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September 04 2010

Women Want More Shows Like Buffy. Today show segment on "What Women Want" from television characters. Buffy used as prime example of a strong female lead.

Jennifer L. Pozner of Women in Media and News suggests how networks should learn from Joss Whedon and from Buffy if they want to hook women on their new fall shows. For more backstory and specifics on Buffy and Joss see the WIMN blog!

So... viewers like realistic characters.

Duh.
Well, that's why this season we have Nikita, Chase and Undercovers. Sadly, we still have Gossip Girl. Maybe this need for TV shows with strong females will get Kristen Bell out of romcoms long enough to finish the story of Veronica Mars...and the sooner the better.
(shhhhh.. I like Gossip Girl. It's not very feminist-y and it's terribly consumed by consumerism and soap opera melodramatics, but there's one character, Blair Waldorf, who is completely awesome. She's like a combination of Regina George from Mean Girls -- all the dominating bitch in charge tendencies -- and Logan Echolls from Veronica Mars -- poor little rich girl who never got enough love and secretly hates herself. I pretty much could watch her all day long.)
Huh? Since when is Gossip Girl detrimental to women? I actually think it writes the female characters a whole lot better than the guys.

Life Unexpected is coming back, as well, and Lux (though a bit erm...) has some Buffy-esque features.
I like strong, assertive female characters. So--- it's not just the women.
I really like Olivia Dunham on Fringe, she's one of my favourite stronge new female characters of the last few years (well her and Adelle).
I hear joss is a fan of them, too. And me, too. My grammar, poor.

ETA: Olivia is kickass, love her.

[ edited by gossi on 2010-09-04 21:23 ]
I also want more shows like Buffy. The only logical conclusion therefore is that i'm a woman (there's some empirical evidence that contradicts this conclusion but logic is logic).

Not too impressed with the idea of fall TV redefining the female heroine mind you. Redefine the male heroine, then you'll have my undivided attention.
Too bad the segment was called "Tv Trends: Girl Power." Ick.

Veronica Mars might just be my all time favorite female character ever. (I'm in the midst of rethinking my list. Everyone does this periodically, right? Re-evaluates their opinions/conclusions/crushes/faves... It's not just me is it? Please tell me it's not just me. I'm not that weird, am I?)

What makes a great female character, one that I want to watch week after week? For me it's demonstrable competency, confidence, passion, drive, humor, and yes, intelligence. The ass-kicking is chocolate sprinkles on top.

You know... I liked Buffy as a person, a character, and a show, but for me as a "strong female character" she sometimes left something to be desired. Her self-esteem was never very high. (In terms of her human-ness. As a Slayer, she had it in spades.) Now maybe that's what kept her out of May Sue territory, but I got a little tired after a while of Buffy taking her value as a... human woman type person(?) from everyone else. *ducks head*

I wonder if the large number of new female action types is a necessary first step in resetting of the cultural portrayal of women. Action is always easier to portray than subtle thought processes. Maybe it's the first wave of a paradigm shift...
But... but... why won't people just settle for two dimensional characters who can help attract eyeballs so advertisers sell soap, cars and electronics?!? Why do people keep demanding well-thought out characters, superb acting and human stories that resonate? Don't you guys know that good TV costs more money to make?!?

Sheesh. It's like you want quality entertainment or something...

[ edited by quantumac on 2010-09-04 21:47 ]
People don't keep demanding that though, if people did then that's all that would be on TV (instead of being the minority). In that sense I think the pundit from the segment kind of wants it both ways slightly - networks do make reality TV because it's cheap BUT if no-one watched it then it wouldn't matter how cheap it is to make, they wouldn't make it. Fox can't make women (or men) watch cheap, IMO crappy TV, the viewers have to take responsibility for that themselves.

Personally i'm slightly sceptical that this is even a phenomenon. There're what, 3 or 4 new shows featuring female action heroes (and in one of those - 'Undercovers' - she's part of a couple) so is it actually a wave or is it just a minor statistical blip ? In previous years we've had 'Alias' ('Covert Affairs' is a bit like 'Alias' lite IMO), Xena, Buffy, 'Veronica Mars', 'In Plain Sight', 'Fringe' etc. sometimes running simultaneously so the only difference to me seems to be that 3 or 4 shows are starting together this year. If they're all back next year AND there're some more shows with female leads (preferably sole leads) then I might start to believe it actually means something, until then, not so much.
Yes, more complex women in charge.
Well, I just meant that there's a lot more shows now with SFC's than there was say, twenty years ago--even if they still tend to be more sequentially scheduled.

I do always feel bad for the SFC's though. They always seem to be an island surrounded by ocean of men in the other major roles. They hardly ever get to have a strong female friend/colleague that serves any purpose other than to reassure the audience that yes, the MFC is female or deliver exposition. There is definitely a lack of shows like that. I think the higher percentage of female cast members is one of the things that always sets Joss shows apart from the pack. And sometimes he seems to be carrying the only torch. I guess this is why everyone is so upset about the Avengers casting. It's not that "we" really dislike the premise or don't understand Joss wanting to take on a different type of creative project, it's just that when he's not doing what we've grown to love him for, there's no one else to fill the void.

(Wouldn't it have been great to have gotten the chance to see the relationship between Zoe and Inara explored? *sigh*)
They hardly ever get to have a strong female friend/colleague that serves any purpose other than to reassure the audience that yes, the MFC is female or deliver exposition.

Like the Bechdel test you mean BreathesStory ? Yeah, 'Covert Affairs' is quite annoying in that respect. Piper Perabo's lead character has a working mum sister who is so clearly shoe-horned in so that we know being a spy and a sister/friend/woman is, like, totally a struggle and stuff. It's doubly bad because she's played by Anne Dudek (Cut Throat Bitch from 'House') who deserves way better than the short episode book-ends she gets given. In fairness though, her boss is also a strong, competent woman (she's played by Kari Matchett so all in all, the cast could be worse).

The show's a bit 'meh' in general IMO (which likely means it'll run for 20 years ;) although they sometimes throw in nice details (she often takes her heels off in actiony situations for instance or the other week they had her fighting a similarly skilled male opponent who knocks her out. To me it takes a certain amount of guts for an action show with a female lead to accept that no-matter how skilled she is, if a large man hits a petite woman there's a pretty good chance she's hitting the deck and that fact doesn't make her any less heroic).

[ edited by Saje on 2010-09-04 23:27 ]
If you want to go USA show, I'd put "In Plain Sight" above "Covert Affairs". It would definitely destroy the Bechdel test, as Mary, her sister, and her mother rarely talk about a man or men. I also agree it's cool that "Covert Affairs" averts Waif Fu without making the protaganist any less likeable or competent. Of course "Veronica Mars" has already proven that can be done many times.
Of course, the unspoken sine qua non always seems to be that said strong, intelligent, assertive, powerful women must also always be hot. When we start seeing the female equivalents of guys like David Caruso, then we'll be making some progress.
Huh? Since when is Gossip Girl detrimental to women? I actually think it writes the female characters a whole lot better than the guys.

But is that saying much?

Of course, the unspoken sine qua non always seems to be that said strong, intelligent, assertive, powerful women must also always be hot.

That's actually what I find bothers me the most about this current crop of "powerful" females, and it's not the attractiveness itself. It's just that they all seem to be so stereotypically gorgeous - I feel like I'm being spoon-fed (by network suits and skirts) the idea that strong, competent women are all superhero gorgeous when - in reality - mental and physical attractiveness come in every combination imaginable.
To be fair there are very few unattractive people of either sex on TV. Seriously, they are all ridiculously pretty and for that, I say thank you. I don't want TV characters to look like me. I want them to be beautiful.
But is that saying much?


lol, I did actually expand on that but felt like it was an unnecessary battle to take. I would say they are better or at least equal to any Grey's or Desperate Housewives member, though. Again, not saying much. ;p


To be fair there are very few unattractive people of either sex on TV. Seriously, they are all ridiculously pretty and for that, I say thank you. I don't want TV characters to look like me. I want them to be beautiful.

Totally, and there's a very good reason for that trend too (namely, reality filtered through the lens of tv seems duller - hence the need for a "color boost" to appear real.) It's just how narrow the definition of beautiful - based on what's being presented here - seems to be that bugs me.
I do want to see normal-looking, extremely smart capable women on TV. I exchange tweets with writer James Moran from time to time and awhile back I quipped that old saying, "Well, that's why men don't make passes at girls who wear glasses", implying that it isn't hot. He replied that it wasn't true - he thought glasses made women even sexier. So to make my roundabout point, I look at Kirsten Vangsness, who plays Penelope Garcia on Criminal Minds. Non-athletic, pretty, glasses, a computer geek, and about a size 16? Yeah, I would like to see more relatable smart, funny, caustic chicks on TV who aren't a size 6 or 4 or 0. If she ever caves to Hollywood pressure to conform on weight, I will be very sad indeed.

I still look forward to the new crop of fall shows though, like Nikita, but their success will, of course, be based on the writing.
"So Joss, why do you write these strong women characters?"

I thought the tone of that entire segment was rather condescending, although the interviewee was good. Basically this issue can be boiled down to: women would rather watch female characters who don't suck/are recognisable as human beings.

And yeah, the hotness thing is completely true, and a lot of the time it undercuts the strength of the character because her strength just becomes part of her sex-appeal, rather than the sex-appeal being incidental.
My current girl crushes are both from Doctor Who: River Song & Donna Noble. River has a mean left hook & can stare down a Dalek, and Donna has no problem speaking her mind or asking questions of anyone and both are mature women whose skills are the result of living. I like that.
Tonya J, heavier than a size 4 does not mean unattractive to me. More and more women with some heft and curve on TV lately. All still really really pretty. The new Mike and Molly show the season stars Melissa McCarthy who is nowhere near a size 6 but very pretty.
Adelle Dewitt was my favourite female character in years but I also loved Jan from The Office, Joan from Mad Men and Laura Roslin from BSG.
Women make up the vast majority of television viewers, especially scripted television. If they choose to watch shows that have complex female characters with agency then more shows like them will be made. This isn't rocket science. The trick is to get those shows made in the first place. If you want to see more of it, then watch the shows where there is a glimmer or even a hint.
Women make up the vast majority of television viewers, especially scripted television.

Yet more evidence that i'm a woman. Wouldn't claim to be complex but i'm certainly starting to get one, that's fer sure.

And yep, that's why I think the pundit has it slightly bass-ackward. If people don't watch reality TV they won't make reality TV, if people watch shows with complex female characters then that's what they'll make more of - if the TV/film industry hews to any single credo it's surely "Make what worked the last time".

Where she has a point is with the whole "thin/hot" thing because that really is almost exclusively all you see on US TV where women are concerned (seriously, even no line extras that're just walking past in the background are usually pretty smokin') which obviously makes it hard to support shows with normal size/looking women with our advertising eyeballs (cos they're not being made). Assuming, of course, that that actually is what the majority (or even a significant minority) want to see (one possible reason why almost all TV women are hot is because we've already selected for that by our viewing habits).

(I say 'we' and 'our' BTW but the UK has traditionally been better in this regard with lots of high profile shows featuring what i'd call "normal" looking women, still attractive but not supermodel slim or even, necessarily, under the age of 35 - *gasp !* ;) - but where looking normal or being over 35 aren't actually the focus of the character. Although that could be changing in the US direction, hard to tell)
I have to say, although I probably won't watch it (aNOTHer remake?), I was glad the lead in Nikita this fall isn't a 22yr old. Still fits the easy on the eyes category, but for a channel like CW, she's a granny compared to the rest of them.
Saje - "...the UK has traditionally been better in this regard with lots of high profile shows featuring what i'd call "normal" looking women, still attractive but not supermodel slim or even, necessarily, under the age of 35..."

A fine example being the 'all kinds of lovely' Miss Eve Myles, of Torchwood fame.

Okay, she's only 32 but otherwise "a fine example". ;)

hopitopia - "...I was glad the lead in Nikita this fall isn't a 22yr old."

I was just glad to see that it was Maggie Q. Been a fan of the lady ever since I saw her in Live Free or Die Hard. It'll be nice to see her in a regular series at last. Just hope that this Nikita show survives as long as the last one did, and is at least half as good.
Picking up on Tamara's point, about a majority of US TV viewers being female - check out how many US TV writers are female. In particular on Broadcast TV. The numbers are shockingly low. I think, personally, that is part of the reason why depictions are females in media is still sadly poor.
*sigh* It does seem to be two steps forward, one and a half back, for strong, autonomous women, especially as lead characters.
Perhaps they should put the reality shows in the Friday night time slots and see how well they do.

Personally, I'd like to see strong, autonomous lead characters who are women: witty, smart, self confident, with healthy relationships and over 40 (say, Miracle Laurie but 15 years older).
Saje, yep like the Bechdel test. But I would take it a little further than that. Two women? Really? Regardless of how big or significant their role is? Demographically it's nice of course, to see more women showing up on shows with male heavy casts--even if it's in the minor roles or as extras like "the presiding judge," "the coroner," "the literary agent," "the doctor," etc. Because you know, they are at least there so that their existence in society has to be acknowledged--unlike say, the missing presence of minorities of the Asian or Indian persuasion. And I admit to counting the women in films before myself. I do want to see myself represented. It's weird though, it's not like all male heavy films or shows kick in the counting thing. I'm not sure exactly what sets it off, but when it does it's a very depressing experience that leads to some not so subliminal resentment.

My own test is a little more rigorous. For one, I figure if a role could have been played equally by a male or a female, it's not a particularly rich character. It's kinda sad that the sole criteria for passing the Bechdel is having two female characters "talk about something besides a man." I'd say that what they talk about needs to have stronger standards than that. But what exactly that is, I can't say as of yet. I haven't managed to codify my ideas into anything remotely pointed and pithy.

I do know that one does tend to act differently around one's own gender. I always wish for some acknowledgment of this fact in scripted writing. I never feel like I get my wish though--unless you want to include the clunky, over used sexual harassment/discrimination stuff. And that's really NOT what I was thinking about. I was thinking about stuff like:

Cussing--does it increase or decrease, do the acceptable words change according to company
Different problem solving methods
Different interpretations of events and situations
Different valuations of importance
Different bonding methods (and I don't mean shoes and ice cream *rolls eyes*)
Self suppression or expression of character traits due to the company being kept
Etc.

And if there is a story with a small percentage of female characters, I just wish that the stories would acknowledge the true experience of being a "lone" female amidst the testosterone. It's a situation that in reality hits all sorts of issues like: an uncomfortable and outsidery feeling, the neutrality of knowledge and skill, and the forced acknowledgment of the fact that not only are we all sexual beings, but that biological programming exists and expresses itself in a variety of ways--not just by flirting and bed hopping.

**********

Choice is a funny thing. So is the formal language of the frame. The act of framing something sets it apart, draws our attention to it, and lends it importance. The choice of what to include in a story has huge resonance. To not include women in stories in essence says,"You are not important. You have no impact on the world, on actions, on minds." It's also depressing. It doesn't seem to matter what a true everyday experience is, when the average person has time for leisure viewing, women become a bit marginalized. It's an act of erasure, even if it's unintentional.

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