Term Paper: Representations of Female Behavior in Media

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Representations of Female Behavior in Media and Society

The prevalence of feminine volatility, sexual acting out, aggression, bullying and violence within society and portrayed in the media is, at best, startling. Our social expectations of "girls" have been shaped by millennia of structures both real and imagined that existed to keep females subjugated to males, relegated to a particular part of society that is dominated by expectations of gentility, serenity, and of the fostering of future mothers. We left the aggressive behavior to boys. Our societies encouraged and continue to encourage boys to be aggressive, direct, righteous, and commanding. Boys are defined by their aggression - those without it are considered to be weak, undesirable by females, to be less-than. Our society, however, has increasingly shifted in its gender expectations. Starting in the 1970's and continuing today, the "traditional" roles of male and female within the workplace, home, family, politics and society have been shifting. Men have become more feminine ("metro sexual" anyone?) and women have become more masculine. The natural result is that with these new roles, girls have begun to learn about their idealized adult behavior from an entirely new brand of woman, and while women like Oprah Winfrey and Hilary Clinton are indeed examples of the benefits of these changes, an increasing number of girls are starting to demonstrate behavioral characteristics all too similar to the worst perpetrators of feminine aggression as displayed in television and the news ("Bad Girls Club" and the innumerable examples found on You Tube). Women are in danger of becoming something that feminists have both desired and abhorred - they are at risk of becoming one of the boys and, at the same time, increasingly vapid, promiscuous and self-destructive.

First, we must look at what it is that defines the apparently new wave of feminine aggression as something different than what we have seen in the past. Women, just as men, have always been capable of cruelty both individually and as a group. We have only to look at popular literature of virtually any era and we find cruelty, meanness, bullying, and even violence among females. Little House on the Prairie, written in the 19th century had Nellie Olsen, there was Lilith of the Mesopotamian/Sumerian mythology, and there was the ultimate Biblical "bad girl," Jezebel. But the question must be asked - how many feminine villains in history both real and imagined were the creation of men or of women? While it is true that the vast amount of literature has been, historically, written by men. Therefore, the majority of feminine villains and women of "bad" behavior have been described by men, as Freud would likely put it, to deal with their own fears about the core power of femininity. But what about when a woman writes a character that is feminine and evil? Is that an example of a woman who is not independent of thought and, thus, is controlled by the patriarchal ideals of what a woman should and should not be - namely she should be docile and submissive to men and she should not be assertive or aggressive?

When we look to an answer of that nature, we over simplify the problem - the truth is that bad behavior, evil, if you will, is present in every form of expression, every person, every character type, and as is the truth with the majority of literature such behavior is often more symbolic than actual. but, how can we make "symbolic" the violence of women like Aileen Wuornos, or Lizzie Borden something that is the direct result of male influence? Can feminists really argue that women are, at their core, incapable of murder and thus any woman that does is an abomination of nature? This certainly is the attitude taken when mothers kill their own children. So, if women are capable of murder, of killing their own children, of destroying families and individuals like men do, what makes them so different that we need to worry over the increasing instances of feminine aggression in our society and media?

The answer may lie in the very question itself - women are, physiologically, mentally, emotionally different from men. This is not an indictment of either sex, but it is a scientific, biological, and medical certainty. Female DNA is different than Male. That being the case, we can certainly assert that women are different than men. So, what is it that makes men wage war and women not? Is it millennia of absolute social, physical, and mental domination of women that has rendered them powerless on a global scale? Certainly this is a majority factor - the fact that women do not hold a significant number of top positions within national leadership and, with a few rare exceptions, female rulers have not generally led their nations into war, allows us to maintain the ideal that women may be capable of violence on a small scale, but not on a large one. What we struggle to understand, however, is how any group of people, regardless of their history, suddenly start demonstrating a set of behavior that had been heretofore undocumented on a large scale...or had it? Does the example of "Bad Girls Club" and the You Tube videos reflect something new or something that has simply gone undocumented? If we extrapolate from the reality that women have always been capable of violence and murder, then we have to also take on the idea that they could be capable of violence on a larger scale. Rosalind Wiseman, "contends that every female has been hurt by her girlfriend at some point in her life; every school has mean girls, and mean girls' parents are in denial that their daughters are mean," (Adams, 2005). This can said about boys too. but, what is it that motivates the kind of cruelty to other women, the kind of cannibalistic fervor, that seems to mark the nature of today's Bad Girl and why does this behavior seem to be so exceptionally problematic?

Cable networks are putting to rest any preconceived notions that women's programming typically consists of uplifting stories about love and family or house making how-to-do fare, as evidenced by several outrageous and irreverent shows that are capturing sizeable female audiences," (Clark, 2008). One of these shows is titled "The Bad Girls Club." The premise of this show, like many other 'reality' shows, is to throw strangers together whose personalities, behaviors, and fragile psychologies are bound to clash, often spectacularly, in front of the camera. Violence sells sometimes better than sex - and when selling to women, it's violence that seems to be increasingly attractive to they viewing audience. Perhaps the problem for society with these Bad Girls is that they simply don't fit into our social expectations of traditional feminine behavior. but, it also could be that those very tradiditional ideals are now and never have been appropriate to reality.

With the advent of reality TV, every person can reasonably believe that through some odd behaviors, through self-destruction, through exposure (regardless of how detrimental or degrading) is the pinnacle of existence - the voyeurs found a new source for their interests and named it "The Real World," and there is no shortage of young, ignorant, people lining up to become the fodder for that entertainment. Taking this entire situation one step further, we are all citizens of Rome sitting in the Coliseum giving our thumbs up and down to the lives and futures of countless young people who are convinced that their personal value is directly tied to fame.

The first point we have to make is that while there are more depictions of female promiscuity, violence and aggression on television now, these behaviors have been well documented throughout history. We can accept that women can kill, they can assault, they can abandon their children, and they can commit serious acts of cruelty. What we can assert is that the kind of behavior we often see now on television is not an instigator of feminine aggression, but a representation of it and, perhaps in some situations, an inspiration for it. Researchers have long asserted that viewing violence can make a person violent. So can being abused as a child, being sexually assaulted, and being bullied.

This seems to support the justification for putting programs like E!'s the Girls Next Door, on the air. "We were happily surprised that the core viewers for Girls Next Door were women 18-34,' said Berger [Executive Vice President of Programming for E!]. 'Women viewers respond to the Girls Next Door because they love, laugh and make mistakes. it's women simply showing different facets of themselves. it's okay to be emotional, driven and sexual. I think a lot of our programming captures this," (Clark, 2008).

Indeed, many of the shows depict women going about their daily lives (albeit in front of a camera) much like the producers of the Hills, would have us believe. There is a particular feeling that is associated with reality… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Representations of Female Behavior in Media.  (2008, May 12).  Retrieved December 6, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/representations-female-behavior-media/27851

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"Representations of Female Behavior in Media."  Essaytown.com.  May 12, 2008.  Accessed December 6, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/representations-female-behavior-media/27851.