It's a pretty safe bet that anything marketed specifically to one gender is going to be loaded with irritating stereotypes. On television, argues Neil Genzlinger of the New York Times, we see this in action with Spike TV and Lifetime.
Attempting to breakdown the depiction of the sexes that takes place on both networks, Genzlinger separates Lifetime in to "Gal Land" and Spike TV in to "Guy Land" and watches how the televised citizens of said places go about their daily lives. Unsurprisingly to anyone who has ever watched television, the ladies of Lifetime are typically living in fear, on the run, or in the midst of some shady biz, while the boys of Spike are perpetually living out Johnny Knoxville's extreme fantasies, with a bit of strip club action thrown in for good measure. "You get the idea: In Gal Land you are never, ever safe," Genzlinger writes, "You are never, ever safe in Guy Land either, but only because you're not very bright."
Genzlinger's observations about the differences between Lifetime and Spike can easily be applied to magazines like Men's Health and Maxim versus something like Self or Cosmopolitan, respectively. Men's health magazines tend to focus on getting bigger and stronger, while women's magazines tend to focus on getting leaner and smaller. And just as Genzlinger notes about Spike TV and Lifetime, the clothes tend to be the focus in "Gal Land" but lack of women's clothing tends to be all the rage in "Guy Land." In other words, everyone in stuck in 9th grade, forever.
But the most striking observation of Genzlinger's is the idea that the women of Lifetime, more often than not, are shown to be afraid, which anyone who has ever sat through a LIfetime movie marathon (shut up, you totally have) can attest to be true. More often than not, the women appear to be trapped in a dark and frightening world centered around crime, kidnap, murder, rape, etc. It is only after they are shown in an incredibly vulnerable position—or even victimized—that they are allowed to develop a sense of strength. According to Genzlinger's observations, Femininity, the Lifetime version, revolves around three things: clothes, weight, and fear. That's a bit disturbing isn't it?
Granted, many Lifetime movies are ripped from the headlines, so it's not as if women out there aren't dealing with the dark subject matter put forward in many of the Lifetime tales. But the sensationalism that comes with the TV movie genre, as trashy and delightful as it may be (I'm not even going to act like I don't know every line from mostly every Kellie Martin movie ever) is a bit disturbing when it adds up to a network that essentially revolves around women fearing for their safety. Right now the channel is pushing it's newest film, "Lying to be Perfect," not to be confused with another Lifetime TV movie, "Dying to be Perfect." (It takes a lot to be perfect in the Lifetime movie world, crew.) At the same time, Spike TV's bro-heavy programming isn't doing much for the cause of modern masculinity, though I'm sure 14 year old boys across the country are thankful for its existence.
Genzlinger's cleverly wraps up his piece by noting that "members of one sex are living in a sad, unrealistic fantasy world, trying in vain to compensate for the drabness of their day-to-day lives," leaving you to determine whether it's the Babysitters Seduction or the Stripperella crowd that fits that description, though it's clearly safe to say that neither gender is a real winner here. In bowing to the worst stereotypes out there—women are weak, men are stupid—both genders end up with networks filled with mindless, goofy programs meant to provide one thing only: escape from the real world. Which, I suppose, is what television is all about. The best part of both networks is that we have the ability to turn them off whenever we please.
Damsels In Distress, Bozos In Heat [NYTimes]