Have you ever watched a show and got that sinking, "sexism is coming" feeling? You're not alone. Despite the huge steps that the feminist movement has made over the past few decades, there's still a long way to go. The TV industry is still guilty of giving out pretty anti-feminist messages in its shows — no matter how much we love them. Some examples are incredibly disappointing - it's gut-wrenching when a show you thought treated women well turns out to be a hotbed of misogyny. Often, women and the stereotypes that surround them become the butt of jokes. Their apparent inferiority is laughed at and normalized. In some cases, shows that actively claim to be feminist actually miss the mark completely.
We've put together a list of shows that are actually super anti-feminist. Some are pretty surprising, while others have been considered problematic for years. The worst part is that a lot of these TV shows are still on our screens and some of our favorites.
It makes me so sad to say this, but the recent Gilmore Girls revival is nowhere near as badass and feminist as the original series. Sure, the original was full of boy-talk and other stereotypical 'womanly' pursuits. Every season basically represented a new relationship for Rory. However, it had plenty of non-boy related, super feminist plotlines that ultimately redeemed it. The same cannot be said for the revival. It's literally all about dating or pleasing men! It's so anti-feminist! The girls seem to have totally lost their feminist spark, and Rory has actually become a pretty awful person. She's cheating on her boyfriend with ex-flame Logan. She meets up with her other exes and shows a strange dependency on both of them. The once independence-loving Lorelai half-jokingly, half-not asks her daughter to get married. Who even are these characters? What happened to them?!
For a show that claims to be all about a town of women, men sure got a lot of screen time. When Netflix first announced Godless, every feminist TV-lover was thrilled. A female-led Western show starring Downton Abbey's Michelle Dockery? What more could we ask for?! Unfortunately, the show turned out to be a huge disappointment. Here's one fun fact for you: in the first episode alone, 73% of the dialogue is spoken by men. So much for "female-led," huh? Instead of exploring the fascinating premise of an entire town being left widows, Godless focuses on two dudes and their ongoing feud. Ultimately, it teaches us that the experiences of women don't matter. They always have to let those of men take precedence. How could you, Netflix? We were all rooting for you!
20th Century Fox Television
It may be one of the most beloved sitcoms of recent times, but How I Met Your Mother is one huge anti-feminist mess. Let's look at the two main female characters: Lily and Robin. Lily is confined to the stereotypically "female" job of teaching. She's frequently portrayed as "crazy" (classic crazy wives, eh? What are they like?!) and flighty, sometimes bitchy, and rude. Robin is a bonafide career woman who, it's revealed, can't have kids. This damages her femininity - the guys in particular start treating her as more of a 'bro' - and makes her 'lesser' than the other women on the show. Because of course, women only exist to make babies. Awful female characters aside, Barney's entire attitude to women is simply appalling. With all of this going on, it's hard to see HIMYM as anything other than a show that thrives on demeaning and disrespecting women.
Another CBS sitcom, another example of every feminist's nightmare. The Big Bang Theory is an anti-feminist sack of sexism that masquerades as a 'progressive' show. It has female scientists! Women are finally shown as being intelligent beings! Yeah, that's true, but every other facet of their representation is totally horrific. For one, women only appear on the show as either love interests or mothers. They exist either to please or birth males. Even super-smart women like Bernadette and Amy are ultimately only there to allow Howard and Sheldon to get some action.
On the topic of Bernadette, she ends up having kids even though she doesn't want to just to please her husband. Ummm... What? Amy, on the other hand, fulfills the "smart girls can't be physically attractive" stereotype. Yes, she has a brain, but she MUST be ugly because of it. Oh, and then there's Penny, the "blonde bimbo" who only earns respect from the guys once she can regurgitate some science back at them. It's awful stuff.
While Supernatural has featured a couple of strong female characters over the years, they've never lasted long. In fact, most of them have died horrible, violent deaths. Women basically only exist in this show to be killed. It's ridiculous, and an example of extreme anti-feminism. As if the fact that all three lead characters are white dudes isn't bad enough, the women who do end up featuring are just lambs for the slaughter. Before they die, these women often serve as love interests for either Dean or Sam. They get to wander around being sexy for a while before ultimately succumbing to their inevitable doom. Either that or the women are villains because we're all evil temptresses at heart! Supernatural's fans, critics, and even cast have all brought the issue of the show's misogyny up, but nothing's ever been done about it. It's super disappointing, but not surprising.
Why do so many fictional vampire tales turn out to be so horribly anti-feminist? You could write a thesis about how problematic the Twilight saga is. However, since we don't quite have the time for that, we'll address The Vampire Diaries instead. For one, its main "heroes" are both literal predators and abusers. Damon and Stephen treat all manner of women terribly at some point in time, both regarding emotional and physical violence. The whole premise of the show is them fighting over the same woman, Elena. Of course, it's just assumed that she has feelings for AT LEAST one of them. She isn't given enough agency to leave their sorry asses for good, as she should pretty much from the moment she meets them. Women are raped, abused, tortured, and even groomed, and we're expected just to be chill with it. Spoiler alert: we're totally not chill with it.
Zooey Deschanel's kooky sitcom New Girl is a firm favorite among a lot of the millennial generation thanks to its quirky humor and generally charming characters. However, upon closer inspection New Girl has a lot of disappointing anti-feminist vibes. For one, Deschanel's character Jess is the ultimate cute-girl male fantasy. She's the epitome of the "manic pixie dream-girl" trope and exists basically to make men lust after her. A couple of other harmful female stereotypes are also covered fairly early on in the show. There's a whole episode about how periods make all women crazy. AVOID THE FABLED MENSTRUATING WOMAN AT ALL COSTS! SHE WILL BREATHE FIRE AND YELL AT YOU FOR NO GOOD REASON! Anyone else totally sick to death of that nonsense? There's also an episode where female leads Jess and Cece become obsessed with their body clocks because all women must necessarily become mothers. Yeah... No.
For a show that has the word 'modern' in the title, Modern Family's attitude towards women has been shockingly archaic over the years. Despite doing a lot to improve LGBT representation in television, the show has often found it necessary to attack women in the process. A lot of its major female characters are hugely anti-feminist. Claire is the typical female 'nag' who is criticised for trying to keep her often ridiculous husband in check. Despite putting in supreme effort to look after her family, she gets little to no praise or respect in return.
Gloria, on the other hand, is forced to play into both sexist and racist stereotypes! She's laughed at for being so over-the-top Latina that she can't properly pronounce English words, and is frequently objectified as a stereotypical "hot mom." Her attractiveness is probably her most defining characteristic. While Modern Family's writers have attempted to address these issues in recent seasons, they still haven't quite got there yet.
Any show that excludes women even in its title isn't likely to fare well in the feminism stakes. Two and a Half Men is no exception to this. In this sitcom's eyes, women were essentially walking vaginas. Right from the show's first episode, misogynistic jokes were woven into the majority of its dialogue. Charlie Sheen's character treated women appallingly. The female sex was expected to be physically pleasing and mentally unchallenging. Charlie sees them as totally replaceable and somewhat interchangeable - individual women are permitted no unique qualities at all. As if the on-screen anti-feminism wasn't bad enough, Two and A Half Men's co-creator once had to apologize after making a poor-taste joke about vaginas and periods. Yeah, we can see why the show turned out the way it did.
Women got a pretty raw deal in FX's edgy drama Sons of Anarchy. The show revolved around a gang of bikers and was famous for its dramatic storylines and all-star cast. However, it was also known for being one of the most sexist shows on TV when it first aired between 2008 and 2014. For one, the central biker gang was only made up of men. Did they have a rule that no women were allowed to join? It sounds a bit like a club that a ton of middle-school boys devised.
While women do show up on-screen, they're pretty much all sex objects and nothing more. Oh, they also serve as punching bags when the guys decide they need to get some anger out. Who doesn't love a bit of casual violence against women? Er, we don't, for sure. The main female characters, Tara and Gemma, are both pretty manipulative and generally aren't great people. The writers of this show clearly just hated women.
While reality show The Bachelor makes for pretty addictive TV, you've got to admit that the whole premise is pretty anti-feminist. In fact, you could even say that it's ultimately humiliating for the women involved. For starters, they all have to compete for the attention and affection of a man. They then all inevitably get upset when the guy doesn't hand them the all-important rose because of course, their entire world revolves around male approval. The Bachelor himself is often more concerned about looks than personality. The women remain passive and simply wait for the guy to pick them, and of course, it's assumed that they'd all be happy to date him. It's a pretty old-fashioned depiction of 'courtship' that leaves women with the shorter straw. Maybe we shouldn't be pitting girls against each other? Isn't it time to challenge that nonsense? We prefer The Bachelorette for sure.
What '90s kid didn't tune in to Dawson's Creek once they reached their teenage years? Chronicling the exploits of Dawson Leery and co., the show was essential viewing for a lot of us. However, it doesn't hold up very well when examined through a feminist lens. For one, lead female characters Joey and Jen have a lengthy feud over a boy. Instead of trying to find common ground in the huge parts of their life that don't involve guys, the two are at each other's throats for a long time. Even when they make up, they exhibit classic negative female stereotypes of cattiness and only ever seem to talk about hair and cosmetics.
On top of that, Jen is consistently slut-shamed by a whole load of characters for choosing to have sex. Apparently, her loss of virginity makes her a 'fallen woman' who deserves criticism and scorn. She's basically criticised for exerting agency over her own body and what she does with it. Massive nope.
Being a product of the '90s, Friends isn't quite as feminist or sex-positive as we millennials would hope. In fact, the recent addition of the show to UK Netflix has raised a lot of questions there about its more problematic themes. While on the surface, the show's lead female characters seem to be badass, strong ladies, there are still some issues that need addressing. For one, Rachel Green decides to give up a huge career opportunity to be with a guy who's consistently treated her like crap. What's that all about? No self-respecting feminist would harm their career for a loser like Ross! Likewise, Joey's attitude towards women was skin-crawling at best. While the rest of the gang did admittedly chastize him for this behavior, he didn't stop - and they carried on being friends with him anyway. Not great.
Family Guy is offensive on a number of levels, so it's unsurprising that it's got heavy anti-feminist undertones. I mean, it was created by Seth MacFarlane, a man whose gig hosting the Oscars revealed him to be even more misogynistic than we all thought. He even objectified a little girl! In terms of his animated hit show, MacFarlane consistently sinks pretty low when it comes to the treatment of women. Family Guy consistently features rape jokes and mocks teenage character Meg for being 'ugly' - because her looks are all that matters. We're expected to laugh at the antics of Quagmire, a guy who objectifies *literally* anything with a vagina. Don't even get me started on the infamous domestic abuse episode that blames the victim for her treatment. Can't somebody just cancel this hot mess of a show already?
When it comes to The Simpsons, there is one big glowing light of feminism out there: Lisa Simpson. She's a socially conscious, unashamedly feminist young girl who doesn't let the patriarchy get her down. Unfortunately, she's the show's exception, rather than a rule. Everything else about it is kind of anti-feminist. Take Marge, for example. While she consistently tries her hands at various careers, it always ends so badly that she returns to her 'proper' task of being a stay-at-home-mom. The implication is clear: stay in your lane, ladies! Being a wife and mother is all you're good for! Likewise, the show has openly mocked and criticized the feminist movement itself on a number of occasions. Not only is that kind of offensive, but it's also supremely unhelpful to those of us who are actually trying to strive for equality.
Sorry to burst your bubble, but this much-loved medical drama starring Hugh Laurie was actually kinda anti-feminist. While House did at least acknowledge that women can be doctors too (groundbreaking stuff, here), its female characters weren't exactly treated very well. The titular Dr. House was pretty rude to all of his staff and students but was particularly harsh to the women. The worst example of this has to be his treatment of Dr. Cuddy. She was constantly harassed, criticized, and belittled by House, and often found herself being the butt of sexual innuendo. The costume department didn't exactly help matters, dressing the character in tight clothes and short skirts that were clearly intended to objectify her.
The show seems to put out the message that while women can work in the medical profession, they can't do so without becoming objects of lust. It's a frustrating and disappointing move from a show that was otherwise so good.
CBS sitcom 2 Broke Girls had so much potential. It could have been a smart, funny show about two feminist ladies trying to get by while working as waitresses. Instead, it's a hotbed of racism and sexism. It's actively racist against Asian and other non-white cultures, and also features two white women as its leads. On top of that, said white women - amongst other characters - constantly make jokes about rape and assault. Apparently, the show's writers hadn't quite got the memo yet that rape jokes are unacceptable. One of the show's lead characters, Kat Dennings' Max, at one point, actively mocks a woman who was date raped. Yep, it's that bad. 2 Broke Girls is so awfully anti-feminist, it's actually painful to try to sit through an episode. Frankly, it's probably best to not even try.
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