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Last week, Ashley Judd wrote a direct and thoughtful article that entered into a long-standing cultural conversation about the way women are consumed in the media. Although the ways women – specifically their bodies – are portrayed in the media have long been issues of conversation in the public sphere, Judd’s approach represented a shift to a more academic and intelligent discussion. Judd’s discussion about how her body was consumed in the media has the potential to move the popular culture conversation beyond the long-standing superficial discussions. This week, Resident Blogger Cecilia Portillo continues in this vein, moving away from the generic and superficial discussions of gender to a more poised, real, and academic questioning of what representations of women in the media mean.


Cecilia Portillo

Has gender equality finally been reached when we turn on our TVs to find that women are being portrayed with character traits that previously had only been used as distinguishing characteristics of masculinity?  

Modern American society has been explicit when it has come to defining the roles of men and women. This female/male dichotomy has come to mean that the idea of what is “male” depends on the idea of what is “female”. On the one hand, the traits that have been typically associated with the concept of masculinity in media images are:  power, strength, and dominance. Therefore, on the other hand, the ideas customarily associated with femininity are: being gentle, petite, and passive.

If images in the media begin to blur these gendered traits, has the divide between men and women been filled?

Has the goal to undo distinction and privilege according to sex been reached?

Has the feminist movement won?

There seems to be a shift in the way that the popular media represents women these days. Specifically, representations of women are becoming increasingly similar to representations normally affiliated with men’s identities. Some scholars, such as feminist writer Ariel Levy, refer to this shift as the “Rise in the Female Raunch Culture”, while others, such as the women in these images, believe the new portrayal is a step towards justice and equality.

This new and modern female, the raunchy or liberated one (depending on how you view it), can be seen everywhere.

She is on the television.

She is in film.

She is in books, in music, and in sports.

Moving to my specific examples for this discusion, you have seen her in reality T.V. shows such as: any of the Real House Wives series, The Bad Girls Club, and Jersey Shore. And, you have seen her in the comedy Bridesmaids.

I often find myself wondering, “what does this new woman say about the status of women in our present day?”

Source: http://www.fanpop.com/.../ 7147938/title/season-3-photo

The representations of women in Bridesmaids and these reality T.V shows depict women in contrast to how they have customarily been represented in the media. Unlike media representations of the past, these women demonstrate periods of strength, determination, sexual liberation, anger, pride, vulnerability, and selfishness–something that I don’t believe we’ve seen to this extent ever before.

These women are also much more lewd in behavior, acting in ways that is generally prescribed as men’s behavior. These women use vulgar language, openly talk about sex, many are increasingly violent– in other words, they act uncommonly “unladylike”.

Now, I am a fan of the movie Bridesmaids. I find it to be incredibly funny and a relatively  accurate depiction of women’s relationships with other women. I found it to be refreshing and original to showcase women who were more than one-dimensional creatures with roles that did not necessarily revolve around the life of their male partners. The film also had scenes of women vomiting on one another and using the public streets as a restroom, (among other not so disgusting scenes).  Women’s rights activists flocked to screenings of Bridesmaids. Some claimed that the movie “soars by letting [women] be as naughty and gross and pathetic as women are. Three Cheers for Equality.” (Rotten Tomatoes Movie Review)

Point noted.

But, I find myself intrigued with Ruth Franklin’s critique of the Bridesmaids‘ phenomenon. Franklin stated, “ I didn’t yet know that the right to barf on screen would one day be heralded as a touchstone on women’s equality in film.” In agreement with this quote, I question whether it is truly a leap towards women’s liberation and an equal sharing of power between the genders simply because women mirror the actions of traditionally male behavior. I am not so sure that the goals of feminism were directed at having women emulate the behaviors of men.

The images of women in Bridesmaid and in reality television most definitely portray women outside of the confines of stereotypical femininity. These women are not quietly or soft spoken, they are not chaste virgins waiting to be married off.  These modern images do indeed represent the changing notions of femininity in our contemporary culture.  And these images of women, although new, are becoming more widely known and accepted.  In this sense, these images are a step away from the stale and oppressive roles that women have played throughout history, for they do show women as complex individuals.

But just because these images of women are no longer considered shallow and oppressive, do they consequently become identified as liberating?

What do the women on Jersey Shore say about women’s liberation? What do the women on The Bad Girls Club say about women’s roles? Through their actions and personal philosophies described on the shows, the images of these women represent a step away from stereotypical femininity and a step towards the fostering of values that glorify indecency, disrespect, and the perpetual pitting of women against one another.  We can see this in most to all of the episodes of The Bad Girls Club, where the women engage in violent fights with one another. These images are seen in the Real Housewives when one of the women attempts to validate her strength by flipping a table over during a dinner party.

I find myself questioning what we believe women’s liberation looks like.

Have we seen it?

Do the images in film, television, and other pop culture mediums represent it?

Is gender equality synonymous to the adoption of a stereotypical male identity that glorifies strength, violence, and control?

Personally, I am not quite sold on the idea that images of women’s liberation can be found throughout reality TV and films. I raise my eyebrow at anyone who believes reality TV, and even films like Bridesmaids are representations of the free and unoppressed woman.  I do, however, see this initial change in the images of women portrayed in pop culture as a consequence to a change in the time. Change is not instantaneous and the gender dichotomy is not merely broken because it has been reduced to a singular identity. I’d like to think that these images represent the start of a changing female identity in popular culture. Perhaps these images just have some more shifting to do and different steps to take in other directions.

Until next time,



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