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Portrayal Of Women In Soaps Essay, Research Paper

Portrayal of Women in Soaps

By doing a textual and feminist analysis, the specific issue we examined in our study is how women’s characters are portrayed in soap operas, specifically Days of Our Lives, and how their behavior is affected by the patriarchal system. The feminist and textual analysis were done through the viewing of Days of Our Lives on three consecutive Fridays. We also read related articles that gave us a better understanding of our research topic. The combination of our viewing, research and reading enabled us to do an adequate feminist and textual analysis.

Many points Harper discussed are relevant to our research question, especially those dealing with the way patriarchy affects women’s roles. Harper consistently explained the use of certain stereotypes on television. A study by Tedesco in 1974 showed that 51 percent of females compared to 31 percent of males were clearly shown to be married on television drama. Also McNeil found that 75 percent of men were gainfully employed, compared to less than half of the women. McNeil also found that when employed, a female character is less likely to have an important job and more likely to work under close supervision. These statistics found in Harper’s articles support the idea that women would be better off being married and keeping a home rather than going out into the high-powered world. Harper says that although a parallel structure is apparent in soap operas, the female character will usually fail or lose her power by becoming more sensitive and caring, or by being condemned to a life of misery and loneliness. Harper says that soap opera is a feminine form because of the no real beginning or end, the multiple characters and the concentration on domestic and personal issues such as relationships and the domestic setting. Harper cited Fiske’s view that women can use their sexuality as a positive source of pleasure or a means of their empowerment in the patriarchal world. Harper also cited Fiske’s view that the woman’s power to influence and control the male can never be achieved, but it is constantly in progress. This implies once again that women can never ultimately be in full control.

Helen Ingham says the majority of soaps are set in a domestic situation because this is supposedly the most valued place for women’s expertise. The central characters are often female, with the goal of getting married and having children. This could support the argument that the myth of never-ending maternalness actually conceals the subordination of women. Ingham says that even when women are shown in a position of power, they are still viewed through a very patriarchal ideology. At many times, powerful women are portrayed as unnatural because from dominant ideology men are the most powerful and should never be under a woman’s power. This is part of the reason so many women are shown in domestic situations. In more glamorous soap operas like Days of Our Lives, the middle-aged women are presented as sexually desirable in comparison to more domestic soaps. Also, female characters are seen as more powerful in the more glamorous soaps. These women are often portrayed as the villainess, with a source of strength gained from their feminine characteristics. As Sammy previously did on Days of Our Lives, many women use pregnancy and insight to manipulate people. Ingham says that some argue that the final control the villainess strives for is control over passive femininity rather than control over men. Even though soap operas do portray women in a more positive way than advertising and other forms of television, they still respect and conform to a broader mainstream of cultural demands. When women do have jobs in soaps, they are often unsuccessful or not attempting to pursue their careers. This shows that even a form of television targeted at a majority female audience contains subliminal messages reinforcing the dominant male ideology.

Our research supports these ideas from Harper and Ingham because we found very similar results from the textual and feminist analysis. Through our textual analysis, we found that Days of Our Lives went from equilibrium to disequilibrium to a new equilibrium. The characters and events told the story, and events followed one after another, making us infer causality. We found that this soap compensated for the lack of suspense through proliferating story lines and emphasis on character. Since characters continue from week to week, there is little suspense and the soaps continue without progressing. The feminist analysis added to our understanding of the female characters in Days of Our Lives. Through the analysis of Lexie, Kerry, Nicole, Kate and Sammy, we found many interesting points that support the ideas we found through our readings. Lexie represented the ideal woman who was successful in her career but feared her future as a mother. She was afraid of entering the patriarchal system by becoming a mother and being unable to continue her career as a doctor. She is controlled by her husband, who consistently pressures Lexie into becoming pregnant before she is ready. Her husband was the perfect, soothing man and father figure. He often called her cute, which could be found demeaning. Most important, he called Lexie his perfect rose, which definitely leads back to the ideology of patriarchy.

Another outlook on the female characters in Days of Our Lives gave us a different idea of patriarchal association. Kerry and Nicole were similar characters because of their self-destruction. Both of these characters made mistakes, and then they constantly feel sorry for themselves. Kerry cheated on her husband, and Nicole was paid off by Kate to marry her son, Lucas. Both of these women are young and had everything going for them, but for some reason destroyed it all. Kerry cannot seem to figure out whom she really loves, and Nicole knows whom she loves but married another man for five million dollars. Kate paid Nicole this money to marry Lucas so he could have custody of his and Sammy’s son. Since Nicole married Lucas, he looked responsible and the baby would have a mother figure at home. After she married Lucas, Nicole realized that the money was not going to make her happy and that she really wanted to be with Eric. Now Nicole is trying to figure out a way to get Eric back without losing all the money and hurting her husband. On the other hand, Kerry married Austin for love, but she was tempted to be with someone else when her husband was preoccupied. Kerry’s sister, Sammy, had a child and convinced Austin, Kerry’s husband, the child was his. This caused turmoil in Kerry and Austin’s relationship, and eventually caused Kerry to confide in another man for support. The father of the baby actually ended up being Austin’s brother Lucas. It was too late when truth came out because Austin had already pushed Kerry into another man’s loving arms. Although Kerry has a successful job and is somewhat powerful in her company, her weakness with men brings her down. Nicole also is a successful model and lets the men in her life make her unhappy. Now both Kerry and Nicole are miserable because of men, and have been turned into weak women. They rely on men to complete their lives, when they should be content with their own successful lives. This supports the idea of patriarchy in soaps because of these women’s dependence upon men.

Although these female characters may look strong on the outside, they are affected by patriarchy in many ways. Kate and Sammy are the female villains that are very powerful, but always end up unhappy and lonely. Kate is the career driven woman who controls everyone with her money. Kate has three kids that are grown, but she still interferes with their lives. She always manipulates people with money to help out her two sons, Lucas and Austin, and her daughter Billy. Sammy is the young, conniving woman who uses her baby and lies to manipulate others. Sammy drugged Austin, her sister’s husband, and convinced him he was the father of her son. This indirectly destroyed Kerry and Austin’s marriage, even though they found out the truth about Austin not being Will’s father. Sammy has been obsessed with Austin for years, and she is finally very close to being with him because of all her conniving and plotting to get him. Since Kerry cheated on Austin, he is now turning to Sammy for support, especially since he is so attached to her son. Austin was a father to Sammy’s son, Will, for about two years before the truth came out that his brother, Lucas, was the father. Sammy is on the way to getting what she has done all this dirty work for, but something will probably turn up to catch her in her lies. Sammy also manipulated Kate by blackmailing her so she could get what she wanted, including a job at Kate’s company. Kate and Sammy fight dirty, and they will not rest until they are victorious. Although they finally get what they have fought for, they end up being miserable because of something else. These female characters greatly support the presence of patriarchy in soap operas, and they are ultimately vulnerable and weak in the end.

By watching Days of Our Lives and doing a feminist and textual analysis of the female characters, we concluded that patriarchy is a key factor in the roles of these women. All of these ideas found through the analysis of the characters supports the points from the sources. We found from our research that women in soaps can be portrayed as strong individuals, even powerful in the work force. They can be manipulative, controlling and use sex, money and children to get what they want. Although patriarchy is not always obvious, it does exist and affects the roles of women in soaps. As previously pointed out, the female characters in Days of Our Lives are greatly related to the idea of patriarchy. On the outside the female characters may look as if they are in control, but in the end their characters benefit men. All of these women’s characters are infinitely ruled by men.


P. Harper, “The Portrayal of Women on Television”

http://www.aber.ac.uk/ ednwww/Undgrad/ED30520/pth601.html

H. Ingham, “The Portrayal of Women on Television”

http://www.aber.ac.uk/ ednwww/Undgrad/ED30520/hi601.html

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