Reality TV's dismal portrayal of women

By Stephanie Bergeron, The Recorder (Central Connecticut State University)

Founder and Executive Director of Women in Media and News Jennifer Pozner spoke at CCSU on Wednesday, to initiate a discussion on how women are being portrayed on television, specifically reality television.

“The ‘money shot’ of reality TV is the humiliation of women,” said Pozner in Vance 105.

Pozner, who made her second trip here to CCSU and has appeared on such shows as The O’Reilly Factor and Scarborough Country, believes reality television shows exist because of the profit which can be made off of them.

Her organization, WIMN, is aimed to “increase women’s presence in the public debate, emphasizing those who are least often heard, including women of color, low-income women, lesbians, youth and older women,” according to their website WIMN helps producers and editors get in touch with women experts.

The main purpose of reality television shows, Pozner argued, is not to teach you anything; instead, television shows are only interested in profit. Product placement in these shows bring in immense amounts of revenue before a single commercial is even sold. Executives and networks pick women solely on whether or not they are going to cause drama. Once these women are picked and the footage is filmed, editors pick and choose which scenes they find would appeal to the public.

Pozner discussed the issue of “gender wars,” which she believes is most evident in these reality television shows. She feels that media both “shape and reflect” our cultural reality. If women are depicted a certain way on television, than we are lead to believe all women act or should act that way.

“If women are the whores then the networks are the pimps,” said Pozner.

There are three things, Pozner said, that reality TV tells viewers: women need male validation, women are stupid and women are gold-diggers.

With all of her examples, Pozner provided the 20 or so onlookers with clips from various reality shows, many of which depicted women as “commodities.”

Pozner showed clips from shows like American Idol, Newlyweds, America’s Next Top Model and Are You Hot?, where one judge repeatedly said “get comfortable with my flaw-finder,” referring to the laser-pointer he used to point out flaws on arguably perfect women.

Pozner said Newlyweds depicted Jessica Simpson as stupid. In American Idol, Simon Cowell, one of the judges, is known for telling women with great singing voices to lose weight if they want to make it in the business.

On the same show, Ruben Studdard, a contestant who was an overweight man, was never told to lose weight. Instead, he was praised by Cowell for having a great voice. Prozner referred to this as a double standard. Music is less about the sound of one’s voice and more about size of one’s butt, said Pozner.

Reality TV shows depict love as what Pozner said is the “epitome of fairy tales.” Television gives women a false impression of love; the fairy tales are not real. She also pointed out that on certain shows where women are looking for their future husband, executives have a blatant “disregard for women’s safety.” On one show, a male had an abusive past. Executives didn’t conduct their background checks thoroughly at the expense of women.

Pozner also addressed the way black women are depicted. She said they were depicted in two ways: either “the bitchy black woman” or “the diva.” Pozner continued to say that many shows are even prone to “white washing” black women by straightening their hair. This is to get rid of what Cowell called “weird hair.”

A question and answer session followed the lecture in which the new Dove commercials, as well as Tyra Banks’ dual roles in her separate television shows, were discussed.

Pozner also made an appearance at Dr. Cindy White’s “Images of Gender in the Media” class last Thursday. There Pozner discussed more of her background on why she decided to become a media watch dog rather than a journalist.

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