Talk show culture and feminine victimization
By Brittney MacDonald, Life & Style Editor
If you’ve ever taken a gender studies course or read a Cosmopolitan article on the power of the modern woman, then you understand the general idea behind gendered socialization. Women are taught from a very young age to see ourselves as weaker, both physically and mentally, than our male counterparts. This particular brand of instruction somewhat acts as a self-fulfilling prophecy. As women we don’t want to be weak, but we become weak because we see that as a feminine characteristic and therefore a desirable characteristic. This type of mentality has been changing, as our generation has become aware of this socialization process and become creators of ideas that will shape the next generation. The ways that we teach our children will become less gender specific and more about individual power as opposed to social constructs. In essence, we teach the next generation to not rely on how society sees them, but how they choose to present themselves to society, thereby taking the power away from the group and putting it into the hands of the individual.
But this process of socialization is ongoing, and it doesn’t end when we hit puberty, or when we decide which gender, if any, we want to be. We are just as susceptible to gendered socialization as adults as we were as children—the trick is to be aware of when this occurs. Sometimes it’s easy to spot; action movies in which a man has to save the woman he loves by facing dangerous physical challenges are a good example. But other times it’s not so overt—such as when a daytime talk show chooses to feature victimized or “badly behaved” women as their topic of the day, several days in a row.
Talk show culture kind of flies under the radar because we don’t view it as serious television. Despite the fact that it often reports or comments on serious news events, it is not held to the same standard of accountability that the news, or even that fictional television, is. Audiences are angry when a strong female character dies, or when the media focuses on murders with only female victims, but a talk show can literally feature stories about female rape victims three days in a row and no one bats an eye.
Like most women I started watching daytime talk shows because that’s what my mother and older sisters did. If you work nights or have early morning classes, then talk shows can act as a means of informing yourself as they often comment on topical events. I did notice a disturbing pattern as these programs played in the background. These shows are marketed mainly towards women, but the way in which they structure themselves seems to perpetuate feminine victimization. Despite the fact that I dislike Dr. Phil immensely, I decided to try to watch his show for several days in a row. The topics of discussion ranged from out of control alcoholic mothers, to female victims of domestic abuse, and even a woman that was kidnapped and chained up for two months by a former male employer. Believe me when I say that the Dr. Phil show is not alone in featuring these types of stories—repeatedly.
The problem here is the same problem that would outrage many people had these stories been featured, in this way, on any “serious” television platform. It is portraying women as weak. The fact that it is marketed towards women does not nullify the fact that it is sexist and displaying a very clear message: you should be afraid.
I’m not saying that these types of stories should be swept under the rug, nor am I in any way trying to distract from the very serious and traumatic events that these women went through. But when you set up a television program that only focuses on women being kidnapped and beaten, you are perpetuating the patriarchal ideal that women should be cossetted and protected, as opposed to the genders being equal. This is not only a form of socialization, it is also fear-mongering.
The question then becomes: How do we stop it? Well, to put it as simply as possible, you just have to stop watching. The only way that socialization is successful is when it is fully absorbed. If you, as a grown adult, choose not to watch or expose yourself to this kind of propaganda, then there is no way for it to work. Instead, there is a plethora of other television talk shows that avoid focussing on only the bad. As with all things, there must be balance. Choose your television programming wisely, because even if you don’t think so, it does affect you just the same as any other element of your environment.