What makes a narrative feminist?
This topic came up in class in relation to HBO series The Sopranos. There were a number of interesting questions raised such as whether the portrayal of any female agency is progressive and if a reductive stereotype like women who manipulate men to suit their own ends can be seen as progressive. The most interesting question was ‘ Can a narrative be feminist without any feminist characters?’
I don’t watch the Sopranos but I believe it is possible for a narrative to be feminist without having any feminist characters. Of the shows I watch, one of the best for portraying a feminist ethic is Friday Night Lights. This is a show that follows the trials and tribulations of life in a small Texas town. Ostensibly a show about the local high school American Football team, Friday Night Lights was initially marketed at a male audience but changed tactics early in its run when it became obvious that women were equally interested in the show. The head writer and executive producer of the show is Jason Katims. Katims’ previous work includes Roswell and My So-called Life, the latter of which was a teen drama from the mid-nineties that, although short-lived, received critical acclaim for the sensitive way in which it dealt with many social issues like child abuse and drug use.
The female representations in Friday Night Lights over its run so far have been particularly good and the narrative never shies away from sensitive or controversial topics. The most recent season dealt with a storyline about teen pregnancy and abortion and it tackled the issue head-on without sugar-coating it. The story showed that there were no easy options available for the young girl, Becky, who was pregnant, and that she would have to make the decision herself.
The mirroring of her situation with that of her mother’s was very effective. Her mother had been very young when Becky was born and seemed to harbour some resentment towards her daughter for this. Equally interesting and unexpected was the genuine loss that the teenaged father of the child was portrayed as experiencing when he was told that Becky had decided to have an abortion since this is not a point of view that TV drama often tends to explore. Overall this was just one of a series of issues that this programme successfully portrayed in a sensitive and realistic way.