Rights + Justice
Gender + Sexuality

The Network that Hates Women

'Cashmere Mafia' makes it official. ABC is worst of sexist US TV.

By Shannon Rupp 5 Mar 2008 |

Shannon Rupp was a Tyee contributing editor. For permission to reprint this article please contact the author: shannon(at) 

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Can't keep their men: 'Cashmere' cast.

TV's prime time viewers will have little doubt of the outcome of the U.S elections: a Republican president it is. If not, then surely a man will win. We know because of the conservative propaganda that has coloured TV drama for more than a decade now, leading to predictable political shifts. The rapidly growing list of shows on the misogyny roster, particularly at ABC, tells me that American voters will be brainwashed out of even considering a woman president.

You doubt that ABC hates women? Have you seen Cashmere Mafia?

Much like Desperate Housewives, which is a big hit in the red states, Cashmere Mafia will strike a chord where the religious right has given audiences a taste for despising women.

Supposedly, the series is about the lives of four successful businesswomen living the Manhattan high life -- in other words, it's Sex and the City for the Armani suit set. Yet the plots all underline how women with career ambitions should be careful of what they wish for.

Um, talk to any women?

In pilot episode, every disaster once predicted for career gals in those lurid '50s pulp fiction tomes has come true. Their children are bonding with real, stay-at-home moms. Their husbands are straying in pursuit of more nurturing and devoted women. That is if a C-Mafiosa can even find a man who isn't intimidated by her wealth and power. Inevitably one member of this high-octane quartet experiments with lesbianism cuz, well, deep down don't we all know women like this can't keep a man? And don't we all suspect that an ambitious woman must actually be a dyke?

One character played by talented Aussie actress France O'Connor (apparently slumming for bucks) brokers billion dollar business deals, but is so inept at recruiting and managing people that she finds hiring a nanny akin to rocket science.

Lucy Lui (taking time from her career as one of Charlie's minions) plays Mia, a woman who competes for a job with her fiancé and snags the gig, thus losing the pig. Then she wonders aloud if she's really won?

Huh? I expected the character to do a sack dance. She got the job AND got the weasel to show his colours before she signed away her assets. Bonus!

Clearly, whoever writes this stuff has never had a conversation with an actual woman. That's the only explanation for bon mots such as one character telling a married friend that she can't play at side-sex without commitment "because we're women."

Sure. You boys just keep hoping that's true...

'Liberal' Hollywood

While witless Americans love to curse the "liberal" nature of Hollywood, that's only because they, and most conservatives, confuse bare boobs and dirty talk with so-called liberal views. While we're driving by the subject, it's worth noting that there's nothing more deeply conservative than porn (even in its soft forms) because of the way it reinforces a traditional, religiously inspired, male-dominated power structure. Not to mention its contempt for aesthetics.

Am I the only one who has noticed how totalitarian thinkers always have bad taste in art? Just consider Soviet Realism. Or how the Nazis treated artists like Picasso and Chagall. Speaking of which, the Nazi's propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels wrote bad novels and plays no one would produce. And Hitler loved Mickey Mouse. Coincidence? I think not.

But I digress. Back to the sexist, totalitarian nature of prime time. In the '60s, TV lawyers were all variations on Perry Mason, the lone champion defending the innocent everyman against an oppressive, amoral state. What do we have now? Law and Order, and all its spawn, where the cops are never wrong, prosecutors are heroes, and the perps always deserve more than they get. (Damn that liberal justice system and its rules of evidence!)

Promoting the dim bulbs

The slew of misogynist shows on ABC is just a variation on that theme aimed at uppity women. Although I can see a bright side to the volume of shows emphasizing the dark side of careers: it must be getting tougher and tougher to convince even Bible-thumped girls of the grim underbelly of financial independence.

But ABC keeps trying with a roster that includes freshman show Women's Murder Club, struggling sophomore Men in Trees (with the irritating Anne Heche), hit Grey's Anatomy, and its embarrassing spin-off Private Practice. A parade of so-called entertainment shows that portray talented, professional women as being unloved -- or even unlovable -- because of their accomplishments. Watch them back-to-back, and it looks suspiciously like a propaganda campaign to scare women out of grabbing for those brass rings we know are the rightful property of men.

While it's not fiction (although it's unintentionally a satire), The View, an afternoon chat show featuring some of the dimmest women on the planet, fits nicely into ABC's propaganda stable. Just consider that co-host Sherri Shepherd has launched such thoughtful comments on science as wondering whether the world is flat or round, and arguing that there's no such thing as evolution. Her historical insights include "nothing came before Jesus" (leaving us all to wonder what she makes of the BC/AD designation after dates). She also bad-mouthed a nation, informing America's afternoon couch potatoes that the Greeks fed Christians to the lions.

Now, why wasn't she fired for embarrassing the show, the station, and let's face it, humanity? Is it because the audience is presumed to be women and they deserve no better than a commentator whose views reflect dark age superstitions?

Or is it because there's something deeply satisfying to the powers-that-be in male-dominated industries to place dumb women in high-profile jobs and then turn them into icons of female incompetence?

Watching the smart guys

There's a disturbing consistency to these characters, even the real ones. While we're told these women are smart, we're shown that they're fools.

Sure, TV delivers flawed male characters but, outside of comedies, they're not ridiculous or incompetent. House, for example is surly-with-good-reason. Every episode provides evidence that this doctor is smarter than everyone else. Jack Bauer may be obsessive-compulsive but his judgment is flawless. The best advice any CTU head could ever get is "do what Jack tells you." Central male characters may be obnoxious, but they're also principled, ethical, and competent, especially when they break the rules. But that hasn't been true of any female character since Buffy the Vampire Slayer and her spiritual twin, Veronica Mars. And I suspect that's because, as teen shows, they flew beneath the TV exec radar.

As every research study (and Herr Goebbels) tells us, images have a way of burning themselves on our consciousness and shape our views, despite facts and logic to the contrary. So forgive me for wondering if there's a connection between the endless entertainment about the fundamental incompetence of women and the fact that a woman is running for the most powerful job in the western world.

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© Shannon Rupp. For permission to reprint this article please contact the author: shannon(at)  [Tyee]

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