Lady Cops, Vampire Slayers, Charmed Witches, and Superspies: Female Empowerment on Television
Sexualizing the Action Hero According to feminist theorist Laura Mulvey, the male gaze[occurs when the audience is put into the perspective of a heterosexual man. A scene may linger on the curves of a woman's body.. Feminists would argue that such instances are presented in the context closest relating to that of a male, hence its referral to being the Male Gaze. Theory proclaims that women are regulated to the status of objects----and the woman experiences the text through the man’s perspective. Feminist author Yvonne Tasker argues that the emergence of women in central roles in film and television have been tempered in key ways. The sexualization of the male body in action films is compensated through a hero’s activity. Actions films, in particular, have a penchant to visually emphasize the sculpted physiques of brawny actors such as Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. In Fast and Furious, the muscular physique of Vin Diesel’s body inadvertently becomes the object of the male gaze. To prevent homophobic rejection of the text, the automobile is displaced as a distraction from Diesel’s strapping physique.
Sexualizing the Action Heroine With the action heroines of the 70’s, the reverse is the case. To compensate for the male viewer’s anxiety over the role of the active female protagonist who propels the narrative—the protagonist must be consistently be sexualized –made an object of erotic spectacle. Example-Charlie’s Angels and Wonder Woman The glamorous heroines of Charlie’s Angels functioned as fashion plates as well as private eyes.
Sexualized Heroines Prevail-Charmed Even though female action heroines have ascertained greater independence and empowerment, they are still presented as the object of erotic spectacle.
70’s feminist social movement 70’s-social relevance Advertisers wanted to capitalize on the women’s movement Trying to appeal to working women’s market Women worked full-time (over 30 + hours a week) Women had disposable income Less leisure time Feminist demands Equal Pay Opposed sexual discrimination Females gained access to male dominated professions (ex police/fire professions) Programs such as The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda, Alice, and One Day at a Time featured working women.
“Jiggle TV” A paradox of this period (mid 70’s to early 80’s) is that women were featured in more dramatic series than any other at the time. Women’s bodies were used as “sexual attractions.” Police Woman, Charlie’s Angels, Wonder Woman, Get Christie Love
Cagney and Lacey-The Beginning Originated as a movie script in 1974 written by Barbara Corday and Barbara Avedon. Written by 2 women who modeled their friendship for the characters of Cagney and Lacey. The script wasn’t green-lighted initially because the characters were not feminine enough.
Serious vs. Sexy Police Women Avedon wanted to portray these characters as women who took their occupations as police officers seriously. Deviate from character’s such as Police Woman who would powder her nose before making an arrest. Cast strong “strong, mature” women with senses of humor in the roles” Hollywood would only make the film if sex symbols Raquel Welch and Ann-Margret starred. However, the 1.6 million dollar budget prevented the studio from getting the high-priced actresses to star in the film. The project went on the backburner until the 1980, when CBS sparked an interest in the show as part of their quest to program quality television for the “new working women’s ” market.
Exploitation Advertising To attract viewers to the show, the CBS promotion department produced an TV Guide ad that was considered a form of “exploitation advertising.” Large close up of Loretta Swit with her long blonde hair on the right-with clasped, outstretched hands holding a pointed revolver which dominates the right. Significantly smaller medium shot of Tyne Daly in police coat, shirt, and tie is under Swit close-up Far left, another smaller image of Swit lying on her back, presumably naked, with sheet draped over her. One bare shoulder and arm, and one bare leg and knee exposed. A man is depicted from the waist up, leaning over and top of her, his arms across her body. The copy reads “It’s their first week as undercover cops! Cagney likes the assignment. Lacey cares about the people she protects. They’re going to make it as detectives or die trying.”
Cagney and Lacey –The Series (1982-1988) Loretta Swit played Cagney in TV movie, but had to decline series out of her contractual commitment to M*A*S*H). Meg Foster was then cast as Lacey in series. Non-Tradition Depiction of Women Breadwinners Lacey’s husband was the homemaker—stay at home dad Independent Women Non-glamorous Sexual Initiators Wore suits-no dresses Female friends Competent—solved their own cases Ages-30’s/40’s First dramatic show to star two women
Cagney and Lacey The characters were not drawn as: Sexual objects Vulnerable Sensitive Demure Competitors Conventionally Beautiful Youthful Glamorous
Cagney and Lacey Detective Christine Cagney Dated Many Men Assertive Sexual Initiator Strong Her power gave her the resemblance of lesbian “masculine” woman
Backlash Leads to “New” Cagney TV Movie was a huge success but series debuted to disappointing ratings. It initially debuted at 9pm on Thursday night’s after Magnum PI—CBS wanted to cancel series. Executive producer Barney Rosenzweig stated that the show was a “10:00” show—when aired in 10:00 spot-the show had a huge rating. Harvey Shepard felt that the successful outing may have been a fluke. —but reluctantly agreed to renew the series on one condition---Meg Foster had to be replaced. In interviews with Hollywood Reporter and Daily Variety—Harvey Shepard stated that the stories were too gritty, Cagney and Lacey were too tough, and not feminine enough. CBS felt that the male viewers were threatened by the power of women. From a sample of viewers, people called Cagney and Lacey “inordinately abrasive, loud, and lacking warmth.” Brunette Meg Foster was then replaced by blonde Sharon Gless.
A Wealthier and More Feminine Cagney Cagney becomes wealthier (mother is from Westchester, NY) Wardrobe is more expensive to reflect escalated class with form fitting clothes The Gay and Media Task Force protested Foster’s firing for being “too masculine.” They felt Gless acted “too kittenish and feminine.”
Promo to Foreground Cagney’s Sexuality Mary Beth: Ya Know Chris, there’ve been some great women in the 20th century. Chris: Yeah! And some great men (dreamily) Mary Beth: Susan B. Anthony Chris: Jim Palmer Mary Beth: Madame Curie Chris: Joe Montana….ooh he can make a pass! Mary Beth (lightly annoyed with Chris) Amelia Earhart! Chris: The New York Yankees! Mary Beth: Chris, can’t you think of anything else than men?
Triumphs and Struggles Ironically, Sharon Gless had a large lesbian following during the series run and it’s afterlife. The homoerotic overtones that distressed CBS were actually pleasurable to certain viewers. Mainstream newspapers began to print feminist articles praising the pioneering series for breaking new ground for women. The series struggled in ratings . Cancelled in spring 1983. However, it was reinstated in Spring 1984 with 7 ep trial run due to: viewer’s letters, Emmy nominations, and high summer ratings.
Struggles Prevail Tyne Daly fought to maintain her bargain basement wardrobe with producers who wanted more glamorous wardrobe. Producers also wanted Daly to glamorize her hairstyle. Struggles with scripts and characterizations-dealing with Cagney’s pregnancy scare. Producers struggled how to deal with pregnancy—wanted to avoid miscarriage cliché but wanted to explore how a single woman handles the possibility of being pregnant. Abortion would have been rejected by network. In the end, they opted to make it only a scare . Tried also to make Cagney more sympathetic by giving her a boyfriend-Dory. However, Dory is unpopular with viewers. Cagney rejects Dory and the institution of marriage.
Social Issues From 1984 till the series end-the show dealt with social issues. Wife-beating, abortion, breast cancer, sexual harassment, date rape, alcoholism and other topics of female exploitation. The series ended in 1988. The characters lived on in Made-for-TV movies. Cagney & Lacey: The Return (1994) Cagney & Lacey: Together Again (1995) Cagney & Lacey: The View Through the Glass Ceiling (1995) Cagney & Lacey: True Convictions (1996)
Buffy The Vampire Slayer Aired from March 10, 1997 to May 20, 2003 Created by Joss Whedon (Firefly, Angel, Dollhouse) Angel-spinoff (1999-2004) Buffy is the latest in line of women known as slayers She is chosen by fate to battle vampires, demons, and other evil. She is guided by her watcher (Rupert Giles) Buffy’s inner circle of friends who help her battle evil are known as the “scooby gang”
Buffy The Vampire Slayer The series promoted many feminist ideals and was infused with "girl power". Creator Joss Whedon says of the series feminist premise: "I intended to invert the Hollywood formula of the little blonde girl who goes into a dark alley and gets killed in every horror movie. I wanted to subvert that idea and create someone who was a hero.” "The very first mission statement of the show was the joy of female power: having it, using it, sharing it.”
Buffy The Vampire Slayer Media Scholar Jim Thompson states “Buffy the Vampire Slayer presents feminism in a postmodern form for the masses.” The program is a recombinant of horror, comedy, and drama that creates a unique literary piece that attracts fans of diverse cultures, ages, and interests. Feminism aims to subvert the traditional masculine and feminine roles. Buffy the Vampire Slayer forces the audience to reconsider traditional roles and styles, not only in television, but in life.
Buffy Summers Buffy has been chosen as the one slayer, the one who will save humanity. She is given powers that have been handed down throughout the generations. The whole idea that this beautiful woman bears the weight of the world, to the extent that the very survival of the world and everyone in it depends on her actions, speaks volumes about the positive feminist image of Buffy Summers.
Willow Rosenberg Best friend of Buffy Summers. She has developed, over the course of the seven year series, from a smart, geeky kid to a very powerful Wiccan. She has been a critical player in the saving of the Universe and is portrayed not only as highly intelligent, but also as a woman of great power. She has overcome many great challenges, some of which include the confusion of sexual awakening, the realization of her sexual preference, falling in love for the first time only to have her soul mate, Tara, murdered. She eventually herself back from the abyss of despair that resulted from all of the loss that she suffered.
Willow Rosenberg Willow may be socially inept, but she is also an illegal computer hacker, willing to bypass the laws of patriarchy to obtain information she needs. As the series progresses, she discovers her innate Wicca powers, becoming so formidable that Buffy says to her in The Gift; “I need you Will, you’re my big gun, the strongest person here”.
Xander Harris One of Buffy's other best friends Has been a constant presence throughout the seven year run of this television series. Considered a bit of a sap. He is very sensitive Uses his persuasive personality and strong sense of compassion to his advantage. Xander saves the world from Dark Willow, using only his words of love and understanding. Doesn’t possess the powers like the woman who surround him do. (Buffy, Willow, Anya, Dawn)
Rupert Giles Buffy’s watcher Father figure in Buffy's life through most of her life during the series. During season six, Buffy realized her independence. During this coming of age, Buffy and Giles actually had a reversal of roles and Giles was depicted as being more dependant on Buffy than vice versa. This role reversal and Giles' realization that Buffy no longer needed to learn from him due to the level of power that she had attained is another powerful example of this series' use of the woman as a strong and capable role model.
Dawn Summers Younger sister of Buffy. Buffy is a mother figure and positive role model for Dawn. The sisters lost their mother to a brain tumor and have been forced to become self sufficient. Dawn looks up to her sister, but is often envious of the important role that she has been chosen for. During the latter seasons, the importance of Dawn was revealed and her consequent realization of the power that she holds helps to reinforce the feminist perspective of the series.
Angel Aka Angelus Buffy’s first love interest. He shares Buffy's love triangle with Spike. He has also been portrayed in a traditionally female manner. He is considered pretty, but not as substantial or powerful as Buffy. Buffy is the one who holds the power in her love life. The fact that she is the one who calls the shots and ultimately chooses herself instead of either of the male characters in the end helps to show that Buffy is a powerful feminist figure.
Angel David Boreanaz, the actor who plays the character of Angel, was cast largely because he turned women “into puddles the moment he walked into the room” –Joss Whedon Angel assumes the role of the ‘babe’, the ‘eye-candy’, who has little do other than look attractive
Spike Aka William the Bloody One of Buffy’s love interests. He has been described as a pretty boy and is objectified in the traditional way that female sex symbols are objectified. Buffy has enjoyed his company, but has refused to make a commitment to him. Her independence and the portrayal of Spike as a sexual object help to enforce the "Girl Power" that is promoted by Joss Whedon.
“The Final Girl” With a Twist In the horror genre, the killer often uses phallic-shaped instruments to torture and kill his victims. Rarely are the women in these movies actually raped, but there are long scenes of knives being thrust into their bodies. Buffy's stake, which is plunged into a vampire's heart to kill him, can also be considered a phallic symbol. Comparable to the "final" girl in the horror genre - the lone woman who stands at the end of the movie, having seen her friends and family killed She often shows more courage and level-headedness than her male counterparts ... (her gender) is compromised by her masculine interests, her inevitable sexual reluctance and her apartness from other girls.
“The Final Girl” With a Twist Buffy fits this portrait, having begun the series as a loner, she is marked as both familiar and different. She generally experiences pleasure in physically challenging encounters with various monsters” Buffy would be the stereotypical last girl except that her friends, the Scooby gang, are always left standing as well, and she saves not only herself at the end of each show, but all of humanity
In the Tradition of Hollywood Beauty In the tradition of traditional horror movie heroine, Buffy is beautified. She possesses long blonde hair, a thin, petite frame and blemish-free complexion, she is not challenging traditional definitions of feminine beauty. However, Buffy does not simply stand around looking pretty in her stylish clothes. She is physically and mentally active in saving the world. She also takes pleasure in being confronting, fighting, and killing monsters
“Girlie” Feminism Journalist Rachel Fudge writes, "As cute and perky and scantily clad as she is, she's not overtly sexualized within the show, which is a pretty dramatic shift from the jiggle-core of most other kung-fu fighting women on TV”. Her ability to be both beautiful and strong, a perfectly accessorized and feminine killing machine, makes Buffy the embodiment of what Baumgardner & Richards call "girlie" feminism, the intersection of culture and feminism
“Girlie” Feminism “Girlie” feminists claim their femininity as a source of power, rather than trying to make it masculine. They argue that by doing the latter, women are in fact giving the masculine preferred status while devaluing the feminine. By embracing the feminine - make-up, clothing, etc. - third wave feminists are sending the message to society that women are powerful on their own terms.
“Girlie” Feminism The main criticism against girlie feminism is that it often comes without a political agenda. However, Buffy has an agenda: She is the prototypical girly feminist activist. Intentionally slaying stereotypes about what women can and cannot do. Combining sexuality with real efforts to make the world a better and safer place for both men and women. Her nemesis in season five was a powerful goddess named Glory - another strong, intensely feminine woman who was just as angry when she broke a heel as when her minions failed her. In Buffy’s world, men and women are equally capable of intense evil and goodness without sacrificing their sexuality.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer-HUSH Originally aired December 14, 1999 Written and Directed by Series Creator Joss Whedon Earned the show’s first official Emmy nomination for Best Writing Whedon describes it as a fairy-tale episode.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer-HUSH Buffy is the “princess” The Gentlemen are the “fairy-tale” monsters Giles is “the wise man” Riley –is designated as the romantic hero
Buffy The Vampire Slayer-HUSH Buffy shares characteristics of a fairy-tale princess She is beautiful She is willing to die for her people In the episode, she ends up with the hero
Buffy The Vampire Slayer-HUSH Hush undercuts the scholarly defined tropes of fairy tales through its visual imagery. Instead of being the imprisoned princess in the tower—Buffy herself breaks into the tower. Instead of being swept off of her feet by the hero—Buffy herself grabs a rope and swings through the air to be feet first in battle. Buffy and Riley reveal their secret lives to each others they point their weapons towards each other.-Buffy and Riley whirl into a position that is the closest they come to an actual dance. When Buffy screams to destroy the monsters—it is a powerful scream and not a “girly” one of distress. The undercutting of fairy-tale tropes correlates to the empowered female that is characteristic of the series.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer-HUSH The Gentlemen seemingly symbolize white male power. Instead of being the monster IN the mansion (the gothic female space)-they float through the streets –forcibly entering people’s homes and violently entering people’s bodies. The name “The Gentlemen” as well as their attire evokes class associations with the upper class. The Gentlemen also have servants who hold down the victims because The Gentlemen would not lower themselves to engage in a physical struggle with “lower-class” beings. They float six inches above the ground—metaphor for The Gentlemen being “above us.”
Buffy The Vampire Slayer-Chosen “Chosen”-final episode of the series Aired May 20,2003 The setting of “Chosen” retains key elements that are common through the series. Sunnydale (Sunnydale High School in particular) remains the main physical location, as it had been in the pilot episode through the series.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer-Chosen In the episode-the setting not only seeks to actively involve the viewer----it also helps portray Buffy as a feminine role model. In the world of Buffy, everything revolves around her. She is the center of all action, conflict, and resolution. She makes critical decisions that not only affect her and the people around her, but the entire universe (aka—the Buffyverse).
Buffy The Vampire Slayer-Chosen Antagonists in “Chosen” Caleb-a faux priest who is a “puppet” for The First (the true “big bad” of the season). Caleb represents patriarchy in his appearance and behavior. Powerful feminist imagery is presented when Buffy kills Caleb (a patriarchal religious figure is slain by a woman).
Buffy The Vampire Slayer-Chosen Antagonist in “Chosen” The First (aka The Original Evil) Incorporeal evil that takes the form of all the people in who died in Buffy’s life (including Buffy herself) The imagery of Buffy fighting “herself” in the climactic battle of good and evil symbolizes Buffy’s own conflict with herself. She ultimately has to overcome her negative self image and self doubt to attain victory. This is a common theme of the modern woman.
The Scythe that Buffy uses to slay Caleb and to ultimately save the world by sharing her "Girl Power" with all the other potential slayers is a key character in "Chosen". This object takes on a persona because of the objects rich history that is revealed during this episode. The Scythe is buried in stone, as in the traditional story "The Sword in the Stone", and only Buffy is able to remove the Scythe. It is determined that this Scythe holds great power that is only unleashed by Buffy and that it can be used as a conduit for her to share her power with girls all over the world.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer-Chosen Basic Plot of “Chosen” Buffy kills Caleb Then realizes that she may use the Scythe to channel her power to all the potential slayers of the world. She feels this will create an army of powerful women who are powerful slayers and will be able to launch an all-out war on The First Evil and her accomplices.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer-Chosen The theme of "Chosen" is that women are powerful, power is a choice, and that a woman is capable of being a messiah figure.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer-Chosen From Buffy’s monologue in “Chosen” “ It's true. None of you have the power that Faith and I do. So here's the part where you make a choice. What if you could have that power, now? In every generation, one Slayer is born, because a bunch of men who died thousands of years ago made up that rule. They were powerful men. This woman is more powerful than all of them combined. So I say we change the rule. I say my power, should be *our* power. Tomorrow, Willow will use the essence of this scythe to change our destiny. From now on, every girl in the world who might be a Slayer, will be a Slayer. Every girl who could have the power, will have the power. Can stand up, will stand up. Slayers, every one of us. Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?”
Buffy the Vampire Slayer-Chosen During the monologue, Buffy expresses the possibility that all girls will become powerful. A montage plays throughout the monologue and shows images of girls around the world receiving the supernatural powers endowed by to them by Buffy and the Scythe. This montage is a representation of the emotional undertone of the entire series and strengthens the theme of the episode.