I used to spend endless hours binge watching America’s Next Top Model (ANTM). I’m a big fan of competition shows; it’s a guilty pleasure. Reality TV has provided many women with the opportunity to compete for something they weren’t able to achieve otherwise. This is progressive, in a way, presenting womens talents for America to watch, but masked in that progression seems to be hints of negative competition between women. But instead of focusing on how those competitions show women as a whole, viewers instead critique individual competitors. But we don’t watch ANTM for a happy season where 12 girls are really happy together. We watch it for the yelling, fighting, smeyes-ing drama. While I love these shows, I do have to wonder if this women on women fighting is perpetuating the negative view of women in the world instead of helping promote female power.
While working on Top Girls I always come back to the theme of competition between women. Marlene, Nell and Win all happily work amongst one another but his has not come without a strong competitive strategy. Win and Nell constantly make small adverse remarks about prospective employees to one another. Marlene negatively reviews her niece. In these moments it can be seen what they probably did to get on top, and it was probably to put down a few women along the way. So what does Caryl want to show with these women? She wants to promote feminism and rid of capitalism.
And that’s what I wish could happen more in these shows, instead of many of them falling into the same traps as Win, Nell and Marlene. Mainstream media projects an image of a complacent and quiet women. The path for women, while on the move towards change, still reflects the goal of marriage and children, not success in the office. It is because of this image that healthy competition isn’t learned the same way as it is for men. This is then put into our media where girls absorb it and display it in their own lives.
A major culprit of this is The Bachelor. A show designed for women to compete against one another for the heart of one man. Again, I watch this show to, but since working on Top Girls I have started to watch all of these shows with a more critical eye. In the case of The Bachelor it both promotes the idea of women as submissive-having to be chosen by a man-as well as competition between women is all apart of the shows pull. Yes, this show also turned into the The Bachelorette, but this competition between men is more physical than “backstabbing.”
Female competition causes some of most emotional turmoil for young girls. Naomi Wolf of Bazaar writes in her article “Girl vs. Girl”, “ What was your earliest heartbreak? Was your first experience of emotional devastation caused by a guy? Unlikely. If you are a woman, chances are your first experience of emotional treachery was at the hands of another girl.” Wolf points out an important truth, before any relationship ever broke my heart my female friendships steered my emotions. In a situation where two girls find out there with the same guy, in high school, they often go against each other rather than against the guy. When I was 16 I dreaded going to school most days, not for fear of never attracting anyone but because the girls around me were wicked. As young girls in America we are surrounded by shows like Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars, which market deception as entertainment. Thusly, girls learn that this behavior is correct, normal. This comment by Wolf precedes an article reviewing “Black Swan,” one of few movies to show how competition can manifest as ugly acts, foul play and drive us to crazy means. Natalie Portman accidentally stabbing herself is a direct outcome of how competition drove her mad.
Media also shows us that we have to be this way to be successful. Rarely in business themed shows is there a team of women, there is usually one in the office and she’s probably a “bitch.” Marlene, Nell and Win have had to go against what is normal for women. They are indeed positive people, succeeding in an all women team. Still, they still fall into the traps that are set up our male dominated culture; that you have to step on others and sacrifice everything else in order to be successful. While writing, this working on Top Girls, I wondered if you could apply they “violence is more prevalent in reality because of video games” to this situation. That these reality shows, with these women who fight like this, cause women to exhibit these behaviors more often in daily life? This issue obviously larger than what I can begin to discuss in one article.
While ANTM doesn’t show us the other side of behavior, the others paths we could have chosen, Churchill does so in various scenes. She shows us Joyce, Angie and Jeanine. It shows you where women are losing and where women could be winning. I’m not asking you to stop watching these shows because, lets be honest, they’re entertaining. But next time you sit down for Real Housewives bring a more critical eye. When Churchill critiques and exposes rather than exploits these competitions we are able to question our society around us rather than wait for the premier of Cycle 245728.
Katrina Dion, Assistant Director, “Top Girls”