Television Culture and Women's Lives: Thirtysomething and the Contradictions of Gender

Television Culture and Women's Lives: Thirtysomething and the Contradictions of Gender

Television Culture and Women's Lives: Thirtysomething and the Contradictions of Gender

Television Culture and Women's Lives: Thirtysomething and the Contradictions of Gender

Synopsis

Contemporary cultural theory, feminist criticism, and ethnography converge in this provocative study of the construction of meaning in mass culture. Television Culture and Women's Lives explores the complex relationship between the gender conflicts played out in the scripts of the popular television show thirtysomething and the real-life conflicts experienced by "baby-boomer" women viewers.

Women viewers often reinterpreted the program's conservative view on gender roles, seeing it instead as a protest against real dilemmas women face as they try to integrate career and family priorities. Heide's study confirms women viewers' close identifications with thirtysomething characters and positions audience responses against the backdrop of changes in the lives of women in the 1980s and 1990s. Television Culture and Women's Lives accessibly treats fascinating issues related to cultural criticism, the relationship between mass media, and audiences, and the struggles faced by women in late twentieth-century America.

Excerpt

To look at television today is to enter a world that is at once fantastic and eerily familiar. One way television makes claim to the familiar is to draw on existing conflicts in American society, commenting on them in comfortable and well-known forms (Gitlin 1985:12; Taylor 1989:3; New- comb and Hirsch 1984:63). Television not only is able to draw on social crises and anxieties, it has become one of the primary resources that individuals rely on to help them make sense of the world and of their actions in the world (Jensen 1984:108).

Observing this capacity of network television to serve as a kind of cultural forum that organizes and shapes our understanding of our social selves, I became interested in exploring how television frames ideas about gender and the family for the post-World War II so-called "baby- boom" generation. For this generation is the first in history to have lived not only through a large-scale movement for women's liberation but at the same time through the historically unprecedented entry of great numbers of women into the paid labor force (Silberstein 1992; Gerstel and Gross 1987). These two factors have created a tremendous upheaval in the lives of women, which television in turn tries to represent (Silberstein 1992:ix). Shows from That Girl in the 1960s to The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the 1970s to One Day at a Time in the 1980s have provided public images, for example, of white middle-class women's entry into the labor force.

These images on television, furthermore, are not neutral but often reflect competing interests as to how social life should be organized. A conservative vision of work and family life affirms the traditional division of men and women into separate "spheres," where women primarily occupy the private sphere of the home and men the public sphere of the paid labor force. A more liberal vision, on the other hand, entertains a variety of flexible social arrangements to be negotiated between . . .

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