Now, don’t get me wrong – I love a good sitcom. I’m all about that mindless entertainment to get me through those days when I really don’t want to exist. Sure, there’s a lack of plot line, the characters are usually pretty flat, and the jokes are rarely funny enough to actually make me laugh, but hey, I like the relationship dynamics, it’s fun to have on in the background as I work on chores, and I love watching things work out well for people. It’s relateable and gives me hope that my own adult like can’t be that bad, or at least, as bad as theirs. If they can figure things out, so can I, I guess.
My point of this is not to crack down on stupid sitcoms and how bad they are for our culture, but rather, I want to talk about one of the most problematic aspects of the genre in and of itself – the over sexualization of the stories.
Let’s be completely honest here – sitcoms are all about sex. Who gets with who, which of the twenty five guys she’s slept with is she going to end up with in the end – if any. Who in the office is he not going to have an affair with? And again, as I’ve stated before, I’m a sucker for all those things. The relationships, the ‘will they work out or won’t they,‘ and the ‘I can’t believe she’s with him now’ are the things I love about shows and rom-coms. I’m a total girl, and that’s a given. I love those cheesy dynamics.
But sometimes, when the characters start complaining about the fact that they haven’t slept with anyone in a week, and how they need to learn how to have hookups all the time to get their ‘needs met,’ things get a little absurd.
Most people can separate fiction from reality. They can watch a stupid TV show and realize the characters are ridiculous – that’s the point of those shows in the first place – and not think anything of it beyond that. That’s awesome. Shows are not real life. But what are these shows saying about out culture?
Here we are, watching, relating, and admiring people who need to get their ‘sex fix’ at least once a week. As if that’s the most important part of life. We work so hard to make sure that we aren’t judging anyone’s lifestyle, that we reduce everyone down to their need to sleep with everyone that’s around. That some people just want to go out and get laid every night, and saying that’s perfectly acceptable to the point than anyone who thinks differently is never represented, and in a lot of cases, mocked. Virginity is represented as something you want to lose as soon as possible (“I can’t believe you waited until you were over twenty!”), sex is reduced to nothing more than an addiction at best, and characters can do as they want without consequence. In these shows, you always sleep with someone on the first date, casual hookups happen to everyone at least two times an episode, and when no one’s actively fooling around with another cast member, they make so many sexual jokes and innuendos, they fill half the dialogue.
I’m not here to point fingers or judge anyone on the way they want to live their life. Their life and choices have absolutely nothing to do with me, and I’d much rather base my opinion of someone off who they are as a human being instead of anything so superficial.
What I am saying, however, is that our culture is drenched in sex. Every movie, TV show, magazine cover, and book does nothing but scream at you ‘have more sex,’ ‘sleep with more people,’ ‘you have no value unless you’re good in the bedroom.’ Whatever, do what you want, but that leaves no room in our society for anyone who disagrees with that, or who doesn’t necessarily fit into that sex crazed addiction that everyone else seems to be involved in.
Here I am, a sixteen year old girl with possible trauma issues, swearing off boys because I’m so scared of anything physical, freaking myself out into believing I was asexual because I wasn’t like everyone else! I didn’t want to lose my virginity, to sleep with anyone. I wasn’t being a prude, I just had no desire to! Yet I was living in a culture that told me there was something wrong with me as a person if I wasn’t interested in one night stands, if I didn’t want to have hookups, and if I didn’t sleep with my boyfriend on the first date. And yet, because of all the influential pulls at me from the rest of our world, I thought there was something implementable wrong and undesirable about me.
I thought no one would ever want me. It was to the point that, when I first started dating my boyfriend, I stayed up crying to him on the phone until two in the morning because I was terrified he was going to break up with me when he found out I was largely uncomfortable about physical things. Thankfully I’ve been able to work through some of my trauma, but that’s besides the point.
We like to think that we’re being progressive, that we’re giving young girls the ability to decide what they want to do with their bodies. They can have sex, not have sex, be gay, bi, trans – you know – whatever they want. And that’s cool. Everyone should have a right to decide the kind of life they want for themselves, and be able to pursue that. I’d never disagree on that point.
But when we put so much pressure on our youths to want sex, to have sex, to like sex, to be good at sex, what choice do they have? When all the role models on TV are telling them that it’s shameful to go a week without sleeping with someone, when magazines are telling you that your only worth lies in your ability to show someone a good time, what sort of freedom are we offering the younger generations? We’re telling them that whatever they want to do with themselves is okay, as long as they’re not a prude. It’s okay to be experimental, as long as you lose your virginity before the age of twenty, and go no more than seven days without finding a new hookup. And, if anyone has a contrary opinion to that – if they want to abstain from sex or aren’t interested – they’re mocked openly.
Yes, I can watch sitcoms knowing that the characters are exaggerated, suppose to be unrealistic, and watch them parade around sometimes half a city worth on conquests knowing that none of that means I need to put any pressure on myself to do anything I don’t want to. That I’m awesome in myself and I don’t need to be able to ‘bring it to a guy’ in order for me to have value. But a few years ago? I couldn’t watch those shows because it would stress me out too much. I put too many expectations on myself, reduced my own value to something mockable because the people on the magazines said it was, and cry over the fact that no boy was going to love me because I’m not so interested in the idea of sex.
Whether you see it in your personal life or not, these shows do have an impact on people. You can separate yourself from fiction as much as you would like, but its influences – especially when those influences are literally everywhere you look – can impact not only your beliefs, but how you see yourself as well. And they do. Being progressive is one thing, but that means that you need to have equal representation for everyone, not just the point of view you want to exhibit. Feminism is not filling TV shows with women who want nothing but sex, but adding characters who aren’t as interested in it either, and not mocking them for it. It’s allowing every side of the argument to be presented so girls (and boys) can make informed decisions about their own lives, instead of feeling pressure to see life in one particular way, because that’s the only way that’s being represented.
Again, I love sitcoms. There’s nothing wrong with watching them, and despite my strong arguments against some of the things they contain, I’m no where near going to give them up. I’m not saying you should never pick up another series Netflix recommends to you again. What I am saying, however, is that if we as a society are going to progress, we’re going to have to deal with our lack of representation, and the pressure we’ve been putting on ourselves to conform to an idea that may or may not work for us on an individual scale.