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Why Do We Have Such High Expectations for Female-Centered TV Shows?

By Courtney Enlow | Think Pieces | March 19, 2015 |


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Yesterday, Paste ran a piece lamenting Broad City’s descent into what some consider racist and transphobic territory. Whether you agree or disagree in that regard, one fact is clear: we should absolutely examine and criticize when movies, TV shows and celebrities do concerning, questionable things. But why do female-driven shows get the majority of this scrutiny?

What got me about this article was how much it reminded me of much of the issues people took with The Mindy Project. Not content with the fact that a woman of color was running and starring in her own television show, critics were displeased she wasn’t using that platform to include more women, instead making her character work in an office with and date mostly white men.

“I look at shows on TV, and this is going to just seem defensive, but I’m just gonna say it: I’m a fucking Indian woman who has her own fucking network television show, OK? I have four series regulars that are women on my show, and no one asks any of the shows I adore — and I won’t name them because they’re my friends — why no leads on their shows are women or of color, and I’m the one that gets lobbied about these things. And I’ll answer them, I will. But I know what’s going on here. It is a little insulting because, I’m like, God, what can I — oh, I’m sitting in it. I have 75 percent of the lines on the show.

And I’m like, oh wait, it’s not like I’m running a country, I’m not a political figure. I’m someone who’s writing a show and I want to use funny people. And it feels like it diminishes the incredibly funny women who do come on my show… I don’t know, it’s a little frustrating.”

Were Kaling’s critics wrong? Maybe, maybe not. But the takeaway is this: why is she the target when others are not? When a woman gets her own show, is she subject to way higher expectations than her male counterparts? Why are male-driven shows not expected at all to be completely inclusive, fully representative of all experiences? Why don’t we hold them to that same standard?

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A perfect example of this is Lena Dunham. Tons of criticism has been hurled at Dunham over the years, and much of it deserved. But the sheer volume, the passion with which people hate her and the types of conversations had about her, these are hideously unequal to that experienced by any man in the industry. For every comment about Dunham’s lack of attention to women of color or more realistic issues of the young, not-wealthy woman in New York, we get 10 “Yeah and nepotism! Also she’s fat!” Imagine if GamerGate ever had any semblance of an actual point (it never did—this is a wholly fictitious comparison)—we would still only think of the rampant misogyny and death threats received by women, drowning out any real issue the movement ever sought to end (though it never did—this is a wholly fictitious comparison).

But even the very real, very valid complaints Dunham gets, or Kaling or now Broad City, the fact is male-driven shows (one might call them all other TV shows) don’t get it. Workaholics—a show that airs directly before Broad City and therefore is designed to share a crossover audience—had an entire episode devoted to gay panic wherein a gay character forcibly penetrated one of the main characters with a condom just to teach him a lesson—and not a think piece to be found. Was this episode offensive or merely satire? I don’t know—no one told me what I was supposed to think like they do with female-driven shows.

Criticize. Scrutinize. Even boycott if you must. But let’s hold society to the higher standard—not just women. If only the female shows are held to this standard, whereas male-driven shows are just expected to be flawed, we’re right back where we started. And I don’t want to go back there.


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