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US TV Blog

Is it just us, or... Did TV just get really sexist?

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It's funny - I always thought that marketing campaigns were designed to hook in viewers. You know, make them want to watch a show. But as if the unfunny trailer wasn't enough to make me reconsider tuning in to Whitney (and believe me, I'm being kind there), NBC then presented me with this monstrosity...

Whitney poster

© NBC Universal



Yes, it appears that we have somehow all managed to travel back in time to less enlightened days. Hurrah! It's an era in which woman are either dumb, or manipulative. Sorry, "emotional ninjas". We never say what we mean! We're shrews, cruel, and we prey on poor, little, hapless men! Thank God someone's finally had the guts to say it!

Or, well, not. This offensive suggestion was boring about 30 years ago, and now it's not only tiresome but outdated. What's even more frustrating about this is that it's advertising a female-led show. Whitney Cummings is starring, co-writing, and executive producing the series. It's even carrying her name. I find it impossible to believe that she had absolutely no say whatsoever in the marketing campaign - and she approved this?

To be fair, it's not only Whitney that's making me die a little inside this season. ABC's really pushing the sexism boat out with its upcoming shows. They're perhaps not as blindingly, in-your-face offensive as the ridiculous poster up above, but their basic premises can easily be described as "not exactly woman-loving". (I should point out here for clarification that I haven't seen these shows yet - they could be bastions of feminism, for all I know - but at this point I'm judging on descriptions, clips and trailers).

The network's actually decided to commission three whole "comedies" about how women have taken over the world and men have been left behind. Man Up is probably the least offensive from a female point of view - while the basic idea is again that women have taken over, it follows three men who have failed to grow up. The problem is that the female characters are basically reduced to being naggy wife-or-girlfriend figures who just get in the way of having fun. Boring. At least this show is basically equal opportunities - women suck, but men suck too. It's actually sexist to both genders - quite a feat.



Worse than Man Up is the truly execrable-looking Last Man Standing, starring everyone's favourite sitcom guy Tim Allen. If you had lingering doubts that there were sexist undertones to some of this year's crop of new shows, let me remove those immediately by quoting the official ABC description for Last Man Standing: "Today it's a woman's world, and this man's man is on a mission to get men back to their rightful place in society."

Splutter. What, exactly, did you just say? There is no way that description cannot be read as sexist. It's basically saying that women should know their place and let the men get back to running things properly. What happened to that whole "equality" fandango, exactly? Well, Tim's not happy about it!

Maybe he's supposed to be the butt of the joke in Last Man Standing - to be fair, his wife and daughters don't seem impressed by his behaviour - but he's the main character. I've got the sinking feeling that we're meant to be rooting for this awful creature. As if that wasn't enough, when Tim's wife goes back to work and gets promoted because, you know, she's good at her job, her male colleagues are "dismayed". Is anyone else holding in screams?



Well, if you thought Last Man Standing sounded bad, you ain't heard nothing yet. Step forward, Work It. Yes, this charming little show focuses on two men who are unemployed because of those pesky women taking over the world (spot a recurring theme?) So of course they come to the conclusion that any hard-done-by man would decide to dress as women to get jobs as pharmaceutical reps. The fact that this actually works is annoying in itself - it's not that the men were bad at their jobs, they just couldn't get a break because of bloody women.

But the sexist fun doesn't stop there, oh no! That these men are pretending to be women gives us huge insight into the messed-up, crazy female mind. Did you know that women don't like to eat big sandwiches, for example? God no, we survive on lettuce. But what made me really want to punch something was the awful clip - now, funnily enough, taken down by ABC - that showed a group of women in awe that another woman (actually one of the men) could fix a car. That's fair enough, I guess - our brains are made out of jelly.



All that's without even mentioning NBC's hyped-up drama The Playboy Club, which has already picked up accusations of sexism from women's rights leader Gloria Steinem, unsurprisingly. Of course, it's set in the 1960s, handily providing the writers free reign, but they do love the fact that they're dressing their female cast members in rather skimpy outfits (you can tell the team like this from all the close-ups of flesh in the trailer).

Actually, I don't necessarily have as many problems with The Playboy Club as you might expect but there are some worrying aspects to it. For example, it's a little strange seeing the tagline that your "wildest dreams" can "come true" in the Playboy club juxtaposed with a bunny murdering a man who attempted to rape her. Ah, yes, every woman's desire! There's also, of course, the hints that working as a "bunny" is offering all this freedom to women, which carries a fair few implications that I'm not completely comfortable with. Oh, and there's the fact that every bunny in the joint appears desperate to marry Nick Dalton (played by Eddie Cibrian - a man who confuses me by being so annoying and yet so bland). I'm not convinced by this obsession with marriage.

That said, The Playboy Club does offer me some hope. I have a feeling that it might attempt - at least a little bit - to challenge some of those dodgy sides. The trailer shows us that at least one of the Bunnies has spark and bite, and it also looks like we'll be seeing what happens when a "Bunny" grows up.



The fact is that a lot of this - frankly, quite lazy - sexism is so frustrating because the subject can be tackled superbly on screen, particularly in period dramas. Take Mad Men or, to a lesser extent, the British drama The Hour, which have both shown their lead characters engaging in sexist behaviour. The shows don't overtly criticise the comments or actions, but implicitly it's clear that it's wrong. The problematic part with shows like Last Man Standing or Work It is that this sexism is just built right in - it's not commented on, it's just how things are. Well, that's not how things should be.

Of course, it looks like there are plenty non-sexist shows for us to digest in the coming months. And Pan Am looks like it will follow the Mad Men model by examining the way women broke free of their previous restrictions. What could have been just a soapy air hostess drama looks like it might have a bit more edge to it than that - the fact is, working for an airline gave women the chance to have some independence and travel the world. Naturally, there'll be some sexism - it was the '60s, after all - but Pan Am looks like it might be able to handle that well.



I suppose my main complaint is that I thought we were past all this boring old sexism, and yet there are shows infuriating me simply by being so outdated. This is a world where The Borgias star Jeremy Irons has no qualms about saying that "any woman worth her salt" can handle it when a man grabs her bottom as it's just "communication". And just after I finished writing this, I read that a report has found that the number of women working in television has dropped (well, that explains a lot). We already have enough to deal with. We don't need Work It as well.

What do you think? Is television getting more sexist? Leave your comments below!

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