Stereotyping Women on “Bad Girls Club”
I don’t know why everyone else watches reality television but for me it is one of my favorite guilty pleasures. All the drama and those crazy fights keep me on the edge of my seat. However, I believe there are consequences to giving into these shows that exploit human emotion on national television in one of the worst possible ways. As a human with flaws of my own and little interest in most fictional television dramas, I watch shows like “Bad Girls Club” and “Jersey Shore” on a regular basis. As a feminist, I feel ashamed for the girls on the show, while they feel proud. What is this teaching viewers and what is the responsible viewer reaction?
Several weeks ago, Season Six of “Bad Girls Club” premiered on the Oxygen channel. According to Oxygen.com, “’Bad Girls Club’ brings drama to a new level with a cast of young women who are powerfully bold, outrageously funny and endlessly entertaining. The series brings seven new ‘bad girls’ together in a house where the women recognize that their outrageous behavior has hindered their relationships, careers and lives. They claim they want to change, but will living together help them move forward and turn their lives around – or will chaos rule?” This question is clearly rhetorical because audiences know that without the “chaos” there would be no show. Although Oxygen tries to find fun and exciting verbs like “bold,” “outrageous,” and “entertaining” to market the show, “Bad Girls Club” reinforces gender stereotypes. To further understand how the “Bad Girls Club” and similar reality television shows get so much attention by putting a spotlight on the most close-minded people in our society, I will examine the stereotypes portrayed in the show through their behavior and attitudes and the effect of these stereotypes on the viewers, the stars and Oxygen.
Oxygen isn’t the only channel that targets a female audience. Lifetime, OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network), We TV, and W Network are some other popular channels for women. I am definitely no television expert or a regular viewer of these networks but their dedication to feminism and empowerment of women through strong female role models in the media seems to be lacking. It does seem that Oprah brings many woman’s issues to light in the mainstream media on a regular basis. Other networks however, seem to promote women being brides and moms and other stereotypical feminine roles with shows like “Bridezillas” on WE and “10 Years Younger” on the W Network. Although, these channels do have some other shows that promote positive feminine images like “How To Look Good Naked” on the W Network, which promotes healthy body images through anti-plastic surgery messages, I wouldn’t say they have feminist agenda. An ideal feminist channel might need to be more news-oriented and focus on issues about women and equality in media. Oxygen and similar channels may not be well liked by all feminists but they are successful nonetheless and therefore deserve some attention from a critical perspective.
The way Oxygen, a network geared towards women, markets “Bad Girls Club” is important to understanding why it is aired and why it is popular. According to the article “Oxygen’s ‘Bad Girls Club Miami‘ Is #1 Program on Cable with Women 18-34” by Robert Seidman, last season of “Bad Girls Club” was the number rated show for women between 18 and 34, attracting the youngest audiences ever for the network. Earlier seasons of the show have done just as well; Oxygen was the fastest-growing network among people 18 to 49 in 2008 as stated in the article “Oxygen” from Advertising Age. Although they have found words with positive connotations to describe the behavior of the stars, it is clear that they are not truly trying to change their ways or promote positive role models and audiences know this. Simply compare Oxygen’s description of the show to Wikipedia’s: “The show’s premise follows seven women with a number of personal, behavioral, and psychological problems — deemed ‘bad girls’ — as they live together for between three and four months.”
In a way, “Bad Girls Club” defies traditional female stereotypes because the stars are generally strong and independent young women who do whatever they please. The girls feel the need to show dominance through fighting, screaming, swearing and partying; which is generally the way men are stereotyped to handle such situations. To quote Cathy Schreiber of the Women’s Foundation of California when talking about fights in “Jersey Shore,” “This display is both ordinary and shocking.” Such outrageous fights are ordinary on reality television but still shocking (and entertaining) because they are not ordinary in the lives of most of the audience. These shows make violent behavior seem normal and acceptable. Although the portrayal of young women may not be traditional, this popular show does not create positive images of women or empower women in any way. Women can be dominant and powerful without such rude behavior but the “bad girls” seem to forget this, especially after one too many drinks. The success of “Bad Girls Club” and similar reality shows reinforces this negative behavior even further.
The girls in the “Bad Girls Club” clearly have an idea of how a girl should act. There are many examples of “rules” they feel that they should all abide by. For example a bad girl should be feminine, able to defend herself verbally and physically, very sexually active, materialistic, dress a certain way, along with fitting other similar stereotypes. The girls stereotype each other from the moment they meet and when a roommate doesn’t fit their stereotyped ideas, a fight is sure to follow. It is not surprising that the girls talk behind each other’s backs in the first episode simply because they don’t like people from a certain area or how someone dresses.
All of these stereotypes and ideas they force upon each other lead to self-fulfilling stereotypes and internalized oppression. “We have all been programmed to respond to the human differences between us with fear and loathing and to handle that difference in one of three ways: ignore it, and if that is not possible, copy it if we think it is dominant, or destroy it if we think it is subordinate” said Audre Lorde in “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference”. The girls could be much more than we expect them to be but it is more common and much easier to act the way they think they are supposed to act. According to Mark Snyder in “Self-Fulfilling Stereotypes,” this also strengthens the idea that “although our actual physical appearance does not change, we present ourselves quite differently to our admirers and to our detractors,” changing our behavior for the appropriate audiences.
Not only do the stars of the show stereotype each other and see themselves a certain way, but the producers expect the audience to see each girl as a one-dimensional character that fits a stereotype as well. Each season the producers introduce the cast in the first episode by giving each girl a “title.” Examples of labels audiences are supposed to associate with the characters are: “The Mouth,” “The Party Diva,” “The Drama Queen,” “The Southern Spitfire,” “Chief Executive Bitch,” and “The Botox Barbie.” These titles encourage audiences to stereotype not only the “bad girls” but also girls in their lives. Again, the show’s creators are pushing the idea of self-fulfilling stereotypes because, like Snyder says, “people tend to notice and remember the ways in which that person seems to fit the stereotype” and they expect audiences to see the stars through their stereotypes alone.
Some may think these “bad girls” and reality television in general are to blame for many stereotypes in our society but society taught them to be the way they are. “If one dresses another way, one appears to ‘not care about oneself’ or to be ‘unfeminine.’ If one uses ‘strong language,’ one invites categorization as a whore or slut; if one does not, one invites categorization as a ‘lady’- one too delicately constituted to cope with robust speech or the realities to which it presumably refers,” said Marilyn Frye in her article “Oppression”. The girls may seem to only deserve a one-dimensional stereotype but audiences must remember how much of reality television is planned and edited for entertainment. “Bad Girls Club” may be teaching viewers to stereotype but as the audience we have a responsibility to view these types of reality shows with a critical eye.
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