Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker

Parent, Teacher, Author

Post-Feminism and Reality TV


How many of you have watched The Bachelor? On this show, young women compete for the attention of one man. Many times, they use their sexuality to attempt to gain his attention. In fact, I’d say more often than not, there is physical intimacy much earlier than one would really expect in a regularly developing relationship. Some of these women plant a big, sloppy kiss on the man’s lips the moment that they meet him!

Now, I’m not a big fan of reality TV in general probably because, with three kids,  I have enough drama in my own life to want to seek out more! But what I’ve often noticed when I have watched reality TV is how sexualized the women are in these shows. What’s interesting to me about this is that these are women who are essentially writing their own scripts and characters. They are choosing to project this highly sexualized image to the world. I’ve always wondered, why do they want to be viewed in that way?

I’m reading a fascinating article right now that has helped me understand the answer to that question. It looks at how women think about what makes them powerful and what impact that has on their response to certain reality TV shows and characters. The authors of this article argue that sexual exhibitionism has come to be viewed as empowerment through the lense of post-feminism.  This idea says that women gain power through their individualism, often in a very sexualized way.

What was interesting was that this study found that young women who tend to enjoy reality TV shows that present women in highly sexualized ways tend to think of women as being empowered through their sexuality. They also tend to believe that women should be in more traditional roles. Young women who didn’t enjoy these kinds of TV shows tended to define power in women in terms of knowledge, integrity, and competence rather than sexuality.

What the results of this article tell me is that there is a group of young women out there that view their power as arising from their sexuality. I think this is a dangerous point of view. It puts women within the power of men, as the ones whom they are trying to attract. It’s also a very fleeting power, since ones sexual attractiveness in this culture is usually tied closely to youth.

It’s time for us as a community to begin actively standing up against these messages of sexual empowerment. They aren’t healthy emotionally or physically, leading to dependence on others to give us our power. If you find yourself or a child you care about promoting these views, take a moment to think about it. We need to find our power in the things that are lasting, such as integrity and character.

Article referenced:

Cato & Carpentier (2010). Conceptualizations of female empowerment and enjoyment of sexualized characters in reality television. Mass Communication and Society, 13, 270-288.


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This entry was posted on August 3, 2010 by in Acting, Planning, Recognizing, Talking.
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