being a feminist who wants to watch TV

I decided I’d cover a lighthearted topic today because it’s been a rough couple of days and I just want to talk about stuff that I like because the whole world is sort of pissing me off right now and I am temporarily not going to think about it.

A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with Handsome about how it’s important for us to be aware while we’re watching TV or reading books or watching movies because there’s probably something going on to normalize oppression and/or violence– and he asked if there was anything I could truly enjoy watching on television or if every single show was making a huge part of me cringe.

My gut reaction was to say “no, everything has something,” and to an extent that’s true, especially when it comes to sexism. But, as I thought about his question, I realized that there are some shows, that even if they have some moments, I still genuinely enjoy and I’m able to dial down the feminist voice in my head, and I figured I could share some of them with you and then we could all talk about our favorite least-problematic media!

So, for television shows:

amanda frietag

Honestly, the Food Network pretty much tops this when it comes to just brain vegging. I’m in love with Chopped and Cutthroat Kitchen, and I think the producers really go out of their way to show racial and gender diversity; they’re also honest about how sexist the restaurant industry can be. It’s nice to hear both the male and female judges talking about the challenges that women and minorities face, especially in elite kitchens. There’s a lot of shows on there that are … not problematic per se as much as they just sort of assume gendered baselines, like wives cooking for husbands and doing all the work for entertaining (Barefoot Contessa is actually pretty good about involving her husband when she’s cooking for entertaining, which is cool).

tim allen

I’m a huge fan of Last Man Standing, although a huge part of that is probably nostalgia, since it’s essentially Home Improvement only with Tim Allen’s kids being girls instead of boys. I really enjoy watching the marital dynamics in this show, though– there’s a lot of egalitarian give-and-take, and they’re both successful professionals. Both make mistakes, both are funny, both have triumphs at work and with their kids and … I think it’s one of the healthier marriages I’ve seen in a sitcom. I also love the fact that their oldest daughter is a raving liberal feminist who disagrees with her dyed-in-the-wool Republican father but still has a good relationship with him.

The best part about it, though, is that Tim’s character, “Mike,” can be a really sexist douchebag … until something happens in the episode with his daughters and he has a sincere “OH” moment and realizes he’s a sexist douchebag. It’s pretty great.

emma serious

We were flipping channels a few weeks ago and caught a few moments from Once Upon a Time, so we decided “hey, it’s on Netflix, let’s give it a try.”


I’m still in the first blush of nerd-euphoria with it, so I don’t think I’m even capable of realizing if anything problematic is happening because damn I think this is one of the best shows on television right now, which I completely and totally did not expect because all of the advertising I’d seen for it made it seem ridiculously awful. But it’s not. It’s so good. I’m in the middle of season two, so please no spoilers, but I love it I love it I love it. I love Snow, I love Emma, I love Regina, I love Mulan, I love Belle, I love Red … there’s just so many fantastic women and yeah some of them are the “strong woman trope” but I think they’re pretty well-written. Complicated, with motivations that make sense, and the writers allow them to be human in human ways and not just in stereotypical “flawed women” ways. I was probably predisposed to like it since I grew up with Gail Carson Levine and the “re-written fairytale” being one of my favorite genres (seriously– Ella Enchanted? such a great book), so if you like Levine or Hale or McKinley you’re probably guaranteed to like Once Upon a Time.

For movies:

gone girl 2

GONE GIRL. I can’t tell you anything about it because that would ruin it but this movie was so good. So good. I haven’t read the book yet, but I think I’ll still enjoy it even after watching the adaptation. I really, really loved this film. Dear god the ending. This movie blew my socks off, and the last movie that did that was The Avengers, so …

I know that it’s spawned a lot of discussion on how “feminist” the book and movie are, but I 100% agree with this (spoilers at the link AND IN THE QUOTE):

We need dangerous women on-screen; women who can claw open and bite down into the scarred center of any woman (every woman) who has suppressed an unfathomable anger, a will-to-power that can’t be contained in a pin-stripe suit. We need women whose talons break through skin and spread bones to rip out the great, thick throbbing heart. We need women who breathe fire.

lobby boy

When I was in graduate school, I took a class in post-modern literature, where I was introduced to Camus and Ionesco and I fell in love with theatre of the absurdThe Chairs is one of my all-time favorite plays, and I really enjoy films that have an element of the absurd to them, which is why I like Wes Anderson and Grand Budapest Hotel. I also really like Ralph Fiennes, so I’ll watch basically anything with him in it (the same is true of Emily Blunt and Gary Oldman). There’s not much I didn’t like about it– I highly recommend giving it a watch.

For books:

I think I’ve mentioned Elizabeth Moon’s Deed of Parksennarion trilogy before, so — it’s a solidly good set. I’ve also talked about my obsession with Brandon Sanderson, but I wanted to take a moment to talk about his Stormlight Archive series, which has just two books out so far (both are 1,000-page tomes, which my greedy literary heart adores). Sanderson is really good at character development, and he’s especially good at writing women– one million and a half times better than any of the women GRR Martin’s written, that’s for sure.

I really like his characters in Mistborn and Elantris, but Shallan Davar and Jasnah Kholin from Stormlight are some of the most solid female characters I’ve ever read. Stormlight takes place in an incredibly racist and sexist world, but the forms it takes on this planet are imaginative enough to really explore sexism and racism in a new light. He doesn’t include a patriarchal hierarchy because “historical accuracy” but because he’s taken the time to really explore that system. The women who live in it actively fight against it, and by the end of Words of Radiance the society is forced to take an extremely egalitarian turn, and the characters have to re-examine their sexist assumptions.

Anyway– what are some of your favorite things that you’ve been watching and reading?

Lead photo by David Boyle
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