TV today is riddled with the “f-word”
In the opening credits of new CW series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Rebecca Bunch, the main character, shows off her feminism freely, when dubbed “the crazy ex-girlfriend” by a group of other characters. Bunch calls them out, pointing out “that’s a sexist term”, and “the situation’s a lot more nuanced than that.”
Feminism has become a much more common occurrence this past year on television.
Although the title may be off-putting to some, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend might be the most feminist show on television at the moment. It continuously critiques inequality, especially the sexist tropes that are common to most romantic comedies. The show also delves into other issues, such as mental illness, all while staying light-hearted with numerous catchy songs each episode.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, however, is not the only feminist show on the air at the moment. Broad City, How to Get Away With Murder, Jane the Virgin, and Inside Amy Schumer are just a few of the many shows with strong female leads currently on television. 2015, the year of #squadgoals, and #shoutyourabortion has undeniably been one where the spotlight has been on feminism, especially on the small screen.
“It’s been, I think, quite mystifying in some ways to see this turnaround in mainstream media,” says Mythili Rajiva, an associate professor at the Institute of Feminist and Gender Studies at the University of Ottawa.
“For the last decade, possibly two, maybe even three, there has been such an anti-feminist discourse at work, both in larger North American society, as well as certainly the mainstream media, where feminism became the ‘f-word.’ ”
This discourse, it seems, may finally be changing. From openly feminist characters like Leslie Knope on Parks and Recreation, to shows with diverse female characters and crews like Scandal and Orange is the New Black, feminism appears to be everywhere you look.
Some of these shows are much more overtly feminist, with characters such as Leslie Knope identifying as a feminist throughout all seven seasons, and critiquing the way in which women are treated differently in politics than men.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend takes a different approach. The most feminist parts of the episodes are normally the musical numbers, with songs like “The Sexy Getting Ready Song” showing the ridiculous lengths women go to in order to achieve normative beauty standards, prompting the featuring rapper to call it “nasty-ass patriarchal bullshit.”
Orange is the New Black, like many other “feminist shows”, has much less overtly feminist characters, but still fits the category, as it features a diverse female cast, and deals with important issues, such as sexual assault in women’s prisons.
The most important thing to note about these shows is that many of them are not being considered niche, female series’, but are being widely watched by both male and female viewers.
Scandal and Inside Amy Schumer have both won Peabody Awards, and have been nominated for multiple Emmy Awards, each winning two. The success of the series’ suggests that people are becoming more accepting of feminism in mainstream media.
“I think one of the things we’re seeing with girls and young women now is a sense that it’s OK to be a feminist,” says Rajiva. “It doesn’t mean that you hate men, it doesn’t mean that you’re always angry or negative, it just means that you believe in things that supposedly society says are good things like equality and justice.”
The success of these shows, unfortunately, doesn’t mean that women have suddenly achieved equality in the film and television industry. Although there are big-time celebrities like Emma Watson and Jennifer Lawrence advocating for change, there’s still an imbalance in the industry that will take a lot more than female-centric television shows to change.
According to the Center For the Study of Women in Television & Film’s 2014-2015 report on women in prime-time television, women made up 40 per cent of characters on television and Netflix programs, but only 20 per cent in behind-the-scenes roles.
“There’s a long way to go before we see real barriers, structural barriers, in Hollywood overcome, but I think it’s certainly a step in the right direction,” says Rajiva.
Although equality may be far off, for now we can enjoy the time that women are having in the spotlight, and continue to listen to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s catchy, sexism-critiquing musical numbers.