Seasons of Love: The Effects of Anti-Feminist TV Characters on Self-Image

Over the past month or so, I’ve gotten into re-watching Gilmore Girls. I went through puberty and adolescence watching this series. As a dorky 13 year old, I identified personally with the show’s protagonist Rory Gilmore–a beautiful, smart, nerdy, charismatic teenager who loved reading and was hopelessly awkward with boys. I looked to her in my teens (and still have up to this day) as my role model while I formed my opinions about romance and dating.

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Each season of Gilmore Girls is characterized by the boy Rory is dating. We all know season 1 as Dean’s era, season 2 as Jess’s introduction, season 3 as Rory + bad boy Jess, season 4 as Dean’s era pt. 2, and the last few seasons as Logan’s stint with our heroine. This article debates about which boyfriend was best for Rory–obviously Rory was nothing without her love interests.

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Source: Wetpaint

Many other TV shows do this with female lead characters–Buffy the Vampire Slayer switches from vampire to human to vampire love interests each season, Mindy Lahiri has an endless slew of boyfriends in The Mindy Project, and even the feminist Tina Fey’s 30 Rock seasons can be categorized by Liz Lemon’s boyfriends. With very few exceptions (if there are any exceptions at all), TV shows with female leads center on the lead’s romantic life.

I often mentally categorize my life in similar yearly “seasons” too, because of how much TV has influenced me personally. I look back on the past few years of my life as the “casual dating season,” “the yearlong dramatic/long distance/engagement season,” the “shitty long distance season,” the “high school sweethearts season” and so on. My life in seasons categorized by relationships goes all the way back to my early childhood: the “preschool first crush season” was probably my first.

I’ve categorized the stages of my life in terms of my romantic interests for as long as I can remember. I’ve been coming to consciousness with how much importance I put on romance and men in my life, but it wasn’t until recently that I realized how deeply rooted this mindset was for me.

This makes me scared and unnerved to no end. How could I have lost myself so much in my pursuit of other people? Have I ever really had a true self if my sense of self has always been anchored by impermanent relationships?

Looking back on the TV shows that have influenced my romantic beliefs and behavior so strongly, I feel jaded. I spent my whole life strongly believing that I needed a boyfriend for my life to be interesting. All my female heroes’ lives seemed to revolve around a man; so logically, my life should do the same.

As an avid watcher of quality television (although I’m questioning the “quality” of my shows in terms of progressiveness now), it’s frustrating to know that it’s almost unavoidable to escape gender stereotypes or gender role perpetuation while watching TV. Do we really need to take breaks from being feminists to watch TV, as this article by the Onion pokes fun at?

I know TV shows are getting more progressive–Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation is one of my favorite feminist characters, but Parks isn’t without its problems (besides feminist issues, their portrayal of Native Americans is pretty bad). Ann Perkins, beautiful tropical fish, tries to date herself after realizing how much she changes for men, then ends up having the gorgeous Chris Traeger’s baby; we say goodbye to Ann as she settles into her life of perfect (although unmarried) domesticity. Also, can we mention white feminism here?

One of the reasons why I chose to major in Film/Media Studies at my university is that my greatest aspiration in life is to create my own (obviously very feminist) TV show with a strong womxn of color lead character. I plan to get there eventually, maybe after I’ve worked as a journalist for a while and have come to believe in myself enough to do something great with my life. I can sit with the frustration of the lack of feminist television options all I want, but who is actually going to do it? As Toni Morrison said, “if there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” If there is something lacking in television and the media, I believe it’s my duty to create it.

objects

I don’t remember
when I gave you permission
to judge my body

Is it inherent
for men to have the right to
compliment my butt?

Am I supposed to
smile and thank you when you
say my boobs look good?

When I wear lipstick
because it makes me happy
you don’t understand

You seem so confused
“Who are you tryna impress?”
(I must want the D)

How about myself?
You misogynistic shit
Oh but I’m sorry

I have forgotten
that women only do things
because men wish it

 

Note: I’ve been browsing through poems on the awesome misandry in haiku tumblr and it inspired me to write a (shittier) one of my own.

Know Your Worth

**Using gender-neutral pronouns here, so note the use of they/their as referring to a single person

A while ago I had a huge crush on one of my friends (which was reciprocated in full). We flirted a lot, but also shared a lot of our deepest, most personal secrets with each other. This person was still interested in their ex, and I thought I was okay with it. I mean, as long as we were together, I could overlook it. After getting pretty deep into it emotionally together, I found out this person was still talking and fighting with their ex even after I thought they were done. This person still wanted to be with me anyway, even wanted to talk to me about their problems from their previous/still ongoing relationship with this semi-ex/still-relevant significant other.

I had a few options at this point:
1. I could stick around. I’d had feelings for this person since last fall and I’d been dreaming about what it would be like if we finally got together. Was I really going to give up now?

2. I could stop. It wouldn’t really be quitting or failing at this attempt at love. I really did try. I gave this person a chance and an intimate position in my life. I opened myself up deeply and genuinely, connecting with them in a way I never had before with anyone else. I could accept that it was fun while it lasted, but know that I’m better than waiting for someone who got to see the real me and didn’t want me enough to take this opportunity.

I chose the latter.

Maybe at the beginning of 2013 or earlier, I would’ve stuck around. I had lower self-esteem before and often settled for whoever took any interest in me.

This person had their chance. I could have stayed and waited for them to make up their mind, but I didn’t. I know that I am an intelligent, beautiful person who deserves someone who will fully appreciate me for who I am. I know that I’m worth having a partner who wants to be with me, without having to fully weigh out their options before they decide they think I’m worth it. I know I’m worth better than playing second fiddle to some person who didn’t even give my person the time of day.

If someone is stringing you along, don’t wait around. Make your move, let them know how you feel, and put the ball in their court. If they don’t respond/don’t realize how great a person you are, then know when to let go and move forward. Know your worth, and don’t look back to someone who wasn’t smart enough to realize what a catch you are.