DOES SEXISM SELL?

I promised everyone that I'd post my last piece written for The Marianne's Blog after another blog or two had been posted.  So, without further ado - here it is! 

ABC and NBC are spending a lot of $$$ to market sexism to a new generation. An insidious media campaign is helping the networks along by working to convincing women that they're not smart enough to know the difference between real life and make believe. Wouldn't the little ladies be a lot happier if they just returned to their "place?"

NBC is at least being honest and "in your face" about its intentions. There's nothing subtle about the sexist message behind their new Fall TV show - "The Playboy Club." The "About the Show" section of NBC's Playboy page puts the message right out there. It says: "It's the early '60s, and the legendary Playboy Club in Chicago is the door to all your fantasies... and the key is the most sought-after status symbol of its time. Step inside the seductive world of the Bunny, the epitome of beauty and service, and rub shoulders with the decade's biggest mobsters, politicos and entertainers (like Tina Turner and Sammy Davis, Jr.)"

The Playboy Club will feature Eddie Cibrian starring as Nick, the dapper hero presiding over a world of grown women who saunter around in tiny little plunging neckline bunny suits, complete with fuzzy tails and matching bunny ears. Hugh Heffner's voice over says that Nick's world was an amazing place where "everything was perfect, where life was magic, where ... fantasies became realities for everyone who walked through the door."  Hef's tagline doesn't add ....... except for the women selling their dignity to make a dollar - but that would've been a little too honest now, wouldn't it?

ABC is trying to convey it's sexist message a little more subtly - but it still comes across loud and clear. The Network's promo page says that in the 60's air travel was "the height of luxury" and the pilots are "rock stars" while the stewardesses are "the most desirable women in the world." The page doesn't say that the women are paid to show off their cleavage and legs to the mostly male travelers. The promos show shots of women bending down to assist passengers and lots - and lots - (Did I say lots?) of leg shots. So the video footage shows what the network doesn't say about Pan Am's slant.

I got the message and have discussed it - too often - to my darling hubby. But I was very, very interested to run across an article today as I researched this post. It proves that I wasn't the only one who noticed that both TV shows play to male fantasies at the expense of female dignity. I ran across an interesting article from the May 22nd edition of the Los Angeles Times written by reporter Melissa Maerz. She sounds like a smart lady making a living in a business that doesn't require her to serve or service her male colleagues (unless she's into that kind of thing).

Ms. Maerz's piece states as follows:

"Luring more male viewers is particularly important to ABC, whose audience is 65% female. True, some women will enjoy both networks' lipstick-feminist take on career girls busting their carefully manicured fists through the glass ceiling. (One "Playboy Club" bunny tells her friends that she's making more money than her father.) But both of these dramas also indulge a popular male fantasy -- at a time when many men are anxious about job stability and women are getting higher college degrees, "Pan Am" and "The Playboy Club" recall a less threatening era, when an ambitious woman's prime goal was to serve the guys who rule the boardroom. The "Pan Am" tagline boasts, "They do it all and they do it at 30,000 feet."

So two networks in the same season are trying to lead women to march backwards to a time when they did a good job if they kept their men happy. How to do that without having all the currently uppity women getting all pissed off and militant? Well, one way would be to attack something the women really enjoyed. The best defense really is a good offense now, isn't it?

Now, what is it that those smart, ambitious broads particularly enjoy? Oh, yeah, they like to read. And what kind of book sells best to women? Romance novels. Now that's the ticket. We'll get 'em all stirred up and we'll try to do it in a way that makes 'em do what they do too much of anyway - we'll make 'em think. What they'll be thinking is that if they don't stop reading all that crap about love and passion they might lose the man they've got at home. We'll have experts that are women tell the little ladies that they should put down those books and ereaders and spend more time catering to their man.

And out come the recent pair of articles that have gotten so much press lately. The first piece by Kimberly Sayer-Giles appeared on ksl.com eight (8) days after Ms. Maerz's.  In it, author Shaunti Feldhahn claims that women can become "dangerously unbalanced" by romance novels "entrancing but distorted message." The psychologist cited in the piece, Dr. Jill Slattery, says that when women reading romance experience the same "natural high" as men viewing pornography. When the "high" wears off, women crave another release and buy another romance novel. The shrink says she's seeing "more and more women who are clinically addicted to romance books."

The Sayer-Giles article quotes a "pornography addiction counselor" as saying that reading romance or viewing porn may cause women to have affairs. The so-called experts claim that romance novels lead women to expect too much intimacy from a real relationship and become unhappy because they can't get as much satisfaction from their partner as they do from reading a romance. The experts say women need to focus on their real relationships, STOP READING ROMANCE, and spend more time with their partners. The piece doesn't mention watching TV with your partner as a suggestion but I ask you, if you're spending time with your hubby, aren't the odds pretty good that watching TV is one of those activities you'd engage in with your "real" partner?

The other piece appeared on July 7th in the UK's Daily Mail. Written by an unnamed reporter, it cites a magazine article by "relationships expert" Susan Quilliam in the Journal of Family Planning And Reproductive Health Care. The Daily Mail article was titled: "The Mills & Boon Effect: Why A Romantic Read Can Harm Love Lives."  Quilliam says that although romances "may account for almost half the novels bought" the books' "idealized" notions of love and sex give readers "false expectations."

Quilliam says that romance may be a great foundation for a novel, but it's "not a sufficiently strong foundation for running a life together." (Quilliam also complains that not enough condoms are used in romances.) She says that readers start to believe the stories which causes them so much trouble that they seek counseling. Then the counselors tell women to STOP READING ROMANCE "and pick up reality."

Now, once women stop doing all that pesky reading, surely they'll stop pushing for career success and will see that real success is catering to men - like on The Playboy Club and Pan Am.

The belief that women can't separate reality from a romance novel is beyond insulting. But even if I believed such a load of divine ca ca, I'll be a toadfrog's toenail before I ever, ever allow ANYONE to tell me what I can and can't read. Like many other women, I have worked to build a successful career - actually two because practice law and I write some of those "dangerously addictive" romance novels. I truly and deeply hope that our society has progressed far, far past the place where women can be convinced that "their place" is serving men.

Today's women are strong enough partners in a relationship to protest their men watching The Playboy Club or Pan Am. Maybe women should insist on a little TV equality too. CBS hasn't imbibed the sexism Kool Aid-- yet. If CBS wants to garner a ratings number that will pound its competitors into the dust, it should respond to the anti-woman bias of the other networks by putting on a sexist show of its own. The Chippendale Club, anyone? All the wait staff will be men wearing tiger-striped kilts with tiger tales and cute little pointy ears.

NBC and ABC shouldn't forget that "dangerously addicted" women can be mighty dangerous adversaries.

And anytime a man in your house watches The Playboy Club or Pan Am, exercise your Female Fierceness by buying another romance novel.