Comment Writer Tatyana Goodwin discusses the problems with female targeted media and how it is changing for the better
As Valentine’s Day approaches, the inevitability of sitting at home and watching Bridget Jones’s diary for a fifth year in a row looms over me. Crying over a box of chocolates, probably gifted to me by my mother, I have often found comfort in watching cheesy rom-coms, relating to the women in them – albeit I won’t be chasing my Mr Darcy in the snow.
Enjoying female targeted media doesn’t make me a bad feminist, but it does make me aware of letting something like a rom-com serve as an instruction booklet on “how get a man”. Society places a magnifying glass on women, and female targeted media has the effect of implying to women, often in an infantilising way, how they should behave.
The male love interest changing a female protagonist’s ‘workaholic ways’ is common trope in romantic comedies but this leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. It dictates that romantic fulfilment is the epitome of womanhood and the pursuit of a career – through behaviours often considered desirable in men – will leave her as a pariah, socially unfulfilled and alone. In other stories of a neurotic and typically unfeminine women, we see the love interest declare his adoration “in spite of” these things. As if to say that these women are the exception, rather than a norm, and it takes an exceptional man to love her.
In a changing landscape where women are shifting their focus towards issues such as safety, gendered violence and discrimination, the continued targeting of such media to women seems infantilising. When women are mobilising to improve their safety and tackle institutionalised sexism, having a film declare unshaved armpits as ‘loveable’ seems grossly out of touch. It reflects how female targeted media is so often written by men, and as such reflects what men see as women’s issues. When media has women at the helm, the ship is steered in an entirely different direction.
A prime example is Promising Young Woman, directed by Emerald Fennel. The film utilises the overused trope of female trauma-led revenge with a lens on the realities of the female rage and the bonds of sisterhood. It has pioneered a new era of female targeted media, where the female rage is explored more closely as an emergent way of understanding femininity, rather than typically traditional norms such as homemaking and romantic relationships.
This also reflects a changing moral landscape for women, one which has contributed to the decline of traditional female targeted media such as agony aunts. Issues such as romantic relationships and homemaking, whilst still present in many women’s lives, are no longer the moral standard of femininity. When women can no longer trust the police to keep them safe, asking Aunt Jemimah on how to provide the best post-work meal for their husband seems redundant and unfashionable. Personally, I no longer feel the need to ask for permission or help in ‘how to be a woman’, because I find that ‘womanly behaviour’ now evades strict definition. Countless women like me are now more concerned with real, less abstract issues, and increasingly more common are social media pages on gendered violence and issues of misogyny and sexism.
Whilst the decline in female targeted media may mark an interesting new development in the structuring of social expectations of femininity, there are important factors that need to be considered for this to equate to tangible progress. There needs to be a greater space for female directors, reflecting on more nuanced female-oriented issues. In addition, greater representation for women within minority groups must also be at the forefront of this change. Considering the recent Oscar nominations, and the lack of BAME directors in the best director category, it is clear that progress is still needed in this area.
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