So while I was doing my 30 Projects in 30 Days project, one of the rules was that I could only watch the pilots on my list, no binging the shows. One night, I was in the mood to binge. I wanted something shallow and perhaps even a little stupid. I’ve used Sex and the City for this purpose before but when I saw an ad for The Bold Type in my newsfeed, I couldn’t help but wonder if someone FINALLY pulled off a good “ambitious young female writer in NYC and friends” show so I decided to give it a shot.
If you’ve never watched the show, it’s about three millennial women working at a fictional version of Cosmo and their trials and tribulations both personally and professionally. Fun fact: it’s still about that even if you have watched the show, but I digress.
The Bold Type exceeded my expectations. It tackled many issues that a lot of other feminist shows are scared to, including sex work and Islamophobia. It explored how mainstream feminism can sometimes have unintended consequences, such as how sexual liberation can also make women feel bad about themselves if they’re not having sex. I realized within the first few episodes that I was falling in love with this show.
Then I had this very brief moment where I hated myself for falling in love with this show. It was supposed to be a shallow, stupid, Sex in the City type show, right? I was too cool for such shows, right?
But this very brief moment was quickly followed by an epiphany. I am a 23-year-old woman. The Bold Type is deliberately intended for twenty-something women, and perhaps even younger. It was supposed to be Sex in the City updated for the millennial generation, and here I was, a millennial woman feeling ashamed for liking it.
After some quick research, it turns out The Bold Type actually has a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and an 87% audience rating. While it doesn’t have a huge audience, the people who are watching it seem to love it as much as I do. The show was actually good, and I didn’t even want to admit it until I had that external validation. And now I was pissed off at whatever misogyny I internalized that resulted in my guilt.
Why are women shamed for liking content aimed at women?
Why is a woman who digs sports or action movies a cool girl but a man who admits to liking romances prissy?
Why is it that Girls (controversial though it may be) can be a hit on HBO that receives all sorts of accolades when we all know that a similar show on Lifetime would be mocked?
Now I’m by no means saying that if you identify as feminist, you’re obligated to watch these shows. I also recognize that many of them are still far from perfectly feminist. But the point here is not to critique the shows themselves (though I can totally do that in another post if you’re into feminist criticism). The point here is to critique a larger social issue about entertainment intended for female audiences.
Now truth be told, we should reconsider our notions of what women are looking for in entertainment. Ryan Reynolds made a really good point when he was promoting Deadpool, and pointed out that women love superhero movies and don’t necessarily need a romantic subplot to enjoy a movie. He’s right. But that doesn’t change the fact that right now, love stories are largely considered to be feminine and things like sports movies or action movies are largely considered to be masculine. (Of course there are plenty of people who enjoy content that wasn’t specifically intended for their gender and that’s all cool beans, but it doesn’t change those larger cultural associations).
As dumb as gendering tv and movies may seem, it’s still a thing most of us do. And from where I’m standing, entertainment that is obviously aimed at women has a stigma that other entertainment doesn’t. It’s weird for men to go see a Nicholas Sparks movie together in a way it’s not weird for me and a female friend to see John Wick 2 together. Shows on Freeform and Lifetime can have awesome reviews and still not catch on the way they might on a more gender neutral network like HBO or AMC.
It’s possible to express a negative opinion about a show without going out of your way to say it was aimed at women, like that was the problem. You can say “ugh, it’s a dumb movie” without saying “ugh, it’s just a dumb chick flick.” I can’t help but think that when people want to bitch about mindless action movies, they never really go out of their way to be like “yeah, well this was intended for men.”
If we want to live in a world with more female directors, writers, producers, editors, etc. I think we need to empower women in the film industry to actually make content about women that is aimed at women. And it’s hard for that content to actually be successful when its target demographic is made to feel stupid, shallow, embarrassed, or ashamed for enjoying such content. Women either end up not watching the show, or watching it as a secret guilty pleasure, afraid to share their enthusiasm and help the show grow a fanbase. And then studio execs can legitimately claim that their reasons for not wanting to make “girly” shows isn’t because they’re just plain old sexist, but because “girly” shows just don’t do very well. The stigma regarding what we watch is about more than just the few moments of shame I felt for enjoying The Bold Type, it can potentially affect what projects are actually greenlit.
So I’ll try to use this little blog to affect change. I will tell my dozen readers that The Bold Type is a wonderful show that I highly recommend. Not in a “good for a chick flick” sort of way, but as a legitimate drama that can go toe-to-toe with any other drama intended for young people. I enjoy a well-executed chick flick as much as I enjoy a well-executed, comedy, drama, fantasy, or sci-fi movie. So keep making them.