Sexuality and the Media: ABC and ABC Family

For some reason, Hayley and I don’t get around to talking about pop culture very often, which is unfortunate, because pop culture plays a big role in shaping people’s concepts of norms; it has the ability to sensitize people to new ideas and to help normalize concepts that had previously been rejected.  It also plays a big role in reinforcing ideas about gender and sexuality, and in this respect it’s pretty darn pertinent to everything we talk about on this blog.

For the moment, I’m JUST going to talk about shows on ABC and ABC Family.  I’m not going to pretend that I watch EVERY show on these networks, but these are a few of the things I love and hate about some of the shows that I currently watch, previously watched, or have heard about from friends, as they pertain to their portrayal of sexuality and sexual orientation.

The Secret Life of the American Teenager

I’d be lying if I said that I thought this show had no problems.  It glamorizes teen pregnancy and Amy whines all the time and never wants to take responsibility for her actions and just gets away with it; for the first two seasons this is because her boyfriend snaps his fingers and the problem vanishes.  But my REAL problem is with their portrayal of Adrienne: at first I was REALLY excited about her character because she embraces her sexuality, refuses to let Ricky convince her to have sex prematurely in the relationship, and practices safe sex to her heart’s content…but she gets written off as a slut by her peers and a lot of them hate her as a result.  It’s a pretty mixed message, which can at times be frustrating.  I do like that the characters do include at least one homosexual character, but question the way gender is portrayed throughout the show.

It’s probably my least favorite of all the shows I am about to discuss.

Make It or Break It

This show does a bit better than Secret Life at least.  While (SPOILER ALERT FOR SEASON 2) it seems a tad absurd that the writers made Emily’s character get pregnant and presented abortion as the MOST logical choice for her and then she STILL chose to have the baby and gave up her dream and everything she’d worked for, I think we can all tell the network just wanted to get rid of her character.  Still, it’s clear that ABC Family is still unwilling to actually show a character going through with an abortion, even if it is the most sensible option available.  That said, they do an excellent job of presenting Lauren as a character who not only embraces her sexuality but, when forced to tone down it down (SPOILER ALERT SEASON 2 FINALE) it harms her performance; she may have a lot of problems as a character but they’re human flaws, and aren’t necessarily tied to her willingness to embrace sexuality and sex.  I also LOVE that they have a bisexual character.  People don’t have enough understanding of bisexuality and it really should be brought forward to be discussed more.

Pan Am

At first, there was nothing going on in Pan Am to warrant it appearing in this post.  A post strictly about gender, maybe (and then it would probably get a thumbs up for the episodes about sexual harassment).  But right at the end, the writers decided to start discussing sexuality in a time period where sexuality wasn’t discussed, and it provides an excellent depiction of what it means to struggle with one’s sexuality.

Pretty Little Liars

With the exception of the fact that the writers decided that Aria should be dating her teacher (which is a little bit questionable but I’m not going to condemn it here and now), this show has SO many things going right in terms of depiction of sex and sexuality.  SO MANY.  First there’s the fact that Hannah completely embraces her sexuality; she has sex when she feels that she’s ready-~-in season one she’s the one pushing for sex when her boyfriend is against it, which is an interesting portrayal of the two halves of the relationship.  Moreover, the writers do a great job of showing Emily’s struggle with her sexual identity when she discovers her homosexuality and comes out of the closet-~-or, as she says, falls out on her face.  From her family’s rejection to eventual acceptance, her good and bad relationships, her ongoing struggle with what it means to be gay…they do a really good job of showing how much of a journey understanding sexuality can be.

Grey’s Anatomy

Yes. Yes yes yes yes yes.  Grey’s Anatomy is, in my opinion, one of the BEST depictions of sexuality and sexual orientation.  Why?  Because MOST of the female characters have embraced their sexuality…but April is still struggling a bit.  Not everyone is on the same level of acceptance with their sexuality, and that’s okay.  On top of that, the writers actually AREN’T afraid to show abortion as an option (Christina has had an abortion at least twice in the show’s history).  On top of THAT, there have been three strong lesbian characters over the course of the show; Cali and Arizona are probably the most stable couple on the show, and even though Cali struggled greatly with her sexuality at certain points, I think that’s great too.  On top of that, Cali and Arizona’s wedding was just…watch the episode.  It’s great.  It’s a fantastic depiction of the conflict in values and worldviews that often surrounds issues like female sexuality and homosexuality.

Stay with us all week as we keep up the discussion of sexuality and sexual orientation, leading up to Friday’s Day of Silence in the United States.



~ by Randi Saunders on April 10, 2012.

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