Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Post #3

I have been an avid viewer of Desperate Housewives since the first show aired in 2004. The dramatic story lines, the lies, betrayals, and sneakiness of the characters captivated my interest, as it did millions of other viewers, leading the show into its third season. I never took the time nor felt the need to reflect on or question the elements of gender and popular culture apparent in the show which is why I decided it would be a good site of analysis for this project. A closer look at this captivating primetime soap reveals layers of gender inequalities displayed by every main character and in every story line which tend to be overlooked by the typical viewer. I decided to devote this blog to exposing the intersections of gender with race, class, ethnicity, and sexuality within Desperate Housewives.

The mere title of the show implies a satiric element, feeding the hegemonic norms associated with housewives while at the same time dismantling them. However the characters aren’t meant to be depicted as desperate at all. They are four women who have given an entirely new meaning to the term “housewife”. Don’t be fooled by the “Leave it to Beaver” style houses on Wisteria Lane, drama and deception are taken to an extreme behind the white picket fences lining every green grassed lawn. However, along with this drama and deception comes empowerment and independence. These modern day women serve as an outlet to every wife and mother who feels overwhelmed and unappreciated. Desperate Housewives empowers women who slave over their families and allows them to believe that they too can be sexy, mysterious, and unpredictable.

Although Desperate Housewives is meant to empower middle aged women while challenging the hegemonic norms associated with the term “housewife”, there are notable instances of gender inequality intersected with race, ethnicity and sexuality which reinforce hegemonic ideals and stereotypes. For example the only African American characters in the show appeared only in the second season. Mrs. Applewhite kept her mentally disabled son (who was framed by his brother for raping and murdering a girl) locked up in the basement. This reinforces the “the image of the Black man as a sexual monster” (Dines).

The only homosexual character on the show is Bree’s son who she abandoned in the second season for his rebellious and malicious attitude. Bree’s disappointment at her son’s sexual orientation supports hegemonic norms however alters stereotypes once she accepts her son for who he is. This can be applied with the trend of recent television programming that is “sympathetic to glbt communities must appeal to mainstream liberal viewers who today most likely know someone gay in the workplace, family, or among friends” (Raymond).

Desperate Housewives provides viewers with hegemonic and counter-hegemonic elements while also reinforcing and challenging normative popular culture. Desperate Housewives could be considered controversial due to the fact that it alters the normative perception of a “housewife” in US society. The four main characters are females who hold an apparent power and status among the other residents on Wisteria Lane. This show reaches out to women as well as men by offering the perspective of a group of women and their thoughts on work, family, men, and love. Although the storyline of some episodes may seem overt, the messages being sent through the dramatic actions are empowering which influences the power the women possess and redefines social norms.

Dines, Gail. King Kong and the White Woman. Gender, Race, and Class in Media, 452.

Raymond, Diane. Popular Culture and Quess Representation. Gender, Race, and Class in Media, 102.


Jessie said...

Nice job with this post Kristin- I like the way you've bridged your own "viewer status" (from entertainment source, to scholarly object to study) with the shows conflicting messages about gender norms. It's quite interesting that the show doesn't get even more attention (or grief) for the word "housewives" in its title...it's not necessarily a word women who stay at home (hence the phenomenon of the Stay at Home Moms and the working within the home designation for women whose informal title would have previously been that of a housewife) would identify with in 2007.
I'm not sure you've got the target demographic pegged...middle aged is kind of a term that has the opposite effect of "middle class" everyone identifies as middle class...but with age...not many takers for that particular label! The "middle age" group, albeit constructed far more by social norms than half of one's life expectancy, is likely to identify (yet for the most part have some feelings about its popular disdain or its pejorative meaning) a word like housewife, with a particular meaning...one that wouldn't be conducive to the show's success in any case. Therefore, I wonder if the show's writers, producers, etc. chose to use that name for it's out-dated historical utility (or lack of utility)? This idea has me intrigued :o) Nice Job!!!

Jessie said...

I just reentered your grade in SOCS - I was going over all of the grades in SOCS b/c this was the assign where I missed a few people whose last names are in the middle of the alphabet--and I realized your grade (which I entered when I commented on March 27th) was not still in SOCS world! Sorry about that one!

Mos and Nikou said...

Hi there,

This is a great blog of yours, Your site is very informative and I can relate to your posts. I'm also a housewife. I have just started my own blog: TheShanghaiExpat. Please feel free to visit and let me know what you think for a link exchange.


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