Black Women in Reality Television Docusoaps
A New Form of Representation or Depictions as Usual?
Table Of Contents
- About the author
- About the book
- This eBook can be cited
- Table of Contents
- Chapter 1. Black Women’s Mediated Depictions: An Overview
- Chapter 2. Docu-Soaping Black Women
- Chapter 3. Does Majority or Minority Cast Status Matter?
- Chapter 4. Reclaiming Sexuality
- Chapter 5. Black Motherhood
- Chapter 6. Physical Appearance
- Chapter 7. She Has Her Own (Money)
- Chapter 8. Girl Fight
- Chapter 9. Who Is She Repping?
- Chapter 10. Why Are Viewers Calling for Boycotts?
- Series Index
The origins of reality TV can be traced to the 1940s launch of Queen for a Day, an early US game show. Since its emergence, the genre of reality television has grown in presence and popularity among producers and consumers. We might assume that these unscripted, yet heavily edited, shows present reality to their audiences. However, scholars have found that many audience members acknowledge and accept the fact that reality television is not real (Andrejevic & Colby, 2006; Biressi & Nunn, 2005; Clissold, 2004; Gillan, 2004; Gray, 2009; Stern, 2005). Many producers and directors acknowledge the extensive participant recruiting and editing processes that go into the production of reality television shows (Andrejevic, 2004; Ouellette & Murray, 2009; Pozner, 2010). Thus, one could argue that the reality in these television shows is actually a constructed reality—produced by the editors, rather than the actual participants. So what does this constructed reality say about Black women in contemporary US society? We begin this exploration, first, by assessing what others have written about women’s roles, in general, in reality television. Then we discuss what reality television is, its effects, and potential implications of mediated depictions of women in these programs. We can then establish the basis for this project and begin to interrogate Black women’s ← 1 | 2 → depictions in reality television in general and in docusoaps, a subgenre of reality television, specifically via #EnoughisEnough.
Women in Reality Television
Reality television has helped to increase the number of female representations in media (Gauntlett, 2008). However, history proves that increased representation does not always result in more accurate representations or quality representations. Pozner (2010) examined the appearance of women across several different subgenres of reality television. She argued that “reality television has emerged as America’s most vivid example of pop cultural backlash against women’s rights and social progress” (p. 240). Scholars such as Pozner argue that producers are opposed to women’s liberation and use stereotypical and demeaning images to keep women down; however, the blame for such images is too often placed on female participants who sign up for the shows and female viewers who continuously tune in and watch such representations. The editing process and strategically altered contexts frame female participants in a particular way. Participants are “molded into predetermined stock characters” that fit certain stereotypes (Pozner, 2010, p. 28). These constructed images deliver messages on how these women are supposed to behave. In addition, these images teach women what they should regard as the key to their happiness and success. Pozner maintains that these images are especially damaging to the millions of women who are avid viewers of reality programming.
A major theme that emerged from Pozner’s analysis is that female participants’ physical appearance is extremely important in reality programming, as has historically been the case for most female television roles. However, reality television magnifies this ideology. In reality television women’s physical appearance is communicated as being the key to success in the workplace and in romantic relationships (Pozner, 2010). Although this point of view is pervasive in reality television, a certain physical appearance is not the only imperative that these shows deliver to and about women.
Pozner also argued that women in reality television are governed by one (or more) of four traditional stereotypes:
- 1) that “women are catty, bitchy, manipulative, and not to be trusted—especially by other women” (p. 98). Pozner explained that women learn that their one true enemy is other women. This damages the ← 2 | 3 → female solidarity that has gained women so much success in modern society. This female versus female mentality is reinforced particularly through countless girl-on-girl physical and verbal fights;
- 2) that women lack intelligence and common sense. Pozner explained, “Reality producers may have cut their teeth on ‘dumb blond,’ but they want viewers to believe female stupidity knows no racial limits” (p. 110). Educated women with successful careers are rarely cast;
- 3) that “women are incompetent at work and at home” (p. 117). The second and third stereotypes are often tied to traditional gender norms, as women are expected to limit themselves to domestic roles. Countless reality programs show women depending on their more intelligent working husbands. Their inability to handle domestic duties is marked as a failure;
- 4) that “women are gold diggers” who are after men’s money and the luxurious lifestyles they can provide (p. 127). Pozner argued that this communicates the idea that “every woman has a price” (p. 130). In addition to finding someone to support them, reality television teaches women that they all need to find a husband. A single female is not presented in a favorable light. The older the single woman is, the worse single life is made to seem. Women on reality television are shown as finding the pursuit of love more important than education and careers.
During their search for “Mr. Right,” female participants are often portrayed as being extremely emotional and hypersexualized. Yet, as much as the hypersexualized character is featured, she is also condemned for behaving in this manner. Her male counterparts, on the other hand, are allowed to behave the same way and yet they receive praise. Pozner’s discussion offers a general overview of the problems with female portrayals in reality television. It is important, however, to highlight other research on women’s portrayals in specific subgenres of reality television. We discuss research on women’s portrayals in popular subgenres of reality television: competition shows, lifestyle shows, makeover shows, and dating shows.
Women in Competition Shows
Competition shows are those in which participants compete for some large prize (usually money). Typically, the prize awarded to the winner is large enough so that the contestant would not normally be able obtain the equivalent amount ← 3 | 4 → quickly via traditional means such as work. Participants can compete individually, as a pair, or in a group. Edwards (2004) stated that, “one of the clearest explorations of gender role stereotypes occurs in the subgenre of competition game shows” (p. 227). Within these shows, Edwards found that traditional gender roles and stereotypes were reinforced rather than challenged. Women were framed as being less physically fit than male contestants. Because the majority of competitions were based on physical strength, Edwards asserted this presented women as inferior competitors. If a female was a strong competitor in such activities, she was considered an exception; thus, women were framed as weaker and inferior to men.
Waggoner (2004) also found that women were presented in more objectifying ways than men. An examination of Survivor revealed that the competition show focused on the females’ sexuality and physical appearance. The show communicated the idea that a woman’s most valuable attribute was her appearance. Waggoner wrote, “Female sexuality [was] constructed as a potentially valuable survival tool for certain women on the show” (p. 218). Moreover, “…those women whose bodies do not fit the standard represented by these images (i.e., large breasts, flat stomachs, and firm buttocks) [were] eliminated early in the game” (p. 219). Cameras focused on females’ bodies in limited clothing, thereby presenting them as “products for fetishization” (p. 219). Ironically, women who used their sexuality to advance throughout the competition were punished. Women were supposed to use their sexuality only as a “commodified object of heterosexual desire [that] has value only for those who consume it” (p. 219). These studies demonstrated that portrayals of women in competition shows reinforced traditional gendered norms and stereotypes.
- ISBN (PDF)
- ISBN (ePUB)
- ISBN (MOBI)
- ISBN (Hardcover)
- ISBN (Softcover)
- Publication date
- 2014 (September)
- mediated depictions minority gender images
- New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 137 pp.