When we look at women in television, the roles they have play spans a wide variety, from the stay-at-home mom to the working woman. This has to do with the changing times and different eras of television. In the past, women were portrayed more often as housewives and stay-at-home mothers due to the sexist stereotype that women were only useful in the home. This kind of role is seen in shows like “The Brady Bunch” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show”, just to name a few. On the other hand, more recent and up to date television shows are more apt to show women who work and who are also moms sometimes as well. Some really good examples of these shows include “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Parks and Rec”.
These changing roles are at least partially the result of women coming into power both on and off television. In fact, Maria Riley the author of an article titled “WOMEN: Female Roles Still Distort Reality”, argues:
“Changing the media’s projection of woman has been a consistent agenda of the women’s movement since the 1960s. Initially the efforts were directed at raising consciousness of the images of women present in language patterns, textbooks, magazines, advertising, and TV programming. Typically women appeared in stereotypic roles ‘dumb blonde’ sex object or whimpering victim. When women were presented in a positive light it was always in the role of mother and homemaker. Generally the image was of a passive, dependent, and often silly person.”
Now, representations of women have evolved beyond the passive sex object stereotype. For example, “Grey’s Anatomy.” The protagonist in the show, Meredith Grey, is a successful surgeon working extremely long hours despite having two young children. Other characters in the show are also in the same position with most of the characters both being married and having kids while both being surgeons. This is an excellent example of how far TV has come in terms of women being represented in the workplace. Not only are women depicted outside of the home, but they are shown mastering the spaces they were excluded from for so long on TV.
On the other end of the spectrum from the previous paragraph, there is the classic show “The Brady Bunch”. The mom in the show, Carol Brady, is a stay at home mom. In the show her role is to take care of the house and kids which is a very old ideal nowadays. Another example would be the Dick Van Dyke show which his wife, Laura, is also a stay-at-home mom. This isn’t to say that staying home is bad and working is good, it just shows a more realistic perception. These are some of the most famous shows in history and they have female characters represented in a stereotypical type of way.
With all of the time that has passed since these shows aired, you would think that women would be more well-represented and less sexualized. According to The Huffington Post, this is still not the case. “The team’s data showed that on prime-time television, 44.3 percent of females were gainfully employed — compared with 54.5 percent of males. Women across the board were more likely to be shown wearing sexy attire or exposing some skin, and body size trends were apparent: “Across both prime time and family films, teenaged females are the most likely to be depicted thin,” Smith wrote in the study’s executive summary.”
An article written by Dana Liebelson and Asawin Suebsang discusses seven different ways in which girls are stereotyped and underrepresented on screen. This article covers many different types of shows and discusses how females are grossly overwhelmed by guys in shows numbers-wise. In kids television shows, females represent only roughly one out of every two-and-a-half main characters and women characters wear much more inappropriate clothing than male characters do. On top of this, nearly three out of four narrators are men as well. These facts further explain that men still dominate television even though there has been evolution in the recent past of women being better-represented.
I mentioned there has been evolution, but how much exactly? An article written by Amber Topping talks about the evolution of the female character. The article talks about how the main female in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” is a strong female character. This is a fantastic example, but it is definitely not enough. The author of the article said “I want a male:female character ratio of 1:1 instead of 3:1 on our screens. I want a wealth of complex female protagonists who can be either strong or weak or both or neither, because they are more than strength or weakness.”
The progress has been impressive but it’s clearly not enough considering the ratio of females-to-males is still nearly 3:1. All these sources point toward equality in television one day, but there’s still a ways to go. This situation used to be a lot worse, but with the improvement and signs pointing positively, equality and fair-treatment for female characters may not be too far off.