It’s 2019 and I’d describe the current temperature of the world, both literally and figuratively, as *hot.* Temperatures are rising and a lot of people are mad about a lot of things. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your mood), my current job precludes me from sharing any political opinions, but fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your mood), I still have lots of rage in other categories!!! Today, I’m here to rant that it’s time to stop minimizing women’s interests or modifying our pleasures as “guilty.”
Now, I grew up in a Sportscenter house, so I’ve long known how much content and conversation one relatively insignificant sports headline could generate, but it wasn’t until I started hanging around an avid fantasy football player in the social-media era that I realized the true extent of this hypocritical FARCE that I (and all of us) have been dragged into. We don’t bat an eye at four dudes sitting around for hours dissecting a basketball player’s worth, analyzing a baseball player’s pitches, reviewing the minutiae of a three-hour football game, speculating on what’s next for a free agent, or writing a 10-page spread on one player’s backstory. I mean, Lance Stephenson blowing into LeBron’s ear made it to the NYT. All the stuff that is traditionally acceptable for men, like sports and politics and “real news” and even men-coded fandoms like Star Wars and the Marvel Universe, is accepted without question to be meaty, worthy interests. But news or entertainment that is stereotypically women-skewing, whether it’s TV, articles, blogs, hobbies, podcasts, communities, books — generally anything produced by and for women — is scoffed at, deemed as guilty pleasures or silly fluff or straight up garbage.
This is obviously not a revelation for me or for society, that sexism exists or that society values certain perspectives over others. Duh. It’s like being surprised that rich people maybe don’t have to play by the same rules as the rest of us. But I’m ready to get on my soapbox/soapblog and declare an end to this double standard. I too like sports, and I definitely understand the passion for it. I have stress-chewed my hair through enough KU games to count myself as a real fan. Same with a lot of these things; obviously women like Star Wars (I approved our guest bathroom to have a Star Wars theme, which I … did not expect) and Marvel and deep analysis of the 9000-and-counting people running in 2020, etc. But the default standard for “quality” is usually what is designed for men, and oh, if women like it, too, cool. The issue is all the stuff that is produced by and for women that gets the crap end of the deal, every time, even though basically everything we are all interested in has the SAME themes: origin stories, family dynamics, love, fear, interpersonal relationships, hurt feelings, manipulation, scheming, competition, victories, defeats, old habits, surprises, lessons — but you put a uniform or a mask on and NOW it’s officially worthy of our time?!?
Let me be clear: I recognize that some of what I enjoy is trash. You know what’s also trash, cheese from a can and those frosted sprinkle cookies that someone always brought to a classroom party, but we seem to be just fine with those staples. On the other hand, at least half the people I know watch The Bachelor and it’s *still* shrouded in shame, because we are made to believe it’s a silly show for silly women. I myself discovered the show in law school, a time when one desperately needs a glimmer of hope and possibility, and my friends and I serendipitously happened to catch Andi telling off Juan Pablo. Even then, I told myself I’d stay on a restricted diet and didn’t get into the Bachelorette until Jojo (so I missed both Andi and Kaitlyn and feel like my catalog is incomplete). Once I just allowed myself to sink into the entire universe, paradise and all, I realized that 1) everyone is watching this and 2) there’s a reason everyone is watching this. Even so, it is still trash, and I’m not interested in any pseudo-intellectual analysis of romance or gender norms or sociology to justify why it’s okay to watch. It’s thirsty, vain, emotionally-stunted, hot people embarrassing themselves and selling their souls for a few years of fleeting fame and #sponcon. But, much like a No. 2 from McDonald’s, extra sweet and sour sauce please, while it doesn’t make me feel particularly nourished after it goes down, I like it and I WILL keep eating it. Same is true for many Real Housewives franchises, shows about wealthy and carefree people behaving poorly, and a MTV or Netflix reality show here and there.* I like them. I will keep watching them. I don’t feel bad about it. The only reason I want more people to join me is to spread the gospel, not to make me feel better.
My reality passions, aside, what’s even more disappointing is the stuff that is very much Not Trash. Emily Nussbaum, TV credit and excellent writer, recently tweeted about the content targeted toward specific groups of women, including “girlie-o’s,” which she defines as “all young or young-ish people who like funny arch warm neon things.” It me! In 2019, as we drown in TV options but if drowning is wrong, I don’t wanna be right,** that is some seriously quality content. Shows like Younger, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, The Bold Type, Big Little Lies, and maybe to a lesser extent, shows like Insecure, Broad City, Killing Eve, etc. are all shows that are titled and often marketed as candy for women, and I’ve seen people say discreetly or with some shame that they watch them. That’s really disappointing because they are well-produced, well-acted, hearty TV shows with excellent storytelling. We all lose if we push these types of shows to the corner and don’t discuss them with the fervor of shows that get all the attention.*** I’m not sure if the same narrative holds as strongly for newer forms of media, but I don’t want to be made to feel like the podcasts I listen to — almost exclusively hosted by women or gay men — are fluff, compared to the Serious Journalism that [white, middle-aged, straight] men are delivering on their pods. For example, I listened to a recent episode of WTF with Marc Maron because I stan Mandy Moore. She is a damn delight with a heart of gold, the voice of an angel, and a track record of stuff I like. Plus, I still think about this dress weekly.
But I found myself wondering WTF, indeed! Is Marc Maron always so condescending? Does he always take the spotlight from his guests like that? He spent like half the podcast bringing up Mandy Moore’s ex-husband, which is fine to raise briefly, but can you read the room at all, buddy?? Note: these are all legitimate questions I have because I haven’t listened to him before (and will not be listening to him in the future, if that wasn’t apparent). Compare that to Mandy’s recent turn on Keep It and it’s a total 180, where she is allowed to be the star she is. Way better listening experience, and if it’s up to me, I’d definitely replace Marc Maron in your queue with this crew. It’s endlessly frustrating whose voices are given weight and whose are marginalized or dismissed. It’s like, I too loved Freedom by Johnathan Franzen, but we have all these extremely talented women authors who are writing about parenting and relationships and complicated people and coming of age stories (which is essentially all that JF is doing) and we still condescendingly call that, at best, “women’s fiction” and at worst, “chick lit.”
The thing is, there is an entire universe of commentators, analysis, and conversation around stuff that is popular but not socially accepted as high-brow content, because lots of people really enjoy it. Things are popular for a reason. People want to have proverbial water cooler moments surrounding #thefencejump or #lucylucyapplejuicy or Gone Girl, which legitimately changed the whole book industry and had me loudly gasping on an airplane when I read it. People are interested in skincare and horoscopes and talking about our feelings. And whyyyy do we have to belittle things that other people like? I think, regardless of your personal beliefs, we can mostly agree that things are *not great* right now and we, more than ever, need joy and fun and love and escapism and something to connect over. We can have all that without condemning the source! We can enjoy what we enjoy and be happy for each other! There is room for all of it! You don’t have to like my stuff; lord knows not everyone does.**** But look, I just watched a video of a grown man openly weeping upon news of O’Dell Beckham Jr.’s trade to Cleveland. I hate football for many reasons, but I accept that it’s important to people and even I can recognize the value that OBJ brings to the world. Point is, how’s that any different from crying when Lala is breaking down over missing her dad or Stassi is in a healthy relationship for the first time ever (definitely cried at both)? I say, it’s cool to care about things. So I will refrain from commenting on the fact that there is an entire television network dedicated to breaking down fantasy football picks (which I have now watched on more Sundays than I’d like to acknowledge) if you refrain from judging my podcast queue, which has at least six reality-TV and/or pop-culture-adjacent episodes at any given moment. Let’s rid ourselves of guilt and live free to be you and me. Now THAT’s hot.
* I honestly watch so many that I don’t have the energy to link them all, but always happy to provide recommendations if you’re seeking.
** This is outrageous to say as someone who was born in the 1990s, but I never get to be a hipster about anything since I’m extra mainstream, so I’ll say it: I feel like I was an early adopter of TV as a legitimate pastime. I was recording hours of shows on my DVR at age 11, mapped out my TV Land programs at night, read books dedicated to TV (caught all 117 eps of the Brady Bunch and checked them all off in my book, babyyy!), etc. I had a TV in my bedroom as a child, turned out fine, and as soon as I had an income I purchased cable for myself (and will never go without it). It’s a long-held belief that TV is superior to movies, but I feel like society was down on TV until like 2010 and now it’s not only acceptable but en vogue to spend a weekend watching TV. I’ve BEEN watching TV!!!
*** I’m talking about gritty, prestige shows that star angry middle-aged men and are shot in aggressively dim lighting. And you can assume I am always talking, at least in part, about Game of Thrones, my One True Nemesis due to the fact that it is FINE but I can name a dozen shows from the past three years that are way better.
**** Let me note for posterity that after nearly two years of dating, on March 13, 2019, Nick said after dinner, unprompted, “I guess we could finish the Bachelor now. I kind of want to see how it ends.” And that is how I know true love is real.