Monday, April 26, 2010

Justifiable Ignorance?

When FX announced their new series, Justified, I was excited. Put Timothy Olyphant in a cowboy hat and I’m there. After watching the season so far it ain’t no Deadwood but it is mildly entertaining in a run-of-the-mill kind of TV way. I was disappointed then in the writing in a recent episode.

A girl was stuck in the desert with a good guy and a bad guy. The bad guy started leering at the girl; backing her into a metaphorical corner. The good guy, already wounded, picked up a big rock and killed him, then sat in shock over the horrible thing he’d just done.

The girl comforted him that he’d done the right thing. “He was going to rape me!” She reminded him. Just like it was a foregone conclusion - as if she had no say in the matter, there was nothing she could have done to defend herself. I was on my feet screaming at the TV.

Was this episode written by a man who was going for the tired old “hero saves the helpless girl” crap? Or worse: Was the episode merely reflecting that perceived societal truth that there is nothing women can do to defend themselves against rape? Given that my whole life is about training women to do just that, my heart broke. I’m sure it seemed like an innocuous moment to many viewers and even those on the show. But that’s just it, this stuff is not innocuous. It’s how that kind of mindset infects both men and women by seeping in under the radar.

This is a good time for me to state that I never blame a rape survivor. Given that no girl wants to be raped, I’m very clear that all of us do what we know to do if faced with such a dire situation. The problem is that too many women don’t know that they do in fact have options - that it’s not a foregone conclusion, that there is something they can do with their own powerful bodies. TV scenarios like this just reinforce that potentially deadly ignorance.

I always worry about how the media may negatively influence my students. I caution them on watching too many popular procedural shows where the girl gets backed into the corner by the bad guy, she screams, flails her hands, cut to: she’s on the slab in the morgue and the clever cops go on to solve the case. Our brains record this information and if, God forbid, we are ever faced with a similar situation – backed into a corner, say, our brains search for what to do. If all we’ve seen are women screaming and flailing, our brains will likely settle on that as the only solution they’re familiar with. We’ll scream, flail…, and you know how the story ends. “Entertainment” scenarios in which women are consistently portrayed as helpless can be harmful to your health.

If you are involved in entertainment, be responsible for showing what real women are like: fierce, feminine, and able to defend themselves. It’s up to you to shift this perception by both men and women. It’s up to you to seed empowerment in the minds of women and girl viewers. Imagine a TV world where it was a given that a girl would simply kick the ass of someone who assaulted her. That’s MY reality. I’d like to see it reflected in my entertainment!

What examples of disempowering TV do you notice in a week’s time? I ask my girls to report on this weekly and sadly they always come in with plenty of examples. I’d love to hear what you notice. Here's hoping that Justified ups its game and shows women as the powerful creatures they are.

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Blogger Elisa said...

How about all the examples of giving birth - the women lying on their back screaming and cursing? Generations of women have been taught that giving birth is a horrible scary experience, when in fact it should be an amazing and powerful experience.

2:33 AM  
Blogger Catherine said...

Three words for you: Cagney and Lacey!

1:34 AM  

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