Sexism on our screens is simply unacceptable

Last updated 12:00 13/06/2014

It seems something I wrote about a few weeks ago was slightly misunderstood, so I’m going to make it absolutely clear today.

Unfortunately some didn’t make it past the headline, which was a deliberate attempt to mirror the anti-female rhetoric all too common on the internet.

But if you read the actual blog it was clear it was a pro-female comedy blog, with evidence, as to why the long-held belief of women not being funny is just plain wrong.

I’m going to go a bit further today, however, than I did in the past.

I believe television can be a force for good. It can be entertaining, it can put focus on world events and it provides memories that last a lifetime.

Unfortunately it’s also a hotbed of both covert and overt sexism which contributes to a patriarchal society that ensures women can rarely feel safe.

Don’t believe me? Open up Twitter and search the #yesallwomen hashtag and understand how women are constantly abused, both physically and verbally.

Of course it’s much easier to spot the overt sexism - the Burger King advert with women on horseback, the Woodstock Bourbon adverts, Paul Henry questioning the gender of a Parliamentary staffer or making fun of an anti-nuclear campaigner’s appearance.

In Paul Henry’s example, all he did was laugh it off and then offer half-hearted apologies when told it wasn’t good enough.

Yet he continues to command a large salary from TV3 and is seen by many in this country as a voice against political correctness. It makes me furious.

And then you’ve got Chuck Lorre’s Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory.

In the former women are simply a thing to be used and discarded, caricatures who are one-night stands, stalkers or trophies.

In the latter women aren’t complete without a man. Like Penny, the beautiful actress who, stereotypically, dates a jock only then to fall for the geek.

Or the amazing scientist Amy Farrah Fowler who needs the love of the most annoying man in television history to feel good.

There’s plenty of more covert sexism in there too, like when the ladies go into the comic book store and rather than choosing Fables because it’s treatment of women is excellent as suggested by Stuart, Penny chooses Thor because he is hot.

And sexism is everywhere.

How many times does the fat, lovable slob end up with the hot but shrill harpy?

How many times are adults dismissed as ‘girls’?

How often is a woman’s appearance directly referred to compared to men?

How many times do television cameras linger on beautiful women in the crowd, or, like in the case of The Crowd Goes Wild and other shows of its ilk, which repeatedly show any in which a woman is showing more than a touch of breast.

How many times does a man grab a woman and start kissing her without her agreement, only for her to enjoy it?

How many times are women the nags, only there to seemingly stop their partner from having fun?

It’s insidious, and if you don’t believe me just ask any woman you know about it and you’ll get a sigh of recognition.

It’s even there in shows written by the best in the business - like Aaron Sorkin.

His women characters are rarely happy without finding love and worse, many are, in the words of someone who has studied this much more than I have “incapable buffoons, who need men to save them and who reward themselves with shopping.”

It’s not there all the time, but it happens too often for it to be ignored.

So what should we do about it? I can already hear the comments - ‘if you don’t like it, don’t watch it’.

That’s a great idea. We should avoid watching shows which are happy to portray patriarchal sexism as acceptable.

But we should go further. We should write to the stations that show these shows in New Zealand to let them know why we are refusing to watch it.

We should make our voices heard in society and say ‘this isn’t good enough’.

We should tell our children why this is unacceptable and don’t allow them to watch those shows or buy into the artificial boundaries society tries to force upon us.

We shouldn’t be happy to live in a society where women are treated like this both in real life and on-screen.

And, if you’re not part of the solution, I’m afraid you’re silence is part of the problem.

Note: I deliberately avoided mentioning the few shows out there which I think have excellent female characters and avoid, as much as possible, covert sexism. They’re not the norm. And just like the men who tried to hijack the #yesallwomen hashtag this is not the right place for that discussion.

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