I have lost count of the number of times the word “Vagina” has been used on TV in the last two weeks. Apparently the censors have come to their senses and realised that actual names for body parts are not bad things. And yes, technically, I am relieved to have fewer instances of “hooha”, “vajayjay” and all those other nonsensical terms. But I swear it’s as if the TV writers are all 11 year old boys sitting around the writers’ room and cracking themselves up by saying their new “naughty” word over and over. And yes, that bothers me. The whole giggly-naughtiness when talking about a body part. Are arms and eyes this funny? No? Then why all the fuss about things in the “bathing suit area”. (Penis has also had a startling amount of punchline material, most notably in the Parks and Recreation season opener.)
But here’s the problem. For as much as we get to natter on about the reproductive systems of women, we seem to be adverse to writing anything else about them. Or hiring them to write about themselves.
This fall TV season was initially chokablock with promising premises about women; shows that would give fantastic opportunities to explore women’s changing roles in our culture were on offer for the first time in a long while. It was with no small amount of glee that I added The Playboy Club , Pan Am and Prime Suspect to the TiVo* rota.
Joke was on me, I guess.
The Playboy Club–now taking a well-deserved dirtnap–had the promise to talk about how women are often forced into sexual servitude in order to make anything close to a living wage. There was the opportunity to explore whether or not softcore porn is truly liberating. Does sexual servitude without actual sex give women the better end of the deal? Or does it end up hurting more than it helps? But no. Instead we got some weird storyline about Eddie Cibrian (who IS this guy?) being The Hottest Man In Chicago and running for some office while disentangling from the mob. I can hardly stay awake typing that sentence and there was no way I would keep tuning in to the show.
Pan Am is still on the air. It’ll probably last the whole season because there seems to be an odd attachment to it over at ABC. As a woman who worked in the travel industry long after it became deglamourised, I was eager to see a show that would feature interesting storylines about how women dealt with the odd offering of Flight Attendant jobs. I worked alongside more than one grounded flight attendant–women who got old, got married, gained weight–and were shunted from their stewardess role into behind-the-scenes dronery at reservation phone pools. Their stories were fascinating and sad and a goldmine for any writer. Pan Am the show could be exploring those ideas and talking about how sexual servitude was whitewashed to create interest in low-paying and ultimately deadend careers that would enrich the men at the top of the company. Instead, it’s Love Boat in the sky. With spies.
Prime Suspect has the best shot at presenting women’s stories. And it’s doing so by having a woman who is forced into pseudomasculinity.
Where are the women writers? Even if they are on staff in one way or another it appears to me that they’re being shouted down by people who think making the same mistake over and over again is better than making good stories.