It’s fall; finally a new season of television to aid in human procrastination. With a new season comes critique and there’s been a lot of discussion about a few of the new network television shows starring women: Pan Am, The Playboy Club, Two Broke Girls, Whitney, and New Girl. While I’ve read praise for The New Girl (and Pan Am is becoming a guilty pleasure of mine) there have been some excellent critical pieces on the rise of Retro-Sexism through women characters on network TV.
This is not surprising. Our society’s current politics are highlighted by a self-contradicting Social Conservatism which is both driven by and validated by the Palin/Bachmann ‘girl power’ trope. As we see in the presidential debates, Social Conservative politics are consistently anti-women but their politics are validated by its supporters through the fact that Palin and Bachmann support these policies…and they’re women. Network television is moving in the same direction, with leading women characters enacting sexism nightly. While, as Slate’s Jessica Grose points out, cable television provides stronger female characters I can’t help but ask the obvious question: Why all the white women?
It’s a question that the history of American television (and society in general) can easily answer. Considering the recent report that 77% of all television is directed by white males, this lack of representation is not at all surprising. Melissa Silverstein on Indiewire points out that these stats are “abominably bad for women and people of color.” They’re especially bad for women of color. In all of the new network television shows with leading women there is not one woman of color playing a leading character. Not only are these shows misrepresenting white women, they’re simply not representing women of color. While I find criticism of the Retro-Sexism in these shows to be timely and relevant, there are some pieces of the dialogue missing. It’s the same old discussion that sees sexism separate from racism so that women of color become invisible in the conversation.
Racism and sexism aren’t only issues for those oppressed by it. Representation on a medium as widespread as television is vital for every viewer because, as of now, television makes it look like the country is 90% white and that’s deeply disturbing considering the reality. And most of the white people on TV are really lame in the first place. As for interesting white women on television, all I can say is thank god for Tina Fey. The only good thing about January is going to be 30 Rock.