Pop-Culture | Posted by Callie B on 03/19/2012

Why the Jersey Shore is No Longer On My DVR List

When I first saw Miss Representation it stunned me—in the best of ways. I didn’t immediately take the time to reflect on it, but then a few nights ago I was unlucky enough to witness the newest Carl’s Jr. commercial, where a very hungry Kate Upton seductively devours a burger while wearing basically, well, nothing. And after 23 years of demeaning media onslaught, I’m thinking I’ve had enough.

Before watching Miss Representation, I indulged in the occasional “guilty pleasure”—reality TV being my wind-down-at-the-end-of-the-day treat. I saw no harm in it. It’s just mindless entertainment, right? Shows like Jersey Shore and Keeping Up With The Kardashians were among my favorites. But that was before the film, before my eyes were opened to the very (real) poison of this seemingly harmless reality TV.

For those who haven’t seen the film, Miss Representation is a documentary produced by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, focusing on the unvirtuous cycle of over-sexualized and debased images of women in the media and the parallel (and not coincidental) absence of women in positions of power. Newsom, as an actress, was asked to lie about her age and strike her MBA, among other academic achievements, from her resume—demonstrating that a woman’s value lies in her youth and looks rather than her academic achievements and intelligence. A 2011 research study by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media found that women are 400% more likely than men to be represented in “sexy” attire on television. And this is no coincidence—a 2005 study published in the Journal of Consumer Affairs found ads targeted at young adults and teenagers to be 65% more likely to contain a provocatively dressed model, and 128% more likely to contain sexual innuendo or behavior than ads geared towards mature adults.

The first few minutes of the documentary paint a disheartening picture of reality very different from my own perception—after all, this was 2011. Don’t we have equality? Think about this: women have been able to vote and hold public office for nearly 100 years, yet women occupy only a third of the seats in Congress they should. At this rate, it will take 500 years to reach parity. 500 years—we’ll probably be teleporting and time traveling before women are equally represented in Congress? Something is really wrong here.

The saying, “you can’t be what you can’t see,” rings true here. There is massive gender inequality in leadership positions, partially because young girls are not seeing images of strong, intelligent women in positions of power each day. In fact, women hold only 3% of media power positions, which means 97% of what we hear, read and watch is coming from the male perspective. And the cycle of disparity continues.

The problem has a lot to do with media, and the message projected to children. Kids today consume an average of 10 hours and 45 minutes of media per day. So, to think that what we see on TV, read in a magazine or listen to on our iPods has no effect on our perceptions is ludicrous. Media instills the idea that the value of a woman lies in her appearance, simply because it gets good ratings. You can’t turn the TV on anymore without a heavy dose of ultra-sexualized, suggestive images, and shows that celebrate women who lack substance (cue GoDaddy commercials and the Jersey Shore opening sequence).

What I used to think were harmless, albeit ridiculous shows or commercials, I now understand to be much more. These are not benign. How are we supposed to raise intellectual, confident young women when they are assailed each day by media messages telling them they aren’t pretty enough, skinny or curvy enough and that the quickest way to stardom and fame is to make a sex tape and party like a rock star? Likewise, how can young men grow up with respect for their female counterparts and a healthy amount of emotion and empathy while absorbing drastically conflicting messages from the media? It’s a toxic situation, and one that cries out for a remedy and collective action.

So what can we do? It may seem overwhelming, but small changes can lead to revolution. Let’s start by becoming more aware and conscious. If you see an offensive commercial or TV show, call it out on Twitter or Facebook. After watching the film, I now pick up on things I never found important before. Do they really need that bikinied woman there to sell that cheeseburger? Why were only male innovators represented here? The men/women in this show are all heavily stereotyped. I scrutinize everything I watch and encourage my loved ones to do the same. While watching the Oscars a few weeks back, I listened hard for the kinds of questions female attendees were asked as opposed to their male counterparts. Wait, she was asked about her dress first, and artistic endeavors second. This kind of stuff matters.

Post-Miss Representation, the shows I watch and brands I buy have shifted. Gone are the days when I sit back and watch an episode of Jersey Shore without thinking about the bigger picture and subsequently turning it off. The media can be used for good, for uplifting and inspiring young men and women. If the day ever comes that I’m raising a daughter, the last thing I would ever want her to feel is insignificant, or that her aesthetics trump her substance.

This is why, among other things, the Jersey Shore has been deleted from my DVR list. And to all of it I say: good riddance.

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Post Your Comment

  • Miriam @ at 3:10 pm, March 19th, 2012

    Great post. Could you recommend any TV shows that do a better job of representing women?

  • Ariel @ at 11:13 pm, March 19th, 2012

    @miriam
    parks & recreation has had great reviews from the women I talk ot and blogs I read. (I can’t speak for myself cause I don’t have a tele-set that gets tv. I have to wait for it to come out so I can rent it. It’s a show. I’ll be waiting a while.)

  • Callie @ at 12:27 am, March 20th, 2012

    @Ariel “Parks and Recreation” is hilarious…great suggestion.

    @Miriam It definitely depends on what type of show you’re looking for, but “The Good Wife” is one of my favorites. It’s a courtroom drama that portrays very strong, complicated characters (both men and women). I’ve also heard good things about “Up All Night” with Maya Rudolph, and Christina Applegate. “The New Girl” is another good one if you’re looking for some comedy. Hope this helps!

  • Jessie @ at 1:43 pm, March 20th, 2012

    @miriam

    I second the Parks and Recreation recommendation! The first season is a bit slow, but it picks up from season two onwards. A show with a great feminist protagonist, lovely female friendships and even a male character who takes a Women’s Studies class (and not even as a joke!) PLUS it’s hilarious and absolutely lovely.

  • Anna @ at 3:27 pm, March 20th, 2012

    Parks and Rec. is awesome! I don’t really like most of the characters but I got into because Amy Poehler is wonderful. 30 rock is great too, can’t go wrong with Tina Fay. Most t.v. is bad though and should be avoided.

    Learn to play the drums and start a band instead!

  • Miriam @ at 9:09 pm, March 20th, 2012

    Thanks guys! Parks & Rec has been on my list for a while. I was just curious what else people might come up with.

  • Twiss Butler @ at 5:07 pm, March 23rd, 2012

    I’m glad that Callie B’s viewing of Miss Representation helped her to see television’s mean and demeaning images of women for what they are. The fact that she had not caught on to all this misogyny before is surprising and shows how pervasive the influence of these shows is. I just caught an interview on NPR publicizing the return of Mad Men in which the man speaking for the show bragged on the fact that it showed these successful, driven ’60′s guys realistically as the sexist, drunken hell-raisers guys really were in those good old days? So why this loving revivalist drama, this longing for those good old days?
    But above all, why do women watch this tacky show and then rush out shopping for girdles and stockings to attach to them with garters? So sexy, so uncomfortable, like footbinding and corsets because men know that women just love pain.

    But I digress. Yes, documentaries like Miss Representation shine a bright light on what is going on, but that is not enough. The question we should be considering is what is the function of this flood of dumb, submissive sexbot images. How does it pay off for men?

    Feminism is a practice of political analysis of what John Adams smugly called “Our Masculine Systems” which he assured Abigail Adams “we will never repeal.”

    It is obvious but important to openly identify these girly shows as part of a larger backlash strategy designed to cut women out of the competition and to relegate them again to a subordinate role in a society owned and operated by men. Masculine Systems are, like racism, broad social practices that advantage one class – men or whites – over another class women – or Blacks. Everybody does his part, large or small, and the advantages just rain down on the advantaged class as a whole, looking like the natural reward of merit.

    So don’t just describe and bemoan. Blame, Accuse, and inspire other women to fight back. And, as previous Commenters say, reward the good stuff with your attention and positive feedback to their advertisers.

  • Anna @ at 5:23 am, March 25th, 2012

    “Everybody does his* part,”

    *her

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