Saturday, April 26, 2008

Being Beautiful and Empowering Equals No TrueThird Wave of Feminism

On September 11th, 2000 one of the most popular sitcoms debuted on UPN- Girlfriends. Thousands of women loved to sit in front of their television and watched four intelligent, African-American women go about their day and deal with daily obstacles that were thrown their way. The audience were being drawn into the feminist world of these four ladies from Los Angeles, California. Joan, the main character, was considered the unofficial “den mother” of the group; Maya - a former assistant to Joan and a housewife/author, Lynn - a needy friend that is still trying to find herself, and Toni - the materialistic and self-centered one of her girlfriends and is the self-proclaimed “cute one” of the group (2). Even though these women are different in some ways, they are all still strong, beautiful, powerful, and successful women that are not afraid of taking on masculine roles. Looking at the sitcom from a feminist perspective, it is easy to say that it is based on third wave feminism. It is clear that all the characters in Girlfriends illustrate a sense of empowerment which reflect the third wave. Even though Girlfriends has a third wave twist, it is clear that the women of this sitcom have to deal with other issues that fall in other wave periods. In our analysis, we express the issues that the women have to deal with when it comes to being successful and trying to have a perfect “tv” family. Because there was a connection made between the waves, we can argue that there is no true third wave of feminism. This paper will focus on the lives of the four women in the sitcom Girlfriends and argue how them overcoming the stereotypes of women today is tied to the second wave text, proving that there is no true third wave text.
There is a number of feminist issues that surface in this sitcom; one being the traditional issue of women being secondary to men. This was one of the most talked about issues and was addressed throughout the show through the women’s role in their workplace. Even though these women had high-power, it still wasn’t accepted by society. There is a number of ways in which this is shown in Girlfriends.
In the first season (throughout the whole show really) of Girlfriends, Joan is having a hard time finding love. No matter what she does, her relationships never last. As she goes about her life and daily routines looking for a man she realizes that the problem is her being a lawyer of a very big firm. Joan grows to understand that men become intimidated by woman who have power and make more money than they do. Joan then tries to aim for guys with high self-esteem and self-confidence. She is tired of dealing with guys who don’t understand the fight she had to put up in order to become a lawyer and make partner because she is a woman. Betty Friedan, who wrote the book The Feminine Mystique, reflects on this issue. It argues that women should be encouraged to pursue careers as well as motherhood (5). This was one of the major issues Joan had to deal with being a lawyer and wanting to form a family.
In the second season of Girlfriends, the concept of women having high-power was still an issue. But another problem that arouse was women making more money than their partner. In this season, Maya had to deal with controversy with her husband, Darnell: an auto-repair worker who wasn’t making a lot of money. Being that Maya was working as Joan’s assistant at the law firm, she was the main supplier at home. That caused major issues because Darnell felt that because he was the male, he was suppose to be the “bread winner” in their family that consists of him, Maya, and their son-Jabari. Maya was also the person that had to pay when they went out. There were times when Darnell would refuse to go to public events with Maya because he was embarrassed at the fact that he did not have the money to pay for things at the events. This goes to prove how today’s society work. In today’s society, women are expected to be nice: soft, gentle, empathetic, selfless caretakers (3). And this draws a major concern and question about our society and where we stand as feminists.
It is clear that today’s society still have the mentality of those in society during the second wave. Men in today’s society are not interested in women who have more power than they do. They still believe that women should follow and depend on them. To them, women should stay home and be caretakers; same beliefs of men during the second wave. The writers of Girlfriends make it obvious that they were trying to show African-American women who are beautiful, intelligent, and very successful with this sitcom. They also wanted to prove that women have the strength and opportunity to get high-paying and high-powering jobs that at one point in time weren’t allowed. The writers wanted to show equality with race and in the workplace. Girlfriends above all expressed the difficulty for women who have power, to find love and companionship- this being tied to the second wave.
As writers and viewers look at Girlfriends, they notice that it is not at all a third wave text but one of the second wave. That draws in some problems because the sitcom is just an overview of what women in today’s society deal with. So, how can women today be dealing with issues of the second wave? The answer to this question: we are still in the second wave. It is impossible to move on to the next wave when you haven’t solved the issues of the previous. We cannot dismiss the feminist issues from the past. Joan dominates in her powerful position of being a lawyer, but she struggles with her relationships because of it. And a show that we thought represents the third wave doesn’t because we are still living in the second wave.

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