We’ve come to my last entry for Women’s Work, my guest blog exploring TV portrayals of women in the workforce. Thanks so much for reading, for commenting on, and for sharing these stories.
I began with a fairly broad mandate, to take a peek at contemporary TV shows and see how they reflect or fail to reflect current issues facing young women in the workforce. And I made surprising discoveries, for example that 30 Rock nailed it when it came to portraying home health aides, that The Office’s Pam grapples with issues that date back to The Feminine Mystique, and that TV audiences and boardrooms alike require women (but not men) to be “likable.”
But what’s crucial about how television portrays young, working women right now is that the current economic climate prohibits young people in general and young women in particular from succeeding. Young women outpace young men in earning college degrees, only to end up with tens of thousands of dollars in student debt. When young women do enter the workforce, they often must intern without pay, which presents a barrier for anyone without a financial safety net. And for working class women who comprise the majority of minimum wage workers, employers often deny basic labor rights including overtime pay and health care.
Moreover, society conditions women to seek pink collar jobs—whether as fashion designers, babysitters, secretaries, or personal care aides—and steers women away from more lucrative male-dominated jobs in, for instance, science and tech (as we see on Buffy the Vampire Slayer) or entrepreneurship (as we see on Bunheads).
So in terms of TV, we see depictions of this wealth disparity and gender disparity in, say, Ugly Betty, Parks and Recreation, House of Cards, and Switched at Birth, among others. But more often than not, television ignores the world of work or grossly misrepresents it—and that’s a problem. So while it’s not television’s job to advocate for the female worker per se, it’s important to remain critical of how our modern folklore often fails to reflect the realities that contemporary women face everyday.
Perhaps more women will enter the TV industry and create the womancentric narratives that we need. Or perhaps more women will create grassroots or systemic change, and that shift will be portrayed on the small screen. But change has to happen both on TV and in real life.
A woman’s work is never done.