Saturday, March 28, 2009

Reality TV and The Image of Women

This week’s readings discuss issues of females in the media especially their positive or negatives stereotypes, images and connotations. The van Zoonen reading states that “It seems indisputable that many aspects of women’s lives and experiences are not properly reflected by the media. Many more women work than the media suggests, very few women resemble the ‘femme fatales’ of movies and TV series, and women’s desires extend far beyond the hearth and home of traditional women’s magazines. The feminist calls for more realistic images of women and definitions of femininity may therefore seem entirely legitimate. In fact, they are problematic” (pg 48). Do you agree with van Zoonen? Do you think that the portrayal of women in media is accurate?
To break down the subject even more, I would like to examine current reality TV and the roles of women in that genre today. Since the popularity of reality TV has grown over the past few years clearly many women are depicted. With shows ranging from “Dancing With the Stars” to “The Desperate Housewives of Orange County/New York City” to even “A Shot of Love with Tila Tequila”, do you think that women in these shows are portrayed positively or negatively? Do you think reality TV has helped or hurt women?
Consider the characters of many of these shows. You can look at the strong females such as Stephanie Izard, the winner from “Top Chef”, or Parvati Shallow, one of the many “Survivor” female winners. But then look at characters such as Gretchen from the “Desperate Housewives of O.C” and how the season’s biggest drama focused around the debate of whether she was money hungry, or truly in love, with her fiancé. What about the recent public “dumping” of Melissa Rycroft by bachelor Jason Mesnick? Check out this article by Erin Carlson of the Associated Press recapping the major reunion show events as well as the public opinion of the situation.
How do you think situations such as these that are publicly shown and exploited mediate the image of women in today’s society? And do you think seeing Melissa turn around and become a competitor on “Dancing with the Stars” has any impact on how she has represented herself as a women in society?
Robinson wrote that “The gender politics represented in Aguilera’s music video then are not irrelevant or inconsequential; rather they contribute to the larger discourse of cultural hegemony” (p 46). Through her writing and this quote we can clearly see that Robinson sees that gender and the debate around their image is unfairly portrayed through today’s music. Do you think the same applies for reality television?


  1. This blog got me thinking about different areas of the media. I wondered how this could apply to another area outside music and reality TV. I thought of an article I just read about female screenwriters. These days it is hard to find someone who hasn’t seen Juno. The same year screenwriter Diablo Cody won her Oscar for Best Original Screenplay her friend, Lorene Scafaria, was able to see her screen-play, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, in theaters. I have seen both Juno and Nick and Norah, but am not nearly as familiar with Scafaria as I am with Cody. It took reading “An Entourage of Their Own” from the NY Times to understand these filmmakers and their friendship (

    These women are joined by two other friends and call themselves “The Fempire.” I was immediately struck by this article and how this week’s readings can explain my reaction to it. From a feminist theory perspective, these women and their successes reflect the liberal feminist. According to H. Leslie Steeves, most liberal feminists will focus on creating and changing laws in order to “promote women’s opportunities for intellectual growth and professional success” (Steeves, 392). Cody is a great, visible example of a female screenwriter succeeding in a male-dominated industry. Do you think that Cody and Scafaria provide female perspectives that lack in films?

    In addition, the article is polysemic. Liesbet Van Zoonen explains that distortion in the media is when “women are underrepresented in media content and in reality more women work” (Zoonan, 47-8). When I first read this article I was introduced to a different side of filmmaking in which women come together in entourages, a seemingly male “lifestyle.” Writer Deborah Schoeneman compares the women to the show Entourage and “Apatown,” Judd Apatow’ and his cohorts Paul Rudd, Jason Segal, and Seth Rogan (Schoeneman). Does their friendship reveal a hidden side of Hollywood that is more open to female filmmakers?

    My other observation came after Schoeneman mentioned that “screenwriters usually don’t have stylists or publicists, yet the women said they feel pressure to look photogenic in a way that is not demanded of male screenwriters” (Schoeneman). I found this interesting considering this article was placed in the “Fashion & Style” section. As an aspiring screenwriter, I never would have guessed to look for this article there. It made little sense to me as to why this article should be found in this section or why Schoeneman should point out that at their homes she “sees four distinct styles of glamour that bear little resemblance to traditional images of behind-the-scenes talent” (Schoeneman).

    In another article from, a woman responds to the NY Times article by criticizing both the writer and women for: “Attributing the Fempire’s success to their talent not their looks is something we can get behind, but it kind of seems like the group uses the latter to their advantage as well” ( Do you think the article is a positive step forward? Is there another way of interpreting this article? Finally, does it matter that the women are a part of the entourage, “The Fempire?”

  2. I think the argument of whether the recent reality television explosion either helping women or hurting them is very interesting. To take some of Heather's examples, I think it can really go either way. I am not very familar with "The Real Housewives" series, but have seen some episodes. This is a good example because some of the women truly work hard for their success or even own their own businesses. Some though, obviously, are just born into money or rely on their husbands. When I first thought of shows that may show women in a negative light, I immediatly thought of dating shows, where women are basically fighting and competing for a man's affection, such as "The Bachelor" or "Flavor Flav." But then I thought that both these shows switch sides in a sense, because there is "The Bachlorette" and there were a couple seasons of "I love New York." Although this has the men fighting for the women, I think our society looks at them differently. Women are sterotyped as being the weaker sex, and as less successful as men, so I think the women get scrutinized more.

    Our McQuail reader states, "Since we are born into societies that have labelled a particular difference between human beings as woman vs. man, and a related difference as feminine vs. masculine, we come to think of ourselves in these terms: as being and feeling a man, or being and feeling a woman" (50).

    Men are seen as feeling "manly" when they are outdoors, working out, watching sports, or drinking beers. Women are seen as feeling "womanly" when they are shopping or at a spa, and feel "sexy" when they are all dressed up. Reality shows like "The Hills," relates to this very well. When the girls are shown on the show, they are gossping, getting ready, or getting their nails done. When the boys are shown, they are at clubs talking to girls or driving their cars. I think the depiction of women in the media has come a long way, but still has a long way to go.

  3. I believe that in terms of reality television, women may not be portrayed in the best light possible. Although television has come a long way in terms of having women in roles of executives, lawyers, and doctors, reality television can certainly portray women in a negative way. With shows like Rock of Love, Tila Tequila and even the Real World, women have been portrayed more as hard partiers than sophisticated adults.

    The blogger brings up a great point: what if more women were behind the scenes of reality television? This seemed to work for Grey’s Anatomy with Shonda Rhimes at the helm. Unfortunately, this is the only woman producer I could think of (which shows how little women are known in media behind the scenes), but she has had such success with what she has done. Zoonen writes, “An increase in the number of female media producers would be instrumental in creating a more balanced media product” after describing how women are portrayed in television shows in lower paid services and support jobs. The author may have a point, if feminists are to see any change in the way women are perceived by the audience, maybe there should be more women in producing roles that can make this happen.

  4. No, I do not believe the portrayal of women in the media is accurate. According to “ A new paradigm “ complains that public broadcasting in America presents images of women that are not representative of women position our highly differentiated and complex society” (Lisbet Van Zoonen 48). I agree with Zoonen that women are not shown accurate in the media. That people have seen the inaccurate portrayals of women in the media have complained. They only way to change a misrepresentation of a gender is by speaking up.

    I am personally a reality TV fan. I think the portrayal of women in reality TV or overwhelming negative. I also think they give negative representation of women as sexual objects, not intelligent, good at shopping, sexual promiscuity, and creating drama. For example “A Shot of Love with Tila Tequila” portrays the main character Tila Tequila as bisexual vixen that cannot find love. The whole show she was using her body to get men and women. That is misrepresentation of women that she could not use her brains to get guy or girl. Women always have to resort to sex to achieve their goals. Another example stated in the blog was “ The real housewives of Orange County” series. This show is like a breeding stereotype; meaning that the whole show is based on women stereotypes. Most women on the show have rich husbands that they live with. There many focuses are creating drama, spending money, and using their sex appeal. Reality TV shows like this and others just put more images of the stereotype and inaccurate portrayal of women in the media, such that it is hurting women portrayal in the media instead of helping. According to “A new paradigm “human identity and gender are thought to be socially constructed, in other words products of circumstances opportunities and limitations” (Lisbet Van Zoonen 49). Yeah gender roles in society are socially constructed. It is different every place in the world. For example in Middle Eastern country women are fully clothed and usually stay home with their family. So this means since gender roles are socially constructed means that we can change the misrepresentation of women on television. There have been some progress. But there can be a lot more.

  5. The Van Zoonen article states, “Still, it is not merely that people perceive reality in a particular way, their perception has consequences for their sense of self, relations with others, their mode of conduct and a whole range of other social practices”(Van Zoonen 55). This quote is talking about The Social Construct of Reality. This concept applies to the things we see on television programs. The author is talking about television shows and media consumption in general, so when we focus on reality TV it becomes more important. Earlier television viewers used to perceive television as based on reality even if it was a soap opera. Now even though we are wiser and realize these shows aren’t realistic, a new genre comes along we’re we the viewers are told it is reality. This has many negatives, especially in the way that these shows portray woman, or in a sense these women are portraying themselves.

    I think in regards to the bachelor season finale, it didn’t really portray women negatively, I think it just portrayed the people involved negatively. As for the bachelor itself that is defiantly playing to the idea that all these women will fight for the love of this guy, and that women are all desperate. I don’t, however blame the media for their role, and I feel that if people have a problem with these types of shows they should look at the people who are choosing to participate. Shows that are supposed to be reality can help not stereotyping only by not editing out of context. If all these reality shows portrayed the reality of all the situations accurately than it would be completely the participants fault for being a bad role model for women.

  6. I do agree with van Zoonen in her belief that the representation of women in media is not an accurate representation of women's real lives. Though there are some women whose lives mirror those of television and movie characters, I think it's safe to say that most do not. How many women do you know that live like the characters in "Sex and the City" or "Friends"? The female characters in these shows are wealthy (or at least appear to be) and use that wealth to get what they want, whether it's material goods or boyfriends or otherwise. These representations do not correctly depict how most women go about their lives. A great deal of women, at least in America, raise families, work, and maintain a home. They pick up their kids from school, run errands, go to church and the like- activities that are usually not shown on TV. They don't write gossip columns for newspapers or go to happy hour in the city on a regular basis. Common women are not shown in the media as often as glamorized women are, and I think part of the reason for this can be traced back to the theory of uses and gratifications. People watch television and movies to escape from reality, not to see their own lives reflected on the screen. Audiences like to see lifestyles that are more exciting than their own, so if more sitcoms and primetime shows had female characters whose lives accurately portrayed those of women in society, viewers would be bored by it.

    I definitely feel that reality TV portrays women negatively, with dating shows topping off the cake. The women on dating shows like "The Bachelor" or "Rock of Love" often seem and act desperate and submissive, just to win the male. In real life women do not always fall for the man they meet, in fact most of the time just the opposite happens. With reality TV, however, all of the women just happen to fall madly in love with the man and will do whatever it takes to make him hers. I find this to be a gross misrepresentation of reality that gives young girls, and boys as well, the wrong ideas about dating. Van Zoonen states that "children and adults learn their appropriate gender roles by a process of symbolic reinforcement and correction" (47), so if children see dating shows and the way that the people on them act, they may come to assume that this is in fact how the real dating world works. I can only hope that with time the dating shows of today will transform to show, at least somewhat, what dating is really like.

  7. While the portrayal of women in the media is still not completely, 100% accurate, it is getting better as the years go by. Women on television are now more frequently seen in the workplace, leading strong, independent lives which is a huge leap from shows like Leave it to Beaver and Happy Days (both wonderful shows ingrained in American history and culture), where the women stayed at home and cared for their husbands and children. Since "human identity and gender are thought to be socially constructed, in other words products of circumstances, opportunities and limitations" it is important to present a balanced and true to life representation of them in the media(Zoonen 49). While there are still some women on shows who do still stay home and care for their families, many lead surprisingly glamorous and independent lives. Someone in one of the other posts mentioned the women of Sex and the City. The reason they are shown the way they are is because it is slightly boring to watch someone, it does not necessarily have to be a woman, do a mundane 9 to 5 job behind a desk, crunching numbers, unless that show is The Office in which case the antics make up for the redundancy. While it is not realistic that a woman can write a weekly sex column and still have money for hundreds of pairs of heels, I still believe this is a better portrayal than a woman whose main purpose in life is to cook the best roast and clean her home. At least all the women, even Charlotte who was born into money and married into money, worked.

    In regard to reality television, I think it is somewhat helping the gender divide, and somewhat hurting it. Women such as Vicki and Jeana on the Real Housewives of Orange County are shown as strong and independent. They both make their own money, and a lot of it, and are both exhibit a great blend of work and family. Other women on the show, such as Tamra, push the feminist argument back a couple of decades. Although she claimed to work as a real estate agent, this was hardly shown (only in one or two episodes of the second season), but she was shown spending lots of money and being frivolous. She doesn't even seem to be that great of a mother, barely shown spending time with her young children, instead receiving etiquette lessons and drinking.

    Women have always been either the femme fatales or background characters. As we were talking about in class, even though women are moving into the foreground of the media, even appearing in superhero roles, they are still second rate. Shows like Lipstick Jungle which showed women in the workplace, get canceled fairly quickly, while shows like Ugly Betty (which shows a woman in the workplace who also gets herself into comedic situations) stay on the air. It seems as though as long as women are portrayed as less worthy than men, they will continue to find "success" in the media, depending on your definition of success.

  8. I absolutely agree with Van Zoonen, in the reading she discusses the way women are portrayed within the media. Most women on television are, traditionally and continue today to be, portrayed as sex symbols and housewives. Far less often is a powerful and independent female portrayed in the media. Threw television and movies powerful women different from the stereotype are often seen as bitches. Overall I do not think the portrayal of women in the media is accurate. The text makes a very good example about how women “before the advent of the second wave of the women’s movement, sexual harassment and sexual violence within heterosexual relationships were considered to be excess of personal idiosyncrasies, and were not seen as criminal acts (56).
    While a great deal has changed in this respect television today still remains problematic in the way it portrays women. The attitude that the media depicts women acting and being treated translate into society and peoples everyday lives. When asked to think about women’s portrayal in shows such as “Dancing with the Stars”, “Desparate Housewives”, and “a Shot of Love”. I began to realize the extreme to which women are still portrayed negatively in society today. “Reality Shows” such as these are supposed to give a real look at the world. When in reality these images could not be more fake or contrived. Most women don’t look like Julianne Hough in sequin mini dresses and most don’t date 20 men and women at the same time. I think that negative images of women appear in all sources of media music, television, movies, and magazines. I cannot say I think one is worse then another because they are all at fault in one way or another.

  9. I think that women in the media are portrayed to be money hungry, materialistic, and drama queens. Reality shows like The Hills and the spin off The City show caddy girl fights, boy drama, and fabulous clothes and cars. Is this really reality? However these “it” girls are very career driven, LC has created her own clothing line, Audrina is an actress, and Whitney is up in coming in the fashion world. The reality show Rock of Love is absolutely ridiculous and portrays women as animals. These women throw themselves at rocker Bret Michaels, showing women in a very negative light. These girls are rock hard trash and I’m embarrassed for them. I think that women in society today have this image because of these trashy shows such as the Rock of Love and all the other bad dating shows. However there are these women out there that will do almost about anything to get their 15 minutes of fame. The media needs to balance this image of women as the weaker sex with more reality shows based on successful, classy women.

    Although, there have been shows that do show strong women there is no doubt that women are still stereotyped in the media, “in reality many more women work than we get to see or read about in media content.”(49) Another argument is that women have these stereotypical roles as being mothers and housewives and that this is not really a stereotype but the way women really are. Females do have these roles to be the gentle caregiver who is also submissive and in some cases this seems to be true for a lot of women others not. Women more and more are becoming successful breadwinners. I think it is important for the media to represent both aspects of women; the mother and business woman.

  10. By looking at women in reality shows that many women our age tend to enjoy, it is sad because the women are portrayed as weaker, usually looking for someone to take care of them, or just looking to hook up. Not all women are like this, the women on these shows are successfully portraying a negative stereotype which has been placed on us in recent years. By looking at something such as reality television and the many different types of reality television, there is a wide range of women within them. If you focus solely on the MTV reality shows like Tila Tequila, The Real World, or NEXT, we are able to see that there are a lot of girls in the world who enjoy drinking, finding guys (or girls) and hooking up with random strangers. That is not all women. On shows such as Survivor, The Amazing Race or even Top Chef, women are challenged to hold their own in a competition with men, and many of them do VERY well. In the Van Zoonen reading it states, "It seems indisputable that many aspects of women's lives and experiences are not properly reflected by the media. Many more women work than the media suggests, very few women resemble the 'femme fatales' of movies and TV series, and women's desires extend far beyond the hearth and home of traditional women's magazines" (48).
    That is true, many women do not want to live their lives like the women in the early sitcoms, they want to be able to live their lives and not be home all day making their husbands dinner so it is ready when he walks through the door. There is an episode of Gilmore Girls entitled "That Damn Donna Reed", which touches on many of these issues. Later in the episode, Rory ends up dressing up and making dinner in the style of Donna Reed to impress Dean and show that she is able to make a choice about what she wants to do. I believe this is a good representation of how women are portrayed in the media because it shows how writers of shows are thinking about it, and how women who are on reality shows of today are completely different, in both good and bad ways.

  11. John Devlin
    Responding to Heather D’Amico
    Liesbet Van Zoonen quickly stated in the beginning of his article titled, “A ‘New’ Paradigm?” that traditional world views are reflected in media output. Van Zoonen believes there is a problem with gender representation in the media, and he believes it starts with the ‘senders’ whom are basically rich men. Van Zoonen stated Davies opinion, “Since those who control the media are almost all (rich) men, there is every incentive for them to present the capitalist, patriarchal scheme of things as the most attractive system available – and to convince the less privileged that the oppression and limitations of their lives are inevitable.” (Van Zoonen 47) He also stated some producers claim that their, “Traditional world views are reflected in media output.” (Van Zoonen 47) But, Van Zoonen believes it is almost a mix, that, “Between individuals with different professional values and personal opinions, and between conflicting organizational demands such as creativity and innovation on the one hand and the commercial need to be popular among a variety of social groups on the other hand.” (Van Zoonen 47) He continues to blame this problem also on the idea that women are presented with distortion in the media, giving an example that media presents women completely improperly and falsely, for example, many more women work and have high career goals than presented in the media. He continues to show that the reality of women’s roles in society is basically undefined. How can negative reality stereotypes of women exist is you cannot define the reality of women. He gave an example that women are depicted as mothers and housewives, but in reality, many women are mothers and housewives. They are basically representing what they are, but, this is problematic because it is reinforcing a negative stereotype on a much further level, so, this reality, this vision of women needs to be heavily defined. This is almost impossible to do seeing how there is such a dynamic nature of both genders. So how should the media show male and female identity if they do not really have a firm grasp on what their identity consists of? I do agree with Van Zoonen, I think that the portrayal of women in media is accurate to a sense, but inaccurate in the absolute power those stereotypes can have, especially on children. In the view of reality television, for example such shows as “Dancing With the Stars” to “The Desperate Housewives of Orange County/New York City” to even “A Shot of Love with Tila Tequila”, I believe that these particular shows are absolutely sexist, and I believe that they only hurt women’s’ portrayal, and has helped reinforce negative stereotypes. The bottom line about every single one of these shows regardless if the women are rich, successful, smart, is that they are sex symbols. Each one of these shows focuses on sex, I mean ‘Desperate Housewives’? Think about it, if these shows were reflecting the fact that women are smart successful ambitious people, and not that they were sex symbols, than the show would be called, ‘Successful housewives’, or ‘A shot at a Job with Tila Tequila, a Very Successful Business Woman,’ or even ‘Dancing for Knowledge and Insight With the Stars’. These reality television shows definitely hurt women’s image in the media. Heather made a great point when she said,
    “You can look at the strong females such as Stephanie Izard, the winner from “Top Chef”, or Parvati Shallow, one of the many “Survivor” female winners. But then look at characters such as Gretchen from the “Desperate Housewives of O.C” and how the season’s biggest drama focused around the debate of whether she was money hungry, or truly in love, with her fiancé .”
    This basically agrees with the pints that I made, these shows focus on sex, not the power of women in society. The power of women in society is reflected strictly by sex, and it is ridiculous. Situations such as Melissa’s enforce the sexual image of women. Melissa turning around and competing on “Dancing with the Stars” only hurt her image. She could have gone on a talk show to share her beliefs, ideas, and opinions about herself, her portrayal, her career ect., instead, she goes right to a show that shows her dancing, strictly a physical image of her body, the focus of which is a sexual icon, not a strong smart successful feminist with strong beliefs, rather, a sexy hot dancer. As for Christina Aguilera, her video “Dirty” is an exact representation of sex. I do not think representations of sex get much more explicit than in that video. Women’s portrayal in music is the same if not worse than women’s portrayal in television, which reinforces the poor display of gender differences in the media, all media in America, even advertising is misrepresenting women, and this is a huge problem that to me seems like it is getting worse every single year.

  12. I do not think that the portrayal of women in the media is accurate. Like van Zoonen said, “in reality many more women work than we get to see or read about in media content”. [49] There are very few shows out there that show what being a real life woman is like. Like someone said, most women work all day at jobs that are often not that glamorous, they take of their children, they cook meals, and they clean. This isn’t what’s shown on television. Women rarely work, and when they do, they seem to work inconsistent hours. Van Zoonen also said that “children and adults learn their appropriate gender roles by a process of symbolic reinforcement and correction”. [47] If little girls see women like this on tv, then they might think that this is how life is going to be for them.

    Reality television has definitely helped women & hurt women. Pretty much every VH1 show portrays women negatively. But also, the show can’t be completely to blame. A lot of those shows had more than one season. Contestants on the show had to already know going into it that they would not be portrayed in the most positive light. But they still chose to go on the show and make a fool of themselves. So its up to the women to show everyone that they are strong, independent people, not women who take their clothes off at every opportunity in order to get the man. I watch a lot of reality shows, and I do think that there are shows that show women in a good way, such as Top Chef, and Project Runway. Any reality show that involves some sort of career is always going to make people look twice.

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