Professor examines reality television

New reality shows seem to appear almost daily and they often have one image in common – the “out of control white woman.” Such is the topic of a presentation given by Boston College sociology professor Zine Magubane Monday.

Magubane addressed a group of students, professors and University community members in the Nolte Center library. Her presentation, titled “White Girls Behaving Badly: Reality TV and Gender Politics Post 9/11” focused on shows like “My Super Sweet Sixteen” and “Bridezillas” and what they mean to gender roles in America.

“Right now we are in a time where gender roles are being strongly discussed in the media,” Magubane said.

She emphasized that female aggression and female assertion are collapsed into one thing. These reality shows portray any type of outspoken or bold actions by women as being negative, she said.

She also said black women who act this way are seen as doing what they are expected to, while white women acting this way are seen as being out of control.

“Girls become queen bees, bridezillas, momzillas and then monsters-in-law,” Magubane said.

It’s very unlikely that there are, or could be, any reality shows in which women are put in a positive light, Magubane said. The people creating these shows “are not interested in showing people working together,” she said. “These shows are spectacles.”

Though she didn’t focus on male characters in reality shows, Magubane pointed out that “male and female aggression are shown equally, but the message delivered is different.”

Men do compete viciously in certain areas but they limit that competition to specific situations. For instance, if two men are vying for a promotion, they leave hostile feelings at work and it doesn’t leak into other parts of their lives, as it can with women.

Bidnet Castellanos, an assistant professor in American studies, said “the talk provided a fascinating look into American class, racial and gender differences.”

Castellanos also said the shows discussed at the event, like “My Super Sweet Sixteen” and “Bridezillas,” promote a “hetero-normative model of family.” This means they reinforce what events in women’s lives society deems important, such as the wedding or raising children.

Magubane said she is looking at this issue pre- and post-Sept. 11, because in times of war or conflict, gender roles are thrown up for debate, which is exactly what has happened since the attacks.

“War generally pushes people into more traditional gender roles,” Magubane said.

To expand upon this idea, she referred to a new book by Susan Faludi called “Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America,” which came out Oct. 2. The book looks into how the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks affected the media, popular culture and political life.

It specifically discusses the attacks’ effect on feminism and the roles of women in the United States. An overview of the book on the author’s Web site says there has been “an almost hysterical summons to restore ‘traditional’ manhood, marriage and maternity” as part of the Sept. 11 aftermath.

Britta Anderson, a second-year art student who attended the lecture said she thought these reality shows are worth studying. Women are “infantilized” and “animalized” by the competition between them portrayed in these shows.

“This actually makes (women) weaker,” Anderson said.

Marni Ginther is the freelance editor. She welcomes comments at [email protected]