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Representation Of Women Essay, Research Paper

Utilising one of the approaches to representation from the lecture programme, analyse a media product. How useful is this critical method?

In this essay I am going to investigate the feminist approach to the representation of women in the soap opera.

Television soap operas are long-running serials traditionally based on the close study of personal relationships within the everyday life of its characters. Soaps are a consistent set of values based on personal relationships and on women s responsibility for the maintenance of these relationships.

The modern feminist approach to this predictable role of female characters, is that it is a way of perpetuating the patriarchal ideology into its largely female unquestioning audience. Feminist, Deborah Rogers wrote, I argue that the fragmentation of soap narrative form reinforces the status quo with respect to the nature of sex roles and of interpersonal relationships in a patriarchal culture. She goes on to discuss the unquestioning audience, Although the mixed messages of soap operas allow scholars to construct subversive readings, actual viewers fail to respond in this manner. (p325)

Rogers also discusses the difficulty feminists have in agreeing whether or not the soap opera should be celebrated only because it is a female genre, when it is in fact potentially harmful. The cumulative effect of introducing in a fragmented text messages that reconcile women to traditional female roles and relationships is to reinforce patriarchal cultural behaviour in a way that is difficult to identify during a typical – that is, casual – viewing experience. However Terry Lovell agrees that the soap opera is made with a patriarchal ideology but maintains that this may be of comfort to its female viewers.

Soap opera has a rather ambiguous relationship to patriarchal ideology: it provides a context in which women can express both good humoured acceptance of their oppression and recognition of that oppression, and some equally good-humoured protest against it. (108)

If we look at some female characters found in soap operas, we will see patterns emerging from their lifestyles to their feelings about their families, these patterns are, feminists argue to encourage the female audience to internalise these values in order to maintain the patriarchal ideology.

Soap operas are made up of stereotypes. This is because of the large cast and possibility of casual viewers, which necessitates rapid characterization and the use of recognisable types. Typical types that have been put forward as being used extensively in soaps by Marion Jordan include, Grandmother figures: Marriageable characters (mature, sexy, women; spinsterly types; young women; mature, sexy men; fearful, withdrawn men; conventional young men); married couples; rogues (including ne er-do-wells and confidence tricksters)(p67), other terms that have been used include, the gossip, the bastard, the tart, the decent husband, the good woman and the career woman.

One of the most well-known female soap stereotypes is the matriarch. This character could also be given the label good woman .

An example of this character is Pauline in Eastenders. She is very typical of this type , she was married the good wife and even forgave her unfaithful husband in order to retrieve her stable family. She had children during her marriage and has worked mainly in the home all her life, and sometimes worked part-time at the laundrette – which can be seen as an extension of Pauline s duties in the home. It is also typical of this matriarch character to become sexless because they have a family. This is demonstrated in the way that she dresses (Pauline s cardigans are infamous) and the conversations she has with her husband – these are very mundane and domesticated sex is not mentioned. Viewers often see little more than a rare hug and a peck on the cheek between them.

Pauline s character is an interesting one to look at with a feminist approach. She has led the life of the perfect wife and mother, which is highly regarded in the strongly patriarchal soap land. She has sacrificed personal happiness for that of her children and lived in the same house in the same low class area for most of her life. As all Eastenders viewers well know, Pauline is very rarely seen to be happy even though she has achieved the goal that many female soap characters aim for. I think this is because she is widowed and her life is now incomplete without a man. Rogers argues that in soap land children are the ultimate achievement for women. She gives the example of an episode of The Young and the Restless when a character, Nikki, tells her husband Victor , I am so lucky. I have everything a woman could want I have a beautiful daughter, and a loving husband, and a wonderful marriage 1(p327)

Another of the female character stereotypes is the young, single woman. This character tends to conform to the model image being tall, slim, conventionally beautiful, and usually they are portrayed as being the girl next door type character, friendly, happy, not very intelligent, and seldom aiming high in a career. When these characters do try to further themselves in a career, they seem to fail. An example of this character is Lindsey in Brookside, this is a particularly interesting example because she was living a life contrary to this path mentioned, she was a single woman who was quite successful running a business. Her life began to change when she discovered that she was a lesbian, soon after this she lost the business and is now working as petrol station assistant. This character is another good example for feminist criticism; this storyline is demonstrating a blatant message that to live in such opposition to the patriarchal ideology leads the character to an unhappy, incomplete life. In this way, women are often punished for pursuing careers at the expense of their men and families.

Another of these stereotypes that feminists tend to discuss is the villainess. This is usually a woman who is in a position of power who is invariably aggressive. She uses her sexuality for herself, and not for the pleasure of men. An example of this character is Natalie, when she first appeared in Coronation Street. She began life on the street owning her own business, after buying one of the local residents out as well as having an affair with one of the married men on the street. In soaps the more positive features that the villainess possesses are portrayed in a morally disapproving manner, and so ultimately, success is denied. This was proved in Coronation Street when the business Natalie owned lost her money.

The female viewer both loves and hates this character, sides with her, yet at the same time, desires her downfall. As John Fiske argues, The contradictions in the text and its reading position reflect the contradictions inherent in the attempt to assert feminine values within and against a patriarchal society. So the villainess is portrayed in both a positive and negative light at the same time; positive because she does things for herself rather than for men, and negative because she is shown to ultimately fail, which can be seen as a warning not to follow this example.

It is interesting to compare this villainess with one of the matriarchs in the soap. If we take Natalie again and compare her with the character Sally, who was married, had children in the marriage, and worked in the home for most of her children s lives, we see that over the past few years, although Sally s husband had an affair and they broke up, Sally received a lot of support from friends on the street because she is after all the good woman Sally can also be seen as successful because she has achieved the soap dream of having a family. Natalie however, after entering the street on a bad note as discussed earlier, went on to live a single life, seeing various boyfriends in-between and ultimately has recently left the street after her most recent boyfriend broke up with her and left her pregnant. Whereas Sally has recently become engaged to one of the good men types. This direct comparison shows how obvious the message of patriarchal ideology is.

In conclusion for this essay I have tried to demonstrate how soap operas are analysed with a feminist approach, I have looked at the stereotypes put forward by feminists and explained with just two examples how they contribute to the perpetuation of the patriarchal society.

I think that this approach is useful although I feel that they have used quite broad generalisations, and there are lots of examples in soap operas today to show that some of this theory isn t always the case. An example is Jackie in Brookside she is the single attractive woman type . Who has grown up on the soap and pursued a successful career. Another example is Toyah in Coronation Street who again has grown up on the soap and is now at university. Of course it can be argued that eventually we will see their down fall as a result of them pursuing careers outside of the home and domestic life.

Some feminists feel that now we have recognised these blatant patriarchal messages there needs to be change in the genre and indeed society . But Fiske argues that soaps do hold some benefit for the oppressed woman, While it may not challenge that patriarchal domination in any direct or radical way, at the very least it consistently whittles away at patriarchy s power to subject women and at best it provides both a masculine-free zone from which a direct challenge may be mounted and the self-esteem that such a challenge would require. (p197)

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