Too many sitcom writers are missing the mark on portraying positive femininity, instead painting a picture of a woman who isn’t worth looking up to.
Sitcoms have come a long way since their beginnings in the 1950s. Once upon a time, they were written to focus on the inner workings of a nuclear family, often with a married couple as the centerpiece, and jam-packed with family-friendly humor. Today, sitcoms tend to focus on groups of friends in their twenties, living the single life, and deal with more mature matters. But perhaps one of the biggest changes in sitcoms? The way women are portrayed.
The image of women as perfect, Donna Reid-type wives, clad in pearls, an apron, and red lipstick was prevalent in our entertainment for years, influencing our idea of what it truly meant to be a woman, to be feminine.
While these women certainly existed and still do exist, and these characters depicted facets of femininity — beauty, elegance, nurturing their family, cultivating an inviting home — they often failed to positively illustrate women whose lives weren’t this way: women who didn’t have children, or who wanted to have a thriving career before settling down. Thus, a new brand of female representation in entertainment was born.
What TV’s New Brand of Women Looks Like
Friends portrayed a group of women along their journey from their mid-twenties to mid-thirties, chasing careers and falling in and out of love and lust, and sleeping with the men of the show. The heroines of The Big Bang Theory were career-driven and hardworking, often more successful than their husbands. The King of Queens shows a fiery, working woman as a stark contrast to her simple husband.
Even looking at entertainment outside of sitcoms, shows like Girls depict a young, immoral woman as our protagonist, Scandal shows an emotionally-stunted, career-obsessed woman as our leading lady. The ladies of Sex and the City boast swanky jobs and countless hookups. It’s clear to see what the industry’s writers have decided is most vital when creating a female character for young women to look up to: relatability.
We Just Want To Feel Seen
Millennials, more than any generation before, crave to feel like we have an identity that is seen and understood. It’s why we’ve become consumed with defining every last one of our qualities and opinions, and in turn, with being represented. We want to know that we matter, that our life is a story that’s worth telling.
So it’s no wonder that young women today connect with female characters that play into this desire to feel represented — characters that aren’t perfect, sleep around, concentrate on professional achievements, or struggle with feeling directionless as they chase after a challenging career; characters that are really relatable to the majority of young women’s experiences today.
But while we might love watching a character make the same mistakes we’ve made, or trudge through similar territory, is it really so necessary that every female character be so relatable?
Is Relatability the Most Important?
We consume art and media often as a way to make sense of life, and the best entertainment will capture our very human experiences, the ups and downs of growing up, and represent the realities of being a young woman. But unfortunately, this is where most entertainment today stops, instead of taking their characters a few steps further and providing someone that viewers can aspire to be.
There’s a reason old Hollywood starlets like Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, and Ingrid Bergman have kept the attention and adoration of audiences through the decades and generations. These women offered viewers an image of a poised, competent, empowered woman, all while maintaining their beauty, elegance, and femininity. Instead of relying on portraying career-obsessed characters or immature yet relatable women to reach audiences, they often gave us something beautiful to aspire to be, a woman to look up to and respect.
We’ve all heard it said that the five people we spend the most time with will affect the person we become. It’s not a stretch to say that the media we consume will also have an influence on us. By focusing so closely on making sure our favorite characters are perfectly relatable, we aren’t giving ourselves anything to inspire growth or change in us.
While it’s important to see all kinds of women represented in sitcoms and entertainment, it’s equally important that we stay away from glorifying relatability, and instead give ourselves a character we can look up to.
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