Sunday, October 09, 2011

TV Teaches Girls To Fight

Beyond Catfights: TV That's Good for Girls

Do you remember when you were a kid, about 9 or 10, and your best friend was everything to you? You'd stay up late during sleepovers, play silly games, and concoct crazy stories about your future? And then one day, you grew up, and you threw a glass of champagne in her face for calling your sequined cocktail dress ugly. Wait ... what?

If we believe the stories that so many TV shows tell us about female friendship, this scenario would seem wholly realistic. From America's Next Top Model and Bad Girls Club to The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, girls are portrayed as competitive, backstabbing rivals who overreact to every perceived slight.

And it's not just reality shows that reinforce the stereotype that women can't get along. Scripted teen favorites like Gossip Girl and 90210 regularly pit so-called friends against each other. Most of us grown-ups can see through the hype of TV shows that amp up the drama -- shows that egg on the competition, poking the camera into the melee, just hoping for the perfect catfight. But what kind of message is this girl-fight mentality sending to young women who are still trying to figure out their place in the world?

[Editor's note: Even Disney Channel shows like Hannah Montanna, Suite Life, Wizards of Waverly Place, and the latest batch... all have the theme of deception and rivalry among girls, siblings, and friends.]

It's an unsettling message, that's for sure, one that undermines the support that real female friendships can provide.

And while networks pump up the drama to attract viewers, there are lots of shows that don't wallow in the negative. You can counteract iffy messages by reminding kids and teens what friends can achieve together. Also, point out when shows go for cheap entertainment with tired stereotypes. And finally, choose entertainment that sends a better message to your kids. Here are our favorite weapons against girl hate.

SciGirls, 7+ (PBS) -- This science-oriented educational show highlights girls working together to construct or develop experiments to learn about the world around them. Girls encourage and have fun together while modeling enthusiasm for science.

iCarly, 8+ (Nickelodeon) -- This hugely popular tween sitcom might not be the most realistic, but Carly and Sam are good friends, even though their relationship isn't always perfect. Though they do sometimes compete with each other, they also stand up for each other, and some touching moments highlight how valuable female friendships can be.

Picker Sisters, 10+ (Lifetime) -- These interior designers travel the country looking for odd junk that they can transform into boutique-friendly best-sellers while demonstrating how well two women can work together. Their enthusiasm for each other and their work is infectious and positive.

Born to Dance, 12+ (BET) -- Yes, it's a dance competition, but the contestants are supportive of each other, and host Laurieann Gibson is as encouraging of the losers as the winners. A great example of how women can seek excellence for themselves without demeaning others.

Tia & Tamera, 13+ (Style) -- Real-life sisters go through ups and downs as they navigate different stages of their lives, but in the end they're always there for each other.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 13+ (DVD) -- This is an oldie but goodie that never fell victim to silly stereotypes about female friendships. Buffy and Willow are best friends through thick and thin, and even Buffy's female rivals don't fight her over a man -- but rather over the survival of the world.

2 Broke Girls, 14+ (CBS) -- The latest girl-buddy show (aimed at adults, but OK for mature teens) trades a few barbs between the female leads, but ultimately this odd couple shows that being different doesn't mean being rivals.

Parks and Recreation, 14+ (NBC) -- Amy Poehler and Rashida Jones are hilarious and realistic as friends/co-workers who encounter all sorts of wacky scenarios. Their friendship shows that they can stand by each other, even if they sometimes disagree. That's what real friendship is, right?


ANT Farm, 8+ (Disney Channel) -- [Editor's Note: I'm adding this one to the list.] This team of genius friends do a great job of breaking racial boundaries and being kind to each other.


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