The Dark Side of the New Emphasis on “Female” Shows and Showrunners
A major theme of the 2011-2012 TV season has been the proliferation of female-run comedies. From Whitney Cummings’s Whitney and 2 Broke Girls to Liz Meriwether’s New Girl and Lena Dunham’s Girls, these shows and their female creators have proved to be either wildly popular, wildly controversial, or both.
While it’s wonderful that so many women are breaking into the TV comedy category, the accompanying emphasis on gender — specifically their gender — isn’t wholly positive.
Suburgatory showrunner Emily Kapnek said it best in a recent interview with Vulture: “I think true equality comes when we stop differentiating between the female shows and the male shows,” she explained. “The male shows aren’t under the same scrutiny, and they’re not really referred to as male shows either. There’s been so much emphasis this year on the female shows and female creators and female stars and female writers. It's not that it hasn’t been great and empowering. But at some point, that can’t be the most interesting thing about my show. It better not be.”
During a recent panel at the Toronto Screenwriting Conference, Two and a Half Men creator Lee Aronsohn didn’t help things. “We are approaching peak vagina on television, the point of labia saturation,” he quipped. “Enough, ladies. I get it. You have periods.” (Don’t worry: A Twitter firestorm ensued.) When asked about Aronsohn’s borderline misogynistic comments, Up All Night creator Emily Spivey told Vulture, “I was like, ‘Ugh.’ It actually made me tired. You know, shows are for humans and movies are for humans. They’re not for men or women, and whether it’s created by a man or woman — hopefully it’s created by a human! And other humans will enjoy it, be they male or female.”
So-called “female” shows also tend to get scrutinized on a much shallower level. Whitney Cummings remarked, “You can watch a show, a guy’s sitcom or whatever, and no one’s going to be, ‘The lead isn’t attractive. Isn’t it refreshing to have a not attractive lead!’ In women’s shows, your appearance plays more of a role in people’s perception and reaction to the show than if it wasn’t a female’s show. I notice that has just been a big part of the reception of it.”
Series like Suburgatory, Don’t Trust the B---- in Apartment 23, and New Girl may be helmed by and centered on women, but that doesn’t mean they should be judged through an independent critical lens.