Can You Be a Feminist and Watch Trashy TV?
Yes Mohale Mashigo
Writer, novelist Twitter: BlckPorcelain
No Jen Thorpe
Feminist writer, editor of Feminism Is Twitter: Jen_Thorpe
I am a feminist – let’s get that out of the way. When people ask what feminism is to me, I tell them it’s ‘a personal
liberation project’. It’s a lens through which I view the world – a world that, for a long time, told me there is only one acceptable way to be a woman. Trashy TV* is fake, and relies heavily on misogyny, colourism, slut shaming, exploitation, drama, misogynoir, etc. I’m a feminist who watches trashy TV – and I dare you to revoke my membership of the Sisterhood of the Travelling Equality (For All) Pants.
Ricki Lake was my first introduction to trashy TV, keeping me entertained during school holidays. Even then, as a Baby Feminist, I knew something was wrong with the narratives, and how women – especially poor/working-class black women – were portrayed. I can now name the things that made me uncomfortable, because of feminist writings and teachings. Does it make me enjoy Love & Hip Hop or
The Bachelorette less? Perhaps – but it’s because I understand the dynamics at play. Same goes for romcoms, beauty pageants, soapies and porn – and I still indulge in those forms of escapism.
Trashy TV is problematic – but so is the question ‘Can you be a feminist and still…?’ The fact that this is even a question tells me we expect absolute perfection from feminists. I’ve just escaped the perfection-as-femininity myth being peddled by patriarchy. I’m not falling for it again. My feminism does not owe you perfection. It is full of contradictions, and it saved my life. So I’m going to ask you, very nicely, to keep it down while I find out which new hip-hop star is sleeping with which hasbeen producer while claiming to be the Queen of ‘Noo Yawk’.
Roxane Gay puts it perfectly in the intro of her book (of essays), Bad Feminist: ‘I am a bad feminist because I never want to be placed on a Feminist Pedestal. People who are placed on pedestals are expected to pose, perfectly. Then they get knocked off when they f*ck it up. I regularly f*ck it up. Consider me already knocked off.’ * ‘ Trashy TV’ is just as bad as calling literature written by women ( for women) ‘chick lit’. It’s coded language used to belittle women for enjoying, and taking part in, something deemed to be inferior. That’s a story for another day, though.
No. Just stop doing it right now, or the feminists will revoke your membership, and you will be excommunicated to the
patriarchy. Okay, jokes. Let’s recognise that there is more than one type of feminist, that the idea of a single ‘feminism’ is not useful (and never was), and that there is room within the feminist movement for self-definition and choice. Prescription of perfect feminism is not my thing or my goal, but for me the answer to this question is another question: if you’re a feminist, why would you choose to watch trashy TV? I ask this because being a feminist has implications for the way you engage with the world, including the representations of women in the media. Being a feminist implies you watch TV and movies and listen to music with the understanding that a) current gender norms are a hot mess and women often lose in this mess; b) the portrayal of men and women on TV will affect how the next generation will think men and women ‘should’ or ‘can’ live; and c) we need to have diverse representations of women (in terms of age, race, class, sexual orientation, profession, gender performance, religion, etc) in order for homogenous ideas of ‘the ideal women’ to shrivel up and die. Shows such as The Bachelor, The Swan or Keeping Up
With The Kardashians tend to equate women’s value to their looks, or offer them financial and social rewards on that basis. They encourage women to believe that if they don’t have the love of a man, they are nothing. These types of shows often normalise misogyny, rank women based on bizarre criteria (such as the size or shape of their body), or portray women who act in oppressive, racist, classist and misogynist ways as ‘empowered’. These shows normalise the idea that women are either one thing or another, and don’t allow for diverse ideals of success, sexuality, beauty and power.
We live in a world where there is almost infinite television at our fingertips. There are many shows with interesting female characters who are not subservient to men, who aren’t all heterosexual, thin or white, and who show other ways of being a woman in the world. These are the shows we should be consuming – the shows that challenge us and our ideas of what women are and can be. I’d rather choose them.