Who's to Blame for Fueling Pop Culture's 5 Worst Female Stereotypes?
Poor Seth MacFarlane. The guy sings one song about boobs and suddenly he’s #1 on the Hates Women List with a Steinem next to his name. (That means if they capture him, she gets to rag on him incessantly. Who wouldn’t want a bullet after that?)
It’d be too easy to join the chorus singing, “MacFarlane hates women.” As a woman, I despise the cop-outs women often take, chiding every man as being both the desired master of her universe and the despised crafter of her fate. If we really believe in Girl Power, what’s our responsibility in all of this? Are we allowing the fate scripted by guys like MacFarlane to come true?
It took about 10 minutes to pull video for the following five most common stereotypes about women portrayed in Family Guy. The sad news is that it took about 15 to pull five examples of the same behavior from the most popular Girl Power reality television show out there: The Kardashians. Praised by some feminists as career women comfortable in their own skin, it has been observed that “50 years ago, the Kardashians could never live the way they do. It’s all thanks to the Feminist movement that they are who they are – and they embrace every benefit from it fully.”
So, culture judges that you are, tell me: Is the evidence compelling? Is MacFarlane a He-Man Woman Hater, or do the Kardashians prove that girls finally busted through the glass ceiling in the tree house and joined the club?
#5 Women Are Backstabbers
Loving and supportive we are not, at least not towards each other. The Myth of the Backstabbing Bitch has been entertainment fodder for ages. According to one linguist, a woman’s tongue has been her primal weapon throughout the ages. While men fought with their fists to claim territory, women talked their way into battle in order to keep the social pecking order in line. For those inclined towards intelligent design, Eve was the first to blame her husband for her own sin. Either way, cultural myth has determined that women trash-talk to blame others, only to end up maligning their own character along the way.
#4 Women Are Hyper-Emotional
The typical male response to “men are idiots” involves depicting women as emotional nutcases. While mood swings are usually accompanied by hormonal imbalances normally associated with certain cycles (that’s the verbose way of saying, despite what my feminist friends may think, women do suffer PMS), we are, in general, relatively normal and thoughtful creatures. Perhaps too thoughtful at times. But, thanks to the few women who made it big (Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath) before and during First Wave Feminism, any time we shed a tear we’re simply two steps from sticking our head into an oven.
Of course, any good screenwriter will tell you that success relies on drama and drama relies on conflict. In other words, the reason Donna Reed and Mrs. Cleaver aren’t big news on television anymore is that their placid nature is simply, well, boring. In fact, most women in the movies and on television in the golden age were fairly calm, completely collected, and quite in charge most of the time. I don’t recall an emotional nutcase entering the scene until the dawn of Method Acting, aka Emotive Gymnastics. (Even then, the early portrayals were more closely tied to mental illness than womanhood. Move over, Virginia Woolf.)
While I doubt you’d ever put Kim Kardashian into the same category as Joanne Woodward or Natalie Wood (seriously, don’t, or I’ll have to hurt you), she definitely knows how to make a scene. In fact, she’s great at taking cues from Seinfeld when it comes to making a scene about nothing.
#3 Women Are Dominatrixes
Nothing says Woman Power more than the ability to control the phallus. Don’t believe me? Ask Margaret Sanger. Equality of the Sexes is easily understood in the context of equal pay for equal work, but when it comes to sexuality itself, the lines start getting really confusing, really fast. For early feminists like Sanger, true freedom translated into power over the penis. From a eugenicist’s standpoint (which she most definitely was), if the result of male domination is an unwanted, unexpected, or unplanned child, a woman’s prerogative is simple: Get power over the penis.
Silly, Margaret: Any woman in a good relationship knows she has power over the penis. We’re just not vulgar enough to talk about it so blatantly. Usually it comes out in more direct, unspoken ways, like when we need something fixed or want to reward someone for buying us diamonds. Or, in the case of Kris Jenner, when we decide to completely emasculate the one guy who sticks with us despite being made the object of ridicule on national cable television by taking over the one room in the mansion where he can put his stuff.
One can’t help but find striking similarities between Bruce Jenner’s toy collection and the adolescent male behaviors on Family Guy. What was that I just said about emasculation?
#2 Women Are Sex Machines
And here’s where feminists become those raging, emotional lunatics men love to laugh at (because, honestly, they don’t know how else to respond except to, of course, maintain eye contact and slowly back away). Clothes used to make the woman. Then, breasts became objects of repression, so we decided to …flash them all over the place.
Lest I walk into the territory of the Toronto Police, I’ll simply tell the analogous story of a gay man I know who feels reclaiming the word “fag” somehow empowers the gay rights movement. The idea being that by taking on the negative terminology, you’re claiming power over its use, much akin to the N-word controversially being popularized among African Americans. Picking up on this trend, women of all sexualities have elected to embrace the term “slut,” insinuating that no matter what a woman does or doesn’t wear, she doesn’t deserve to be sexually assaulted.
Of course, they could have easily stated, “Nothing justifies sexual assault,” but that’s not as catchy as “Slut” now, is it? And, quite frankly, the term isn’t that far off the mark. When pop culture rewards women who star in sex tapes, like “fierce female entrepreneur” Kim Kardashian, with their own prime-time television shows, not only is there nothing wrong with being a Slut. In fact, it has actually become a viable, financially rewarding career option. (I guess poor Fantine dreamed a dream a few centuries too soon.)
#1 Women Are Perfect MotherWives
Still, beyond being backstabbing, hyperemotional, absurdly over-sexed power mongers, we are still, first and foremost, mothers and/or wives. Despite Sandra Fluke’s embodiment of Margaret Sanger’s utopian-fueled dreams, women continue to play the role of wife and mother because, despite Arnold Schwarzenegger’s best wishes, we’re still the ones with the uterus.
Not to be outdone, Kris Jenner has often been tagged as the perfect “Momager,” crafting a sex tape into a multimillion-dollar family brand. Taking a cue from their mother, the Kardashian girls are making the most out of their motherhood experiences. Kourtney is now on child number 2 with adolescent male Lord Disick (but, have no fear, she isn’t letting the “social construct” of marriage get in her way), Khloe made the goal of getting pregnant the central plot line of her spin-off, and Princess Kim is happy to watch her infamous behind expand to make way for baby. If drama brings ratings, the conflict can’t always be about earrings. Besides, when the plot lines run dry, TV shows always introduce a new character to spice up the episodes.
So, is MacFarlane the director or reflector of today’s woman? There is compelling evidence to suggest that Family Guy is mirroring the virtues exhibited by female role models who display truly liberated behavior and have garnered at least a modicum of approval among feminist circles.
Not that long ago, Bitch Magazine (whose title surfaced long before the Slut Movement) surveyed five episodes of Family Guy for their series The Offensive Olympics. With “an average of 43.4 offensive jokes per 21 minute show” the author concluded the show “is not thoughtful or considered oppression.… It just doesn’t care, period. …It’s not a smart show, it’s a lazy show.” For the author at Bitch, Family Guy represented easy laughs in a “kyriarchal” system. Given the evidence illustrating the Kardashians’ own mutual embrace with feminism, the question isn’t “if” but where today’s woman falls in this theoretically constructed pyramid scheme of power.
Perhaps what matters the most is what women plan on doing about it. We were happy to demonstrate capability for equal pay, but are we willing to accept culpability for equal power?