Freeform and Femininity with “The Fosters”

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By: Sarah Seero

Freeform as a channel has many shows that have been hailed for their storylines and  characters. The channels  formula for these shows seems to capture a young audience while portraying storylines with important messages for their audience.  Freeform isn’t afraid to tackle tough subject matters. With shows like “The Fosters” being praised by GLADD for their LGBTQ representations and by audiences for their diverse casting clearly Freeform is doing something right. Another thing that  Freeform does really well is their multiple depictions of both femininity and what it means to be a women with multiple different depictions in the same show. While Freeform has a large array of shows this blog focus’s on how Freeform depicts femininity in “The Fosters”.

Over the years, television has redefined what it means to be a family on television. We went from having programs with traditional families, to families with single parents, or divorced parents, blended families, families with adopted kids, and many others. Fancast managing editor Todd Gold, believes that there is a” family for just about everyone on TV today…I think families are less idealized than ever.” According to Gold, there has been a call for more interesting characters and interesting story lines and the diverse families on TV allow for the more complex characters that audiences have been craving. Freeform has hopped onto this bandwagon with “The Fosters,” which  follows a family of two women, Stef and Lena Adams-Foster, Stef’s Ex Husband Mike, her biological son Brandon, her adopted twins Mariana and Jesus as well as foster siblings Callie and Jude. Every episode has a unique storyline that follows the kids and parents through their problems from teen pregnancy, to bullying, to having your biological parents come back into your life years later, every kid has their own problems to deal with. While the kid’s problems themselves may not seem relatable to everyone, their reactions and how they deal with them are. There are multiple instances on the show where the teen girls, Mariana and Callie, are afraid to tell their moms the mistake that they made and try to deal with it themselves. For example, Mariana in season 1 sells her brothers medication for money to give to her birth mother Ana.  It’s only when this lying gets to be too much and gets her twin brother involved that she involves her adoptive mothers. Ultimately, the problems end up getting resolved, but it usually takes a few episodes if not a season and even then some of their mistakes, like Callie’s juvie record, come back and still affect them seasons later. Aside from the depiction of the family and redefining what it means to be a family, “The Fosters” also has a largely female cast and has multiple different portrayals of what it means to be female.

With the teenagers alone you have Mariana who is an extremely girly girl, very into fashion and boys, and who is very opposed to the idea of sharing her room with her new foster sister and tends  to hang out with the popular crowd in the first few seasons. As the show progresses, we see Mariana dye her hair blonde because she is self conscious about how she looks, she joins dance club and tries to be someone she is not. Eventually Mariana dyes her hair back to its natural color and in later seasons becomes very into STEM/STEAM club. There is an entire story line that revolves around Mariana being in robotics club and the boys in the club not listening to her or the other girls in the club’s ideas. For a challenge they even try and push her to do marketing so she doesn’t do any of the coding or building. Mariana is not someone that audiences would see as a math genius so adding that element to her character is extremely empowering to girls. Mariana’s character shows that just because you’re into fashion and beauty doesn’t mean you’re stupid, you can build a robot, too, you don’t have to be one or the other.

There’s also Callie. She’s fiercely protective of her younger brother, having practically raised him as they grew up in the foster system. Callie is extremely rebellious in the beginning of the show and even has a little bit of a rebellious streak seasons later. However Callie is also extremely artistic and is into photography. If Mariana is seen as the girly girl of the family, Callie is certainly more on the tomboy side, especially with how she dresses. As the seasons go on, Callie’s style does evolve, but she definitely is not as much of a fashionista as Mariana. For those girls that can’t relate to Mariana as a character, maybe there is something about Callie they can relate to, which is part of what makes this show so powerful.

Even characters that start out minor like Emma, a girl on the wrestling team, can have an impact. Emma is into sports and joins what is seen as a boy’s sport and is the only girl on the team but is still able to beat some of the boys and that is also empowering for young girls. As with Mariana’s STEM club storyline she is also not taken seriously. Emma is also part of STEM with Mariana and is also not taken seriously there. Just like Mariana Emma shows that she is more than a one trick pony, she does sports and STEM not just one or the other. Clearly “The Fosters” has a diverse cast of females that young girls can relate to in some aspect or another. While im not saying girls should strive to be exactly like these characters, they can learn from their mistakes. While some of the storylines may seem over-dramaticized or unrealistic at points the show does have its redeeming aspects. While there have been critiques of the family going through too much drama, I think its nice that the show isn’t afraid to follow those darker, more depressing storylines and shows a family life that isn’t always perfect.

“The Fosters” is not Freeform’s only success. “Shadowhunters” also has a strong cast of women as well as other shows like “Switched at Birth” and “Pretty Little Liars” that all have characters that are relatable in some aspects. Women are clearly a large part of Freeform’s success as a channel. Some of their shows would be extremely different and had entirely different story lines had these characters been written differently or not been included. This was illustrated by Freeform with their campaign on International Women’s day “Without Women There is No Freeform”  this campaign however received backlash as it showed the posters of Freeform shows without any women present, but still showed the men. Like everything else, however, there were critics in the social media comments. I,for one, think it’s great that a network like Freeform is able to empower young adults and have characters that seemingly everyone can connect with on some level, especially with such a diverse cast and diverse representations of different populations. If nothing else, at least watching the families on these shows can make you feel better about your own life or decisions.

3 thoughts on “Freeform and Femininity with “The Fosters”

  1. I am honestly still mindblower about the fact that the network has changed from “ABC Family” to “Freeform.” You bring up an excellent point about how a good majority of the shows on Freeform cast main characters who are female a lot of the time. There target audience does seem to be females, and younger adolescents for sure. “The Fosters” specifically I think does a great job with depicting different familial situations and dynamics. I agree with Todd Gold’s comment regarding there being a family on television that many can relate to. If you look at shows like “The Fosters,” “Shameless,” and “Modern Family,” they depict many different family dynamics with people of all races, sexualities. genders, etc. I have never watched “The Fosters,” but I think the message they are sending in regards to femininity is something important. They use characters like Mariana to defy gender roles by having her show interest in robotics, fashion, and boys. Then the show has Emma who is interested in wrestling and can take on boys, and could easily take me because I have no idea how to wrestle. I think it is important for younger generations to grow up with shows like these that depict what we thought of as “diversity” be normal for them to grow up seeing. You use a lot of examples to support your thesis, and that was very helpful for me being someone who has never see this show before understand the show better.

    – Michael Sabatino

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  2. I did not know that ABC Family is now Freeform. I do not watch many shows on Freeform but did when I was little. The of the characters in the show are females you do bring up a good point. “The Fosters” is one of the few shows on television that depicts real family life. I think it is important for Freeform to continue using women casts predominately because it has been paying off for them. It is important to have a diverse cast because this is what draws in viewers and keeps people returning.

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  3. It’s very cool to see how Freeform, unlike some other TV stations, are beginning to produce TV shows that more accurately depict the world as we know it today. For years, television families were practically carbon copies of each other representing a “modern family” that wasn’t actually there. Shows like “The Fosters” shows more real life issues that past shows wouldn’t have showed. An example would be Emma joining the wrestling team. Wrestling is typically seen as a male sport and therefore probably wouldn’t have had females on the team on older television shows. Although this is the case, some females do want to participate and it’s refreshing to see Freeform to show it. I know back at my high school there was a girl on the male wrestling team and at first people were surprised by it but eventually no one really cared anymore because she was just doing something she liked. It’s cool to see how real life is beginning to be depicted more and hopefully this trend will continue in the future.

    Pat M

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