Friday, March 9, 2012

Leap Day Sexism

So there was a "Leap Day" this year, as there is every four years, but for some weird reason it seemed to be a bigger deal this time.  I don't know why, but it seemed every TV show and media outlet had a "Leap Day Special" episode and the internet was full of polls with questions like "what are you doing for Leap Day?" etc.  What are you doing for Leap Day?  It's not a holiday or even a weekend!  I'm going to work, duh.

30 Rock very effectively managed to satirize this craze, although I don't know if that was even their intention in writing the episode because I'm not sure how easy to foresee all the Leap Day hype would have been, but I appreciated it.  Parks and Recreation was awesome as always, Leap Day or not, but one of my favourites, Modern Family, really disappointed me.

It wasn't the Leap Day theming of the episode that bothered me (although still, I was weirded out by how the Leap Day tradition is to take the day off work/school for all characters, as if it's some holiday) but the blatantly offensive sexism.  Modern Family, I always thought you were better than that.

If you don't watch Modern Family or didn't see the episode (and don't want to read the linked recap), one of the major storylines involved all three Dunphy women landing on the same menstrual cycle, and turning into crazed, emotional wrecks ("Satan's trifecta" - actual episode quote), while the Dunphy men cower in fear and try to come up with a plan to ditch these hysterical females so they wouldn't ruin Leap Day.

Huh?  This is considered to be quality comedy on a show I actually consider to be quite progressive, in terms of portraying "modern families" in a healthy way, not just for cheap laughs?  Who okayed this script?

I hate having to always feel like I need to defend my comments as not overreacting or being oversensitive (things a woman would do, especially if she's on her period) when I am offended by things like this, but here's why I'm not okay with this episode and you shouldn't be either.

The attitude that menstruating women are incapable of leading their lives normally because of the inevitably accompanying "hysterics" is a totally backwards, misogynistic viewpoint, and it's STILL used today by backwards, misogynistic people to dismiss the opinions of women (check out this incredible spoof on that viewpoint for some major laughs).  Your female co-worker was offended by something you said?  Probably on her period.  Your girlfriend is mad at you for treating her disrespectfully?  Probably just overemotional from it being her time of month - it'll blow over, you did nothing wrong.  Women can't be trusted to have real opinions because they have all these HORMONES and EMOTIONS getting in the way!

Obviously I realize that Modern Family wasn't intending to make an anti-woman statement with this episode - the writers just got lazy and were like "WHAT IF all the girls get their periods and all the guys are scared of them!  LOLOLOL".  But my point here is that when a smart, funny show like Modern Family runs an episode that degrades women with the menstruation thing, it's reinforcing the message that woman+hormones=crazypantz, contributing indirectly to the above described attitude - that women are less capable of contributing to society because they can't control their emotions.  And there are still many, MANY people out there who seriously believe that.

With all the attacks on women by the American media lately, I'm especially disappointed in Modern Family for running this episode.

Plus, men who are scared of periods are weird.  Seriously dudes: get over it.


  1. I disagree - I respect your position and where you're coming from, but I don't think that Modern Family crossed any lines (despite the chilly AV Club review).

    The show takes situations that fall within the scope of everyday life and puts a humorous spin on them, even if they're sensitive issues for some audiences - like gay marriage, gay couples adopting kids, interracial (is that a politically correct term???) relationships, age differences, teen sexuality, etc. I think you'd agree that it's one of the most progressive shows on TV, not because it tackles these issues as unusual or bizarre, but because it doesn't treat them as once-off "issues" - they're just a normal part of life.

    If menstruation impeded, say, Claire's run for City council, that would cross a line into misogynist territory. But they tied the plotline of high-running emotions - something I honestly think a lot of normal families can have a laugh about - to an insignificant family outing on a write-off day.

    Just to play Devil's advocate (Satan's trifecta advocate?), the episode could have had a net positive effect because it acknowledged the existence of menstruation, acknowledged that sometimes there are heightened emotions, but DIDN'T imply anything about what women can and cannot do in society (that plotline's narrow scope stayed within the family). While humour can sometimes reinforce stereotypes, it also breaks them down by acknowledging they exist and getting audiences to laugh about them because it's the stereotype that's ridiculous, not the stereotype-induced behaviour.

    One could argue the crazy, over-exaggerated actions of the women AND the men was a running inside joke with the audience who understands how ridiculous all of the characters are behaving, and that it's all based on ignorant perceptions and things society doesn't want to talk about.

    Who knows though - maybe it's a balance between my points and yours. I don't think "blatantly offensive sexism," "cheap laughs," and "degrades women" are fair descriptors, nor do I think this episode is comparable to the massively tasteless attack on women's health rights in the Republican primaries.

    1. Okay, I agree that my language may have been harsh. Like I said, I don't think that the intention of Modern Family was to be sexist or make a social commentary about women, but it's still my opinion that that's how it could be interpreted.

      It's true that if a woman is going to let menstruation "get the better of her" she's more likely not going to do it in a professional situation, she'll do it when she has the luxury of being home all day, which is what happened in this episode - so they were most likely just trying to be realistic about menstruation like you said. And most reasonable people understand that, but I still feel like there were probably some people who watched this episode and had a chuckle about how their female boss/coworker probably had her period today because she was in an especially "bitchy" mood, and I explained already in my original post how that kind of attitude or joking is damaging, because it makes women seem less serious than men because every once in a while their hormones make them crazy and they can't help it.

      I still maintain that this episode unfortunately did its part to contribute to the "women are inherently unstable because of their hormones" mentality, although maybe in a more subtle way for most people than I interpreted, since I'm extra-sensitive to women's issues and sexism because they're an interest of mine. I liken it to men in the workplace calling female co-workers "dear" or "sweetheart" or something - they're just trying to be nice, and never dream that they are actually being sexist, and most people probably don't think that is actually sexist. But that kind of language implies "I think of you more of a sweet little girl than I do a serious colleague" whether that's the actual intention or not, and it can be harmful to the workplace mentality and retention of female employees.

      They don't mean anything by it, but when you think about it look at the negative stereotype it's potentially reinforcing.

      I didn't mean to compare the episode directly to the Republican attacks - I just meant that in light of all the insanely offensive things being said about women right now I think it was in bad taste to run an episode that had the potential to offend a lot of people in this way (which, if you do a Google search about the episode, it did).