In college, students often find themselves busy, overwhelmed and stressed. One thing nearly all students can agree on is that television is a great stress-reliever; however, there is a problem with a lot of our favorite television shows that some of us may not know about. Stereotyping women in television happens more often than we realize, and it needs to be talked about.
I don’t have the space in a 500-word opinion piece to go deep enough into this subject, but I will call attention to a few specific female stereotypes or “tropes.” A trope can be a cliché plot or storytelling device, but in this case it refers to a stereotyped character, nearly always played by a woman.
The first trope I’m going to talk about is sometimes called “the ditz.” This trope occurs when a female character’s defining characteristic is clumsiness, stupidity or general naiveness. This character is often attractive and gets through life on good looks alone. This character often functions as comic relief, and is someone the audience can always feel superior to. This trope is clearly a negative portrayal of women. It supports the idea that beauty is more important and attractive than intelligence. It also perpetuates the ongoing idea that males are the more intelligent sex.
Another trope to be aware of is what we’ll call “the annoying housewife.” Especially popular in older TV shows, this trope shows a housewife or stay-at-home mom who is constantly nagging her husband. This is problematic on two levels. First, the housewife character in any TV show is exaggerated. There is nothing wrong with being a housewife, but depictions of housewives in TV are often taken to the extreme of never leaving the house except to buy groceries, only spending time cooking, cleaning and gossiping, and having no interest in working outside the home. The second problem with this trope is that the housewife is often very annoying, constantly nagging her husband. This stereotype promotes the idea that women are a burden to their husbands. As these characters are often bothering their husbands about something they want to do, this trope also promotes the idea that women need a man’s permission to do anything.
The next stereotype I’m going to discuss is on the opposite side of the spectrum. This trope is that of a female character who is too tough and has no emotions. This character occurs often in dramas or crime shows. In order to defy the stereotype of over-emotional women, TV writers sometimes incorporate a character who presents herself as a tough, independent woman, but she is just as one-dimensional as the over-emotional housewife.
This character lacks any emotion, even when faced with a particularly tragic situation. This trope has a negative affect on women because it is another extreme – it promotes the idea that women can only be either overly-emotional wrecks dependent on a man, or heartless “tough” girls who won’t truly let anyone in their lives.
Television is a great thing. Honestly, there’s nothing I’d rather do after a long day of classes and homework than sit down with a bowl of chocolate ice cream and watch “New Girl.” The point of this article is not to make you hate your favorite TV show, but to call attention to the faults that do exist within the world of our favorite pastime. My hope is that as you continue to enjoy your favorite TV shows, you will recognize negative stereotypes of women and understand that television depictions are often inaccurate.