality in the content.  A lack of female television writers holding power in the creation of content changed the targeted demographic drastically. Because of the writer’s understood control of the audience’s perceptions, “it is widely accepted that prime time television conveys social and political messages and values” of the current age (Russell).  Kurt Sutter, the creator of the television show Sons of Anarchy, commented on the lack of female television writers saying, “look at the primary measuring statistic for a viewing audience, the only statistic that matters financially — males 18-49. Networks demand that shows be aimed at that target audience. They have to. That’s what advertisers demand of them. No ads, no TV. So by default, for the most part, we are creating television for white guys.” Although his statement was curt, it is very telling about the time in which we live because “the influence exerted by the consumption of images present on television. . . can cultivate viewers’ perceptions of their social environment” (Russell 401,402). If the content is being created for one very specified social group, gender, and race, there is absolutely no chance of women having any sort of influence on the programming. Shawn Ryan, a writer for The Chicago Code, Terriers, and The Shield commented on this saying, “With women comprising a majority of the television viewing audience, this doesn’t make much sense. You would think it would be an advantage to have greater numbers of women on staff” (Ryan).

Based on this understanding of televisions’ connectedness to its audience, it is reasonable to assume that the images being projected by shows that sexualize the objectification of women are being widely consumed and thus influencing society to accept sexism as normalcy, especially because the most popular television shows are being written by men, for men. Because of television’s derogatory content being projected across the board of networks, the number of female television writers has decreased. This whole system of imbalances could lead to an even steeper decline of women writers. It would be due to women hearing that the television industry is not only unwelcoming to women, but also statistically pays women less. Thusly, it would make them less likely to even try to enter the business. The number of women applicants begins at the talent agency where they are picked based on their experience and mentoring, but if they have no chance of getting that mentoring because they have no training in the appropriate genres, or they have no past experience because they could not get hired based on their experience, the cycle of depletion continues. In my opinion, if the issues stated above aren’t addressed and changed, there will be no room and hope for women writers in the industry. The disparity of numbers of female writers pay versus the pay and employment increase of male writers have affected the television writing industry as a whole, as well as the catered to demographic. In conclusion, due to the current popular genres, and the demographic that is being targeted for the majority of the content being produced, the number of female television writers is slowly dwindling in to a very sad and very small percentage.

Works Cited

Bielby, Denise D. “Gender Inequality in Culture Industries: Women and Men Writers in Film and Television.” ScienceDirect. Elsevier Masson SAS, 2009.

Hunt, Darnell M. Whose Stories Are We Telling? 2007. Print.

Lauzen, Martha M. Ph.D. Boxed In: Employment of Behind-the-Scenes and On- Screen Women in the 2010-11 Prime-time Television Season.  <http://womenintvfilm.sdsu.edu/files/2010-2011_Boxed_In_Exec_Summ.pdf>

Mihelich, Charles. “Collider Exclusive Interview – SONS OF ANARCHY Stars Katey Sagal and Maggie Siff.” Collider. 9 Sept. 2009. Web. 05 Nov. 2011. <http://collider.com/collider-exclusive-interview-sons-of-anarchy-stars-katey-sagal-and-maggie-siff/7254/>.

Ott, Brian L., and Robert L. Mack. Critical Media Studies: An Introduction. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. Print.

Russell, Cristel A. “Rethinking Television Audience Measures: An Exploration into Concept of Audience Connectedness.” Marketing Letters (1999): 393- 405.

Ryan, Maureen. “Why Is Television Losing Women Writers? Veteran Producers Weigh In.” AOL TV. 8 Sept. 2011. Web. 05 Nov. 2011. <http://www.aoltv.com/2011/09/08/women-television-producers-decline/>.

Russell, C.A., A. Norman and S. Heckler. The Consumption of Television Programming: Development and Validation of the Connectedness Scale. <http://escholarshare.drake.edu/bitstream/handle/2092/496/normanjcr.pdf?sequence=1>

Ryle, Robyn. Questioning Gender: a Sociological Exploration. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE/Pine Forge, 2012.