I think we can all agree women are not represented as well as they should be in mainstream television. Women (ie half the population) make up about 37% of characters on prime-time television. Women 45 and older make up just 15%. Compared to their male counterparts, those female characters are significantly more likely to talk about relationships and significantly less likely to talk about work. Because stereotypes and lazy writing and sexism and stuff. There is so, so much room for improvement.
That said, I think there IS a halfway decent selection of feminist-friendly television shows out there, if you’re looking. These shows don’t get it 100% right 100% of the time, but that’s ok. While it’s important to have high, uncompromising standards, I think it’s also important to not be too harsh a critic when something good comes along.
I do quite a bit of Netflixing, due to my crochet habit and the fact that I hate to do only one thing at a time. I love Bones, Once Upon a Time, Parks and Recreation and The Mindy Project, among others. Temperance Brennan, Emma Swan, Leslie Knope and Mindy Lahiri are all awesome ladies. They’re all successful in different ways, with different focuses and flaws, all complex and strong.
I also watch quite a bit of sci-fi, with Star Treks TNG and Voyager and Stargate SG1 being favourites. Characters like Kathryn Janeway and Samantha Carter and thoughtful storylines that deal with complex issues like cultural and religious conflicts make these shows well worth watching. Particularly if you’re into the whole space travel and aliens thing.
None of these programmes are perfect, for the fairly simple reason that TV shows are made by people, and people aren’t perfect. On top of that, one show cannot be all things to all people, something I think we sometimes forget.
As Roxane Gay writes in her book Bad Feminist… “The moment we see a pop artifact offering even a sliver of something different — say, a woman who isn’t a size zero or who doesn’t treat a man as the center of the universe — we cling to it desperately because that representation is all we have.” As a result, we end up putting an enormous amount of pressure on anything that “somehow distinguishes itself as not terrible”.
A good example of this is the recent reaction Mindy Kaling received after saying in an interview that her show The Mindy Project wouldn’t be addressing the issue of abortion any time soon. Lots of feminist bloggers were unimpressed, to say the least, that the show about an Ob/Gyn wouldn’t have an abortion storyline. They were basically like, ‘That’s her call, but she’s wrong’.
While I think Kaling could absolutely write a funny, witty and sensitive episode addressing abortion, I don’t think any less of her or the show for not having that on the agenda right now. The show has covered a number of important issues and quietly supports all womens’ rights while being hilarious and appealing to the mainstream. It’s a winner. It isn’t perfect, but really, it’s not fair to expect it to be perfect just because its creator is a (super-talented) woman.
I don’t mean to say that we shouldn’t demand better representation on our television (or laptop) screens. Hollywood certainly has a long way to go. But as my below list of feminist-friendly TV shows illustrates, it’s not ALL bad. So perhaps we should try to be a little bit more tolerant. Let’s appreciate it when a show’s creator makes the effort to write original female characters with substance, and let the little imperfections slide.
The Crafty Feminist’s list of feminist-friendly TV shows (almost all on Netflix!)
Disclaimer: I haven’t seen every single one of these shows, but the ones I haven’t seen are on my list, and I’ve read great things about!
Once Upon A Time
The Mindy Project
Parks and Recreation
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Star Trek TNG
Star Trek Voyager
Gilmore Girls (coming soon to Netflix!)
Orange is the New Black
Commander in Chief
Also. I know this post wasn’t about movies, but I love…
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo series
Thelma and Louise
Julie and Julia
The Hunger Games series
Miss Representation (doco)
Let me know if you have any suggestions to add to the list, or if you disagree with the feminist-friendliness of anything I’ve included!