TV Women: Are they us?

S” A lot that happens on television doesn’t make sense.”

February 14, 2015

Do the people that we see on television or on other electronic outlets look like us, act like us, feel like us or live like?

I wrote the following article in 1989 and a lot of television with its canned laughter and not so funny situation comedies is not that different today. News programs have become more like platforms for celebrities than they are about digging deep to explore the real news.

Of course, there are oasis zones for the weary traveler wandering through desert garbage dumps. Public Television, APTN with a focus on aboriginal peoples and intelligent talk shows by, about and for women like The View, The Talk and the Ellen DeGeneres Show increasingly deal with a wider range of women and men in a variety of sizes, shapes, colours, different abilities, relationships, ages, economic levels, professions/jobs and lifestyles. Outlets, like Netflix, produce and feature shows that highlight life conditions that many live but many do not know about as well as small, independent films for story tellers to tell their stories even though they do not have access to the big bucks for these lights among the shadows projected at us on visual media.

Still, I believe many of you reading the following opinion piece will find that the changes needed in 1989 are still needed today:

Inner City Voice

July 1989

TV Women: Are they us?

by Tanya Lester

Next time you sit down to watch TV, why don’t you play a game with yourself?

Take a piece of paper and mark a “W” on it each time a woman comes on the screen. Put down an “M” for each time a man appears. When a woman comes on who in some way reminds you of yourself or of someone close to you, circle the W.

You will probably end up with a lot of W’s for women, where roles range from simply holding up cards on game shows to interviewing world figures and doing an excellent job of it. Regardless of what they are doing, these women appear on the tube almost as frequently as men do.

But how many Ws did you circle? If you are a woman whose skin colour is other than white, or if you are larger than a size 10, live on the lower end of the economic scale, are disabled, older or a lesbian, chances are you circled few W’s on your paper.

Ideal images

Why not? Some people who work in television think they know the answer. At a meeting with some CKY-TV staff last year, I mentioned that the types of people walking down any Winnipeg street should be the same kinds represented regularly on TV. One employee adamantly disagreed with me, because she felt television provides the viewer with ideal images which she or he can work towards becoming.

This kind of attitude makes me want to shut off my television permanently. How or why would a native person go about changing her or his skin colour to white? How or why would a disabled person go about getting out of her or his wheelchair , based on seeing on TV only people who walk? Doesn’t make sense, does it?

A lot that happens on television doesn’t make sense. For example, last spring at a Mediawatch Conference, Lucille Meisner from the Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Foundation of Canada talked about how TV fitness shows encourage us to get in shape, while at the same time setting us up to fail at it.

“Fit means thin, where exercise is for looks rather than for health,” Meisner said. “The implied message is that you already have to be thin and wear fashion work-out clothing to be able to strive for perfection.”

At the same conference, Cynthea Topham of the Consulting Committee on the Status of Women with Disabilities talked about the lack of women with disabilities on TV.

“One exception is the Bionic Woman, which I really enjoyed,” Topham said. “However, this portrayal gave the perspective of the ‘super crip’. This hearing impaired woman had to be a super woman to be accepted… I find that there is no representation of disabled  people in advertisements . Does that mean that disabled people don’t use these products?”

It seems one question leads to another. To encourage them to pursue careers, do young native women need to see native women portrayed in a positive way on TV? Do immigrant women need to see other women with similar cultural backgrounds in order to feel they are accepted into Canadian society?  I think so, because television has a great influence on our lives. Look at the number  of people  who watch it.

Make TV better

But you can make TV work for you. Anytime you don’t like the way things are being done on it, you can phone or write to the station you are watching and complain.  Or, if you happen to like the way women are portrayed on a particular program or advertisement,  you can let the station know about that, too.   Television stations compete with each  other  and want to please their viewers.

Also,  if  you belong to a group that  is occasionally approached by the media,  volunteer yourself (if you are a woman)  or a  woman  (if you are  a man) to be spokesperson to the media.  That’s   one  way to get all kinds  of women  on TV ,  and  we  need  to be   there in all our shapes, colours,  sizes, ages and    lifestyles.

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