Not too long ago, I wrote a paper on stereotypes of women in the media. I find it amazing that, although we live in the 21st century, there is still a struggle regarding the portrayal of women on television. It seems as though television programming continues to reinforce the idea of a woman as a sexual object, whose role tends to have a focus on relationships, a family and the home. According to research by Lauren, Dozier and Horan (2008) women are still more likely to play roles that are centered on romance, family and the home, whereas their male counterparts enact roles centered on work in primetime programs.
I delved further into the matter and thought that I had found an exception. In the 1980’s, there was a drama series called Cagney and Lacey. The main female characters seemed to have broken the molds on the portrayal of women. They enacted roles that were more aggressive than the normal television programming of the time. According to Julie D’acci, writer of women’s issues, Cagney and Lacey were two female detectives in their thirties who were sexual initiators and primary breadwinners of the family. In the first season, both characters are of the working class. Often, they dressed less feminine than would be expected, considering that the previous decade was known as the T & A era (Tits and Ass).
Apparently, the executives of the network that aired the series found certain aspects of the women on the show not to be “feminine” enough. So for the second season they decided to recast Cagney. Sharon Gless, a woman who reflected more conventional beauty played the new and improved Cagney. According to D’acci, thousands of dollars were spent on a new wardrobe for the role, since they also changed her socioeconomic background to one of higher status.
Although Cagney and Lacey were representing a growing group of working women in the United States, their roles were too threatening for the network. Hence the drastic change of one of the characters, in order to fit into a more stereotypical mold of women on television. Has the struggle of women’s portrayal in the media ceased? Do you believe that it continues to influence television programming in the 21st century?