While I usually spend my time carefully critiquing television for its rampant and often unnoticed sexism, sometimes it's nice to flip that and look for subversion and feminist arguments in media. As I've mentioned before, television is historically a medium that provides space for subversion and struggle over meaning; at the same time, the political economy of the television industry facilitates its normative, hegemonic forces. I've written previously about the "tentative feminism" of MTV's GirlCode and continue to find subtle media critiques in very popular sources.
BuzzFeed has recently featured stories about the deleterious use of Photoshop in advertising, how women and other marginalized groups are underrepresented in television, and (my favorite) a series of images featuring your favorite Disney princesses with facial hair, just to name a few. These stories aren't just going viral on Feministing and Jezebel -- BuzzFeed is about as mainstream as you can get and I see links to them up and down my social media feeds. More importantly, people are commenting on these articles, people that aren't open feminists or radical academics. People from all walks of life are actively engaging with these issues.
Primetime television, a bastion of conservative values, is even getting in the game. NBC's Parenthood features a career woman and her stay-at-home husband; she struggles with her daughter's desire to be a pageant queen for Halloween while he fights to assert his masculinity to other family members. These characters are grappling with how to engage their feminist values with the realities of daily life. It's easy for us as academics or activists to wax rhapsodic about ideal feminist family structures, but at the end of the day, somebody's got to do those dishes. In many ways, Parenthood is exceedingly heteronormative, but feminism is present and the difficulties of living out one's feminism is an important narrative to raise consciousness and foster solidarity.
I haven't been keeping up with NBC's new sitcoms Welcome to the Family and The Michael J. Fox Show, but both had instances of feminist thought in early episodes. The pregnant teen in Family is irate that her boyfriend asked her father for her hand in marriage. The fact that she is hurt and offended by this is immediately undermined, however, by framing her as so dumb she doesn't know the word for patriarchy (she uses "parochial"). It's important to realize that this empowered woman is immediately de-legitimized by falling back onto the "women are less intelligent than men" trope. But isn't it also important that the feminist argument is there in the first place? Michael J. Fox's daughter, in the midst of a photography art project, cites "subversion [of] the objectification of women" as the underlying theme of her work. Again, this statement is glossed over, but shouldn't the mere presence of the word "subversion" on a network sitcom be celebrated?
I wouldn't be a critical scholar if I didn't qualify this by saying it's all just a ploy by capitalist interests to co-opt empowering feminist language, water it down and make it meaningless. I've never been a nihilist, though, and have to be optimistic about these glimmers of consciousness.