Opinions & Editorials

Critical Analysis of Feminism in Popular Media

Making the Leap

By Bethaney Lee


The first crackle of static from a television was in 1927 and came from a 21-year-old named Philo Farnsworth. In his youth, Farnsworth was able to invent something that now sits in most American households.

Inspired by his age, I decided to look at how the media transcends the generational gap and has threaded feminism ideology in many television shows marketed towards my generation today.

The feminism ideology is not new but first started being written about in 1794. Currently the media has made this a prominent theme in many of their available outlets, but its popularity can be measured through three television shows that boast the need to define, establish and achieve equality of the sexes.

These three television shows all include strong women as lead characters who are not dependent on men and thus struggle to make a living on their own.

The shows “Broad City,” “SMILF,” and “Girl Boss” all have strong undertones of feminism that highlight severe deficiencies within our society as it pertains to the access of help and resources for single women.

The three shows all come from entirely different producers and networks demonstrating the Critical/Cultural Theory in action, as all three shows share a purpose to enforce their own values and encourage viewers not to necessarily just accept the social quo of gender rights but question it.  

Does having a man make you more financially stable? Why do women bear the brunt of child raising? And are we a generation of millennial women who will remain broke, undereducated and single moms because we live in a society that rejected the idea of gender equality?

All these questions are raised by the plots of these three television shows who have used feminism ideology to show independent, but unsuccessful, female figures.

“Broad City” is a show that fictitiously takes place in New York City and is distributed by Viacom Media Networks and aired first on the network Comedy Central. The two leads are played by women who go about their lives in New York trying to be as successful as possible in the gentrified, modern-day American city.

While at first the characters seem to be politically aware and independent women not in need of a relationship to sustain them, it quickly becomes notable that the message being delivered is that without a man you can’t be successful.

The show chronicles the lives of these two as they struggle to find employment, come up with references and figure out how to pay rent. It depicts them as average millennial women, and it is unfortunate that this show has equated independence to a lack of achievement.

Feminist ideology has recognized the need for fair working wages since conception, and highlighted within this show is the grave consequences of what our generation is accustomed to enduring because women have yet to see an equal dollar. I would much prefer to watch a show that demonstrates what women could achieve if given the same fair working wages, versus watching the lead actress collect cans to recycle in a means to pay her electric bill.

SMILF depicts the plight of the American single mom. The lead character is shown as an independent woman who has full custody of her child and no backbone, as if without a man in your life the world becomes crippling.

Jobless because of the demand of her child, she is desperate to find work. The show narrates a story in which the secondary lead female gives advice for her to create a sexy webcam for money. The show largely depicts the lead female getting sexually violated for work and even shows a “pussy grab” by a complete stranger, the very same action our current president stands accused of.

Feminism ideology runs deep in this show as it gives a visual representation for the suffering women face in the work environment, so strong a suffering that the lead female even convinces her friend they should pretend to be white, privileged males for the day.

As if paying homage to old school Freudian theory, the girls walk around with faux hard-ons and emote feelings of penis envy. The overall messaging that resonates with the audience is that women who have children before marriage are likely to be homeless and without support, their decisions disrespected and taken advantage of.

It hammers into the viewers’ heads that a woman’s dreams will die and be put on the back burner after a separation, while her ex will thrive and not be required to raise the child they made together.

SMILF offers a sentiment similar to “Broad City” but provided by an entirely different network, Showtime, and has an entirely different distributor, Disney and ABC Domestic Television. Because of the distributor, who is largely recognized in conjunction with family values, it was of no surprise to me that the show portrayed a take on feminism in which the female is victimized without a male counterpart, a modern damsel in distress.

This is different than the approach “Girl Boss” takes on feminism but ultimately results in the same messaging as the other two television shows. “Girl Boss” is set in San Francisco and narrates the life of a young women who can’t hold down a job because she is coined as late and lazy.

Because she is too disobedient and can’t hold down work, the woman opens her own online business entitled Nasty Girl where she curates clothing. Here we have a woman who has taken charge of her life but has done it in the most stereotypical way media could conjure and through great sacrifice. Her dream is a fashion empire and once gaining success she has no idea what to do with it.

While the show is based on a true story, it is a comedy and that is my problem with all three shows. Distributed by Netflix, even “Girl Boss” depicts their lead actress in horrific life conditions that the audience is meant to find humor in and laugh.

It wasn’t until the 1920s that we the people amended the Constitution to include the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote. Less than 100 years later we see the effects of that prolonged limitation daily in our culture, society and media.

Culturally represented in all three shows is the fight for equality women still champion for today. While generations of women were able gain us the right to vote, millennial woman in these shows can be seen fighting for equal working wages, maternity leave, child support and education, as well as freedom from sexual harassment, theft and homelessness.

The media has branded feminists as weak and has gotten the public in a place where it is socially acceptable to laugh at women when sexually harassed.

These shows are marketed to the millennial generation and are popular. They are shows that are discussed frequently for their hilarious scenes and quippy writing, but when analyzing the three the content becomes stomach churning.  

The shows have made themselves so relatable to our generation that we took comfort in laughing at others’ similar misfortunes. Feminism is something I feel media has adopted within their ideology agendas, but the messaging being sent to the audience is not one of empowerment.

It’s easy to fall in love with the female characters portrayed by media in these three shows, but one day I hope to fall in love with characters that provide a more encompassing vision of what independent women can do if given equal opportunity.


Illustration By Bethaney Lee.
The Guardsman